Does Big East tourney success make it strongest conference?

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The Big East set records last season.

Eleven teams were given an invite to the NCAA tournament. Only two made it out of the first weekend. Both of them were the result of Big East-on-Big East violence; No. 11 seed Marquette upset No. 3 seed Syracuse before getting drubbed by North Carolina in the Sweet 16 and, of course, UConn rolled through Cincinnati en route to the national title.

Every other Big East team — all seven of them — fell in either the first or the second round. It’s not exactly a rousing performance for a conference that had been mentioned as one of the best ever.

This year, the Big East still got nine teams into the NCAA tournament, but for a variety of reasons, the conference was generally looked down upon. It’s not easy to figure out way. Coming off of such a dismal postseason performance, the nation watched as South Florida managed to finish tied for fourth place in the conference. South Florida! One of the teams that they were tied with, Cincinnati, had lost to Presbyterian earlier in the season.

So you can see why the rest of the country had their doubts.

But this year, the Big East is actually performing. After Saturday’s games, three Big East teams have made their way into the Sweet 16 — Syracuse beat Kansas State, Marquette survived Murray State and Louisville eliminated New Mexico. And with Georgetown playing NC State, South Florida taking on Ohio and Cincinnati squaring off with Florida State, there is a good chance that two more get through Sunday, if not all three.

When do we start asking the question of whether or not the Big East is the nation’s best conference?

Because at this point, the only other league that deserves to be in the conversation is the Big Ten. The SEC has just two teams left in the tournament. Same with the Big 12 and the Atlantic 10. The ACC has three left, but in order to get three teams into the Sweet 16, the ACC needs a 3-0 day Sunday.

The Big Ten, like the Big East, already has three teams in the Sweet 16. But unlike the Big East, getting five into the Sweet 16 is not probably. Purdue would have to upset Kansas while Michigan State holds serve against St. Louis. (But since the Big East has more teams — and more tournament teams — than the Big Ten, I think it’s fair to say four Big Ten teams is roughly equivalent to five Big East teams.)

To be frank, determining conference strength based on tournament performance is not exactly an precise exercise. I don’t think anyone would be smart to argue that the Big Ten wasn’t the best league in the country.

But it is fair to say that, based on the way they were viewed during the regular season, the Big East has way out-performed expectations.

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.