Weekend Preview: The five biggest story lines this weekend

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The biggest story line of the weekend is No. 2 Kansas paying a visit to No. 4 Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.

We all know that.

We talked all about it on the podcast (here) and in a preview of the game (here).

Beyond that, here are five story lines to track this weekend:

1. Which Duke team is going to show up on Saturday?: As it stands, No. 17 Duke is currently 15-5 overall, but just 3-4 in the ACC. They’ve lost all three of their road games in league play and are coming off of a dreadfully disappointing performance in a home loss to N.C. State on Monday. We detailed what is going wrong with the Blue Devils here, and it’s worth noting that things have gotten bad enough for Duke that Coach K revoked locker room access and has banned the team from wearing clothing with a Duke logo on it.

Which leads us to Saturday.

Duke heads down the road to take on Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons are not all that good this year, but they are usually a tough out in their building, frankly, Duke has done nothing in the last six weeks to make us believe they can go on the road anywhere and come out with a win. Duke’s ceiling this season is still as high as anyone’s ceiling, and every game is going to be a test. Are they getting closer to reaching that ceiling, or is this team still not good?

2. The Big Ten bubble picture is heating up: Northwestern is the most under-reported story in college basketball this season. A program that has never – EVER – made the NCAA tournament is currently sitting at 17-4 overall with a 6-2 record in the Big Ten and a very, very good chance at ending that drought this March. Indiana? They are probably the most over-reported story in the conference, a flawed team whose expectations grew out of control with a pair of early-season wins and whose is now trying to find their way through league play and into the tournament without the services of O.G. Anunoby.

Think about that, for a second. Indiana plays at Northwestern on Saturday, and the Hoosiers probably need this win more than Northwestern does.

That’s not the only Big Ten game with heavy bubble implications.

Michigan’s visit to Michigan State will matter as well. Both of those teams seemed destined to sweat it out on Selection Sunday, although the Spartans and Tom Izzo may be in more trouble than John Beilein’s Wolverines. So Michigan State and Indiana, the two flagship program in the conference, desperately need to win games against Michigan and Northwestern.

What is going on?

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3. Will Gonzaga be No. 1?: The Zags are the nation’s lone undefeated team, and with No. 1 Villanova, No. 2 Kansas and No. 4 Kentucky all losing on Tuesday, there’s a good chance the the Bulldogs could find themselves climb to No. 1 in the country if they can find a way to avoid losing to 5-15 Pepperdine on Saturday.

And if they can get through the weekend without a loss to their name, it’s very likely that, barring a loss at Saint Mary’s in February, the Zags are going to head into the conference tournaments undefeated. And if they get to the conference tournaments undefeated, they’ll be the No. 1 team in the country for the rest of the year and lock themselves into the No. 1 seed out west.

I don’t want to get into a debate about whether or not that should happen (it should, and if you think otherwise you’re probably dumb), I’m just saying that it’s a thing that will happen.

4. Can Georgia Tech land another upset?: I’m not sure Josh Pastner deserves to be in the National Coach of the Year discussion. He may not even deserve to be in the ACC Coach of the Year discussion, at least not yet. But it’s inarguable that he is doing a fantastic job with this Yellow Jacket team. They were picked to finish 14th in the ACC this season, yet entering this weekend, they are sitting at 4-4 in league play – a half-game ahead of Duke – with wins over North Carolina, Florida State, N.C. State and Clemson. No. 14 Notre Dame is terrific, good enough to win the ACC regular season title, but they are coming off of a loss at home to No. 12 Virginia.

5. So was that N.C. State win at Duke a fluke or nah?: The Wolfpack have been bad this season, but on Monday night, they went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and beat the Blue Devils thanks to 32 points and six assists from Dennis Smith Jr. That’s a terrific win for the program’s bragging rights in the state of North Carolina, but beating Duke sounds better in real life than it looks on paper at the moment. That’s what makes Saturday’s visit to the Yum! Center interesting.

N.C. State has been bad on the road this year. Louisville is tough in their building. But the Cardinals will be without their top two points guards, who are both battling injury. This is N.C. State’s chance to make up for losing to Boston College and Georgia Tech.

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 23:  Dennis Smith Jr. #4 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack drives in for a dunk as time expires during their win against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina State won 84-82.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Dennis Smith Jr. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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
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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

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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.