Notre Dame in an unfamiliar position entering the 2012-13 season

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In each of the last three seasons Big East coaches have predicted that Notre Dame would finish somewhere in the middle of the conference pack.

In 2009 Mike Brey’s team was picked to finish eighth place, followed by predictions of seventh (2010-11) and ninth (2011-12). With Big East media day set for Wednesday, Brey’s program will be in a far different position this season.

While Louisville seems to be the generally accepted favorite to win the conference, no one’s conceding anything and Notre Dame is one of the teams with enough firepower to make sure the Cardinals don’t win the Big East.

And with their time in the conference winding down, the Fighting Irish are hoping to accomplish some things they’ve never done as a Big East member.

“A phrase I used on Tuesday, and I’ll put up in their lockers tomorrow, is, “Work to deliver.” Work to deliver on those expectations, but those expectations are our expectations,” said Brey at the team’s media day on Thursday.

“We’re honored by some of the things people say about us, but we lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. We didn’t get to the Big East championship game. We didn’t win a regular season Big East title.

“I think it’s very key for me and our leaders to keep talking about our expectations, and that starts with trying to chase down a regular season title.”

All five starters from last season’s squad, which went 22-12 (13-5; 3rd in Big East) and helped Brey win his third Big East Coach of the Year award in the last six years, return with guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant leading the way.

Atkins averaged 12.1 points and 4.1 assists per game while leading the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio, and Grant averaged 12.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest last season.

From a leadership standpoint the Irish can call on graduate student Scott Martin and senior Jack Cooley, with the latter being lauded for his improvement in that area during the offseason.

“I just became more vocal really, and put all caution to the wind,” said Cooley. “Whatever we were doing at the time I needed to fix or someone needed to fix and I figured there’s no one better than me to do it. I just stepped up.”

Cooley led the Irish in both points and rebounds while Martin was a steadying influence for a team that had to deal with the loss of small forward Tim Abromaitis, and this season they’ll be joined by Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman in the paint.

Brey referred to Sherman as their “sixth starter” at media day, and with the return of Pat Connaughton and the addition of newcomers such as Zach Auguste and Cam Biedscheid give the head coach talented options that weren’t as readily available last year.

Feel free to look ahead to Notre Dame’s ACC future if you wish, but the Irish can accomplish some big things in the present as well.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.