Pregame Shootaround 3.8.13: Princeton looks to retain control of Ivy League race

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Game of the Day: Rutgers at Seton Hall (7:00 p.m., ESPN3)

Regardless of what happens at the Prudential Center the Scarlet Knights and Pirates will both play on Tuesday in the first round of the Big East tournament, so there isn’t much on the line in that regard. But this matchup is an important game when it comes to the direction of both programs, who have failed to take advantage of the elite talent available in New Jersey.

Rutgers dropped a tough decision to Marquette in their last outing, and the frustration of once again failing to get over the hump hit head coach Mike Rice hard during his postgame press conference. It’s been a frustrating season in South Orange as well, but in junior Fuquan Edwin the Pirates have one of the Big East’s most improved players. This isn’t the best game on tonight’s slate when looking at the quality of the teams, but when considering the future for both programs this one’s very important.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Princeton (at Yale, 7:00 p.m.) 

With Harvard (9-3 Ivy) losing at both Princeton and Penn last weekend the Tigers (9-2) have assumed control of the Ivy League race with just three conference games remaining. Mitch Henderson’s team hits the road and they’ll have revenge on their minds, as Yale ended Princeton’s 22-game Ivy home win streak back on February 9.

The Bulldogs shot 54.8% from the field and outscored Princeton by nine (16-7) at the foul line in the first meeting, with Javier Duren scoring 13 points and Sam Martin adding 11 off the bench. Princeton turned the ball over 16 times in the first meeting, resulting in a loss despite Denton Koon (16 points) and Ian Hummer (14 points, six assists and five rebounds) combining to score 30 points.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Illinois State vs. Northern Iowa (9:30 p.m., ESPN3)

Looking for a team in the Missouri Valley other than Creighton or Wichita State capable of grabbing the league’s automatic bid? The answer may very well come from this quarterfinal, with UNI beating the Redbirds 80-72 in the regular season finale for both last Saturday. Illinois State has lost four of its last five but with Tyler Brown and Jackie Carmichael the talent is there for Dan Muller’s team to make a run in St. Louis.

The difference in last week’s game: rebounding. UNI killed Illinois State on the glass, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds with Seth Tuttle accounting for nine of those. Anthony James scored 19 points and Marc Sonnen knocked down six of UNI’s ten three-pointers in the victory.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Three conference tournaments tip off Friday, as the Southern, Metro Atlantic and Sun Belt conferences take the floor. Which of the teams in action are most capable of getting hot? Keep an eye on Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), who won four in four days last season, and Fairfield (9-9).

2) Akron looks to clinch the outright MAC title against rival Kent State, and the Zips will attempt to do so without starting point guard Alex Abreu. Abreu was suspended indefinitely on Thursday following an arrest on charges of marijuana trafficking.

3) The Atlantic Sun and Ohio Valley conferences will both play their semifinals on Friday night, with the four best teams advancing in the OVC tournament. Belmont/Murray State would be the expected matchup there but don’t overlook either Tennessee State or Eastern Kentucky.

4) Mercer’s the host team in the A-Sun, but the regular season champions will have their hands full with USC Upstate’s Torrey Craig. The first team All-Atlantic Sun selection averaged 25.5 points per game against the Bears this season, but Mercer kept him off the glass (4.0 rpg) as they won both meetings.

5) BYU begins WCC tournament play tonight as they take on San Diego in the second quarterfinal of the night. These two split the regular season series (home team winning both), and the Toreros will need a big night from forward Chris Manresa if they’re to slow down BYU’s Brandon Davies.

Other Notable Games 

3:30 p.m. Indiana State at Evansville (ESPN3)
7:00 p.m. Columbia at Harvard
7:00 p.m. Tennessee State at Belmont (ESPNU)
7:00 p.m. Kent State at Akron (ESPN2)
8:00 p.m. Stetson vs. Florida Gulf Coast (ESPN3)
11:30 p.m. San Diego vs. BYU (ESPNU)

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

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.