College hoops storylines to watch this season


OK, enough chatter. The 2010-11 college hoops season is finally here.

Well, maybe a little more chatter. How about the storylines to follow this season? Call it your last-second primer.

Is everyone really chasing Duke?
That’s the general consensus. The AP, coaches, most every writer and even the fine folks at Basketball Prospectus expect the Blue Devils to be the lead horse in this season’s race.

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But it’s not because they’re “Duke.” It’s because they’re talented (Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving all will be in the running for All-America honors, while Mason Plumlee’s beloved by NBA scouts), they’re deep (Coach K can bring Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, Josh Hairston and Ryan Kelly off the bench) and have fewer questions than the rest of the field.

Still, Duke isn’t perfect. And there will be contender to the would-be throne. Among national media writers, Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News tabs Michigan State to win it all, while Ohio State, Pitt and Kansas all have enough depth and talent to match the Blue Devils.
Put it this way: Duke’s not a “sure-thing” like Kansas was last season. And look how that ended up.

The Big Ten is the best
Like it or lump it – yes, the conference’s style occasionally can be painful to watch – no conference can match the Big Ten. The league has more Final Four contenders (Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois), rock-solid teams (Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota) and big Dance hopefuls (Northwestern, Penn State, Indiana) than anyone else.

The Big East may put more teams in the Big Dance, but that’s a factor of size, not overall strength. The Big 12 could come close, but the bottom dwellers (Oklahoma, Iowa State) are more pitiable than the Big Ten’s. The ACC is full of good, not great teams. The SEC needs more than five schools to focus on basketball.  And the Pac-10? Hah! Good one!

If Robbie Hummel were healthy, this wouldn’t even be a topic. It’d be fact.

The best out West
Yeah, so about the Pac-10. Other BCS conference kicked it around and spat on it last season. Thing won’t be that different this time around. Washington will win the league again, but the Huskies were supposed to dominate from the start last year, too. We’ll see how it goes.

Kenny Crookston/AP

That leaves regional bragging rights wide open. San Diego State, BYU, UNLV and Gonzaga (who the Huskies have no desire to play), all could stake claims as the top team west of the Rockies. In fact, I think all four should be in the Top 25 most of the season, but how it plays into March remains to be seen.

After all, New Mexico tore through the Mountain West last season, snagged a 3 seed in the Big Dance, then got routed by Washington. So stay tuned.

Eligibility’s an issue
Kansas, Kentucky and Missouri – three schools with designs on the Final Four – are all waiting on NCAA clearance for players crucial to those would-be runs. The longer the wait, the tougher it’ll be to thrive later on.

Kansas has its fingers crossed on Josh Selby, who’ll replace Sherron Collins at point guard. The Jayhawks need a physical guard who can get to the basket and finish, and the 6-3 Selby’s just that. The NCAA is still investigating his relationship with Carmelo Anthony’s business manager.

Tony Mitchell, a 6-8 power forward, is out until at least the second semester due to academic issues. If he does suit up for Missouri, he’ll give the Tigers a much-needed boost to their frontcourt, which is usually their Achilles’ heel. Only Laurence Bowers and junior college transfer Ricardo Ratliffe have any interest playing down low.

That leaves Enes Kanter. Big Blue Nation has long wished for the NCAA to “Free Enes” only to be ignored thus far. At issue is Kanter’s compensation with his former Turkish club, Fenerbache Ulker. Until he’s able to suit for the Wildcats, John Calipari’s going to emphasize small-ball, a la Villanova in 2006.

Freshmen will be the difference for three programs
North Carolina’s coming off a rare non-NCAA tournament year. Kentucky’s returning minutes are lacking because it placed five guys in the NBA. And Memphis relinquished its control of Conference USA during Josh Pastner’s rebuilding season.


Enter the newcomers.

The Tar Heels will merely ask Harrison Barnes, 2010’s top recruit, to led them back to the NCAAs. Judging from his preseason acclaim – even the AP tossed him an All-America nod – it should be a snap. The 6-7 wing merely has to boost UNC’s perimeter game, rebound and defend, or basically be this year’s John Wall/Kevin Durant. He’ll have help, though. Fellow fine frosh Reggie Bullock can score and Kendall Marshall will push Larry Drew II for the starting point guard job.

Pastner’s Tigers have the best recruiting class of anyone not located in Lexington, Ky. Between Will Barton, Joe Jackson, Jelan Kendrick and Tarik Black, Pastner has enough talented young players not only to send Memphis back to the Big Dance, but to make a Final Four run. Laugh at that notion all you want. You don’t have to guard these guys.

Which brings us to Kentucky. Remember what John Calipari did with a handful of talented freshmen (and a few upperclassmen) last season? Get ready for an encore. The Wildcats may fall short of 35 wins and a spot in the Elite Eight, but there’s no shortage of NBA-caliber players in Lexington. And when it comes to making noise in March, don’t ever ignore talent.

A bigger dance, a bigger bubble
Did you hear? The NCAA tournament expanded. By three teams. That means three fewer coaches get to piss and moan about the NCAA tourney seeding committee – and fans get to watch four games on Tuesday instead of just one.

That’s the good part. The downside is it’ll make for a more confusing bracket (who advances to which region to play which seed again?) and critics bemoaning the further degradation of quality teams playing for the national title.

To which I say pish. More games + more teams = more fun in March. Like you’re really gonna get mad about having to watch more basketball.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty

This year’s Butler
When the NCAA tournament rolls around, which non-BCS school is going to surprise the big boys by making a run to the Final Four? Well, the Bulldogs are one of ’em. Gordon Hayward’s gone, but Butler remains a doggedly tough team thanks to guys like Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and Ronald Nored. Another Final Four is a longshot, but a possibility.

Also keep your eye on teams like SDSU, BYU, Gonzaga, Temple and Wichita State.

As for the schools most likely to stage early upsets in the tourney, try this link. Trust me. The guy knows what he’s talking about.

Fading powers
Don’t expect much out of Louisville, Connecticut or UCLA this season. All three are dealing with talent gaps or off-court issues and all three could miss the NCAA tournament.

The Cardinals are waiting for next season when Rick Pitino welcomes a much-need influx of talent. Until then, they’re a middle-of-the-road Big East team. They might finish ahead of UConn, but that’s only because Kemba Walker doesn’t have anyone to pass to. And that’s not a forgiving conference when it comes to rebuilding.

If Ben Howland’s Bruins make the Big Dance, it’ll be because the Pac-10’s weak competition boosted their overall record to a respectable level. Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, along with freshmen Tyler Lamb and Josh Smith would beg to differ about the talent gap. The rest of us are skeptical.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

UCLA guard Jaylen Clark declares for NBA draft

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES – UCLA guard Jaylen Clark has declared for the NBA draft, weeks after a leg injury forced him out of the season’s final six games.

The junior from Riverside, California, announced his plans on his Instagram account Wednesday.

“Thank you to UCLA and coach (Mick) Cronin for believing in me,” Clark’s post read. “I’d like to announce that I am declaring for the 2023 draft.”

Clark didn’t indicate whether he would hire an agent ahead of the June 22 draft or retain his remaining eligibility. He has until May 31 to withdraw and be able to return to Westwood.

He suffered a lower right leg injury in the regular-season finale against Arizona on March 4. Clark averaged 13 points and six rebounds while starting 29 of 30 games. He led the Pac-12 in total steals with 78, tying for third all-time in single-season steals for the Bruins.

He was a second team All-Pac-12 selection, was named the league’s defensive player of the year and made its five-man All-Defensive Team.

AP college basketball: and and

Penn State hires VCU’s Rhoades as men’s basketball coach

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State hired VCU’s Mike Rhoades on Wednesday as its men’s basketball coach, bringing in the Pennsylvania native to take over a program coming off its first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than a decade.

The Penn State board of trustees approved a seven-year deal worth $25.9 million for Rhoades, who is from Mahanoy City in eastern Pennsylvania.

Just a few hours after Rhoades was named at Penn State, VCU hired Utah State coach Ryan Odom to replace Rhoades.

Rhoades replaces Micah Shrewsberry, who was hired away by Notre Dame last week.

Shrewsberry, an Indiana native, was at Penn State for two seasons. The Nittany Lions went 23-14 this season, reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and won an NCAA game for the first time since 2001.

Rhoades, 50, was 129-61 in six seasons at VCU, including three NCAA Tournament bids. He also spent three seasons at Rice, going 23-12 in the final year with the Owls before returning to VCU.

He was an assistant at the Richmond, Virginia, school from 2009-14 under then-head coach Shaka Smart.

Odom was 44-25 at Utah State in two seasons, with an NCAA Tournament appearance this season.

He previously spent five seasons at Maryland-Baltimore County, going 97-60. In 2018, Odom’s UMBC team became the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament when it beat Virginia.

Temple hires Penn State assistant Fisher to replace McKie

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA – Temple named Penn State assistant Adam Fisher just its fifth coach since 1973 on Wednesday.

Fisher’s goal will be to turn around a program that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2019.

Fisher replaces Aaron McKie, who was transferred out of the coaching job earlier this month after four seasons and a 52-56 overall record with no tournament berths. McKie is now a special advisor to the athletic department.

Fisher takes over a team in flux with six players in the transfer portal. Temple has yet to find any steady success in the American Athletic Conference.

Fisher spent eight years as an assistant with Miami before he joined Micah Shrewsberry’s staff last season at Penn State. Shrewsberry has since moved on to Notre Dame.

“I am confident we have found the right person to lead Temple men’s basketball,” athletic director Arthur Johnson said. “We look forward to welcoming coach Fisher to the Temple community and returning to the NCAA Tournament under his leadership.”

Fisher also worked as a graduate manager at Villanova under Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright from 2007-09.

The Owls have traditionally given their coaches significant time on the bench, though McKie’s tenure was the shortest since Ernest Messikomer from 1939-42. The next five coaches all lasted at least 10 seasons, notably Hall of Fame coach John Chaney’s tenure from 1982-2006.

Cal hires Mark Madsen as basketball coach

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

BERKELEY, Calif. – California is hiring a former Stanford star to revive its struggling basketball program.

The Golden Bears announced Wednesday that Mark Madsen was signed to replace the fired Mark Fox following the worst season in school history.

“We conducted an exhaustive search, and one name kept rising to the top – and that’s Mark Madsen,” athletic director Jim Knowlton said. “Mark is a person of high character, high energy, high intensity, and he’s done it the right way. He’s intense. He’s passionate. He loves his student-athletes, and he loves competing. We want an ambassador for this program who is going to make us proud and develop our young men – both on and off the court. I am absolutely thrilled that Mark will lead our program into the future.”

Madsen played at Stanford under Mike Montgomery, who later coached at Cal, from 1996 to 2000 and helped the Cardinal reach the Final Four in 1998.

After a nine-year playing career in the NBA that featured two titles as a backup on the Lakers in 2001-02, Madsen went into coaching.

He spent time in the NBA’s developmental league and a year at Stanford before spending five seasons on the Lakers staff.

Madsen then was hired in 2019 to take over Utah Valley. He posted a 70-51 record in four years with a 28-9 mark this season before losing on Tuesday night in the NIT semifinals to UAB.

“Having grown up in the area, I have always admired Cal as an institution and as an athletic program, with so many of my teachers, coaches and friends impressive Cal graduates,” Madsen said. “We will win with young men who have elite academic and athletic talent and who will represent Cal with pride.”

Madsen is the third prominent coach to flip sides in recent years in the Bay Area rivalry between Cal and Stanford. The Cardinal hired former Cal quarterback Troy Taylor to take over the football program last season and Bears women’s basketball coach Charmin Smith played and coached as an assistant at Stanford.

Madsen is faced with a tough task, taking over a program that went 3-29 under Fox and set a school record for most losses and worst winning percentage in a season.

Cal went 38-87 during Fox’s tenure, ending his final season on a 16-game losing streak. Fox’s .304 winning percentage ranking second worst in school history to predecessor Wyking Jones’ 16-47 mark (.254) in the two seasons before Fox arrived.

The Bears haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2016 and haven’t won a game in the tournament since 2013 under Montgomery.

Adding to the issues for Fox was the complete lack of interest in the program. Cal’s home attendance averaged just 2,155 this season for the lowest mark among any team in the Power 5 or Big East. That’s down from an average of 9,307 per game in Cuonzo Martin’s last season in 2016-17 and from 5,627 the year before Fox arrived.

Cal had the worst winning percentage among any school in the six major conferences during Fox’s tenure. The Bears also were the lowest-scoring team (62.4 points per game) in all Division I under Fox and had the worst scoring margin of any major conference team under Fox.

Brea Beal’s defense lifts South Carolina to Final Four


COLUMBIA, S.C. – Brea Beal is not just South Carolina’s X factor in one of the country’s best defenses but also a four-year lesson in sacrifice and reinvention that may add a second straight NCAA title to her resume.

Beal is generally third when most think of the landmark recruiting class from 2019 led by heralded All-American Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke. But she could have the most critical role at the Final Four, most likely checking Iowa’s All-American Caitlin Clark in the national semifinals.

The Gamecocks (36-0) face the Hawkeyes (30-6) in the second game in Dallas on Friday night, with the winner playing LSU or Virginia Tech for the national title on Sunday.

Beal, who has started 136 of 137 games in her four seasons, and her senior teammates have racked up championships in their time. They have won three Southeastern Conference Tournament titles, have been to three straight Final Fours and are chasing their second NCAA crown.

Beal takes on the opponent’s best player and, more times than not, limits her effectiveness – a role that took Beal time to embrace.

“It definitely came with some hardship, but throughout time I just walked into it,” she said at the Greenville 1 Regional last weekend.

It wasn’t a path Beal envisioned after a celebrated prep career. She was a three-time Illinois Ms. Basketball from Rock Island High School, averaging 20 or more points a game her final three seasons. Beal joined Candace Parker and Tamika Catchings as the only players in the state to earn that award as a sophomore.

Beal expected to make the offensive impact that Boston and Cooke have had with the Gamecocks.

“It’s not necessarily something I was like, ‘I’m this defender, I’m the best defender,’” Beal said. “It came naturally, just as well as offensively, it’s just something you’ve got to be patient and just accept as time goes.”

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley sees Beal’s value as more than what she does on the court. Beal, overlooked sometimes behind Boston and Cooke, didn’t look to transfer in the portal era or complain about her scoring. She has kept her head down, Staley said, and made herself an indispensable part of the undefeated defending national champions.

“It took her time to just really relax and see where she can find spots to be effective,” Staley said. “Now that she’s a senior, she sees it.”

Clark, the Iowa star, would have to be one of Beal’s most difficult assignments. Clark had a triple-double – 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds – in the Hawkeyes’ 97-83 victory over Louisville to reach their first Final Four in 30 years.

Clark is not one-dimensional – “I pride myself in doing a lot of different things for this team,” she said – and Beal understands it will take a team effort to slow her down.

South Carolina has relied on its defense throughout Beal’s time and this year’s run is no different. The Gamecocks lead the country in blocks and rebound margin, are second in field-goal percentage defense and are third in points allowed.

Cooke believes it’s Beal’s defensive focus that has all the Gamecocks looking to raise their intensity on that side of their game. “She’s the one that taught us how to play defense,” Cooke said. “Especially me. Just watching her and the things she does definitely wore off on me.”

Cooke’s offense may be elevating Beal’s game as of late. Beal has scored in double digits in eight games this season, seven of those since the start of February. She had 10 points in a 59-43 win over UCLA in the Sweet 16 and 16 in an 86-75 victory over Maryland in the Elite Eight.

Once considered the most likely of the 2019 freshmen class to play an extra season, the dual threat has been rising in WNBA mock drafts. has projected her getting called seventh in next month’s draft, going to the Indiana Fever in the first round.

Beal isn’t worried about her pro prospects or savoring all she’s accomplished. She only wants to finish her college career with another championship moment – and that means dialing up the defense.

“We’re a defensively minded team,” she said. “When we come to this part of the season, we definitely need our defense from every single individual.”