Pregame Shootaround 1.3.13: Pac-12 showdown highlights first Thursday of 2013

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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: Colorado at No. 3 Arizona (8 PM) 
The Buffaloes and Wildcats met three times last season, with Colorado’s win in the Pac-12 title game punching their ticket to the NCAA tournament and sending Arizona to the NIT. The Wildcats enter this meeting in far better condition across the board, as they have a point guard in Mark Lyons who they can rely on despite the occasional adventures with the basketball and three young big men who are a vast improvement over what the Wildcats had last year.

The key for Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski will be to match the energy level of Colorado’s Andre Roberson, who is the conference’s best rebounder and has posted six double-doubles this season. Spencer Dinwiddie is one of the conference’s best perimeter defenders, but it remains to be seen if he draws the assignment of Lyons or Nick Johnson, and Askia Booker can put up points in a hurry if allowed to go off. Arizona’s Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom will figure prominently in Sean Miller’s game plan, and Colorado will need solid performances from both Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott if they’re to leave Tucson with a victory.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 2 Michigan (at Northwestern; 7 PM) 
John Shurna’s graduated and Drew Crawford is done for the season, but in recent years Bill Carmody’s program has been good for at least one home victory that few expect them to get. This could be that game, because for as well as the Wolverines have played this season this is only their second road game of the season (Bradley being the first). After scoring nine points in the season opener Northwestern’s Reggie Hearn has reached double figures in 11 straight games, scoring 18 and grabbing seven rebounds in a 70-68 loss to Stanford (Hearn didn’t play against Brown).

He, David Sobolewski and Tre Demps (12.0 ppg, 9-of-12 3PT over his last four games) need to be at their best in order to combat what Michigan’s Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas bring to the table if the Wildcats are to win. Another key for Northwestern: keeping Michigan off the offensive boards. The Wolverines are grabbing nearly 36% of their misses, and if Northwestern can limit that they can win.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Belmont at Jacksonville State (8 PM) 
The Bruins make their OVC debut and it won’t be easy either, as the Gamecocks enter with a 2-0 conference record  and have won seven of their last eight games. But there is the strength of schedule factor to address, as Rick Byrd’s team has been tested by teams such as Stanford, Middle Tennessee (Belmont won those), VCU and Kansas. Jacksonville State’s toughest opponent was Oregon, and overall their strength of schedule ranking is down in the 300’s. Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson are one of the better backcourts in college basketball much less the OVC, and if Jacksonville State can’t slow those two down it’s going to be a long night for the home team.

Five Things

1) On Friday it was UCLA that needed a solid victory and the Bruins came through, beating Missouri 97-94 in overtime. Ben Howland’s team opens conference play against a California team that lost to Harvard last week, and with a DirecTV Classic title that doesn’t look all that impressive at this point (they beat Georgia Tech in the semis, but Saint Mary’s losing to Pacific robbed Cal of a marquee matchup in the title game) Mike Montgomery’s team could use a good resume-builder. Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs are averaging 37.3 points per game, but given how much attention they’ll draw Richard Solomon needs to step up.

2) Wisconsin looks to win its Big Ten opener for the 10th consecutive season tonight as they host Penn State. Patrick Chambers’ team has won four straight since being blown out by La Salle, but having to navigate conference play without their best player (Tim Frazier) will prove difficult for Penn State.

3) Canisius puts its 2-0 MAAC record on the line as they host Fairfield, who has won five straight (including a win at Saint Joseph’s). The individual matchup between the Golden Griffins’ Billy Baron and Fairfield’s Derek Needham will be worth the cost of admission.

4) Arkansas State looks to separate itself in the West Division of the Sun Belt tonight, but to do so they’ll have to beat a Middle Tennessee squad that’s one of two undefeated teams in the East. Both teams are good when it comes to offensive rebounding but the Blue Raiders are one of the nation’s best when it comes to defending the three. Opponents are shooting just 27.5% from beyond the arc, and Middle Tennessee’s perimeter defenders will be paying close attention to Edward Townsel (16.2 ppg, 40% 3PT).

5) How good is 8-5 Pepperdine? We’ll find out tonight as they host No. 10 Gonzaga in the WCC opener for both. Marty Wilson’s Waves have been a pleasant surprise to this point in the season with senior guard Lorne Jackson and freshman forward Stacy Davis leading the way, but the Bulldogs are an entirely different animal when compared to the teams Pepperdine has played to this point.

The Top 25 

No. 2 Michigan at Northwestern (7 PM)

Colorado at No. 3 Arizona (8 PM)

No. 10 Gonzaga at Pepperdine (9 PM)

Other Notable Games

Northeastern at George Mason (7 PM; NBC Sports Network)

Fairfield at Canisius (7 PM)

Middle Tennessee at Arkansas State (8:05 PM)

Penn State at Wisconsin (8:30 PM)

Loyola Marymount at BYU (9 PM)

California at UCLA (11 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.