No. 8 Syracuse provides answers to key questions in Maui Invitational title run

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While No. 8 Syracuse was immediately considered to be a contender for the ACC title in their first season in the league, with the coaches picking them to finish second behind Duke in the preseason poll, there were still some questions for Jim Boeheim’s team to answer. How would they account for the loss of both Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche on the perimeter? And which player (or players) would add scoring punch to a rotation that also lost three-point marksman James Southerland?

Over the course of three days in Maui the Orange made significant strides when it comes to answering those questions, and the end result was a 74-67 win over No. 18 Baylor and the program’s third Maui Invitational title.

C.J. Fair, as expected when the season began, led the way with 24 points (14 in the second half) on 10-for-17 shooting and earned MVP honors as a result. Over the three-day event Fair was the player the Orange leaned on for big plays in crunch time, averaging 18.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in wins over Minnesota, Cal and Baylor. Fair led four Syracuse players in double figures on Wednesday, with sophomore Jerami Grant having the look of a player capable of breaking out in 2013-14.

Grant scored 19 points off the bench against Baylor, following up on a very good outing against Cal on Tuesday night (19 points, 7-for-11 FG). With an increased number of opportunities to score Grant’s taken full advantage and he’s been efficient in doing so, as per kenpom.com he entered Wednesday with an offensive rating of 121.7 (5th in the ACC) and a turnover rate of 5.4% (4th in the ACC). It’s one thing for a bench player to be productive but it’s another for that player to be both productive and efficient, and thus far that would be a good way in which to describe Grant.

As for the guards, while freshman Tyler Ennis may not have scored as much as he did against Cal (28 points), but he took great care of the basketball to the tune of nine assists without a single turnover. Over the three games in Maui the freshman from Ontario committed just two turnovers, pushing his total for the entire season to eight. Ennis makes sound decisions with the basketball and he rarely, if ever, gets rushed while running the show. Add in a sidekick in Trevor Cooney who averaged 16.3 points per game in Maui, and Syracuse looks to be in good shape on the perimeter when it comes to accounting for those heavy personnel losses.

“Being young guards and we are playing against three really good teams and three different teams, every night was different for us,” said Cooney after the title game. “Every team was different, and all three were great challenges for us.  And I thought we stepped it up every night and brought it.  I thought that was great for us.”

Syracuse arrived in Maui with a lot of talent but also a couple questions that needed answering against stiffer competition. And the trophy that will accompany the Orange on the trip back to central New York is evidence that Jim Boeheim’s team is well on its way to being the team many expected them to be prior to the start of the season.

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.