Tight-knit Spartans earn No. 1 seed, ‘play to leave a legacy’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Exacting revenge on a loss from exactly one week ago, the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans defeated the No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes, 68-64, to win the Big Ten Championship.

Led by Brandon Wood’s 21-points, the Spartans prevailed in a hotly contested game that went back-and-forth for 30 minutes, and then shifted in favor of Michigan State due to poor shooting from the Buckeyes.

It was only the Spartans’ first conference tournament trophy since 2000.

Unlike other conference tournament winners, the waiting game for the Spartans was minimal, as they were quickly sequestered to a viewing area to watch the Selection Show and await their tournament fate. A small throng of media and team family and friends followed, waiting with baited breath for an announcement.

As the best team in the best conference in college basketball, the Spartans were well deserving of an NCAA Tournament one-seed.

With Kansas and North Carolina unable to win any hardware this weekend, the case for Tom Izzo’s guys became that much more probable.

After a few minutes of sitting around, the good news was delivered.

source: AP

As the top seed in their conference tournament, the Spartans cut down nets, munched on what appeared to be some delicious looking bar food, and heard Greg Gumbel announce their name as the top seed in the West Region.

Knowing they fully deserved the distinction, the Spartans rejoiced, pumped some fists and then quickly resumed munching on that bar food while watching the Selection Show.

What else would you expect out from a group of college kids?

“We were playing for a one-seed. No doubt,” said Draymond Green, who was named Big Ten Conference Tournament MVP.  “But we also wanted to play to leave a legacy. Do something that hasn’t been done since [2000]. We had an opportunity to do something since Mateen Cleaves group.”

Per usual, the Spartans have a tough road ahead. With Memphis playing their best basketball all-season, paired with elite level talent incongruent with what you normally get with an eight-seed, the Spartans could be heavily tested as early as the third-round.

From there possible opponents include Louisville, Marquette or Missouri, but whatever thoughts the Spartans had on their quadrant of the Big Dance as it was unveiled live was kept inside.

As the rest of the field was announced, the team was fairly emotionless, but when they took to the post-game press conference, they showed confidence.

“I knew if we were going to be a one-seed if we won today,” said Brandon Wood, who finished with a game-high 21-points in the victory. “I watched the shows, so I felt pretty confident.

It’s clear that this team has been one of Izzo’s most impressive during his tenure. Unranked coming into the season, the Spartans balance and drastic in-season improvement in both the frontcourt and the backcourt is what drove them to 26-wins.

They have weapons all over their rotation and, oh yeah, played another incredibly tough schedule.

“This year feels better than any of my others at Michigan State,” said Green. “We love to be together.”

That clock is ticking, but there may be plenty of quality time remaining.

Follow Nick Fasulo 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.