2014 NEC Tournament Preview: Can Robert Morris regain control of the league?

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It’s been five years since anyone in the NEC other than LIU-Brooklyn or Robert Morris has won the league’s automatic bid. While the Blackbirds have one of the nation’s best point guards in Jason Brickman, they suffered through a down year plagued by injuries and likely won’t extend their reign over the league to a four-peat. Bobby Mo, on the other hand, won the conference by two full games and will head into the conference tournament as the favorite to earn the automatic bid.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 5, 8 and 11

Where: Higher seed hosts every game

Final: March 11, 7:00 p.m. ESPN2

Favorite: Robert Morris

The Colonials have had a bit of a tumultuous season, as three of their rotation players have left the program or gotten kicked off the team during the season. But Karvel Anderson is still around, as is Lucky Jones. And remember, Andy Toole’s team isn’t afraid of the spotlight. This is the same program that knocked off Kentucky in the first round of the NIT last season.

And if they lose?: Wagner

The Seahawks are far and away the best defensive team in the conference, according to KenPom. They contest shots on the perimeter and make life a nightmare for anyone trying to finish around the rim. The question is whether or not Bashir Mason’s boys will be able to score enough to win three straight games.

Sleepers:

  • Bryant: The Bulldogs are explosive offensively, as Alex Francis, Dyami Starks, and Corey Maynard make up the best top three in the league.
  • St. Francis (NY): St. Francis won at Miami in overtime this year and nearly knocked off Syracuse at the Carrier Dome two weeks later. They were 9-7 in league play.

Studs:

  • Karvel Anderson, Robert Morris: Anderson is the best player on the best team in the league, carrying a group that lost three rotation players for the season.
  • Jason Brickman, LIU-Brooklyn: Brickman is the only player in the country to average a double-double in points and assists.
  • Alex Francis, Bryant: Tim O’Shea’s best player is third in the conference in scoring (19.0 ppg) and second in rebounding (8.2 rpg).

CBT Prediction: Robert Morris over Bryant

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 averagedΒ 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.