While 1-seed Gonzaga had issues for much of their game against 16-seed Southern on Thursday afternoon, the top overall seed experienced no such issues. In front of a partisan crowd at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Louisville took care of North Carolina A&T by the final score of 79-48.
Russ Smith accounted for a game-high 23 points to go along with eight steals to pace the Cardinals (29-5), who take on the winner of Colorado State/Missouri on Saturday. On the night the Cardinals racked up 20 steals, using their pressure defense to force the overmatched Aggies into 27 turnovers.
Freshman forward Bruce Beckford was the lone North Carolina A&T (20-17) player to reach double figures, finishing with 12 points and four rebounds.
How much can be taken out of a game like this for Louisville? Clearly the caliber of opponent on Saturday will be much better than it was on Thursday regardless of who the Cardinals face. But Smith being relatively under control (he accounted for three assists and four turnovers) is what Rick Pitino’s team will need if they’re to return to the Final Four.
Louisville out-rebounded the Aggies 31-20, grabbing 12 offensive rebounds, and they also scored 44 points in the paint. Rebounding will be critical on Saturday, as both Colorado State (2nd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage) and Missouri (7th) rank among the best teams in the country when it comes to hitting the offensive boards.
After the first media timeout (Louisville led 6-4) the Cardinals eliminated any suspense, making sure that the Aggies wouldn’t hang around as Southern did in Salt Lake City.
The tests will get tougher for Louisville beginning with Saturday’s contest, but the Cardinals did little on Thursday to dissuade those who expect them to reach the Final Four.
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Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.
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 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 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 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 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.