Pregame Shootaround 1.24.13: West Coast action heats up Thursday night

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Game of the Day: UCLA vs. No. 6 Arizona (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

In the night’s biggest game, the Bruins head down to Tucson to take on an Arizona team in a game that is crucial to UCLA’s hopes of winning the Pac-12 regular season title. Both the Bruins and the Wildcats have lost their only game against Oregon this season, and a loss on Thursday would drop them two games behind the Ducks in the league standings.

The good news for Arizona, however, is that the Wildcats match up very well with UCLA. They have the size on the wings — with Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom — to negate the advantages that Jordan Adams and Shabazz Muhammad have grown accustomed to. Specifically, Hill should be able to take away Muhammad’s post-up game. Arizona also has the kind of size up front that can overwhelm the Bruins. What cost UCLA against Oregon was the Wears’ inability to deal with Tony Woods and Oregon’s big front line.

That said, trusting Arizona at this point in the season is not the easiest thing to do. Hopefully, we’ll be able to watc this game while listening to Bill Walton rant about whatever is it that Bill Walton rants about.

Whoโ€™s Getting Upset?: No. 19 VCU at Richmond (7:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Net)

Richmond does not matchup all that well with VCU. They turn the ball over too much, and no one in the country is as good at forcing turnovers as VCU is. They don’t rebound the ball all that well defensively, and VCU can crash the offensive glass really well. One thing that Richmond does well, however, is chase their opponents off the three-point line. The Rams love to shoot threes. If the Spiders can keep Treveon Graham and Troy Daniels from getting hot, this is a rivalry game. The kind of game where you can throw the records out the window. We’ll see what happens.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Belmont at Morehead State (7:00 p.m. ET)

Morehead State likes to press and press and press some more. They are coached by Sean Woods, who makes Frank Martin look docile and calm. Rick Byrd, on the other hand, isn’t afraid of getting up and down the floor and like to use a press as well. Bruins’ guard Ian Clark has been as hot as anyone in the country over the last two weeks, and Belmont enters this game undefeated in the OVC. Can it last?

Five Things to Watch For

1) UNLV hosts Wyoming at 9:15 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Net) tonight, after the Cowboys knocked off San Diego State on Saturday and UNLV lost to Colorado State on the road. The Pokes are trying to figure out how to play without Luke Martinez — they previously lost to Boise State and Fresno State — but the Rebels are not an easy team to beat in Vegas.

2) The WCC will provide some quality hoops on Thursday night, with a pair of games tipping off at 11:00 p.m. ET tonight. BYU visits No. 10 Gonzaga, a team that the Cougars actually matchup pretty well with. They have some size inside to matchup with with the Zags’ massive front line. St. Mary’s will also be taking on San Diego, two teams that are currently sitting at 4-1 in WCC play.

3) Colorado and Stanford are probably the two most disappointing teams in the Pac-12. Both were expected to compete for the league title; neither of them are above .500 in league play.

4) Bryant has been the nation’s biggest surprise this season, as they currently sit at 6-0 in the NEC this year. They will take on Sacred Heart tonight on the road.

5) Belmont-Morehead State isn’t the only good game tonight in the OVC. Tennessee State will be taking on Eastern Kentucky in a battle for second place in the Eastern Division.

The Top 25

  • Purdue at No. 2 Michigan (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • UCLA at No. 6 Arizona (9:00 p.m. ESPN2)
  • BYU at No. 10 Gonzaga (11:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
  • No. 19 VCU at Richmond (7:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Net)
  • Tennessee at No. 23 Ole Miss (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

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 averagedย 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 Iโ€™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 โ€“ both by our university and by Chris โ€“ 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.