Is the end of Championship Week the new First Weekend of the NCAA Tournament?

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It’s becoming a valid question to ask. Fifteen+ tournaments that crown a champion, many in what is usually in dramatic fashion, highlighted by 11 on Saturday, including the ever vaunted Big East Tournament. Is this better than the first weekend of what has been defined as March Madness?  In short, yes. Frankly, we’re already immersed in March Madness, and what we’re living in right now might be the most excitement that college basketball can offer for us.

Given that we all get all romantic with the first few round of the tournament, this sounds crazy right? I offer a few examples to justify my school of thought, proof that this may be the apex of the college basketball season. Here’s the best way to justify it:

  • Kemba Walker BLEW up yesterday.
  • There were 50+ important matchups beginning early this afternoon and lasting well into the evening. Almost all mattered and were worth blowing off work for, exemplifying wild emotions among bubble teams and squads that had firmly secured automatic bids alike.
  • Down 11 with 2:17 remaining, Miami outscored Virginia  30-12 in the final 2:17 plus a five minute overtime to continue any Houdini-like hope that they had of playing for the NCAA Tournament.
  • Kemba Walker BLEW up yesterday.

I’m fully aware that the new CBS-Turner TV agreement will force us to channel surf our way through the first few rounds of the tournament as though we are direct descendants of Laird Hamilton, but with a nice handful of networks and cable outlets carrying the bevy of conference tournaments that will wrap up here in the next few days, we’re currently living in an ADD sufferers paradise. A place where multiple game on multiple channels matter, and the chips and dip can’t be replenished at a higher rate.

I remember when my family finally sacked up and threw down for cable. It was 1994. I was still a young-adolescent, fully aware of the NCAA Tournament, but nearly clueless to the pageantry and excitement that was Championship Week. I fell in love with Providence’s Austin Croshere and, shortly thereafter, Wake Forest’s Randolph Childress. I was enthralled by the above-average non-All Americans few were familiar with, but were teeming with talent. This enamoration furthered my understanding of the college game at the time, and really helped equip me with the idea that there was more to this beautiful sport than the Dukes, Kentuckys and UCLAs of the world.

Today, my perspective of the final few days of Championship Week has not changed for me. As we move through somewhat mundane opening round and quarterfinal match-ups, we eagerly await the finality of the BCS conference championships, where that now 68-team tournament has its seedings determined and dreams are dashed as fast as you can say, “onions!”

Yes, we seem to overlook Championship Week, but if you really affix your eyes to what’s taking place, it’s probably the most fascinating aspect of March Madness. A bevy of colorful courts, teams frantically hoping to secure an opportunity to play further into the month, and the opportunity for the little guy to truly feel like the king of the castle. It’s about as beautiful as the game can get.

Don’t look now, but Championship Week is the new March Madness!

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelin.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.