Pregame Shootaround 12.8.12: Loaded Saturday features 21 ranked teams in action

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Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will be posted at 2 p.m. ET and lay out a preview for the slate of games that night. We’ll take a look at some key match-ups and important games, as well as make some predictions and point out what you need to watch for. Take a look below at today’s edition:

Note: The weekend editions of Pregame Shootaround will be published half an hour prior to tip-off of the day’s first game.

Game of the Day: No. 13 Illinois vs. No. 10 Gonzaga (10 p.m. ET)

This is Saturday’s only match-up between ranked teams and also happens to be one of only two match-ups between undefeated teams. Much of the focus will likely be on the contrast between coaches, with Mark Few leading his Gonzaga team to another strong start and continuing the program’s mid-major legacy, and John Groce in his first year at Illinois with a team he inherited from now-Kansas State coach Bruce Weber.

Statistically Gonzaga has been one of the most impressive teams in the nation. The Bulldogs are ninth in the country in scoring (83.7 ppg), first in field goal percentage (53.1 percent), 26th in rebounding (41.1 rpg), and 19th in assists (17.0 apg). Prior to their two-point win over Washington State this week, they had won their first eight contests by an average of nearly 28 points per game.

Elias Harris leads the attack, but Gonzaga has benefited greatly from the return of seven-footer Kelly Olynyk, who returned from suspension Nov. 22. He is averaging 13.8 points and 7.0 rebounds.

For Illinois, early season success goes back to the player who led the team in scoring last season, Brandon Paul. He has upped his scoring average by three points per game year-to-year, and is the centerpiece of the Illini’s high-powered scoring front. Expect a high-scoring game in this one.

Who’s getting upset?: No. 18 New Mexico against Valparaiso

There aren’t many evenly matched Top 25 games on Saturday, so it looks like Valpo is one of the few schools with a decent shot at pulling an upset. If the Crusaders are going to do it, it will be in large part due to senior Ryan Broekhoff. The 6-7 Australian is averaging 16.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, including a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds in a win over Northern Illinois during the 24-hour Tip-off Marathon.

Valpo doesn’t score a lot of points, but typically doesn’t give up many either, meaning they’ll be keying in on New Mexico’s Kendall Williams and Tony Snell. Those two together average just over 26 points per game.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Northern Iowa vs. George Mason (6:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

George Mason came within one point of beating New Mexico earlier this season and within seven points of beating Maryland this week. They match up Saturday with a Northern Iowa team that had to face a string of high-major competition in Atlantis and is likely better off for it.

The Panthers, led by sophomore Deon Mitchell, lost by just five points to Louisville in a grind-it-out game, then had to come right back to face Stanford and Memphis.

Sherrod Wright and Erik Copes will be key, as usual, for George Mason. Also keep an eye on freshman Patrick Holloway, who went off for 17 points against Maryland, but struggled in the Patriots’ latest game against UMBC.

It should be a low-scoring game Saturday evening, but is the best mid-major match-up on the slate.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Temple upset Duke last season in Philadelphia, so the No. 2 Blue Devils get another shot Saturday in New Jersey. Both teams are undefeated, adding to the depth of this one. Mason Plumlee has transformed himself into a threat on a nightly basis, aided by Seth Curry becoming a legitimate scoring threat after the departure of Austin Rivers. Scootie Randall has been Temple’s biggest asset after returning from injury, and he, along with Khalif Wyatt, should work to counter the Curry/Quinn Cook Duke backcourt.

2) Arkansas might be 4-3, but you know that they’re going to push the basketball and score a lot of points. No. 3 Michigan, with its trio of stars, needs to be ready for that. The Wolverines do a good job of holding on to the basketball for the most part, but if point guard Trey Burke has a bout with turnovers, the Razorbacks could capitalize.

3) Colorado has been a pleasant surprise in the Pac-12 so far this season, and they face their toughest test Saturday. They already beat then-No. 16 Baylor, but the Bears have been plagued by inconsistency this season. Kansas, on the other hand, has been Kansas. It will be interesting to see how the Buffs try to work their offense with center Jeff Withey in the paint for the Jayhawks.

4) No. 11 Cincinnati, as seems to be the case so often, has flown under the radar once again this season and is creeping toward the Top 10. They should win handily over an 0-8 Maryland-Eastern Shore team Saturday, but keep an eye on Mick Cronin’s Bearcats going forward.

5) Clemson will get a chance to see exactly where they are when they take on No. 8 Arizona Saturday. The high-powered Wildcats have now become the clubhouse favorite to win the Pac-12, and the Tigers will be able to see if they are NCAA tournament-worthy against top-tier opponents.

The Rest of the Top 25:

No. 1 Indiana vs. Central Connecticut State (6:00 p.m. ET)

No. 2 Duke vs. Temple (3:15 p.m. ET)

No. 3 Michigan vs. Arkansas (12:00 p.m. ET)

No. 4 Syracuse vs. Monmouth (7:00 p.m. ET)

No. 5 Louisville vs. UMKC (2:00 p.m. ET)

No. 7 Ohio State vs. Long Beach State (12:00 p.m.)

No. 8 Arizona vs. Clemson (8:00 p.m. ET)

No. 9 Kansas vs. Colorado (2:00 p.m. ET)

No. 10 Gonzaga vs. No. 13 Illinois (10:00 p.m. ET, See Above)

No. 11 Cincinnati vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore (2:00 p.m. ET)

No. 12 Missouri vs. Tennessee State (3:00 p.m. ET)

No. 14 Minnesota vs. USC (10:30 p.m. ET)

No. 15 Georgetown vs. Towson (12:00 p.m. ET)

No. 18 New Mexico vs. Valparaiso (9:00 p.m. ET)

No. 19 Michigan State vs. Loyola (Ill.) (2:00 p.m. ET)

No. 20 North Carolina vs. East Tennessee State (7:30 p.m. ET)

No. 22 Notre Dame vs. Brown (7:00 p.m. ET)

No. 23 Oklahoma State vs. Missouri State (4:00 p.m. ET)

No. 24 Wichita State vs. Northern Colorado (8:00 p.m. ET)

No. 25 NC State vs. Cleveland State (1:00 p.m. ET)

Other Notable Games 

Kentucky vs. Portland (12:00 p.m. ET)

Memphis vs. Austin Peay (1:00 p.m. ET)

Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia (4:00 p.m. ET)

UCLA vs. Texas (5:15 p.m. ET)

Wisconsin vs. Marquette (6:00 p.m. ET)

Villanova vs. Penn (8:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

Nevada vs. Washington (8:00 p.m. ET)

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

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.