Purdue back near Big Ten top? Portal makes predictions tough

William Bretzger-The Record/USA TODAY NETWORK

MINNEAPOLIS — The Purdue Boilermakers are coming off a 29-win season in which they were ranked in the AP top 10 from wire to wire, including the No. 1 spot for one week in December, and drew a No. 3 seed for the NCAA Tournament.

Still, they finished one game shy of first place in the conference, lost to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament final and were upset by upstart St. Peter’s in the Sweet 16. That didn’t sit well with coach Matt Painter or anybody else associated with the program.

“We thought we had a team that could do more damage than it did. As a coach, you take sole responsibility for that,” Painter said in Minneapolis at Target Center, where the conference took its basketball media days this year. “I thought we should have won our league. I thought we should have won our tournament. I thought we should have gotten to the Final Four. We didn’t.”

While the Boilermakers have lost first team All-Big Ten guard Jaden Ivey and stalwarts Trevion Williams and Sasha Stefanovic, they’ve still got a team headlined by the 7-foot-4 Zach Edey – one of three unanimous picks for the 11-player preseason all-conference team – that ought to be able to contend for the conference title again.

These days, with the transfer portal doing heavy business, picking the favorites is even more of an inexact science. The Boilermakers were pegged for fifth in the Big Ten preseason media poll.

“You have some people that are being picked in the top half, and 70 to 80% of their guys didn’t play for them last year. Normally when that’s the case, they don’t get picked in the top half,” Painter said. “You’ve got a good chunk of some of these guys that have had really good careers so far so it’s easier to gauge, easier to say this guy averaged 16 points in another high major conference, he’s going to be successful here. Having that experience of success together is still important.”


Kevin Willard took over the Maryland program after 12 seasons at Seton Hall. A longtime resident of New York and New Jersey, Willard revealed some of the discoveries he’s made since moving down the Atlantic coast. The first thing to stand out to him was the quality of recruits playing in the Terrapins’ backyard – including the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

“High school basketball, AAU basketball in the DMV is by far second to none,” Willard said. “It’s kind of cool being there because you get first dibs on a lot of kids that obviously we couldn’t get before.”

The first player Willard signed upon arriving in College Park was 6-foot-6 swingman Noah Batchelor, a native of Frederick, Maryland, who played last year at the IMG Academy in Florida. He also picked up a graduate transfer in guard Jahmir Young, a product of DeMatha Catholic High School in the D.C. suburbs who averaged 16.7 points per game over three seasons at Charlotte.

But Willard knows there’s no such thing as building a fence around the state.

“You’re never going to keep all your local kids home,” Willard said. “Fan bases love saying that. If you keep everyone home, then you’re not going to be able to play everybody and everyone is going to get mad at you anyways.”

His steepest learning curve might actually be in the dining room.

“You’ve got to know how to eat crab cakes. I’m learning how to crack crabs and eat crabs. It’s a new thing for me. Very hard,” Willard said with a laugh. “You’ve got to split the middle, take the legs off, go through the whole process.”


Rutgers is aiming for a third straight NCAA Tournament berth, a streak the program has never before accomplished. Coach Steve Pikiell’s returning players accounted for 64% of the team’s minutes played last season. Key among those players is fifth-year guard Caleb McConnell, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

There’s also a significant homecourt advantage the Scarlet Knights have developed in recent years at the 8,000-seat building now known as Jersey Mike’s Arena, enough to warrant attention in a conference with some of the country’s most imposing gyms for visiting teams.

When Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson were mulling over the most raucous road-game scenes, they mentioned usual suspects Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue. But also:

“Rutgers is pretty lit,” Thompson said.

“Yeah, Rutgers is awesome,” Jackson-Davis said.

Pikiell praised the fan base for the environment.

“I think they really like our guys and respect how they play,” Pikiell said. “They play with a little Jersey grit and excitement and enthusiasm.”


Iowa coach Fran McCaffery again has two of his sons on the roster, with sixth-year forward Connor McCaffery back for one more ride in a reserve role and fourth-year forward Patrick McCaffery returning to the starting lineup.

There are downsides to playing for dad, of course. Connor told on himself for feeling “a little bit more comfortable talking back” to the coach than anyone else in authority. Patrick cited the pressure that comes from the family name and the unfounded assumptions of nepotism around status on the team.

The good outweighs the bad, though, like being part of a true family environment. Then there’s the credibility that Connor has built up through so much time in the program.

“We think alike,” Connor said. “My suggestions and points a lot of times are on the same page. He gives me the freedom to audible plays and call plays.”

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

kansas mccullar
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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.