Six possible bid ‘thieves’ to keep an eye on over next nine days

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It happens every year during conference tournament time. A team in either a power or mid-major conference goes on an unexpected run, grabbing an NCAA tournament bid for themselves while taking one away from a bubble team. What teams are capable of pulling off a similar run this season? Here are a few teams to keep an eye on over the next nine days.

– Northern Iowa: The winner of the Missouri Valley quarterfinal between the Panthers and Illinois State will be a team to watch this weekend. The Panthers won both regular season meetings, most recently beating the Redbirds 80-72 last Saturday, but as the saying goes it’s tough to beat a team three times in a season. UNI is 7-2 over its last nine games with Anthony James and Seth Tuttle lead the way offensively, and the Panthers have four players averaging at least 10.2 points per game.

– Providence: The Friars have been hot, as they’ve won seven of their last eight games leading up to Saturday’s regular season finale at Connecticut. Vincent Council runs the show at the point and Providence has two of the Big East’s most improved players in forward Kadeem Batts and guard Bryce Cotton. A win on Saturday gives Providence the seven seed in next week’s Big East tournament, which could mean an opener against a St. John’s squad that’s struggled of late.

– USC: The Trojans have played much better since Bob Cantu took over for the fired Kevin O’Neill, and the talent is there for this group to get hot in Las Vegas. Transfers Eric Wise (UC Irvine) and J.T. Terrell (Wake Forest) are the leading scorers, and USC doesn’t lack for size inside either due to the presence of Dewayne Dedmon and Rice transfer Omar Oraby. It’s all about focus for USC; if the Trojans show up in Vegas ready to compete they can win what looks to be a wide-open Pac-12 tournament.

– Iowa: Four of the Hawkeyes’ last five defeats have been by four points or less, and with Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White leading the way Fran McCaffery’s team doesn’t lack for talent. But Iowa struggles some from the field, as they shoot just 41.9% from the field. With a win in the first round they’ll likely get a shot at an Indiana or Michigan, and a win would not only open up the Big Ten bracket but also give the Hawkeyes another quality victory for their resume.

– Saint Joseph’s: Given how tough the Atlantic 10 has been there are a number of teams capable of winning the tournament in Brooklyn. The Hawks may be a bit of a surprise here given their inconsistent nature but Phil Martelli’s squad is talented. C.J. Aiken and Ronald Roberts Jr. are both skilled front court players, and the backcourt tandem of Carl Jones and Langston Galloway can put points on the board as well. Can Saint Joseph’s wake up and make a run? Don’t rule them out.

– Arkansas: The Razorbacks have been dreadful on the road this season, but Mike Anderson’s team has depth and skill with B.J. Young the main attraction. Maybe the Hogs will feel more comfortable playing at a neutral site than they do on the road, and if so don’t be surprised if Arkansas ends up winning games in a conference tournament that looks to be a crapshoot after regular season champion Florida.

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.