Pregame Shootaround: The Battle for Kansas headlines a busy Saturday slate

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 25 Kansas State at No. 18 Kansas (2 p.m., ESPN)

Saturday’s only matchup between ranked opponents is also a tremendous in-state rivalry between the Wildcats and Jayhawks. Kansas has probably played the most difficult schedule in the country, so they’ll be prepared when another ranked team visits Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Wayne Selden showed flashes of brilliance on the offensive end of the floor in Wednesday’s win over Oklahoma, scoring 24 points and knocking in five three-pointers and the Jayhawks have won seven straight home games against Kansas State. Marcus Foster is playing tremendous ball for Kansas State and the freshman guard looks mature beyond his years as the season goes on. But will Foster have enough help to topple the Jayhawks?

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 10 Florida at Arkansas (1 p.m., ESPN2)

The No. 10 Gators will be missing leading scorer Casey Prather when they travel to face the Razorbacks in an SEC clash on Saturday. Florida is also dealing with an ankle injury to guard Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young missed Thursday’s practice with sore knees while Michael Frazier II was limited in that same practice with a calf injury. So will the banged-up Gators have enough firepower to stay with Arkansas? The Razorbacks won this contest at Bud Walton Arena last season and average an SEC best 87 points a game. Florida’s health is a major concern entering this contest, but they have overcome adversity at other times this season when facing injuries and suspensions.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: No. 6 Wichita State at Missouri State, (8 p.m., ESPN3)

Don’t worry, Shocker fans, I didn’t forget about you guys after previewing the matchup of Kansas’ other two ranked college basketball teams — the Wildcats and Jayhawks. Unbeaten Wichita State (16-0, 3-0) travels to Missouri State (12-3, 2-1) in a Missouri Valley Conference matchup that could serve as a solid test for the Shockers. Missouri State has an 8-0 home record on the season and does a good job limiting turnovers — 10.6 per game, second in the MVC to Wichita State. For the Shockers, can sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet go his fifth consecutive game without a turnover?

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) If you’re a fan of high-scoring basketball, be sure to tune in to see the Big 12 contest between No. 9 Iowa State and Oklahoma. Both teams average 87 points a game, good enough for sixth in the country, as the unbeaten Cyclones (14-0, 2-0) travel to visit the Sooners (12-3, 1-1). The difference in this one could come down to defense, an area that Oklahoma has struggled with. The Sooners have given up 85 or more points in three straight games.

2) Which North Carolina team will we see when they travel to No. 2 Syracuse: the Tar Heels that have beaten Michigan State, Kentucky and Louisville or the Tar Heels that own five losses to unranked opponents. Thanks to Syracuse’s 2-3 zone and North Carolina’s struggles from the perimeter, it is likely that the Orange will win the ACC contest at home, but with the way North Carolina has played against elite competition, can you really count them out?

3) Can Jabari Parker break out of his shooting slump and can Rodney Hood stay hot against one of the nation’s best defenses in Clemson (10-4, 1-1)? The Tigers host the No. 16 Blue Devils (12-3, 1-1) in an ACC battle and Clemson’s defense has allowed a Division I-low of 53.5 points per game while holding opponents to 36 percent shooting from the field.

4) Will No. 19 UMass (13-1, 1-0) look better after a sluggish opener in Atlantic 10 play? The Minutemen escaped with a 66-62 win over St. Joseph’s in a game in which they trailed by nine points with 6:23 remaining. UMass will need to play better to get past St. Bonaventure (11-4, 1-0), which will be on NBCSN at 12:30 p.m.

5) How will No. 21 Missouri (12-2, 0-1) respond from losing its SEC opener at home against Georgia? The Tigers travel to Auburn (8-4, 0-1) on Saturday and they’ll need a better offensive output than their two losses this season in which Missouri was held to 64 points.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Minnesota at No. 5 Michigan State, 2:15 p.m., BTN
  • TCU at No. 7 Baylor, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • No. 8 Villanova at St. John’s, 1:00 p.m., Fox Sports 1
  • No. 11 Oklahoma State at West Virginia, 4:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • No. 14 Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 3:30 p.m., CBS
  • No. 24 Memphis at Temple, 3:00 p.m., ESPN2

NOTABLES:

  • Saint Louis at Dayton, 11:00 a.m., ESPN2
  • Wake Forest at Pitt, 12:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Ole Miss at Mississippi State, 4:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • Virginia at North Carolina State, 5:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Central Florida at UConn, 6:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • Texas A&M at Tennessee, 6:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Cal at Oregon State, 8:00 p.m., ESPNU

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.