Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: MAAC showdown, two Big East games on slate

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Manhattan at Canisius, 7:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

The preseason favorite to win the MAAC, the Manhattan Jaspers currently find themselves two games behind first-place Canisius in the race to win the regular season title. With that being the case, it’s safe to say that this one is of high importance to Steve Masiello’s squad. Individually speaking two of the best scoring guards around will be on display, with Manhattan’s George Beamon (18.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Canisius’ Billy Baron (23.7, 4.8, 4.7 apg) both having the ability to light up the scoreboard.

The same can be said of the teams, with both averaging just over 77 points per game and having an affinity for getting out and running. The key: turnovers. Manhattan’s forcing nearly 16 per game, and at times the Golden Griffins have struggled with turning the ball over. If Manhattan’s to make a run at the MAAC title, this is a game they need to win.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET: Princeton (-8) vs. Columbia, 7:00 p.m.

Yes, a team that’s 0-3 in Ivy League play is the pick here thanks to the lines makers. Princeton was at one point expected to be Harvard’s greatest threat in the Crimson’s quest to make a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, but three losses to start the year have likely ruled the Tigers out. Tyler Bray’s leading the way offensively with an average of 17.8 points per game, but the problem for Mitch Henderson’s team has been its defense. Opponents are shooting 45.4% from the field, and this is an issue Columbia’s Alex Rosenberg (14.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and Maodo Lo (14.0, 4.1) can take advantage of.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) No. 6 Villanova hosts Seton Hall (7:00 p.m., Fox Sports 1), with the Pirates looking for their first win at Villanova since February 26, 1994. A good individual matchup to watch: Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin vs. Villanova’s James Bell.

2) No. 12 Creighton is also in action, with the Bluejays hosting DePaul (9:07 p.m., Fox Sports 1). Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge are tough match-ups for any team, and Creighton may welcome back guard Grant Gibbs (knee) back as well. Gibbs injured his knee in the first meeting between the Bluejays and Blue Demons.

3) At this point in the season Brown may be Harvard’s biggest threat in the Ivy League, and the 3-1 Bears get their shot at the 4-0 Crimson tonight in Cambridge (7:00 p.m.). Brown’s limiting opponents to 38.3% shooting, and they’ll need to defend well if they’re to beat Tommy Amaker’s talented squad.

4) Southern Miss looks to keep pace with UTEP atop the Conference USA standings, with the Golden Eagles needing a win over Marshall (9:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) in order to do so. Guard Neil Watson leads three Southern Miss players in double figures with an average of 12.2 ppg, and they could be in line for a big night against a team allowing opponents to shoot better than 44% from the field.

5) Mercer’s looking to remain atop the Atlantic Sun standings with a win at Kennesaw State (7:00 p.m., ESPN3). The Bears are currently tied with FGCU at 9-2 in league play, and in order to move to 10-2 they can’t afford to take the 4-20 Owls lightly.

OTHER GAMES OF NOTE: 

  • Iona at Niagara, 7:00 p.m.
  • Yale at Dartmouth, 7:00 p.m.
  • Charlotte at Tulane, 8:00 p.m.
  • Detroit at Valparaiso, 9:00 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.