10 Takeaways: Big East oddities, a buzzer-beater and the final No. 1 seed


Who wants that last 1?

Duke stumbled. Purdue was shocked. And Texas barely got by Baylor. Those three are the popular candidates to join Ohio State, Pitt and Kansas as the top seeds for the NCAA tournament but can’t seem to get it together down the stretch.

The Devils lost their chance at the ACC crown when rival North Carolina put on an impressive display at home. Even if they win the ACC tournament, Duke’s odds for a 1 seed took a hit given their average résumé. (Not to mention the ACC’s sub-par season dings them.)

The Boilermakers had a gimmie game at Iowa, yet somehow lost to the Big Ten’s worst team. Best they’ll get now seems to be a 2. And the Longhorns? Get back to me when they snap out of their funk (I’m looking at you Jordan Hamilton.)

Meanwhile, BYU and San Diego State stayed kept their places (2 and 3) with the chance to move up thanks to workmanlike wins.

That leaves … Notre Dame.

The Irish won at UConn – even more impressive considering they didn’t have point guard Ben Hansbrough for most of the stretch run – boosting their profile even more. It’s looking more and more like they’ll be the fourth No. 1 seed. Here’s a team comparison:

How to lock it up? Avoid a one-game exit from the Big East tournament. Given that tourney’s unpredictable nature, that’s not a given. But why would that be any different from the rest of this crazy season?

Big East? More like the Big Two
If the 1 seed discussion wasn’t enough indication, here’s more. It wasn’t pretty, but Pitt clinched the conference crown by beating Villanova. Notre Dame won at UConn. Those two have a combined seven conference losses. Third place has six. Here’s what I mean:

Louisville lost to West Virginia, Cincinnati crushed Georgetown, and Seton Hall dumped Marquette, further bunching the conference’s middle class together. St. John’s struggled at home vs. South Florida. Syracuse rolled, but it played DePaul. At home. So it should’ve won by 48. The Panthers (27-4) and Irish (25-5) are the class of a league that’s bound for 11 NCAA tournament bids. And they might be the only ones capable of making the Elite Eight.

They punched their tickets
Belmont did what it’s done all season and rolled past an Atlantic Sun opponent, clinching its fourth title in six years. UNC Asheville upended the Big South’s top seed, Coastal Carolina, for its first NCAA bid since 2003. And Morehead State rode its rebounding fiend, Kenneth Faried, to the Ohio Valley crown. (Princeton missed its chance when it lost to Harvard, setting up a possible playoff for their tourney bid.) Welcome to the Big Dance, you three. May you stay as long as you can.

Beware those bid thieves
When Butler plays Milwaukee for the Horizon League championship, it’s gonna make teams like Virginia Tech, Washington State and Alabama very nervous. The Bulldogs should make the field of 68, but if Milwaukee takes the title, it could result in two bids for the conference and boot one of those other bubble teams. (Of course, it could boot Butler, too, but hey, go with me.) Another to watch? VCU in the CAA. George Mason and ODU are in the field now, but VCU could join ‘em by pulling off two more victories.

Are you a believer?                      
Florida won its first outright SEC title since 2007, the same year it repeated as national champs. Arizona clinched the Pac-10 outright, the first time the Wildcats have done that since 2005, when it also reached the Elite Eight. Both teams are ranked in the Top 15, but neither have much support when it comes to making a deep NCAA tournament run. Much of that comes from winning conferences that are having down years and a lack of truly impressive wins. Yet the Gators are laden with experience and talent, while Arizona has a future NBA lottery pick in Derrick Williams. That makes them two of the bigger wild cards in March. And two of the more tantalizing teams.

BYU not back in business yet
The Cougars’ rough week – the public outcry over Brandon Davies’ dismissal was probably more frustrating than the home loss to New Mexico – nearly got worse. BYU lead MWC cellar dweller Wyoming by just three points at halftime, raising fears that the team might drop to a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Jimmer Fredette and Charles Abouo solved that problem by going off in the second half for a102-78 victory (Fredette scored 38, while Abouo opened the second half on a tear), but questions remains about BYU. It’s 28-3 but still not the same team without Davies. It’ll need a strong MWC tournament to quiet any naysayers before the Big Dance.

Jayhawks ‘D’ up
Kansas outlasted No. 22 Missouri, 70-66, on Saturday, clinching its seventh straight Big 12 regular-season title outright. Combine that outcome with the Tigers’ road issues, and there’s concern for their odds of winning a couple NCAA tournament games. The other NCAA tournament spin? No. 2 Kansas won a game with its defense. The Jayhawks have killed it on offense this season thanks to their absurdly consistent offense, yet the defense got it done Saturday. The Tigers missed 20 3-pointers, shot 29 percent from the field, a season worst. Credit a defense that forced Missouri into rushed shots and dumb decisions. Not that Kansas played smart, but that’s another post…

The best tourney going
If you’re ever in St. Louis for the first weekend of March, get tickets to Arch Madness. You’re guaranteed to see close games and upsets. Three of Friday’s four games were decided by three points or less, while Wichita State – the conference’s best team in terms of efficiency marginfell in the semis. Now it’s Indiana State vs. Missouri State for the title. And the Big Dance ticket.

Maybe C-USA isn’t a one-bid league
UAB clinched its first outright league title when it crushed East Carolina on Saturday night, putting it in the driver’s seat for the conference tournament. More promising for C-USA is that Memphis beat Tulane, giving the Tigers 22 wins and perhaps the best non-conference NCAA tournament résumé. If those two meet in the conference championship game, it’s possible they could both go dancing.

And finally, some Madness!
Selection Sunday is still days away, but VCU’s Jamie Skeen gave us a taste of what’s to come. His buzzer-beater – a spinning, off-the glass shot – capped a 62-60 win over Drexel that sent the Rams to the CAA tournament semifinals. It’s not Bryce Drew, but it’s still fabulous. Watch and love.


You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark wins AP Player of the Year

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Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports
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DALLAS — Caitlin Clark has put together one of the greatest individual seasons in NCAA history with eye-popping offensive numbers.

Iowa’s junior guard, though, saved her best performance for the game’s biggest stage, recording the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA history to get Iowa to the Final Four for the first time in 30 years.

Clark was honored Thursday as The Associated Press women’s basketball Player of the Year. She received 20 votes from the 28-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week. Voting was done before March Madness began.

“It’s a huge honor,” Clark said. “I picked a place that I perfectly fit into and that’s allowed me to show my skill set. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t mean something. It’s not the reason you play basketball, it’s just something that comes along with getting to do what you love.”

The Iowa coaching staff surprised Clark by sharing that she won the award while they were visiting the Iowa Children’s Hospital – a place near and dear to her. It also has huge ties to the Hawkeyes athletic department.

They put together a video of some of the children in the hospital congratulating Clark on an outstanding season, and in the middle of it, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder popped on the screen to tell her she won.

“I’m there for inspiring the next generation and being there for the people that you know are going through a hard time,” said Clark, who grew up in Iowa. “Being able to give joy to people that watch you play and watch your team play is amazing.”

She averaged 27.0 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds during the season to help Iowa go 26-6. Clark has 984 points, the sixth-most in a season by any player in Division I women’s history. She also has over 300 assists.

“She is spectacular. I don’t know how else to describe what she does on the basketball court,” Bluder said.

Next up for the Hawkeyes is undefeated South Carolina in the national semifinals. The Gamecocks are led by Aliyah Boston, last season’s winner of the award. She garnered the other eight votes this season.

“There’s so many great players, more than just me and (Aliyah),” Clark told the AP. “You can go on and on and list the tremendous players. I think that’s really good for our game when there’s a lot of great players. That’s what is going to help this game grow more than anything else.”

Whether it’s hitting deep 3s from the Hawkeye logo at home games, hitting off-balance game-winning shots or throwing pinpoint passes to teammates for easy baskets, Clark has excelled on the court this year to get Iowa to a place it hasn’t been in a long time.

“It’s funny, because the better the opponent, almost the better she plays,” Bluder said. “It’s like she locks in on those, when we’re playing against Top 25 teams. That’s when her statistics even go up even more, against great opponents.”

Clark is the second Iowa player to win the AP award in the past few seasons, joining Megan Gustafson who won it in 2019.

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: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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

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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

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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.