Storylines to watch in Final Four of four blue bloods

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There’s something in this Final Four for everyone. Well, except fans of the underdog.

After back-to-back Final Fours featuring at least one team from a non-power conference, the 2012 field is much more similar to 2007 or 2008, when it was essentially college basketball bluebloods and former champs. Consider it four teams grandfathers, fathers and sons have all seen at the top at some point.

Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State. Those four are already causing quite a stir.

Some stats on the four:

  • They’ve combined for 13 national titles (7 by UK, but everyone has at least 1).
  • All of ‘em have been this far at least nine times, and 49 times total.
  • Kentucky leads in NCAA tournament appearances (52), followed by Kansas (41), Louisville (38) and Ohio State (28).
  • Louisville coach Rick Pitino leads in Final Fours (6), followed by Kentucky’s John Calipari (4), Kansas’ Bill Self (2) and Ohio State’s Thad Matta (2). Pitino and Self each have one title.
  • Kentucky tops all NCAA teams in wins (2,088). Kansas is second (2,069), Louisville 16th (1,662) and Ohio State 37th (1,529).
  • In the last 42 years, the Final Four usually includes one of these four schools.

But it’s more than just about numbers. There are plenty of storylines, too. Here are eight to keep an eye on.

Kentucky vs. Louisville and John Calipari vs. Rick Pitino
Look for another post on this later, but it’ll be the week’s big topic. This is one of the game’s heated rivalries and the coaches don’t like each other. Also, the teams are great.

Revenge!
Already did a post on this, but forgot to mention that if Kansas and Kentucky meet in the championship, it’ll be another rematch from this season. That’s all kinds of odd.

Returns pay off for Sullinger, Jones
Ohio State sophomore Jared Sullinger earned some sweet satisfaction by returning to school and earning a Final Four berth. But he wasn’t the only one. Kentucky sophomore Terrence Jones went to the Final Four last season, but passed on the NBA to bolster his status and earn another title shot. Well done, both.

Cheer for Thomas Robinson
Kansas’ junior forward was another guy who passed on the NBA for a season, but he had a little more at stake considering his mother died last season – weeks after he also lost two grandparents. Now Robinson’s a few months away from ensuring his little sister never has to worry about money every again.

Louisville’s amazing run
The Cardinals lost a starter and a key player this season to injuries. They ended the season losing four of their last six. But they’ve won eight straight thanks to the nation’s most efficient defense. This is the underdog of the Final Four.

Big men will rule
Four of the game’s top frontcourt players – Robinson, Sullinger, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng – are still around. They’re either the team’s focal point or the defensive backbone.

Davis’ knee
Kentucky’s freshman phenom banged his knee during Sunday’s win against Baylor, but said he’s fine.

Who runs the show?
The big men are studly, but the point guards might be the reason a team wins or loses. All four – Louisville’s Peyton Siva, Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor, Kentucky’s Marquis Teague and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft – play a ton of minutes and do the primary ball-handling for each team. If they struggle, their teams usually do too.

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.