Conference Preview: Utah St., New Mexico St. lead way in WAC

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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.

For all the concern about the health of leagues such as the Big East and Big 12, there’s no conference that’s had more to deal with from a realignment standpoint than the WAC. And things got even tougher when Idaho made the decision to move its non-football sports to the Big Sky in 2014, adding themselves to the list of schools that will be leaving the conference in the future. With six of the ten teams scheduled to leave the conference at the end of this academic year the WAC will look a lot different in 2013.

So who wins the league in 2012-13? At the top of the list have to be two of the programs that have ranked among the most consistent in the WAC in recent years. Utah State, which had a down year by its standards last season, is ready to once again contend with junior guard Preston Medlin leading the way. New Mexico State may have lost a few key contributors led by Wendell McKines but guard Daniel Mullings is back, and the Aggies are talented enough to return to the NCAA tournament.

The newcomer that’s most capable of winning the WAC? That would be Denver, who was one of the better teams in the Sun Belt last season and will rely on forwards Chris Udofia and Royce O’Neale. UT Arlington is also making its WAC debut on the heels of a 24-win campaign and a Southland regular season title, and even with the loss of their top two scorers the Mavericks will be a formidable team.

Louisiana Tech and Idaho both return players who received postseason honors last year, with WAC Freshman of the Year Raheem Appleby back in Ruston and senior center Kyle Barone leading the Vandals. Guard Kannon Burrage and forward Jeromie Hill return to a UTSA squad that won 18 games last season, and three of the Roadrunners’ top four scorers from last season are back.

San Jose State, Seattle and Texas State all have major questions to answer, which will make it tough on them to have a significant impact on the title race. Enjoy this group of schools while you can, because the WAC is going to look a lot different come 2013.

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Raheem Appleby (Louisiana Tech)
G Daniel Mullings (New Mexico State)
G Preston Medlin (Utah State)*
F Chris Udofia (Denver)
C Kyle Barone (Idaho)

Predicted Standings
1. Utah State
2. New Mexico State
3. Denver
4. UT Arlington
5. Louisiana Tech
6. Idaho
7. UTSA
8. San Jose State
9. Seattle
10. Texas State

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.