As season comes to close, nothing certain for Ivy favorites Harvard

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CAMBRIDGE, MASS. – Coming into the season, the general consensus was that the Ivy League was Harvard’s to lose.

With their entire roster returning from a year ago, the Crimson were in the enviable position of boasting continuity and talent – plus a little nudge from Linsanity – to break down the door and earn the program’s first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament in the modern era.

That can still happen. In fact, the odds are that it will happen, but the road to March Madness is now anything but a sure thing, as the Crimson now find themselves tied for first in the Ivy with just a pair of games to play, following the Penn’s come-from behind victory on Saturday night.

“I mentioned to our kids before that we have a lot of basketball to be played,” Crimson head coach Tommy Amaker said after the loss to the Quakers. “There are many games to be played. Right now, I don’t think my kids are able to digest all that. But we’ll get there in our practice next week leading up to our travel.”

“All that”, in this situation, is Harvard’s two remaining road games against Columbia and Cornell, and Penn’s three remaining games against Brown, Yale and Princeton. If both teams win out, the two will play for the third time this season to determine the league’s automatic berth recipient. The Bulldogs and the Tigers, currently third and fourth in the conference, respectively, also have an outside shot at creating a mini-playoff to determine the definitive league champion.

Some claim that Harvard’s non-conference victories over Florida State, St. Joseph’s and Central Florida is enough to yield an at-large berth, but there’s no way that’s a discussion being had amongst the Crimson’s personnel.

Instead of a week of premature celebrating and discussing the inevitable history-in-the-making angle, there’s a sizable amount of leg-work remaining.

Additionally, because of the focus on academics nearly all Ivy League games are played on Friday and Saturday — a scheduling quirk allows for a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking, a lot of time to think about what went wrong before getting a shot at redemption.

This elongated pondering has extended into the student body.

“In general, I think people here are a bit nervous,” said Scott Sherman, The Crimson men’s basketball beat writer. “Every road game in the Ivy League is tough and there is a lot of travel involved in going to Columbia and then to Cornell.”

“The Crimson came as close as you could come last season without actually winning it. There were really high expectations coming into the season.”

Asked what his primary focus will be at practice this week, Amaker kept focusing on “us”.

“There’s no question that we need to make sure that our psyche and our spirits are right,” he said. “It’s not like the sky is falling…but now we get to fully and honestly evaluate things and figure out where we are.”

By next week, Harvard will know if they’re going dancing for the first time since 1946.

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

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.