A Sweet 16 primer on the teams in Midwest, South

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The quick breakdown of the team playing Thursday is here. Here are the teams playing Friday.

SOUTH

No. 1 KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Record
: 34-2
How it got here: Beat No. 16 Western Kentucky 81-66; beat No 8 Iowa State 87-71.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 4 Indiana

Essential info: The tournament favorite played like it in two wins, displaying a knack for elevating its play when challenged by opponents. The defense has been good; the offense has been better. The Wildcats’ performance against Iowa State was similar to what they did at home vs. Florida last month. And now they’re playing one of the two teams to beat them this season. Motivation won’t be a problem.

No. 3 BAYLOR BEARS
Record
: 29-7
How it got here: Beat 14 South Dakota State 68-60; beat No 11 Colorado 80-63.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2010
Next up: No. 10 Xavier

Essential info: Perry Jones III wasn’t much of a factor vs. Colorado, but who needs him when you’ve got a guy who hits 9 3-pointers? The Bars seem poised to reach their second Elite Eight in three years, provided Heslip and guard Pierre Jackson provide a portion of the scoring they did vs. Colorado. The frontcourt can do the rest.

No. 4 INDIANA HOOSIERS
Record
: 27-8
How it got here: Beat 13 New Mexico State 79-66; beat No. 12 VCU 63-61.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2002
Next up: No. 1 Kentucky

Essential info: Thanks to a dramatic rally and clutch jumper vs. VCU, the Hoosiers now face a team they’ve already beaten once this season. But this time, Kentucky gets Indiana at a neutral site. No other Sweet 16 game will receive as much attention as this one. Unless Cody Zeller (15 ppg, 9.5 rpg during the tourney) stays out of foul trouble and has a massive day, it might not live up to the hype.

No. 10 XAVIER MUSKETEERS
Record
: 23-12
How it got here: Beat 7 Notre Dame 67-63; beat No. 15 Lehigh 70-58.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2010
Next up: No. 3 Baylor

Essential info: The Sweet 16 didn’t seem possible three weeks ago. Xavier was inconsistent and wrapping up a third-place finish in the A-10. But thanks to an impressive rally vs. Notre Dame (Tu Holloway, 25 points, the hero) and overpowering Lehigh (Kenny Frease, 25 points), Xavier’s back. But can it contain the Bears? That’s the question.

MIDWEST

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
Record
: 31-5
How it got here: Beat No. 16 Vermont 77-58; beat No. 8 Creighton 87-75.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 13 Ohio

Essential info: Yes, the Heels rolled into the Sweet 16. But until they know more about how much – if at all – point guard Kendall Marshall can play, everything’s up in the air for their title hopes. They still have plenty of size and talent, but Marshall’s the guy who puts it all together.

No. 2 KANSAS JAYHAWKS
Record
: 29-6
How it got here: Beat No. 15 Detroit 65-50; beat No. 10 Purdue 63-60.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 11 N.C. State, Friday

Essential info: When Thomas Robinson struggled vs. Purdue, junior guard Elijah Johnson delivered his one of his best performances of the year, scoring 18 points and hitting two clutch 3-pointers. KU is the onlyone of two 2 seeds remaining in the field and is one of two Big 12 teams left.

No. 11 NC STATE WOLFPACK
Record
: 24-12
How it got here: Beat No. 6 San Diego St 79-65; beat No. 3 Georgetown 66-63.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2006
Next up: No. 2 Kansas, Friday

Essential info: The Wolfpack are rolling. They’re getting scoring from all positions – C.J. Leslie’s averaging 15.5 ppg in the tourney, with Richard Howell and Lorenzo Brown right behind – while the defense has been outstanding. There might not be any other team in the field with better chemistry right now.

No. 13 OHIO BOBCATS
Record
: 29-7
How it got here: Beat 4 Michigan 65-60; beat No. 12 South Florida 62-56.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 1964
Next up: No. 1 UNC, Friday

Essential info: History isn’t with the Bobcats. They’re the seventh team seeded 13 or higher to reach the Sweet 16, but none of those teams ever won their next game. It’s not a big team, but it’s quick, fairly deep and has an offense that’s clicking, scoring at least 1.02 points per possession in 10 of its last 11 games.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

 

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.