The New Big East will never be the Old Big East, and that’s a good thing

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The New Big East is never going to be the Old Big East.

That is where this conversation — college basketball’s argument du jour, whether the New or Old iteration of a 40-year old league is better — needs to start and end.

I grew up on the Big East. My first sports memory as a kid was watching Ray Allen and UConn make a game-winning floater to beat Allen Iverson and Georgetown for the Huskies first Big East title. I loved that conference.

This league will never be that league.

And it doesn’t have to be, nor should it want to be.

The Old Big East was a league defined by the characters and rivalries that built it. John Thompson Jr., Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Lou Carnesecca. That league was changed long before the likes of Syracuse, UConn, Pitt and West Virginia departed for greener football fields. Once the TV networks figured out that their cash cow was going to be football, the end was inevitable. Hell, the New Big East is, quite literally, a new conference. The infrastructure of the Old Big East is now the American.

The seven schools that left that league started their own conference, called it the Big East, kept the rights to Madison Square Garden for the conference tournament and poached the three best programs east of the Rockies that weren’t yet in a power conference to start anew.

Hell, it’s not all that different from what the seven charter members of the league did way back in 1979.

Point being, this is a new conference. We should look at it as such. We should embrace it for the characters that are building it: Jay Wright and his tailored suits. Chris Mack and the DGAF-mantra his teams play with. The leftover Butler Way from the Brad Stevens era at Butler. Greg McDermott, an Iowa country-boy that somehow made a program in Omaha, somewhere in Middle America, relevant in a conference made up of private schools in major, mostly east coast cities.

Instead of arguing over whether or not a conference that has been dominated by a Villanova program that has grown into one of the most impressive dynasties in recent memory is better than the 16-team behemoth that was its predecessor, we should embrace what has been borne out of the new league.

Case in point: Xavier-Butler has turned into one of the games that I look forward to most every year, and Tuesday evening did not disappoint. The Musketeers jumped out to a 29-11 lead midway through the first half. Butler came storming back on the heels of four-year star Kelan Martin, who finished with 34 points, and Sean McDermott to take a six-point lead late in the second half. Xavier responded with a run that seemed to seal the win, but the Bulldogs used a 9-2 run in the final minute to force overtime.

In the extra frame, Trevon Bluiett buried a pair of threes, including this 28-foot dagger, to seal a 98-93 overtime win:

That was a great game, and I don’t say that lightly.

And it’s one of what’s been an incredible run of highly-entertaining games in the Big East this season. It’s a league that is loaded with high-powered offenses that play at a fast pace. There are always going to be points put on the board in Big East games. There are always going to be thrilling, thoroughly watchable and aesthetically pleasing games on TV. Case-in-point: Everyone of the top seven conferences has at least one team allowing less than 1.00 points-per-possession in league play … except the Big East. We’re a little more than halfway through conference play and Creighton, at 1.052 PPP allowed, has been the best defensive team in the conference.

This a league where six teams seem destined to get a berth to the NCAA tournament again, a league that looks like it is going to finish in the top three on KenPom for the fourth consecutive season.

The Big East is also one of just two power conferences, along with the Big 12, that play a full round-robin schedule. Nothing stokes a rivalry better than a home-and-home in conference games that matter.

Which leads me back to Villanova.

What the Wildcats are doing in this conference should not be used as a weapon to bring the league down. This has been, unequivocally, one of the three best conferences in America for the last three seasons, just as it is this season. Assuming Villanova wins the league’s regular season title again this year, it will be their fifth outright conference title in the five years since the split. In the last four years, they’ve won the league by a combined 11 games. They have two Big East tournament titles in that stretch. In total, if you include two Big East tournament losses, Villanova has lost 12 games to Big East foes since the split.

And they’ve done all that as a member one of the three best leagues in America, one of two leagues that is small enough to force every member play each other twice.

Oh, and they won a national title in that stretch.

That should be celebrated for the incredible feat that it is.

Just like the New Big East should be celebrated for what it is: A new conference with an old name that has so much more left to give us.

I will never not be nostalgic about the Old Big East, but that doesn’t mean I won’t thoroughly enjoy this Big East for as long as I can.

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark wins AP Player of the Year

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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: and and

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.