OVC Conference Tournament Preview

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The OVC heads to Nashville as the Belmont Bruins look to defend their city and win the conference tournament championship in just their first season as conference members. But in order to do so they will have to stave off several talented and feisty teams looking to make a name for themselves at the Bruins expense.

This hasn’t been the banner year that many expected. The conference’s previous powerhouse, Murray State, has struggled to maintain their lofty status following a breakout season. Morehead State, a postseason legend of years’ past, is in the first year of a coaching change and Tennessee State played without their star player for much of the regular season.

Anything less than a Belmont victory in the championship game over Murray State would have to be considered both a disappointment and a shocking upset.

But if we’ve learned anything from this season thus far, it’s to expect the unexpected.

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

The Bracket

Where: Municipal Auditorium (Nashville, TN)

When: March 6-9

Final: March 9, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Belmont

Belmont enters their first OVC Tournament as the prohibitive favorites following their inaugural OVC campaign in which they finished 14-2 in league play. Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson anchor one of the top backcourts in the country. The senior duo combines to average 31.6ppg and stopping them will be the number one priority for all opponents who run in to them. But the Bruins have other weapons too. Forwards Trevor Noack and J.J. Mann both average double figures and are high-percentage shooters.

And if they lose?

Murray State, the darlings of 2012 have been pushed to the conference backburner with the arrival of Belmont into the OVC. But the Racers still have Isaiah Canaan and his 21.6ppg. The Racers also have Ed Daniel, the league’s top rebounder. If the Racers want to make the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years, they will need to ride the coattails of their team leaders.

Sleeper:

The Colonels of Eastern Kentucky will have a tough task in front of them if they want to steal the league’s automatic bid away from Belmont. But EKU does have the benefit of being 3-0 against teams they will have to face before potentially playing Belmont in the finals. But the x-factor will be team rebounding. The Colonels are ranked a dreadful 345th in total rebounding. But they can help the cause by making a high percentage of their field goals.

Studs:

– Ian Clark & Kerron Johnson, Belmont: They make up arguably the most dynamic and prolific backcourt in in both Atlantic Sun and Ohio Valley history. Only twice this season have both players failed to reach double figures in the same game.

– Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Everybody knows his name and everybody knows his game. But that hasn’t helped teams stifle the league’s top scorer. Canaan has failed to score less than 15 points just twice this season and has scored at least 20 points in each of the past four games.

– Robert Covington, Tennessee State: Despite missing the first nine games of league play due to knee injury, Covington is capable of scoring in volume on any given night. He also has developed a knack for being a big game player, and tends to save his best performances for high stakes situations.

– Nino Johnson, Southeast Missouri State: The sophomore big-man has been playing his best basketball of the season as of late, registering a double-double in three of the past four games and has been a match-up nightmare for many of the top teams in the league.

CBT Prediction: The Murray State racers boune back from a two-game losing streak to make a run to the OVC championship where they will face No. 1-seed Belmont. Isaiah Canaan will lead the Racers to the brink of victory, only to have the Bruins close the door on them, winning the OVC championship in their first year as members.

You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

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.