The Little Dances: Championship Week Day 3 Preview

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The NCAA Tournament doesn’t get going until March 19, but for the real college hoops fans, the days leading up to Selection Sunday is when the madness really begins. Over the next two weeks teams will fight for the postseason lives. Bubbles will burst and tickets will be punched, and Cinderellas will be born. This is the real March Madness.

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

Here’s what to watch for on Thursday.

Game of the Night: East Tennessee State vs. Stetson
The two teams split regular season games, with just three total points deciding the difference. Stetson is one of the top-30 teams in terms of efficient field goal percentage. On the flip side, the Buccaneers are one of the least efficient defensive teams in the country, having given up 80 or more points seven times this season. Plus, it’s a mid-afternoon start. There aren’t many things better than mid-afternoon single elimination basketball.

Player to Watch: Cole Dickerson, San Francisco
The 6-foot-7 junior has been a matchup nightmare for all WCC players not named Kelly Olynyk or Elias Harris. Dickerson has logged 11 double-doubles this season and is a threat to score from anywhere on the court. He’s one of the most talented and athletic mid-major players you’ve probably never heard of.

Miscellaneous Madness:
It’s day one of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, otherwise known as “Arch Madness”. While often considered one of the most entertaining tournaments on a yearly basis, three of the top four seeds have advanced to the semifinals every year for the past decade. In fact, a team seeded outside the top four has not made the finals since before 2006. So even while we can expect the unexpected, it’s almost guaranteed that one of the top fours seeds will win the automatic bid.

Tuesday Schedule:

Atlantic Sun Conference Quarterfinals
2:30 p.m. – East Tennessee State (6) vs. Stetson (3)
8:30 p.m. – USC Upstate (5)vs. Jacksonville (4)

Big South Conference Quarterfinals
Noon – Winthrop (5S) vs. Charleston Southern (1S)
2 p.m. – Longwood (6N) vs. VMI (2N)
6 p.m. – Campbell (3N) vs. Gardner-Webb (2S)
8 p.m. – Liberty (5N) vs. High Point (1N)

Missouri Valley Conference Tournament
7 p.m. – Drake (9) vs. Bradley (8)
9:30 p.m. – Southern Illinois (10) vs. Missouri State (7)

Ohio Valley Conference First Round
7 p.m. – Morehead State (5) vs. Tennessee State (4)
9 p.m. – Southeast Missouri State (6) vs. Eastern Kentucky (3)

West Coast Conference First Round
9 p.m. – Loyola Marymount (9) vs. San Francisco (5)
11:30 p.m. – Pepperdine (7) vs. San Diego (6)

You can find 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 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.