Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Harvard looks to make NCAA tournament return

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GAME OF THE DAY: Harvard at Yale, 7:30 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)

The Crimson play their second-to-last game of the season against the only team capable of catching them in the Ivy League race. If Tommy Amaker’s team gets the win, they get the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season. But that’s easier said than done, as the Bulldogs won the first meeting on February 8. Yale forward Justin Sears was the difference-maker, as he accounted for 21 points and 11 rebounds. Also of note was Yale’s defensive effort, as they limited Harvard to 39% shooting from the field and 7-for-21 from three.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Eastern Kentucky vs. Murray State, 10:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

The second semifinal in the OVC matches the two (Murray State) and three (EKU) seeds, and the two teams haven’t met since January 8. Steve Prohm’s Racers won that meeting, 77-64, shooting 51% from the field and attempting 28 free throws (making 19) to Eastern Kentucky’s eight (making six). Freshman Cameron Payne and forward Jarvis Williams scored 19 points apiece for the Racers in that meeting, with Williams making all nine of his shots from the field. EKU, which has won five straight games, is led by the veteran trio of Glenn Cosey, Corey Walden and Marcus Lewis.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

  • Big South: Quarterfinals begin
    The Big South moves to the quarterfinal round after playing for first-round games on Wednesday, and among the teams in action are host Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers face Charleston Southern, an 81-71 winner over Campbell on Wednesday. These teams haven’t met since January 8, when the Buccaneers beat the Chanticleers 70-58 in Charleston. Regular season champion High Point also begins its tournament, matchup up with Winthrop in the first game of the day.
  • Horizon League: Wright State, Valparaiso enter the fray
    The Horizon League bracket favors those who finish highest in the standings, meaning that champion (and host) Green Bay and Cleveland State won’t play until Saturday’s semifinals. Friday night, Wright State and Valparaiso play their first games with the Raiders facing Oakland and Valpo taking on Milwaukee. Wright State swept the Golden Grizzlies during the regular season, and the Crusaders did the same to Milwaukee.
  • Missouri Valley: No. 2 Wichita State looks to snap a streak
    The primary focus regarding the Shockers will be whether or not they can pick up three more wins and enter the NCAA tournament 34-0. But, the program hasn’t won the conference tournament since 1987. They’ll look to take the first step towards ending that dry spell with a win over Evansville Friday afternoon. The game that may provide the most suspense in St. Louis: Illinois State – Missouri State, with the home team winning both regular season meetings.
  • OVC: Belmont looks to return to the title game
    Eastern Kentucky – Murray State will be good, but so will Belmont’s matchup with Morehead State. Rick Byrd’s Bruins went 14-2 in OVC play, and two of those wins came against the Eagles. Belmont won the second meeting by just three points on January 29, with J.J. Mann scoring 22 points and the Bruins closing the game on a 10-0 run. Drew Kelly scored 23 points in that game for the Eagles, who led 73-66 with 1:19 remaining.
  • SoCon: Day one in Asheville
    The SoCon tournament gets going with a triple header in Asheville, with Georgia Southern and UNCG favored to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals. The opener matches Samford and Appalachian State, with the Mountaineers having won both regular season meetings. Jason Capel’s team beat the Bulldogs 63-57 on February 27, with Tommy Spagnolo (21 points, ten rebounds) sparking a late rally. As for the other two games, the individual matchup between Furman’s Stephen Croone (19.3 ppg, 3.7 apg) and Georgia Southern’s Jelani Hewitt (20.0, 3.2) should be fun to watch.

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.