Joe Robbins/Getty Images

A dogfight is exactly what No. 2 Kentucky needed on Sunday

1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS — Kentucky knew it would have a battle on its hands with No. 10 seed Wichita State in the second round of the South Region on Sunday.

Narrowly avoiding upset, the No. 2 seed Wildcats were able to outlast the Shockers for a gutsy 65-62 win as they advanced to the Sweet 16 in Memphis. The Wildcats have now made the Sweet 16 in six of eight years under head coach John Calipari as he returns to the FedEx Forum next weekend for the first time since coaching Memphis in 2009.

In a rematch of a memorable 2014 NCAA Tournament second-round matchup that saw No. 1 seed Wichita State’s unbeaten season end at the hands Kentucky, this matchup nearly lived up to the immense hype of that first game.

The players on the floor might have been different from the first matchup in St. Louis but both teams traded late shots and a freshman-led Kentucky team got a stop on the final possession to advance past Wichita State.

But there is one big difference between Kentucky’s win in 2014 and its win in 2017.

The 2017 Wildcats won a slowed-down, Wichita State-style game. The 2014 Kentucky win over the Shockers was an up-and-down thriller scored in the 70s that suited the Wildcats’ style of play as future pros on both teams had big performances.

That distinction is very important for this year’s Wildcats because this is the type of close, slowed-down win against an elite team that shows Kentucky might be serious about a national title run. Past Kentucky teams, and even the Wildcats from earlier this season, might not have won a game that suited Wichita State’s strengths in a grind-it-out game.

This Kentucky team can win games in a number of different ways. The Wildcats won this game even though Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox were held to only 14 points each on a combined 8-for-23 effort.

“We’ve gotten a lot better; more mature,” freshman Wenyen Gabriel said. “Playing in a lot of close games and getting better as a team, I don’t know if we would have won that game a couple of months ago. But I know we won today and it’s a great time of year for us to be winning games like this.”

Kentucky’s slowed-down win over Wichita State should give the Wildcats a lot of confidence about facing anyone left in the tournament. Next week’s Sweet 16 game is a perfect potential case study.

Kentucky will have to play either UCLA or Cincinnati. Those two teams are nearly polar opposites. While the Bruins play at a breakneck pace and have one of the best offenses in college basketball, the Bearcats want to slow it down and wear out opponents with physical play.

Both opponents will undoubtedly be tough for Kentucky — UCLA won at Rupp Arena in a close game earlier this season — but the Wildcats feel like Monk is rounding into form after a strong finish in the Wichita State game. If Monk returns to Supernova form and Fox and freshman big man Bam Adebayo continue to play as well as they’ve played down the stretch then the Wildcats have a chance to cut down the nets at the end of this journey.

“I’m really proud of the guys. Hard game to play. They really grind it out. The offensive rebound, I thought we rebounded with them, did good stuff,” Calipari said.

“It was great to have Malik back. Haven’t seen him for a while. He’s on that path, still not all the way back, but he’s on the path that we need him on. And these guys up here, they’re young, but they have a will to win and play with courage and are skilled basketball players and great kids who share. So proud of them.”

During a weekend that saw defending champion Villanova and hated rival Louisville fall in the second round, Kentucky is glad to be moving on from Wichita State.

The Wildcats won’t be wishing to play another Gregg Marshall team in the tournament anytime soon, but they’re hoping this second-round win propels Kentucky to the national-championship game like it did in 2014.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

(Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Baylor Athletics
Leave a comment

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

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

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

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.