Weekend Preview: Saturday will be the best college hoops day of the year

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 1 Syracuse at No. 5 Duke, Sat. 7:00 p.m

This game has lot a bit of luster, hasn’t it? Three weeks ago, the Orange and the Blue Devils played the best game of the season. The rematch was supposed to be between a streaking Duke team and an undefeated Syracuse team. Instead, the Orange lost at home to Boston College while the Blue Devils dropped a game at North Carolina.

The key here? What is Duke going to be able to do against the Syracuse zone. They struggled when Maryland went zone last Saturday. They lost on Thursday because North Carolina switched to a zone, and while the 2-3 that Syracuse runs is very different from the junk defenses that the Terps and the Heels threw at them, it still doesn’t change the fact that Duke’s offense has struggled getting the ball into the middle of the defense.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 11 Louisville at No. 7 Cincinnati, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

This is the start of Louisville’s brutal last-season slate. In their last five games, they play at Cincinnati, at SMU, at Memphis and at home against UConn. The Cardinals have been much improved from the team that we saw earlier this season, but they’ve done it beating up on lesser competition that, quite frankly, they should be beating up on. Cincinnati, for lack of a better word, big-boyed the Cardinals the first time these two got together. Russ Smith vs. Sean Kilpatrick will be fun.

THE OTHER, OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 13 Michigan State at No. 20 Michigan, Sun. 12:00 p.m.

The two team in first place in the Big Ten square off on Sunday afternoon. Both the Spartans and the Wolverines and struggled a bit of late, however. Michigan State is finally starting to get healthy again, as Keith Appling is now back in the lineup. The Wolverines, who won the first matchup, have got to find a way to get Nik Stauskas more involved in ball-screen action as we head into the season’s final weeks.

FIVE MORE TO WATCH:

  • No. 16 Wisconsin at No. 15 Iowa, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: The Badgers seem to have righted their ship in recent weeks, which makes this win all the more important for an Iowa team that has yet to really prove themselves.
  • St. John’s at No. 9 Villanova, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: The Johnnies are probably on the wrong side of the bubble as of today, but that would certainly change if they can continue their hot streak and pick off the Wildcats.
  • LSU at No. 18 Kentucky, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: The last time these two got together, LSU smacked Kentucky around in Baton Rouge. It will be interesting to see how Kentucky responds in their own building.
  • No. 19 Texas at No. 8 Kansas, Sat. 7:30 p.m.: Texas might be the team best-equipped to beat Kansas given the size that they have along their front line. They can match up with the Kansas big men, and as long as Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix are making good decisions, they’ll have a shot to win at Phog Allen.
  • No. 6 San Diego State at New Mexico, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: New Mexico is probably on the right side of the bubble right now, but they’re closer than they want to be. The Aztecs are easily the best available win for the Lobos, and they actually matchup with them fairly well. A shot at the MWC regular season title would probably go out the window with a loss.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?

  • No. 2 Florida at Ole Miss, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This will be the last chance for Ole Miss to do something that gets them in position to be an at-large team. They have to win this. If Florida plays the way they did against Auburn, it just might happen.
  • No. 23 UCLA at Stanford, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: UCLA is playing the best ball of anyone in the Pac-12 right now, but Stanford is a pesky team that could use the win to solidify their tournament resume. Who guards Kyle Anderson though?
  • George Washington at No. 10 Saint Louis, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: The Colonials picked up a big win at Richmond this week, which means that they won’t be at risk of a three-game losing streak should they drop this game. The Billikens struggled with George Mason on Wednesday, however.
  • No. 4 Arizona at Colorado, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: In November, this looked like it was going to be the best game of the Pac-12 season. That was before ACL injuries to Spencer Dinwiddie and Brandon Ashley.
  • SMU at No. 21 UConn, Sun. 2:00 p.m.: SMU has struggled on the road, but they have the pieces to give UConn a run.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) A key Ivy League battle will be played on Sunday afternoon on the NBC Sports Network. Yale will be visiting Columbia. Yale is in first place in the Ivy League. On Saturday night, Cornell taking on Brown will be on the NBC Sports Network as well.

2) Drake will visit No. 3 Wichita State on Saturday at 8:00 p.m., one of three teams that will have a shot to end Wichita State’s undefeated regular season.

3) Texas Tech will make their return trip to Oklahoma State on Saturday, marking Marcus Smart’s first game back from a three-game suspension for shoving a fan in the Cowboys’ loss … at Texas Tech.

4) Two more excellent games that are a bit off the radar: VCU at UMass, Fri. 7:00 p.m.; and Kansas State at Oklahoma, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

5) The weekend’s biggest bubble games:

  • Xavier at Georgetown, Sat. 11:30 a.m.
  • Baylor at West Virginia, Sat. 1:47 p.m.
  • Marquette at DePaul, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • N.C. State at Virginia Tech, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Tennessee at Texas A&M, Sat. 3:00 p.m.
  • Fordham at Saint Joseph’s, Sat. 3:00 p.m.
  • La Salle at Richmond, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Saint Mary’s at Santa Clara, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Minnesota at No. 24 Ohio State, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • Missouri at Alabama, Sat. 8:00 p.m.
  • Purdue at Nebraska, Sun. 4:15 p.m.
  • Florida State at Pittsburgh, Sun. 6:00 p.m.
  • Providence at Butler, Sun. 6:00 p.m.
  • Arizona State at Utah, Sun. 8:00 p.m.
  • USC at Cal, Sun. 8:00 p.m.
  • Washington State at Oregon, Sun. 9:00 p.m.

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.