Stephen F. Austin could be a scary team to play in March

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As we get closer to March, Southland leader Stephen F. Austin might be one of the scarier teams a program could potentially face in the NCAA Tournament.

At 25-2 — and 14-0 in the Southland with a three-game lead — the Lumberjacks have won 22 consecutive games and are winning by an average of 13.8 points per game in conference play while playing with a balanced attack.

Stephen F. Austin has five players averaging at least 10 points a game and all five of them shoot at least 31 percent from the three-point line, while four of them are above 33 percent.

But the shocking part about their success? The Lumberjacks are playing under first-year coach Brad Underwood — a longtime assistant at Kansas State and a year at South Carolina under Frank Martin — and lost three seniors that were regular contributors last season.

Underwood credited the team’s unique bond and work ethic for the win streak.

“They’ve been very receptive to listening, very receptive to the work ethic we’ve required and when you have a senior leader who is also your hardest worker, that is a bonus from day one,” Underwood said to College Basketball Talk last week. “And that’s helped with the winning streak. We’ve developed a tough mentality. That’s one of the thing’s I’m most proud of is the road winning streak. These kids have been able to be resilient and tough-minded and this is an extremely hard-working group.”

The senior Underwood is referring to is Desmond Haymon, a 6-foot-3 guard that doubles as the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.9 points per game.

“Just an extremely high-character guy,” Underwood said. “There’s no question that no matter what Desmond does in life he’s going to be successful because he has great character and great passion. He’s not afraid to tell other guys to step up and tell the young guys and challenge them to work.”

Stephen F. Austin’s offensive balance has been great for a first-year coach like Underwood to work with.

“It’s probably helped us more than any one thing. We’re basically a position-less team,” Underwood said of the balance. “My power forward can play the point for us. My five man is our best three-pointer shooter, statistically. They can all pass it, they can all dribble it. It’s probably as good a passing team as I’ve been apart of.”

The defense for the Lumberjacks has also been surprisingly good despite their lack of size. Jacob Parker is the team’s tallest starter at 6-foot-6 and is also the team’s best three-point shooter, but Stephen F. Austin relies on getting heavy pressure on the perimeter.

“One thing I’ve learned from Hugs and learned from Frank (Martin) is on the defensive side of things,” Underwood said of his team’s pressure. “I can’t play backline defense with this team and expect to win. We don’t have the roaming presence in terms of tremendous size. We pressure and we get out and deny. Our point guard Trey Pickney is just as good an on-the-ball defender as I’ve been around and we try to take other team’s first options away.”

With the Lumberjacks on a 22-game winning streak, a potential NCAA Tournament bid has come into question. Stephen F. Austin lost to Texas and East Tennessee State on the season and don’t have any marquee wins over tournament competition. That makes their Southland Conference tournament win vital for a league that is definitely a one-bid league.

“You have to win your (conference) tournament,” Underwood said. “If that means that’s in the cards for us and we’re able to do that, I think we become a team that not a lot of people want to play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In the meantime, we’re not worried about that. This team deserves what we’re getting. All of our fans, and administration should be proud of this winning streak. Winning is hard. We’re a team that is very grounded in terms of our general approach.”

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 averagedย 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 Iโ€™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 โ€“ both by our university and by Chris โ€“ 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.