Horizon League Conference Tournament Preview

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The Horizon League will take on a bit of a different look this season, as Butler left the conference for the Atlantic 10 this past summer. The top two seeds — Valparaiso and Detroit, in this case — will still have a double-bye into the semifinals, but now, since there are only nine teams in the league, the three-seed Wright State will have a first-round bye, taking on the winner of the 6-7 game.

Valpo and Detroit are the leagues two best teams, and I don’t think many would complain about a rematch between those two in the final. The split this season, with the road team winning both games after wild, second half comebacks. Wright State was picked to finish last in the preseason, but the Raiders ended up finishing tied third in the Horizon League standings, which earned head coach Billy Donlon Coach of the Year honors. Green Bay, the four-seed, tied with WSU for third, but they may end up being the more dangerous team in the tournament thanks to a pair of all-league players in sophomore Keifer Sykes and junior seven-footer Alec Brown.

One other team to keep an eye on is Youngstown State. They finished 7-9 in league play, but they won at Georgia and at George Washington in November. But their star Kendrick Perry is battling a knee injury he suffered in practice Feb. 20th. He’s doubtful for their first round game.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: First round hosted at the higher seed, the quarters and semis hosted by the No. 1 seed, and the final to be played at the highest remaining seed.

When: March 5, 8-9, 12

Final: March 12, 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Favorite: Valparaiso

The Crusaders were the best team in the Horizon League this season, winning 14 of their last 16 regular season games — including a 22 point pounding of Eastern Kentucky in BracketBusters — after a loss to Loyola (IL) in their conference opener. Valpo is led by a pair of forwards in Ryan Broekhoff (15.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg), the 2012 Horizon League Player of the Year, and Kevin Van Wjik (12.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg). Valpo has been the most efficient and best shooting team in the conference during league play, which should continue as they play every game on their home floor.

And if they lose?: Detroit is the most talented team in the conference, but also the most enigmatic. Ray McCallum (19.2 ppg, 4.7 apg, 5.2 rpg) was the league’s Player of the Year and is the kind of dynamic, athletic point guard that doesn’t often end up in the Horizon League. Throw in Doug Anderson’s acrobatics and the now-healthy Nick Minnerath (15.1 ppg), and the Titans have plenty of weapons offensively that thrive in their uptempo style. But will they defend well enough in March? Detroit was 177th nationally in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom.

Sleepers: Wright State surprised the league this season by playing the best defense in the conference and controlling the pace of the game. Given the history of the head coaches at Wright State, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Green Bay has some talent on the roster, but they got worked by Valpo twice, who they are scheduled to meet in the semis should they get that far.

Studs:

Doug Anderson, Detroit: Ray McCallum is the star, the coach’s son and the former top 75 recruit, but Anderson is the Horizon’s must-see TV. This is why.

Kendrick Perry, Youngstown State: He’s the conference’s second-leading scorer (16.9 ppg), leader in steals (2.0 spg), an the biggest reason why the Penguins can make a run.

Kiefer Sykes, Green Bay: Alec Brown gets the attention because he’s 7-foot-0, but the 5-foot-11 sophomore point guard (15.4 ppg, 4.2 apg, 3.2 rpg) is the best player for the Pheonix.

CBT Prediction: Detroit upsets Valpo in a thrilling title game.

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.