SEC title game preview: Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt

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Theoretically, Vanderbilt would seem to be in a perfect position to knock off Kentucky in the SEC Tournament finals.

The Commodores gave the Wildcats two good games during the regular season. In Memorial Gymnasium, Vandy erased a 13 point halftime deficit to tie the score in the second half before UK pulled away and won by six. At Rupp, the ‘Dores actually had the lead at the break and never let Kentucky pull away from good, eventually losing by just nine.

The reason why is that Vandy matches up fairly well with Kentucky. They are a veteran group with a big, strong center in Festus Ezeli to put a body on Anthony Davis, an athlete the caliber of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in Jeff Taylor and arguably the nation’s best shooter in John Jenkins. The fact that Vandy knows they can play with Kentucky surely will help as well.

Kentucky hasn’t looked dominant in the SEC Tournament, either. After struggling in a win over LSU in the quarterfinal round, Kentucky got pushed to the brink by a Florida team that can get hot and hang with anyone.

The key to beating Kentucky this season is catching them on a night when they aren’t playing their best basketball, and they haven’t been in New Orleans. The good news, however, is that it looks like Terrence Jones had decided that he wants to be the Terrence Jones that just oozes with potential. In both the LSU and Florida games, he was the guy that sparked the run that changed the game. When he comes to play, he makes the Wildcats a completely different team.

Win or lose, Kentucky is going to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. That is about as much of a fact as we have heading into Selection Sunday. The more intriguing question, however, is whether the Wildcats “need to lose”.

The thinking goes like this: when you are dealing with a group of talented youngsters that are sneaking by against teams they should beat the group can get complacent. Bad habits develop, intensity wanes and that is precisely how favorites lose in the NCAA Tournament. A loss would provide a wake-up call, but I don’t buy it.

The last thing a team wants to do is head into the tournament believing they are beatable, and that is precisely what a loss would do. Personally, I would be more worried about the fact that this group of youngsters might get blinded by the bright lights of their first (and only?) NCAA Tournament.

But the bottom line is that if Kentucky is playing their best basketball, they are not going to lose.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

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.