Pregame Shootaround: March begins with a huge ACC tilt

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 4 Syracuse at No. 12 Virginia, (4:00 p.m., ESPN):

CBT’s own Rob Dauster broke down this weekend’s top matchups in our weekend preview:

All of a sudden, this looks like the biggest game in the ACC this season. Believe it or not, Virginia currently holds a one game lead over the Orange in the ACC standings, and a win would clinch the ‘Hoos the outright regular season title. But Virginia has not beaten one of the other top four teams in the conference since January 20th and they only play Duke, North Carolina and the Orange once each. It’s weird when you think about it, but there’s a possibility that the ACC champ could end up being the fourth-highest seed from the ACC once the bracket is announced.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 7 Louisville at No. 21 Memphis, (2:00 p.m., CBS):

Louisville added a bit of credibility to their resume when they knocked off Cincinnati in Cincinnati last weekend. They’ll head to Memphis this weekend to try and exact revenge for a whipping that the Tigers put on the Cardinals at the Yum! Center earlier this season. Russ Smith vs. Joe Jackson will be a battle between two of the most under-appreciated guards in college basketball.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? No. 15 Iowa State at Kansas State, (7:00 p.m., ESPNU)

Kansas State could use another top-25 win and they’re terrific in the Octagon of Doom, where they will host No. 15 Iowa State. The Cyclones picked up an 81-75 home win over the Wildcats in late January but are 2-4 on the road in Big 12 play this season and those wins came over a reeling Oklahoma State team in three overtimes and TCU. Can Kansas State stop alternating wins and losses after the big home win over Kansas and build some momentum going into the Big 12 Tournament?

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Western Michigan at Toledo (6 p.m., ESPN3)

The top two teams in the MAC’s West Division face-off in a big contest when division-leading Western Michigan (19-8, 12-3) visits Toledo (23-5, 11-4). Toledo looked like one of the mid-major teams you wouldn’t want to potentially face in the NCAA Tournament until recent road losses to Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois while Western Michigan has won eight consecutive games and will look to sweep the season series against Toledo after beating them at home on January 8th.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) Cincinnati at UConn will be one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend. The No. 11 Bearcats are a big, physical team that loves to pound the offense glass. UConn? They don’t have much size up front and they rely heavily on Shabazz Napier to generate offense for them.

2) Can No. 2 Wichita State finish the regular season undefeated? The 30-0 Shockers will attempt to be the first team to finish the regular season undefeated since Saint Joseph’s in 2003-04. There also hasn’t been an 18-0 team in the Missouri Valley Conference since Oklahoma in 1927-28.

3) Still a lot of intrigue when No. 5 Kansas travels to Oklahoma State. Three months ago, this looked like the best game of the season but Kansas has already clinched the conference and Oklahoma State is 6-9 in league play. The Cowboys really, really need a win.

4) Xavier needs wins to keep themselves on the right side of the bubble, and a home win against No. 9 Creighton will be a tough one to get. As good as Semaj Christon is, can this group matchup with Creighton’s front court? Matt Stainbrook isn’t chasing Doug McDermott or Ethan Wragge around.

5) No. 11 Cincinnati at UConn will be one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend. Cincinnati is a big, physical team that loves to pound the offense glass. UConn? They don’t have much size up front and they rely heavily on Shabazz Napier to generate offense for them.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • LSU at No. 1 Florida, 4:00 p.m., CBS
  • No. 10 Saint Louis at VCU, 6:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • No. 13 San Diego State at Fresno State, 10:05 p.m., CBSSN
  • Minnesota at No. 16 Michigan, 6:00 p.m., BTN
  • No. 17 Kentucky at South Carolina, 6:00 p.m., ESPN
  • Illinois at No. 18 Michigan State, 4:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • No. 19 North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 2:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • UCF at No. 23 SMU, 4:00 p.m., ESPNN
  • No. 24 Texas at Oklahoma, 4:00 p.m., ESPN3

NOTABLES:

  • UMass at Dayton, Sat. 11:00 a.m., ESPNU
  • Vanderbilt at Tennessee, Sat. 12:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • TCU at West Virginia, Sat, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • Texas Tech at Baylor, Sat. 1:30 p.m., ROOT
  • Mississippi State at Missouri, Sat. 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • Pitt at Notre Dame, Sat. 2:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • Colorado at Utah, Sat. 2:00 p.m., PAC12
  • Richmond at Rhode Island, Sat. 2:00 p.m.,
  • Georgia at Arkansas, Sat. 4:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • BYU at San Diego, Sat. 4:00 p.m., ROOT
  • Northwestern at Nebraska, Sat. 5:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • Cal at Arizona State, Sat. 6:00 p.m., PAC12
  • Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s, Sat. 10:00 p.m., ESPN2

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.