South Carolina women unanimous No. 1 in preseason AP Top 25

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Dawn Staley and South Carolina picked up right where they left off: No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 women’s basketball poll.

The defending national champion Gamecocks were the unanimous choice of the 30-member national media panel in the preseason poll. It’s the third consecutive season South Carolina is the preseason favorite.

“This is where we wanted to be and envisioned for our program,” Staley said. “I got to give it to our players. We constantly get some of the best players in the country. They put us in this position as they work extremely hard. I don’t know if they come in and say i want to be the No. 1 team in the country, but they do say they want to be national champions. This is a step to being a national champion.”

Stanford, Texas, Iowa and Tennessee round out the top five teams in the preseason poll. It is Iowa’s best ranking since 1994 when the Hawkeyes were also fourth in midseason.

“It makes no difference in March what we’re ranked in October, but certainly I want my team to have confidence and be proud of what they’ve accomplished. Iowa is on the map,” coach Lisa Bluder said. “We’ll celebrate it and then forgot about it.”

South Carolina went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team last year and have been the top team for 20 straight weeks. Only UConn (four times) and Baylor (once) have had longer streaks at No. 1 since the 1994-95 season when the Top 25 became a writers’ poll.

The Huskies are ranked No. 6, the first time since 2006 that they weren’t in the first five in the preseason poll. Louisville, Iowa State, Notre Dame and N.C. State finish off the top 10.

HOLD THAT TIGER

Princeton has its first preseason ranking, coming in at No. 24.

The Tigers were ranked for the final two weeks of last season and return four starters from the team that pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament, upending Kentucky in the first round before falling to Indiana by a point in the next game.

“It’s great for our program and for the Ivy League and putting some respect on what we’ve done in the past,” coach Carla Berube said. “I think it’s tremendous for our team and for us to live up to the standards we’ve set, we’ve got lofty goals. To be ranked in the preseason means a lot, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Berube has upped the Tigers schedule to challenge them with games at Texas and at UConn, her alma mater.

“We’ve learned that if you have a tough non-conference schedule it can get you ready for the Ivy League and beyond that,” she said.

CORNHUSKER RUN

There are high expectations in the state of Nebraska. No. 21 Creighton has its first preseason ranking while No. 22 Nebraska was its first ranking since 2015. It’s the first time in the history of the poll that both teams have been ranked in the same week.

“It’s good to have Creighton and Nebraska in Top 25. It’s good for the state,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said.

The Bluejays are coming off a great season when they advanced to the first Elite Eight in school history by knocking off No. 2 seed Iowa at home in the second round and Iowa State in the regional semifinals. Expectations are high this year.

“It says to our players that they put the program in a better position than we’ve ever been in,” Flanery said. “That’s good for them. I think they deserve it. They worked to get us to this point. I don’t think it changes their approach.”

TIP-INS

No. 13 Virginia Tech has its best ranking since the final poll of 1999 when the school was also 13th. … No. 23 South Dakota State is ranked in the preseason for the first time in school history.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big Ten is tops in the nation with six ranked teams. Joining No. 4 Iowa are No. 11 Indiana, No. 14 Ohio State, No. 17 Maryland, No. 22 Nebraska and No. 25 Michigan.

The ACC has five teams in the poll, including three in the top 10. Joining Louisville, Notre Dame and N.C. State are No. 12 North Carolina and No. 13 Virginia Tech.

The Big 12 has four programs ranked, led by No. 3 Texas and No. 8 Iowa State. No. 15 Oklahoma and No. 18 Baylor are also ranked.

The SEC and Pac-12 each have three teams in the poll. No. 16 LSU joins top-ranked South Carolina and No. 5 Tennessee for the SEC. No. 19 Arizona and No. 20 Oregon join No. 2 Stanford for the Pac-12.

No. 21 Creighton and UConn represent the Big East while No. 24 Princeton is the lone school from the Ivy League and No. 23 South Dakota State the only Summit League team in the rankings.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.