Conference Preview: OVC adds Belmont, seeks multiple tournament bids

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The 2012-2013 season could be the Ohio Valley Conference’s finest hour. With the mid-major landscape in a state of flux, this could be the season that the OVC legitimizes itself as a basketball conference. The conference features a first team All-American, two 2012 NCAA tournament appearances, a future-Hall of Fame coach, and anywhere from two to six future-NBA players. A lot of things have to go right, but there’s a definite possibility the OVC sends at least two teams to the NCAA Tournament.

With the addition of Belmont, the OVC has split up into and East and West divisions. The Bruins enter the season as the prohibitive favorites to win the East division. Head coach Rick Byrd has compiled a 545-284 record in his 26 years at Belmont, and brings his squad into the OVC for the first time looking to do what they do almost every year, which is make the NCAA tournament. The Bruins joined the OVC because a) it made more geographical sense and b) the competition is better, plus they might actually tout the best back-court in the OVC, made up of Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark. Tennessee State returns four starters from the 2011-2012 that handed Murray State  it’s first and only loss of the regular season and will compete with Belmont for the top spot.  They are led by sharpshooting wing Robert Covington, arguably the conference’s best scorer not named Isaiah Canaan. Tennessee Tech has to replace Kevin Murphy, who was drafted by the Utah Jazz, but second year head coach Steve Payne returns forward Jud Dillard, a first team All-Conference selection last season. The Owls have talent and experience, two items essential in making a late season run.  Morehead State doesn’t have Kenny Faried anymore, but they have first year head coach Sean Woods, who did great things at Mississippi Valley State. The Eagles won’t be a title contender, but they will be a very difficult-out.

Murray State is the conference’s “golden goose”,  and the favorite to come out of the West division, led by first team All-American guard Isaiah Canaan. The senior guard torched the competition en route to the nation’s longest undefeated streak (23-0) and an conference record for wins (31-2). The question is, can he do it again? The Racers graduated three  significant pieces and lost another (Zay Jackson) to a season-ending suspension. If Ed Daniel and Latreze Mushatt can elevate their games, Isaiah Canaan is a special type of player. The west division is Murray State’s for the taking, but Southeast Missouri  has improved tremendously under third year head coach Dickey Nutt, and put up a very tough fight on both occasions against Murray State last season.  The Redhawks return All-OVC players in junior forward Tyler Stone and senior guard Marland Smith.

While Murray State and Belmont are the only two teams with real, legitimate at-large potential, there are at least three teams that have the talent needed to win the OVC Tournament. There’s a real possibility that the OVC has three representatives come March Madness time.

Take the time now to mark down your schedules for March 6-9 in Nashville, because the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament may end up being the most exciting three days of the college hoops season.

Don’t be shocked to see three OVC representatives in the Big dance.

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Isaiah Canaan (Murray State)*
F Robert Covington (Tennessee State)
G Jud Dillard (Tennessee Tech)
G Kerron Johnson (Belmont)
F Tyler Stone (Southeast Missouri)

Predicted Standings
East
1. Belmont
2. Tennessee State
3. Tennessee Tech
4. Morehead State
5. Eastern Kentucky
6. Jacksonville State

West
1. Murray State
2. Southeast Missouri
3. Austin Peay
4. SIU-Edwardsville
5. Eastern Illinois
6. UT-Martin

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.