Michigan keeps exceeding expectations during another tournament run

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INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan was supposed to be in this position.

Heading to the Elite 8 behind a balanced offensive attack led by the Big Ten Player of the Year.

Except consensus preseason All-American Mitch McGary has been out of the lineup for Michigan since December 21st with a back injury that forced the sophomore big man to have season-ending surgery on January 7th.

Many left the Wolverines for dead with no chance of making it back to the Final Four after last year’s championship-game loss to Louisville. But now, No. 2 seed Michigan is one game away from doing just that after Friday’s 73-71 win over No. 11 seed Tennessee in the Sweet 16 of the Midwest Regional.

Behind a new Big Ten Player of the Year — sophomore wing Nik Stauskas — Michigan is sporting one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country as the Wolverines look like a major threat in the Midwest thanks to its potent perimeter attack.

“We have a really confident group here,” Stauskas said. “The fact that we’ve been through that run we had last year, we just have to go out and have fun. We know what we’re capable of doing and we just try to stick to our game plan and have fun doing it.”

Michigan entered Friday’s contest shooting 39.8% from three-point range this season and that trend of hot shooting continued against Tennessee on Friday. Michigan started 7-for-9 from distance in the first half before finishing 55 percent (11-for-20) for the game.

With five different Wolverines knocking down a three-pointer, Michigan forces teams to pick and choose who to help off of on ball screens and on the perimeter. With three guys in Stauskas, sophomore guard Caris LeVert and freshman point guard Derrick Walton that can operate pick-and-rolls and hit shots from the perimeter, the Wolverines can throw a lot of different looks at an opposing defense. And that doesn’t include the offensive versatility and athleticism of sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III.

“You saw that with Texas. I feel like we had a really balanced attack in that game,” Stauksas said. “It makes it toughest for teams to guard you if you have four or five or six guys who are capable of scoring at any time. They don’t really know what to do with that. I think you saw that in the first half (against Tennessee), especially, with our spacing on the floor, they didn’t really know who to help off of, who not to help off of and it kind of led to some easy baskets.”

While Stauskas and the perimeter threats were a known commodity entering the Tournament, the continued solid play of senior forward Jordan Morgan is a huge reason why Michigan is in its current position.

Morgan and Robinson III were thought to be at a disadvantage facing Tennessee’s interior duo of senior forward Jeronne Maymon and junior forward Jarnell Stokes but Michigan held the duo to 13 points on Friday as Morgan took the potential game-saving charge on Stokes with six seconds left and the Wolverines clinging to a 72-71 lead. The senior also had a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds for Michigan after recording back-to-back double-doubles to start the tournament.

“We heard all week about they had mismatches and how we couldn’t guard them inside. I guess people forgot we play in the Big Ten and we won the Big Ten outright,” Morgan said. “So we’re not really soft around here. That’s not who we are. We lift a lot of weights. So it’s just ‑‑ I don’t know, it’s a pride thing for us. We’re not about to get punked.”

People must have forgotten that Morgan and Robinson had to defend a healthy McGary in practice last season or that they went through a tough and physical Big Ten. Michigan played a difficult non-conference schedule with games against Iowa State, Arizona, Duke and Stanford. Morgan and his Michigan teammates feel prepared to face anything by this point.

“(I told them to) have a strong chest and try to keep them off the glass and that’s what they did out there tonight,” McGary said of his frontcourt teammates against Tennessee.

Although McGary is relegated to the role of America’s most famous cheerleader during the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the sophomore dressing in uniform and warming up with his teammates before the game seemed to give Michigan an additional emotional boost.

“Obviously I’m not going to play or anything like that but I feel more connected to my teammates when I dress,” McGary said. “I think it (gave my teammates a lift for) a little bit. I also didn’t want to take credit away from them because people make such a big deal about it. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal because I’m wearing a uniform just like them.”

People made a big deal of Michigan losing Mitch McGary, but the Wolverines keep humming along and winning close games. They’re 22-4 since McGary went down with the season-ending injury and now they’re in position to potentially make another Final Four.

Not many anticipated Michigan to be in this position — given this season’s adversity — except for the confident group of Wolverines that keep hitting shots and winning close games.

“I don’t know if we’re getting lucky or what we’re doing but we just seem to have a thing about pulling out games and winning in the last couple of minutes,” Stauskas said. “Maybe that’s our toughness or resiliency to get these wins but we’ve done a great job both offensively and defensively to hold onto these games.”

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.