Pregame Shootaround 2.16.13: San Diego State-UNLV is nightcap to watch Saturday

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Game of the Day: No. 16 Pittsburgh vs. No. 18 Marquette (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Pittsburgh began its Big East schedule with two straight losses. Since then, though, the Panthers have gone 8-2 and have quality wins over Syracuse and Cincinnati. One team they have yet to beat, though, is Marquette, who won in overtime on Jan. 12. In that game, Tray Woodall played just four minutes after suffering a concussion. With him in the lineup Saturday, his 10.9 points and 5.4 assists per game could make the difference.

For Marquette, Davante Gardner has struggled over the last five games. In that January meeting with Pittsburgh, he was 6-of-6 from the floor for 13 points. Another night like that from him would have the Golden Eagles on the right track for a win Saturday.

Who’s Getting Upset?: North Carolina (-6) vs. Virginia (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

North Carolina does well when it is able to get out in transition and score when the defense is scattered. Against Virginia, those opportunities will be limited because the Cavaliers take care of the basketball and shoot a solid percentage from the field (46% FG, 40% 3pt FG).

Joe Harris will again be the key for Virginia on the road. If he continues to hit shots as he has for much of ACC play, it will open up opportunities for complementary scorer Akil Mitchell toward the interior. With limited possessions, North Carolina can’t afford to turn the ball over, and will need James Michael McAdoo to bounce back after shooting 4-of-12 from the floor vs. Duke.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: San Diego State vs. UNLV (9:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

Saturday night’s matchup sees two of the Mountain West’s best players (and likely the two top contenders for the conference’s Player of the Year award) face off. The Rebels are in need of a win after dropping three of their last four, including losses to Boise State, Air Force, and Fresno State.

San Diego State, on the other hand, has won two of its last three but fell on Wednesday to Colorado State. In that game, Frankling struggled to shoot just 4-of-13 from the floor for 11 points. He needs to return to his typical 17 points and nine rebounds for the Aztecs to get a win Saturday.

Five Things to Watch For

1) No. 2 Duke has responded with six straight wins after getting blown out by Miami on Jan. 23. We’ll see one of the better individual big man matchups Saturday as the Blue Devils’ Mason Plumlee meets Maryland’s Alex Len. The Terrapins will be without Pe’Shon Howard because of suspension.

2) No. 8 Michigan State finds itself in a trap game Saturday against Nebraska. With a brutal four-game stretch waiting over the next two weeks (No. 1 Indiana, No. 13 Ohio State, No. 4 Michigan, No. 20 Wisconsin), the Spartans need not overlook the Cornhuskers on the road. Don’t expect any problems, but it’s something to keep in mind.

3) No. 15 Kansas needed a big win over Kansas State to try to return to equilibrium after three straight losses. They got it. Now they face a Texas team that has gotten a lift from the return of guard Myck Kabongo.

4) No. 11 Butler has a chance to bounce back after a loss to Charlotte on Wednesday. The Bulldogs travel to 6-19 Fordham, though they could be without center Andrew Smith, who was cleared to practice but is a game-time decision. Expect Rotnei Clarke to find his groove again after being quiet until late vs. Charlotte.

5) Both UCLA and Stanford need a win Saturday. The Cardinal are fresh off a loss to USC on Thursday, and the Bruins started off their road trip to the Bay Area with a loss to Cal that same day. Stanford will look to the interior with Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis, while UCLA hopes Shabazz Muhammad finds his shooting touch again after going 4-of-13 from the floor vs. Cal.

The Top 25

No. 1 Indiana vs. Purdue (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 2 Duke vs. Maryland (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 5 Gonzaga vs. San Francisco (4:30 p.m. ET, ROOT Sports)

No. 6 Syracuse vs. Seton Hall (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 7 Florida vs. Auburn (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 8 Michigan State vs. Nebraska (8:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 10 Kansas State vs. Baylor (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 11 Butler vs. Fordham (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

No. 14 Kansas vs. Texas (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 16 Pittsburgh vs. No. 18 Marquette (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 17 Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 19 New Mexico vs. Boise State (9:00 p.m. ET)

No. 21 Notre Dame vs. Providence (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 22 Memphis vs. Marshall (8:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

No. 23 Oregon vs. Washington State (7:00 p.m. ET, Pac 12 Networks)

No. 24 Colorado State vs. Air Force (4:00 p.m. ET)

No. 25 Kentucky vs. Tennessee (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Other Notable Games

Villanova vs. Connecticut (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Virginia vs. North Carolina (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Saint Joseph’s vs. La Salle (1:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

NC State vs. Virginia Tech (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Army vs. Navy (2:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

Creighton vs. Evansville (3:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Missouri vs. Arkansas (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN2)

Stanford vs. UCLA (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN2)

Temple vs. Massachusetts (6:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

Detroit vs. Valparaiso (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Princeton vs. Harvard (7:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

Charlotte vs. Saint Louis (7:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

Saint Mary’s vs. Loyola Marymount (7:00 p.m. ET)

Georgia vs. Ole Miss (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Arizona State vs. Colorado State (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

San Diego State vs. UNLV (9:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

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.