Recapping the first day of the Sweet 16

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Player of the Day: Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State: If the tournament ended today, there would be a very strong argument to make for Thomas winning the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. After going for 31 points and 12 boards in the opening round win over Loyola MD, Thomas chipped in with 18 points and seven boards against Gonzaga. Against Cincinnati, Thomas scored 20 of his 26 points in the first half, shooting 10-17 from the floor and grabbing four of his seven boards on the offensive end of the floor. Jared Sullinger’s play in paint and Aaron Craft’s defense spurred Ohio State’s run down the stretch, but it was Thomas who put the Buckeyes in control in the first half.

They were good too:

Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: Sullinger had 23 points, 11 boards (five offensive) and three assists, helping to lead Ohio State’s game-changing run in the second half.

Brad Beal, Florida: Beal carried the Gators, going for 21 points, six boards, four assists, two steals and two blocks in a win over Marquette.

Gorgui Dieng, Louisville: In a game that was won on the defensive end of the floor, Dieng was the star. He had nine boards, seven blocks and three steals.

Team of the Day: Florida Gators: Florida advanced to their second straight Elite Eight with a 68-58 win over Marquette. Brad Beal was the star of the game, notching 21 points, but what was more impressive is that the Gators were able to win despite the fact that Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Erik Murphy combined to go 8-for-32 from the floor and 3-of-17 from beyond the arc. The Gators are a streaky team, one that tends to struggle when the threes aren’t dropping and Boynton and Walker aren’t playing well. The fact that they were able to beat a very good Marquette team to get within a win of the Final Four on a night like this bodes well.

Game of the Day: Syracuse 64, Wisconsin 63: The first game of the night provided us with the most fireworks. After twice digging themselves a hole against the Orange, the Badgers managed to put together a run to get back in the game. Down 48-41 with 11 minutes left, Wisconsin hit threes on six consecutive possessions, putting together an 18-8 run to take a three-point lead. Syracuse answered with an 8-2 run of their own, taking a three-point lead. After Kris Joseph missed the front-end of a one-and-one with 18 seconds left, Bo Ryan didn’t call a timeout, forcing Jordan Taylor to take a tough three that would have won the game. Josh Gasser missed a prayer at the buzzer as he was falling down, and Syracuse advanced to the Elite Eight.

They’ve had better days: Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom: Marquette lost in large part because their big guns struggled. Crowder and DJO combined to go 10-for-30 from the floor and 3-for-14 from three as the Golden Eagles blew every chance the Gators gave them.

Them too:

Wisconsin Badgers: How often do you see a team go 14-27 from three, make threes on six consecutive possessions and lose?

Non-Draymond Green Spartans: With six minutes left in the game and the Spartans down 13 points, Draymond Green was the only player on the team that had made more than one field goal. And until Derrick Nix dunked in the final seconds of what ended up being a 13 point “blowout”, only two Spartans had managed multiple field goals.

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.