Sweet 16 Resets: The West Region

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On Thursday evening, the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 play will begin, meaning we’ll be four days away from finding out who the four teams are that will be playing for the national title in Atlanta. And in case you spent the past four days living under a rock or on a really, really long flight that didn’t have WiFi, here’s what you missed in the West Region.

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WHERE: Staples Center, Los Angeles

WHEN: Thursday

WHAT HAPPENED?: Madness. No. 1 Gonzaga lost to No. 9 Wichita State. No. 3 New Mexico lost to No. 14 Harvard. No. 4 Kansas State and No. 5 Wisconsin lost to No. 13 La Salle and No. 12 Ole Miss, respectively. When La Salle beat Ole Miss on Sunday, they became just the fifth No. 13 seed to make the Sweet 16, a fact that has been completely ignored thanks to that team from Dunk City, Florida. No. 2 Ohio State (barely) managed to survive No. 10 Iowa State, and will take on No. 6 Arizona on Thursday.

FAVORITE: Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State, at this point, has to be considered the favorite to win the West Region as every other contender in the region has been knocked off. There hasn’t been a hotter team in the country over the last month and a half, and OSU will be looking to ride that wave all the way to the Final Four. The key? LaQuinton Ross. He’s probably the best NBA prospect on the Buckeye roster, and he’s shown flashes of that ability during the tournament. Can he keep that up?

KEY PLAYER: Mark Lyons, Arizona

Sean Miller made the comparison over the weekend that Lyons is like a running quarterback on a football, and I think that’s a fair opinion. He’s not a standard issue point guard, but he’s talented, he’s gutty and he’s a veteran that has made big plays in big situations throughout his career. Arizona’s offense runs through him, but he’ll have his work cut out for him going up against Aaron Craft in the Sweet 16.

WHY AN UNDERDOG WILL WIN: I think both Wichita State and La Salle have a real chance to win this region, but for very different reasons.

– The Shockers are a relatively new team in that many of the pieces on the roster were either elsewhere last season or weren’t contributors. But thanks to some mid-season injuries to key players Carl Hall and Ron Baker, the Shockers are balanced and they are deep. You can’t go into a game thinking that you’re going to stop Carl Hall and win, because then Cleanthony Early, Baker and Fred VanVleet will light you up.

– La Salle is very talented. Ramon Galloway, Tyrone Garland and Tyreek Duren — their three-headed back court — could all be playing in the ACC or the Big East if they wanted to be. But they are at La Salle, and they give the Explorers an incredibly dangerous lineup because they force you to play their style. La Salle runs four guards out there, and they dare you to try and cover one of them with a big man. It’s risky, but La Salle creates the mismatches. That makes them dangerous, especially on the nights their big three ar playing well.

THE TEAMS:

No. 2 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
How they got here: Beat No. 15 Iona 95-70 and No. 10 Iowa State 78-75.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2012
Next up: No. 6 Arizona, 7:47 p.m. ET, TBS
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No. 6 ARIZONA WILDCATS
How they got here: Beat No. 11 Belmont 81-64 and No. 14 Harvard 74-51.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 2 Ohio State, 7:47 p.m. ET, TBS
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No. 9 WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS
How they got here: Beat No. 8 Pitt 73-55 and No. 1 Gonzaga 76-70.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2006
Next up: No. 13 La Salle, 10:17 p.m. ET, TBS
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No. 13 LA SALLE EXPLORERS
How they got here: Beat No. 13 Boise State 80-71, No. 4 Kansas State 63-61, and No. 12 Ole Miss 76-74.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 1955
Next up: No. 9 Wichita State, 10:17 p.m. ET, TBS

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.