New Mexico was the preseason pick to win the Mountain West due in large part to the fact that they return four starters from the team that won the conference’s regular season and tournament titles last season. And two of those four starters are candidates for Mountain West Player of the Year, with point guard Kendall Williams looking to repeat while center Alex Kirk surprised many with how effective he was after sitting out all of 2011-12 due to a back injury.
Having two stars at one’s disposal is a great place for a first-year head coach (Craig Neal) to start, but if New Mexico’s to win another Mountain West title it will take more than just Kirk and Williams. And in their 73-66 win over a tough San Diego squad that tandem received some valuable help from senior forward Cameron Bairstow.
Williams, who went on a personal 8-0 run in the second half and shot 16-for-16 from the foul line, led the way with 28 points and Kirk added 21 to go along with 11 rebounds. But the 16 points supplied by Bairstow shouldn’t be overlooked either, as he scored 12 of those points in the second half. Bairstow made all four of his shots from the field and shot 4-for-5 from the charity stripe in the game’s final 20 minutes. Bairstow, who represented Australia in the World University Games, entered Saturday with averages of 19.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game with the scoring average more than double his output from a season ago (9.7 ppg).
According to kenpom.com Bairstow’s possession percentage has increased by five percentage points (up to 28.1%) and thus far he’s been even more efficient than a season ago. Bairstow has an offensive rating of 130.7, which prior to Saturday’s action placed him first in the Mountain West by a sizable margin over Utah State’s Jarred Shaw (124.4). Bairstow isn’t going to put up the prolific numbers that we’ve come to expect from Williams and Kirk, with Kirk posting his sixth double-double in as many games on Saturday, but he’s certainly a player opponents will have to account for as the season wears on.
New Mexico certainly has areas they need to clean up, most notably their three-point shooting as they shot 5-for-20 against the Toreros and on the season are shooting a Mountain West-worst 31.4% from beyond the arc. The overall field goal percentage ranked seventh in the Mountain West, and the shooting seems to be an issue of simply knocking down shots as opposed to the quality of shots the Lobos are taking (third in the conference in offensive efficiency).
If they can clean those areas up and continue to get consistent offensive production from Bairstow, New Mexico will once again be tough to beat when conference play rolls around.
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.