J.J. Watt, LSU, Caitlin Clark and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. College basketball’s regular season ended right where it began
It took one game — a 102-90 win over the Kansas Jayhawks — for the Gonzaga Bulldogs to completely validate their No. 1 preseason ranking. Defeating Auburn, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia made it feel there was no way anyone else was on the Bulldogs’ level. But the Baylor Bears and Michigan Wolverines were cruising along in the best two conferences in the country with one loss between them. Michigan (and maybe Baylor) had better resumes than Gonzaga in the middle of February.
Then the Bears lost to those same Jayhawks and the Wolverines fell to Michigan State after getting run off the floor by an Ayo Dosunmu-less Illinois. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs completed the first perfect regular season in six years. Gonzaga may play in the WCC, but Michigan was beaten by a 13-14 Minnesota team and Baylor nearly got upset by Iowa State, who failed to win a Big 12 game. Mark Few’s team had no such issues. A week away from Selection Sunday, the question is the same as it was from day one: Is anyone capable of taking down the Zags?
2. J.J. Watt knew exactly what he wanted
Back on Feb. 17, ESPN’s Ed Werder tweeted J.J. Watt’s free agency decision would be driven by three factors (in order): quarterback, supporting cast and money. Signing a two-year $31 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals provides Watt with all three things. He reunites with former teammate DeAndre Hopkins and gets to play alongside Chandler Jones, Hasson Reddick and Budda Baker on defense.
While joining an 8-8 team on the rise in the toughest division in the sport that’s missed the playoffs five years in a row doesn’t exactly scream “winning the Super Bowl is the top priority,” characterizing Watt as more interested in money than team success isn’t fair either. He can reasonably expect to be playing meaningful football games in Arizona, which was not the case in his final season in Houston. Watt had well-defined criteria in what he wanted from his next team and found precisely what he was looking for.
3. LSU has to show it actually regrets how it handled allegations against Les Miles
It’s bad enough LSU’s administrative leadership did not publicly reprimand Les Miles in any way after allegations surfaced he sexually harassed female student employees working in the Tigers’ football program while he was head coach. What makes the mishandling even worse is that former athletic director Joe Alleva advocated to fire Miles with cause, correctly pointing out Miles’ behavior was hurting the school and there would be public support for doing so. That was the summer of 2013. LSU employed Miles until a 2-2 start in 2016.
The blatant disregard for Miles’ actions and refusal to follow Alleva’s recommendation paints an incredibly troubling picture. Law firm Husch Blackwell’s investigation tells a broader story of mishandled Title IX complaints. Saying the “right” things now with the information available to the public is easy. True remorse and regret can only be demonstrated through a voluntary, long-term shift in the school’s culture. What is tolerated within an organization says much more about its values than some words during a public relations crisis.
4. The most impressive freshman in women’s college basketball is not named Paige Bueckers
A total of 29 players in women’s college basketball averaged more than 20 points per game during the regular season. Ten dished out more than six assists. Two freshmen did both. One was UConn sensation Paige Buckers. The other was Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, who is the nation’s leading scorer while ranking fifth in assists per game and tied for first in made 3-pointers per game. No other player, including Bueckers, is in the top 20 of the first two categories.
Clark’s accolades include the following: most individual weekly awards (17) in a season in Big Ten women’s basketball history and first freshman in the 21st century with 10 30-point performances on the women’s side (she ended with 11). She outscored Nebraska by herself in the fourth quarter of the Hawkeyes’ regular season finale. Yet somehow, Clark was left off the list of 15 finalists for the Wooden Award that included Bueckers. That is simply preposterous.
5. Recent results have not been kind to college basketball’s bluebloods not named Michigan State
Not so long ago, Duke and Michigan State were surging back onto the bubble with an opportunity to be safely in the NCAA Tournament field (relatively speaking) if they closed the season well. They have gone in different directions since then. The Blue Devils enter the ACC Tournament losers of three straight and needing a deep run to return to the bubble. The Spartans picked up victories over Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan, and seem on their way to the Big Dance.
North Carolina’s 91-73 win over Duke helped solidify a resume that was wavering after falling to Marquette and Syracuse, the latter of which needed back-to-back victories to even factor into the bubble conversation. UCLA was beaten by the three best teams in its conference between Feb. 27 and March 6, leaving the Bruins on shaky footing. So much for the sport’s traditional powers flexing their muscle heading into March, save for Tom Izzo’s Spartans.
After their defeat at the hands of archrivals Manchester United, the most points Manchester City can accrue in the Premier League is 95. If they lose one more game, they would finish with the lowest points total of any champion since Leicester City in 2015-16. And they just won 21 games in a row. What Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp’s teams have done the past three seasons is truly incredible.
Photo by JustDog / Wikimedia Commons