College Basketball Conference Reset: The Pac-12’s best players and biggest story lines

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College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Pac 12.


This really shouldn’t be much of a discussion. He’s done so much to revamp who this UCLA program is, and it goes beyond the simple fact that he’s averaging 8.3 assists per game. There’s an unselfishness that has permeated this roster. Players are more likely to give the ball up because they know they’re going to get it back again. He’s the engine that makes their fast break offense work and he’s the reason why they are so difficult to defend in the half court. Throw in the fact that the Bruins are one of the five or six teams everyone has listed as a national title favorite, and he’s a shoe-in for this award.


  • Markelle Fultz, Washington
  • Lonzo Ball, UCLA
  • Jordan McLaughlin, USC
  • Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
  • T.J. Leaf, UCLA

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  1. UCLA is awesome: Entering the season, the Bruins were one of the toughest teams to peg. It wasn’t hard to see them putting together this kind of a season, but it also wasn’t hard to see Lonzo Ball failing to acclimate to the college level while the Bruins continued to struggle defensively. A Final Four was always in their range of outcomes. So was a sub-.500 season, and if we’ve learned anything in the first six weeks of the season, it’s that the Bruins are decidedly the former. The biggest reason? Their ability to score. Not only do they play as fast as anyone, but they are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the sport, which is what tends to happen when you surround Ball with four guys shooting better than 39.3 percent from three.
  2. Oregon lost more than we realized they did: The Ducks are going to return to relevancy as Dillon Brooks returns to 100 percent, but there is no question that we underestimated just how valuable Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin were to Dana Altman’s program. While the Ducks still have the talented weapons offensively, losing the kind of versatility and athleticism those two brought was not easy to replace.
  3. USC may not own LA, but Andy Enfield has another good team: Last year, the Trojans were the best program – and maybe the best basketball team – in LA. This year, with the way that the Bruins and the Lakers have played, they certainly are not, but that hasn’t slowed down Andy Enfield’s program. Despite losing Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic, and with Bennie Boatwright dealing with injury for much of the early part of the season, USC will enter league play without a loss to their name. Jordan McLaughlin has been terrific, but it’s been the emergence of players like Elijah Stewart and De’Anthony Melton that have really made the difference.
TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 20: Lauri Markkanen #10 of the Arizona Wildcats reacts after hitting a three point shot against the New Mexico Lobos during the second half of the college basketball game at McKale Center on December 20, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Lauri Markkanen (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)


  1. Arizona is getting better even if they don’t get Allonzo Trier back: What Arizona has done given the amount of turmoil surrounding that program has been impressive. They lost Ray Smith for the year to year another torn ACL. They never got Terrence Ferguson on campus. Parker Jackson-Cartwright will be out for a while with an ankle injury. And yet, the Wildcats are 11-2 on the year and trending in the right direction. The big question now is whether or not Allonzo Trier will figure out his issues and be cleared to play at any point this season.
  2. Who’s the second-best team in the Pac-12?: UCLA is the best team in the league. We all know that. I think everyone in the Pac-12 would agree. Who is the second-best? Entering the season, Oregon was thought to be the best team in the league. Arizona was up there as well, but that was before the injuries and suspensions. USC wasn’t in the conversation but it’s impossible to ignore their start to the year. It’s certainly one of those three teams. But which one?
  3. Does Washington have any chance of turning this thing around?: Markelle Fultz is a ridiculous talent having a ridiculous individual season. But he’s stuck on a roster that doesn’t have enough talent, experience, defensive effort or coaching to beat Yale, Nevada or TCU (twice). Those aren’t bad basketball teams or programs, but they’re not the kind of teams that Washington and Fultz should be losing to.

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BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: I still think that Oregon has a chance to be a Final Four team. Dana Altman is as good as any coach in the country at finding a way to get the most out of his roster, and by the time the Ducks are playing their first league game on Wednesday, Dillon Brooks should be back to 100 percent.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: USC is one of just six undefeated teams left in college basketball, and as impressive as that is to say in the days after Christmas, I’m still not sure just how good the Trojans are. Is this a team that can actually compete for the Pac-12 title, or have they gotten the job done against a schedule that probably isn’t as good as it looks on paper? I’d lean towards the former, but we’ll know for sure on Friday, when USC pays a visit to Eugene to take on the Ducks.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in the last five seasons, and during those five seasons, he has sent five players to the first round of the NBA Draft. This year he has the potential No. 1 pick on his roster in Markelle Fultz and he appears destined for the NIT, at best. It’s impressive for a head coach at a high major program to be able to last five years without a trip to the NCAA tournament. It’s almost unheard of to go six years, especially when that includes six first round picks and the No. 1 overall pick.

EUGENE, OR - DECEMBER 11: Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks drives to the basket on Riley Norris #1 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first half of the game at Matthew Knight Arena on December 11, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Dillon Brooks #24 (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)


Tourney teams

  • 1. UCLA: What else is there to say about the Bruins that hasn’t been said yet? How about this: Aaron Holiday, their sixth-man, is the third-best player on the Bruin roster.
  • 2. Arizona: Playing without Allonzo Trier and Ray Smith, the Wildcats have been pretty impressive this season Lauri Markkanen lived up to the hype while Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins have developed into quality pieces. Sean Miller is getting a lot out of the limited pieces he has available. If they get Trier back, the Wildcats might actually be something.
  • 3. Oregon: The Ducks had a slow start to the year as they tried to work Dillon Brooks back from an injury. They’ve won nine in a row since a rough trip to Maui and will have a real test in their Pac-12 opener against UCLA.
  • 4. USC: The Trojans lost their only two seniors, both starters, this offseason, but that hasn’t mattered, as they are currently sitting at 13-0 this season. The most impressive part? Bennie Boatwright has basically been a non-factor this season, meaning the Trojans have done all this with just three players that played a second for USC in a game before this season.
  • 5. Colorado: The difference between the Buffaloes and some of the other teams that look destined for the NIT is that Colorado landed a win over Xavier during non-conference play. Combine that with the fact that the trip to the Mountain time zone is the most difficult in the league, and the Buffs are in a good spot to get back to the dance.

NIT teams

  • 6. Utah: Kyle Kuzma has been awesome all season long while Lorenzo Bonam has looked solid, but the difference for this team has been the addition of David Collette and Sedrick Barefield, who are both averaging better than 15 points since getting eligible four games ago.
  • 7. Cal: The Bears had a chance to poach an elite win at home against Virginia and let it slip away. Ivan Rabb hasn’t taken the step forward that many expected of him.
  • 8. Stanford: Reid Travis has been arguably the best big man in the conference this season, but this year looks like it going to be something of a work in progress for the Cardinal in Jerod Haase’s first season.

Autobid or bust

  • 9. Washington: The Huskies have the most talented player in college basketball on their roster and look like they’re destined for the NIT at best. It will be a shame if Markelle Fultz never plays a meaningful college basketball game on national television, because he is so talented.
  • 10. Arizona State: The Sun Devils were obliterated by Kentucky and Purdue on neutral courts, and then were called out by their head coach for not being tough enough. That probably won’t be the last time Bobby Hurley isn’t happy with his team’s play.
  • 11. Oregon State: The Beavers could end up being in last place in the league this season depending on when they get Tres Tinkle back from his wrist injury.
  • 12. Washington State: The Cougars are going to enter league play above .500 on the season, which is a positive and wasn’t a guarantee entering the year.

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.

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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

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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.”