Pregame Shootaround 2.22.13: Saint Louis visits No. 15 Butler in critical A-10 battle

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Game of the Night: Saint Louis at No. 15 Butler (7:00 p.m.; ESPNU) 

Friday’s schedule may be light, but the battle between the Billikens and Bulldogs more than makes up for it. Jim Crews’ team currently leads the Atlantic 10 and is coming off of an impressive beating of VCU earlier this week. Forward Dwayne Evans leads a balanced offensive attack for SLU, and just as important is their work on defense. Opponents turn the ball over an average of 15.2 times per game, and their turnover margin currently ranks second in the A-10.

Rotnei Clarke leads the way offensively for Butler with an average of 17.1 points per game, and the Bulldogs (9-3 Atlantic 10) trail SLU (9-2) by a game in the loss column entering tonight’s contest. SLU won the first meeting 75-58, forcing a staggering 23 turnovers on the night. Clarke had six of those turnovers, and if Butler is to even the score they have to take care of the basketball.

Who’s Getting Upset? Princeton (-2) at Columbia; 7:00 p.m. 

This wouldn’t be a huge upset given the numbers (for entertainment purposes only, of course), but the Lions are more than capable of knocking off Princeton. Columbia handed Harvard its lone Ivy League loss in stunning fashion a few weeks ago, shooting 50.9% from the field and hitting nine three-pointers in the 78-63 victory.

Princeton defends the three well and overall the Tigers allow just 0.95 points per possession, and forwards Ian Hummer and Denton Koon form a quality tandem inside. Columbia will need Brian Barbour and Steve Frankoski to lead the way for a team that’s balanced offensively (five players average between nine and twelve points per game) in order to win.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: Stephen F. Austin at Long Beach State (9:00 p.m.; ESPNU) 

The Lumberjacks, at 22-3 on the season, are faced with a major test but it’s also an opportunity for a team that’s flown under the radar outside of the Southland Conference. The reason why: four non-Division I wins and a strength of schedule that ranks 313th nationally. Danny Kaspar’s team limits teams to 49.7 points per game, and the Lumberjacks have allowed just one opponent to scored 60 points or more in their last seven games.

Doing so against Long Beach State will be a challenge, with the 49ers having five players averaging nine points per game or more. Senior wing James Ennis is averaging 17.3 points per game for Long Beach State, who currently leads the Big West. And keep an eye on SFA’s Taylor Smith, who currently leads the team in both points (15.8) and rebounds (8.9).

Five Things to Watch

1) Harvard looks to retain control of the Ivy League race as they visit Brown, who has a win over Providence on its resume. Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers have been two of the league’s best players and are a big reason why Tommy Amaker’s team is on track to return to the NCAA tournament, and Kenyatta Smith has also played well of late.

2) With Mercer winning last night, Florida Gulf Coast needs a win at Stetson to avoid falling two games behind the Bears in the loss column atop the Atlantic Sun. Two of the league’s best front court players, FGCU’s Chase Fieler and Stetson’s Adam Pegg, will be on display as well guards Sherwood Brown (FGCU) and Chris Perez (Stetson).

3) Akron puts its 17-game win streak on the line as North Dakota State visits the JAR. The Bison are without leading scorer Taylor Braun, who is out with a broken foot.

4) The chances of someone other than Harvard or Princeton winning the Ivy League are slim to say the least. Cornell is 5-3, and with home games against Penn tonight and Princeton tomorrow the Big Red have an opportunity to claw their way into the discussion.

5) Yale has won 21 of the last 25 meetings in its series with Dartmouth, but the Big Green ended a seven-game losing streak to the Bulldogs with a 71-62 win back on February 2. Center Gabas Maldunas led four Dartmouth players in double figures with 16 points in the first meeting.

Other Notable Games 

North Dakota State at Akron (7:00 p.m.; ESPN2)

Harvard at Brown (7:00 p.m.)

Florida Gulf Coast at Stetson (7:00 p.m.; ESPN3)

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.

Report: Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all pass on sponsoring Lonzo Ball

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Lonzo Ball will enter his rookie season in the NBA without a sponsorship deal from Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, only his family’s Big Baller Brand apparel.

That, according to a report from ESPN, is due to his father LaVar’s insistence that Lonzo not sign with one of the three major apparel companies unless they opted to sign a licensing deal for Big Baller Brand merchandise instead of outfitting Lonzo with their own gear.

“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

LaVar had been representing his son in the negotiations, and is now expected to reach out to other shoe brands, including Chinese apparel companies like Li-Nang.

Big Baller Brand is a startup apparel company launched by LaVar Ball. They sell t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, with most of their products costing at least $50.

Lonzo declared for the NBA Draft after an all-american season that saw him and the UCLA Bruins flame out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16. UCLA lost to Kentucky in that game, and Lonzo had a quiet night while his point guard counterpart, De’Aaron Fox, went off for 39 points.

Lonzo is a likely top three pick in the NBA Draft and, potentially, could still end up going No. 1. He has two younger brothers as well. LiAngelo will be a freshman with the Bruins next season while LaMelo just finished his sophomore season in high school. Both will attend UCLA.