Kelly Olynyk, the nation’s most improved player

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After winning at Santa Clara last night, No. 10 Gonzaga improved 15-1 on the season, with a pair of road wins to kick off WCC play.

They are ranked 13th according to Kenpom, a number that could climb drastically if the Zags can ever put together enough defensive stops to improve their defensive efficiency, which is currently sitting at 61st in the country. That’s because Gonzaga is the third-most efficient offensive team in the country, which, frankly, is an incredible fact when you take a look at the season that some of their best players are having.

Kevin Pangos, who many expected to have a Dan Dickau-esque career in Spokane, has seen his scoring dip to 11.8 points, a number that was significantly bolstered by the 54 points he scored in wins over Oklahoma State and Baylor in the last week of December. Gary Bell Jr. has seen his three-point shooting drop from 47.7% to 34.4%. Elias Harris is having an excellent season despite the fact that he’s hit just 3-19 from beyond the arc.

The difference this year?

Kelly Olynyk, a 7-foot Canadian that has gone from a a seldom-used sophomore to a redshirt year to a potential WCC Player of the Year as a junior. There isn’t a more improved player in the country.

Olynyk is averaging a team-high 17.1 points while also chipping in 6.6 boards. He’s shooting 71.1% from inside the arc and 81.4% from the charity stripe. Perhaps more importantly, he’s played his best basketball against Gonzaga’s toughest competition while developing a knack from taking over down the stretch. He had all 22 of his points in the second half of a comeback win at Washington State. He had all 21 of his points in the second half of a win at Oklahoma State. He had 12 of his 21 points in the second half of a win over Baylor, sparking the game-changing run with 10 minutes left in the game. He went for 20 in a win over Kansas State.

Olynyk’s best game of the season came on Saturday night, as he finished with a career-high 33 points while adding 10 boards, the first time in his career that Olynyk has notched a double-double against a Division I opponent. (He had 11 points and 10 boards in a win over Lewis & Clark.)

With a front line that includes Harris, Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga has a front line with as much size and versatility as any team in the country.

But if it wasn’t for Olynyk’s development, they wouldn’t be seriously discussed as a top ten team in the country.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.