Pregame Shootaround 12.21.12: BYU visits Baylor and Stanford looks to rebound

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Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will 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: BYU at Baylor (9 PM) 
After watching the Bears walk out of the Marriott Center with an 86-83 victory last season, BYU looks to return the favor in the best matchup of the day. The Cougars have won three straight since getting whipped by 21 at Iowa State. Since that loss Dave Rose’s club has held their opponent below 40% shooting in two of three games, but repeating that feat will be tougher against Pierre Jackson and company.

If BYU is to win they’re going to need a big night from Matt Carlino, who has to remain under control. And the battle in the paint featuring BYU’s Brandon Davies and Baylor’s Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin will be entertaining to say the least. With both teams rebounding at least 32% of their missed shots, the team that controls its defensive glass will win.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Maryland (vs. Stony Brook; 8 PM) 
The Terrapins have taken full advantage of their schedule (as good teams tend to do), winning nine straight after losing the season opener to Kentucky. But the Seawolves pose an interesting challenge despite not having a player in their rotation taller than 6-9 Anthony Mayo. Guards Anthony Jackson, Jameel Warney and David Coley lead the way offensively for Steve Pikiell’s squad, and in forward Tommy Brenton the Seawolves have one of the most versatile players in America East. If Stony Brook can harass Alex Len and Dez Wells into off nights they’ve got a puncher’s chance. But given the talent of those two, that’s far easier said than done.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Montana at Sacramento State (10:05 PM)
Both teams enter tonight’s game 1-0 in Big Sky play, with the Grizzlies’ Will Cherry playing his third game of the year after returning from a broken foot. After playing 13 minutes in a loss to South Dakota State, Cherry played 35 (12 points, three rebounds, three assists) in Montana’s 62-56 win over Northern Arizona on Wednesday night. And it will be interesting to see how Cherry responds to playing two games (both on the road) in three days. But he will have help from Kareem Jamar and Mathias Ward, and they’ll need to perform well against a Sacramento State team that has four players averaging double figures. Forward John Dickson leads the way and point guard Dylan Garrity is a solid on-court leader.

Five Things to Watch

1) Given UConn’s rebounding issues tonight’s contest against Fordham could be one to keep an eye on, especially with the Rams now having the services of All-Atlantic 10 forward Chris Gaston. The Huskies are being out-rebounded by nearly six rebounds per game, and opponents are rebounding 38.3% of their missed shots (worst in the Big East).

2) Just one undefeated team is in action tonight, as 11-0 Wyoming hosts UCSB in Laramie. The individual matchup between UCSB’s Alan Williams and Wyoming’s Leonard Washington will be fun.

3) Stanford looks to rebound from their loss at No. 25 NC State with another road game, this time taking on Northwestern in Evanston. While the loss in Raleigh was an opportunity the Cardinal failed to grasp, tonight’s game is one that neither Stanford (nor the Pac-12) can afford to lose from an NCAA tournament resume standpoint.

4) Already having beaten Ole Miss this season, Kermit Davis’ Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will look to pick up another win over an SEC opponent as they take on Vanderbilt in Nashville. Middle Tennessee has been one of the nation’s best when it comes to defending the three, as opponents are shooting just 27.7% from beyond the arc. Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller will need to be on their game for Vandy if the Commodores are to win.

5) No. 22 Notre Dame should be able to take care of Niagara in South Bend, but they’d better be careful with Juan’ya Green and Antoine Mason. Green, MAAC Rookie of the Year last season, and Mason are averaging a combined 35.1 points per game with Mason’s 19.2 average currently ranking third (behind Iona’s Lamont Jones and Sean Armand) the MAAC.

The Top 25 

FIU at No. 6 Indiana (7 PM)

Niagara at No. 22 Notre Dame (7 PM)

Other Notable Games

Fordham at Connecticut (7 PM)

Stanford at Northwestern (9 PM)

Vanderbilt vs. Middle Tennessee (in Nashville; 9 PM)

SMU vs. Wagner (Cable Car Classic; 9 PM)

Cal State Northridge at Utah (10:30 PM)

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report 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.