Defense and toughness lifts Stanford to unlikely Sweet 16 status

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ST. LOUIS — As Chasson Randle sat at the podium following the Cardinal upset victory over No. 2 seed Kansas on Sunday afternoon, the junior guard, and Stanford’s leading scorer, was asked if he felt motivated by Jayhawk freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden not knowing who he was after the duo was asked about him at Saturday’s pre-game press conference and didn’t know how to respond.

“We definitely saw that video. (Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins) told me not to talk about it,” Randle said as he and his head coach shared a laugh. “But, you know, I definitely took it as a challenge. So did my teammates. It wasn’t just a stab at me, it was a stab at our team. And we took it as a challenge. And it was a little bit extra motivation for today’s game.”

Dawkins and Randle have plenty of reason to smile after Stanford’s win over Kansas on Sunday. Despite shooting 0-for-9 from the three-point line and turning the ball over 16 times against Kansas, Stanford is on its way to an unlikely Sweet 16 appearance against No. 11 seed Dayton in Memphis on Thursday because of the toughness and determination they showed against Kansas on the defensive end of the floor.

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“We beat a very good Kansas team. I could not be any more proud of my guys and how they played for 40 minutes tonight,” Dawkins said. “I thought the energy, the effort, especially on the defensive end, is probably as good as I have seen it all season long. I was really proud of the way our guys stepped up when they made runs and was able to sustain some momentum at the end.”

The Stanford defense was a major reason why the Cardinal are moving on and why they’re a major contender to make the Elite 8. The length of Stanford’s defense gave Kansas issues for the entire game and senior forward Josh Huestis relentlessly shadowed Kansas star freshman forward Andrew Wiggins when Stanford didn’t switch into a 2-3 or, briefly, a 1-3-1 zone. Wiggins finished with four points on 1-for-6 shooting and was limited to single digits in points for only the fifth time this season.

“We wanted to make it difficult for (Wiggins) to do anything. And him being young, we wanted to see if he would work for it after he got a little frustrated and as you saw, he started to defer,” Huestis said. “He only took six shots and scored four points so the coaches gave us a great game plan. He stopped moving as much, he wasn’t looking for his shot nearly as much and wasn’t trying to rebound as much. So we did a great job.”

Kansas head coach Bill Self also acknowledged that Stanford’s overall length presented a major problem for the Jayhawk offense as Kansas was limited to 32 percent shooting (19-for-58) for the game.

“They played better, made more plays, made the most of their inside touches and we struggled scoring over their length,” Self said.

“We definitely spent a lot of time talking about — and preparing for — their bigs,” senior center Dwight Powell said. “And the way they like to attack the rim. Very athletic team. So I guess it was definitely one of our focuses to just be physical and have guys in the lane and be ready to help because they were quick on drives. And make sure we made the proper rotations.”

Powell was also big on the offensive end for Stanford as he went for a team-high 15 points. With the senior center playing well, the Cardinal are a different ballclub and Powell bounced back from an 0-for-8 shooting night against New Mexico in the Round of 64 as he fouled out with only three points and four rebounds.

“Dwight has had an amazing career here for us. He has been one of our leaders. He was one of my first elite recruits. And he’s responded,” Dawkins said. “And so when he had a tough time, you know, I know he is mature enough to bounce back. I know no one was feeling any worse about his performance the other night than Dwight. So what I wanted to tell Dwight is make sure he concentrates on the things he does very well every night and the rest will just happen. And I thought he did that tonight.”

Not many probably expected Stanford to go through St. Louis unbeaten, but for an experienced team like the Cardinal, it’s something they’ve worked towards all season.

“I think every season, something we talk about (is) every season is like a lifetime. Obviously you will have your ups and downs throughout different games and throughout different stretches of games,” Powell said. “But from day one — before we even started preseason — we always had a goal to make the tournament and to make a run. And we never lost sight of that and never lost hope, and we never stopped fighting for that every single game regardless of how things were going.”

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.