LONDON — Arsenal may have exceeded all expectations to top the Premier League in mid-March, but manager Mikel Arteta is just getting started.
When the 40-year-old laid out his blueprint for restoring the Gunners to pre-eminence in conversation with the Kroenke family upon his appointment in December 2019, his plan had five distinct phases. At that time Arsenal were out of the Champions League, 10th in the table and swallowed by the shadow of their former glories. Arteta’s predecessor, Unai Emery, had proved incapable of dragging them back into the light.
Monday night’s London Football Awards were a reflection of how far they have come. Arteta was named Manager of the Year, Martin Odegaard took home Premier League Player of the Year, Bukayo Saka was chosen as Young Player of the Year with Aaron Ramsdale Goalkeeper of the Year; it is the first time in the history of the awards that one club has won all four categories in the same year.
It would be tempting to assume, then, that Arteta’s five-point plan is close to fruition. But when he sits down backstage at London’s Roundhouse to discuss Arsenal’s journey under his guidance, the answer is different.
What phase are we in now? “Phase 3,” he tells ESPN. “Phase 3 is a period of time and we’re a little bit ahead of schedule.”
Only a “little bit.” Arsenal are five points clear at the top of the Premier League and will aim to reach the Europa League quarterfinals on Thursday when facing Sporting CP at Emirates Stadium, a tie positioned slightly in their favour after last week’s 2-2 first-leg draw.
Arteta is notoriously protective of the club’s inner workings but it felt worth a try to ask a little about the phases of his plan that have already passed, the reasons why he is sat with one of the first significant honours of his fledgling managerial career.
“It’s something a little bit private,” he continues. “It’s just my understanding and vision of what the club was, and what we have to capture and develop.
“I like to do it looking forward first and then you have to do it backwards. It just my idea of the club and the decisions we have to take to move it forward. Obviously you need a team, all together thinking the same way and in the same direction and we’re lucky to have that at the club.”
Some of the elements of those first two phases are public knowledge. A dramatic overhaul at multiple levels of the club took place, most obviously to the playing staff as no fewer than seven players including big names like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil had their contracts ripped up amid Arteta’s concerns about divisions within the group. The recruitment strategy was streamlined with many of the club’s overseas scouts moved on, while clearer pathways from Arsenal’s Hale End academy were established to maximise internal development.
Arteta, a player and captain at Arsenal between 2011 and 2016, tried to forge a new spirit infused with the club’s values, attempting to bring people closer together at a time when COVID-19 demanded we were all kept apart. Arsenal won the 2020 FA Cup final in what proved a valuable vindication of a young manager’s methods, but by the end of that year the Gunners were languishing in mid-table, the football was flawed and Arteta found himself under pressure.
Perhaps without the FA Cup success, he would not have lasted in the job. “I don’t know,” Arteta says. “Looking back, obviously a lot of things have happened. To start your managerial career with no experience at any level and face straight away that success and then having two years of COVID, with all the challenges that we have internally at the club, externally at the club, probably I am lucky to be sitting here today looking back with how it could have developed.
“I have always been fascinated with the journey and living every single day like it is the last and I think you have to take this job especially like this because every day there are lessons, there are challenges.
“But as well there are great opportunities. I like to think as well outside of the box and learn straight away from that and just try to be the best possible manager for Arsenal and what Arsenal needs today from me to make them better. In one month, it will be different and in two years’ time maybe they need something else but it is about today.”
Arteta is steeped in Arsenal’s history. Arsene Wenger was a long-time supporter of Willow, the charity behind the London Football Awards, due to a longstanding friendship with co-founders Bob Wilson and his wife, Megs. Wilson, a former Double winner with Arsenal in the 1970s, was the club’s goalkeeping coach and remains close with Wenger. Arteta has sought to extend that relationship with the club this week, inviting Bob and Megs to their London Colney training base to further strengthen Arsenal’s relationship with Willow, which provides unique special days for terminally ill young adults aged 16-40. It is another aspect of that sense of community Arteta was determined to build. None of it could have been possible, however, had the owners not held their nerve.
Arteta was under considerable pressure but the emergence of Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, among others, began to create a new identity while successive transfer windows focusing on younger players — including Odegaard, Ramsdale and Ben White — helped accelerate a rapid transformation. Kroenke Sports Enterprises have been heavily criticised ever since Stan Kroenke took a controlling stake in 2011. Some supporters will never warm to their American owners, many of whom feel have prioritised finances over football. Arsenal’s status as league leaders makes it easy to forget it is less than two years since widespread protests took place at Emirates Stadium, initially triggered by a backlash against the club’s inclusion in the failed European Super League project. In reality that only stirred longstanding resentment. But after supporting Arteta so resolutely and spending approximately £270 million on transfers in the past two years, is it time the owners were cut some slack?
“It took some time to position themselves where they wanted, in terms of how much of the club they own and how much they could decide and how much they could really benefit the club in the way they believe is the right way to take it,” Arteta says. “I believe they were really patient in exactly the right way. Now they have shown they are fully committed, they have big ambitions and they are fully behind the club to give everything they can to make it successful.
“I am convinced the owners will continue to do everything they can to make us very successful and continue to invest in the club in the right way.”
Arteta believes that support will continue this summer. Arsenal ended up signing Leandro Trossard and Jorginho in January, two shrewd acquisitions but alternatives to higher-priced targets on whom they missed out. Mykhailo Mudryk joined Chelsea from Shakhtar Donetsk for £88.5m while Brighton retained Moises Caicedo despite Arsenal’s £70m offer. Arteta insists the club remain willing to compete at the top end of the transfer market.
“When it is necessary for the right profile of players and we can afford it, it will make sense,” he says. “But only if it is the right profile, the right price and we can afford it without damaging ourselves. That’s a really, really thin line and I think we have to have a lot of discipline as well.”
Before then, however, there is the small matter of a Premier League title race to win. Arteta’s innovative teamtalks were a feature of Arsenal’s recent Amazon “All or Nothing” documentary and he continues to tap into the club’s lifeblood to keep his players on track; after last Sunday’s 3-0 win at Fulham, a picture emerged of Arsenal’s players in the away dressing room with a replica timepiece symbolising the Clock End stand which originated at Arsenal’s old stadium, Highbury. The hands were pointing at 11 and 2, which some interpreted as a nod to there being 11 games left in the title race, but Arteta insisted there was no significance in those numbers.
“It was something I related to a few days before on where we were as a team and club and what we have to stand for,” he said. “It was something private in the dressing room just before the game and something that’s in the history of our club. We have to be really conscious of that and when we have that history and we use it in the right way, that’s a really powerful thing to have.
“The reality is that every game is so important, the margins are so small and we are now going to have to do something incredible until the end of the season to earn the right to be there.”
Winning the title would cement Arteta’s legacy. It would also give him the chance to build a dynasty similar to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, under whom he served as assistant coach before taking the Arsenal job, and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. Is that something he wants to do?
“If I’m in that position, it would mean we’ve done a lot of great things,” Arteta says. “But I take it daily. It’s the only thing you can do when you’re a manager. There are so many decisions, so many things that happen throughout the day that you have to be focussed on that. And not get too lost. The bigger picture is clear. I know what I would like to do and what I would like the club to be in certain months but we have to impact today’s decisions in the best way to be where we want to be.”
Australia took on Cuba in the 2023 World Baseball Classic Quarterfinals. Australia hopped on the board first after an RBI single by Rixon Wingrove. Cuba would answer back when Luis Robert Jr. drove in a run on a fielder’s choice. Cuba would have a huge fifth inning, scoring three runs via a sacrifice fly and a two-run single. Wingrove wasn’t done there as he launched a two-run home run in the sixth. Cuba’s relief pitching proved to be too much and they held on for a 4-3 win and advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 2006.
The 2023 NCAA Tournament bracket was released on Sunday, with 68 on the nation’s best teams set to battle for a trip to Houston and the Final Four and National Championship. March Madness also represents one of the biggest betting seasons on the calendar as nearly $15.5 billion will be bet on the men’s tournament, according to an AGA survey. Our ESPN Sports Betting analysts have got you covered with their best betting tips for the first round of the men’s tournament.
All odds are from Caesars Sportsbook.
Which team in the 68-team field has the top betting value to win the Tournament?
Alabama Crimson Tide (+700)
Borzello: I’m picking Alabama to win it all, so while +700 isn’t incredible value (second-favorite), the Crimson Tide would be my best bet in order to have a legitimate chance at a return. Deeper down the list, Marquette at +2000 offers sneaky value. The Golden Eagles just ran through the Big East tournament, have a favorable bottom half of the bracket – and also have the most vulnerable 1-seed, Purdue, at the top of their region. I think they get to the Final Four out of the East and therefore have a shot to win the title.
Cuff: I agree with Jeff, Bama is my pick to win it all. I think they’re the most dynamic team on both sides of the ball. It will be difficult to navigate the media attention and questions that will be inevitably come to Brandon Miller’s situation off the court. +700 doesn’t seem that crazy, but Houston is shortest favorite at +600 and those are the longest odds for a title favorite since 1994. For more value, I think Texas at +1200 is a solid play. They’ve got a great path to the Elite Eight and may come up against a wounded Houston team if they get that far.
Looking at Thursday and Friday’s First Round games, which are your favorite plays?
Borzello: The total in Missouri-Utah State opened at 155, and I love the UNDER there. Missouri plays at an above-average pace and is highly efficient offensively, but the Tigers tend to play in lower-scoring games against competitive opponents. In their last 12 games against NCAA tournament competition, they’ve gone under nine times. Utah State is favored and plays a slower tempo than Missouri, so this feels like a game that won’t be played in the mid-to-high 70s.
Borzello: OVER 152 in Auburn-Iowa is another favorite. It should be a competitive game and both teams tended to play faster in games against non-conference opponents. Auburn ended the season going over in four of its last five games and 11 of its last 17 games, while Iowa went over in three of its last four games and eight of its last 12.
Why Dalen Cuff has No. 12 VCU upsetting No. 5 Saint Mary’s
Dalen Cuff explains why he has No. 12 VCU taking down No. 5 Saint Mary’s as one of his favorite bets in the first round.
Cuff: VCU ML (+162) over St. Mary’s. The Gaels struggle with athleticism on both ends and their offense can become rather pedestrian when their star freshman PG Aidan Mahaney is taken out of games. I covered a lot of A10 games this year and VCU’s Ace Baldwin relishes opportunities to show he’s the best PG on the floor. Rams are an elite defensive team that will disrupt and frustrate the slow paced Gaels offense.
Cuff: SDSU (-5) vs. Charleston. The Cougars are a media darling and very good, but they played so few high major opponents especially ones that were highly ranked defensively. The Aztecs will control the tempo of the game and grind the Cougars in a way they haven’t felt or seen all year.
Fulghum: I like Missouri ML (+105) in their matchup with Utah State. I know the computers and algos haven’t thought much of Mizzou this season, but they kept winning. A team that finished 4th in the SEC is an underdog as a 7-seed in the 1st round against a team that finished 2nd in the Mountain West? Doesn’t add up. Missouri is tough, tenacious and loaded with veteran upper-classmen.
Why Tyler Fulghum loves taking the points with Louisiana
Tyler Fulghum explains why he likes betting on Louisiana against the spread vs. Tennessee.
I also like Louisiana +11 vs. Tennessee. For one, Tennessee likes to play in low-scoring games, so catching 11 points is very attractive. The Vols will be without Zakai Zeigler for the tournament and that’s a big loss. Plus, Rick Barnes has a history of struggles in the tournament. He’s 16-25-1 ATS in the tournament as a favorite.
Lastly, I’ll take Arkansas -2 vs. Illinois. I don’t know what happened to Brad Underwood’s team this season after they lost they Braggin’ Rights Game to Mizzou, but it was a disaster. If they weren’t a Big Ten team, they may not have made it into this field. I know the Razorbacks were a disappointment as well, but the SEC provided better competition and they’re just a more talented team than Illinois.
Fortenbaugh: Drake +2.5 over Miami. Having won 13 of their last 14 outings, the Bulldogs are white-hot thanks to an offense that ranks top-50 in 3-point shooting and top-20 in free throw shooting. Further, Drake boasts one of the most experienced lineups in the entire tournament.
Furman (+185) on the moneyline over Virginia. The Paladins enter the dance having won 14 of their last 15 contests and are built to beat a team like Virginia thanks to their love of the three-pointer (top-10 in 3-point attempts per game). Furman’s weakness is its rebounding, which I don’t see the Cavaliers exploiting.
Which betting upset are you targeting?
Borzello: I’m looking at two 13-seed underdogs. Furman (+6.5, +185 ML) against Virginia and Kent State (+4, +158 ML) against Indiana. I have both teams winning outright. Virginia hasn’t looked its best in recent weeks and lost Ben Vander Plas for the season, while Furman has two legitimate high-major-caliber players in Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson. Meanwhile, Kent State should be able to limit Jalen Hood-Schifino with elite defender Malique Jacobs and Sincere Carry is as tough as they come on the offensive end. Trayce Jackson-Davis should get his, but he’ll need help.
I also like Penn State (+3) as an underdog against Texas A&M. The way to beat the Nittany Lions is to win the 3-point battle: make your own 3s and limit their 3s. A&M ranked near the bottom of the SEC in 3-point attempts and percentage of points from 3, while also ranking dead last in the league in 3-point attempts allowed.
Cuff: I really like Furman and Kent State as Borzello pointed out. I like Creighton but NC State (+5.5) could easily win that game. I think the winner of that game beats Baylor and is going to the Sweet 16. The Wolfpack have a top-20 pick in the NBA Draft in Terquavion Smith and another dynamic bucket getter in Jarkel Joiner. With DJ Burns on the interior, other shooters on the floor and an ability to turn teams over and play fast the Pack are dangerous.
Fulghum: Looks Like Furman (+6.5) is going to be really popular. VCU (+4) and Iona (+9) also stand out to me as two teams that we could see pull off upsets and meet in Round 2…meaning at least one 12 or 13 seed would make it to the Sweet Sixteen.
12 seeds are 8-4 ATS (4-4 outright) vs. 5 seeds the last 3 tournaments. Is there one you like here?
Borzello: I like VCU (+162) to beat Saint Mary’s outright. Both teams perform at a high level defensively and are comfortable in a half-court setting, so don’t expect offensive fireworks. The difference for me is VCU’s quickness and tenaciousness on the perimeter defensively. Ace Baldwin was the best defensive player in the Atlantic 10, while Jayden Nunn and Nick Kern Jr. love to hassle opposing guards. Their size and length will make life difficult for Aidan Mahaney and Logan Johnson.
Why sports bettors shouldn’t sleep on Oral Roberts
Joe Fortenbaugh explains why Oral Roberts getting the points is one of his favorite bets of the week.
Cuff: I love Oral Roberts but their draw with Duke is a bad match up. I said earlier I am on 5 SDSU over 12 Charleston and 12 VCU ML over 5 St. Mary’s. That leaves 5 Miami v. 12 Drake. . If Norchad Omier isn’t healthy for Miami, Drake could pull the upset. Tucker DeVries is legit and Roman Penn and Darnell Brodie were both key players on the 2021 team that beat Wichita State in their first round match up. As much as I love Miami and their great guards, this is a tough match up as evidenced by a 2.5 line in favor of the Canes.
Fulghum: VCU (+162) is the 12-seed that I have advancing furthest in my bracket. They’re only a 4.5-point underdog in the first round against St. Mary’s and despite some metrics that indicate to the contrary, I haven’t been all that impressed with St. Mary’s this season.
Fortenbaugh:Oral Roberts (+240) over Duke. I think the Blue Devils are overrated after running through a mediocre ACC. Oral Roberts plays fast (38th in adjusted tempo), shoots the lights out and does an excellent job protecting the basketball (first in NCAA in turnover percentage).
Anything else you are looking to bet before the Tournament tips off?
Borzello: Kansas State -8 vs. Montana State. Here are Montana State’s last three games against major-conference competition: 21-point loss to Arizona, 30-point loss to Oregon and then a 35-point loss to Texas Tech in last season’s NCAA tournament. I like Kansas State by double-digits.
It’s also worth taking a shot on Duke to make the Final Four at +850. The Blue Devils’ region should open up pretty nicely for them, especially if 1-seed Purdue gets bounced by Memphis in the second round. The Boilermakers look vulnerable, 4-seed Tennessee doesn’t have Zakai Zeigler anymore and 3-seed Kansas State has lost two in a row and is 8-8 in its last 16 games. Throw in the fact Duke would play the regionals at Madison Square Garden, which is often a pseudo-home environment for the Blue Devils, and they would feel optimistic against Marquette as well.
Two Sweet 16 bets I also like: Furman at +790 and Memphis at +425
Cuff: I’m with Jeff, Memphis +425 to the Sweet 16 is one of my favorite plays in the bracket. I’m out on Purdue and their Freshman guards, Tigers defensive chaos and Kendric Davis are too much…if they can get by Florida Atlantic first. Duke +180 and UConn -115 to the Sweet 16 seem almost too good to be true. Love the Huskies draw.
We’ve already broken down the 68-team field by region. We’ve named the best players in the bracket. Now, ESPN’s Charlie Creme, Alexa Philippou and M.A. Voepel assess the true championship contenders, whether anyone has a shot at dethroning South Carolina and join a handful of ESPN analysts in making Final Four and championship predictions.
If South Carolina doesn’t run the table for its second consecutive title, which team will raise the championship trophy?
Voepel: South Carolina has taken the Tennessee Lady Volunteers‘ place as the best program in what is still a very challenging SEC, even in a down year conference-wide. For everyone outside the UConn fan base, the Huskies are the Michael Myers of women’s hoops: You can’t get rid of them as they keep showing up in an endless series of sequels. Stanford is corporate law firm of college sports.
I don’t think anyone will stop the Gamecocks from repeating; they have too many good players, they play well together and coach Dawn Staley has done an excellent job getting them to focus completely on the task at hand.
But if someone is going to knock them off, it might be Stanford in the national semifinals or UConn in the national championship game. This is just based on the fact those two teams played the Gamecocks as close as they did during the regular season: The Cardinal lost by five in overtime in November, and the Huskies by four in February. We can’t be positive that either Stanford or UConn will reach the Final Four; that’s especially the case for the Cardinal. But if they do, the Cardinal and the Huskies at least know from experience what it will take to beat the Gamecocks if they face off again.
Philippou: After South Carolina, I think it’s between Indiana and UConn. Despite losing two of their past three games, the Hoosiers have been the most consistent team not located in Columbia, is strong on both ends of the floor and manages to produce both star power in Mackenzie Holmes and yet incredible balance with Grace Berger, Sydney Parrish, Yarden Garzon, Sara Scalia and Chloe Moore-McNeil. While some point to Indiana’s lack of depth as a flaw, I can’t see that being a major deciding factor given everything else the Hoosiers have going for them. (And I’ll elaborate on the Huskies a little lower.)
Creme: Picking the No. 2 overall to have the best shot at knocking off the No. 1 isn’t particularly inventive, but I firmly believe that Indiana has the best chance of beating South Carolina. It will take the right night and the Gamecocks not playing at their peak, but if that happens Indiana has enough in the arsenal to go the distance. The Hoosiers move and shoot the ball well and have balance and experience to at least offensively take on South Carolina if the two meet in the championship game.
Virginia Tech’s NCAA tournament preview
Charlie Creme breaks down his forecast for Virginia Tech’s NCAA tournament prospects.
Which No. 1 seed will be the first to lose?
Creme: While I like the matchups in front of Stanford in the first three rounds of the Seattle 4 Regional, I have some concerns about the Cardinal. They have had enough moments or even full games of poor offense — see: 47 points against USC or five points in the first quarter against Colorado — to wonder if Stanford can put four good performances together to reach the Final Four. If the Cardinal get to an Elite Eight, can it outscore the second-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes?
Philippou: The Cardinal are obviously experienced in March and could turn things around in the coming weeks, but the way they concluded the regular season and their recent offensive issues are worrisome. And while I don’t think it’s likely, the fact Virginia Tech hasn’t played in the later rounds of the NCAA tournament in nearly 25 years makes me wonder if there’s a moment when the Hokies have an off night and the pressure catches up to them. They don’t have the easiest path, either, with potential matchups against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits or USC Trojans and likely either Tennessee or the Iowa State Cyclones.
Voepel: As Alexa mentioned, Virginia Tech is by far the least experienced program of the No. 1 seeds when it comes to long NCAA tournament runs: South Carolina and Stanford won the last two titles and Indiana went to the Elite Eight two years ago. Based on that, the Hokies seem the most vulnerable. But they also have won 11 games in a row and are playing very confidently.
Name a team that is significantly underrated.
Creme: While I’m picking UConn to come out of Seattle 3, the Ohio State Buckeyes could be the team to spoil the party. The No. 3 seed started the season 19-0 largely without Jacy Sheldon. Now she is back and their younger players, in particular freshman Cotie McMahon, proved they were up to the challenge in the Big Ten. Ohio State’s pressing style can give any team trouble, especially if you haven’t seen it. The Louisville Cardinals struggled mightily with it earlier this season, and the LSU Tigers wilted under the Ohio State pressure in last year’s second round.
UNC’s NCAA tournament preview
Charlie Creme breaks down his forecast for North Carolina’s NCAA tournament prospects.
Philippou: Ohio State is a dangerous 3-seed for all the reasons Charlie stated, but I can’t believe the Buckeyes’ potential second-round matchup would be against the 6-seededNorth Carolina Tar Heels. That shouldn’t be happening this early in the tournament!
Voepel: I won’t say No. 5 seed Iowa State was drastically underseeded. However, in the women’s bracket, the difference between a 4- and 5-seed is enormous because the top four in each region get to host. The selection committee clearly made its top-16 decisions before the Big 12 tournament title game was even played Sunday. The committee didn’t seem to take into account the Cyclones beat the Texas Longhorns — as well as fellow NCAA tournament teams the Baylor Bears in the quarterfinals and Oklahoma Sooners in the semifinals — by double digits.
If there is one consistent inconsistency about the committee all these years, it’s that they contradict themselves a lot on how important conference tournaments are. They even do it in the same section of the bracket, pointing to one team’s conference tournament success as important, while essentially dismissing another team’s success.
UConn’s NCAA tournament preview
Charlie Creme breaks down his forecast for UConn’s NCAA tournament prospects.
Outside of the No. 1 seeds, what other team has the best shot of winning it all?
Philippou: UConn. The Huskies have had a rocky season but it has only made them come together more than ever toward their common goal of winning a championship. They’ve turned things around after their disappointing February and are getting the best out of Dorka Juhasz and Aaliyah Edwards, and strong post play hasn’t necessarily been a strength the past few tournaments. With experience in high-pressure situations coming into play, and the possible transcendence of Azzi Fudd, I’m picking UConn as the non-No. 1-seed that has the best shot at winning it all — and in actuality, the second-favorite to cut down the nets.
Voepel: A program that has 11 NCAA titles and has been to the Final Four every year since 2008 will continue to be a threat to win it all unless something drastically changes. But since Charlie and Alexa have UConn covered, let’s look at Iowa.
The Hawkeyes can be an offensive powerhouse like few teams we will ever see in the tournament. And while they are a better defensive team this season in terms of getting stops when they really need them, it’s still about scoring for them. Can their offense carry them all the way to a title? That will be tough; UConn still seems the most likely of the No. 2 seeds to prevail. But if the Hawkeyes do it, it will be with a really exciting brand of basketball.
Iowa’s NCAA tournament preview
Charlie Creme breaks down his forecast for Iowa’s NCAA tournament prospects.
Are we shortchanging the other No. 2 seeds? The Maryland Terrapins are a past national champion, but that’s 17 years in the rearview mirror. Interestingly enough, the year the Terps won it all — 2006 — they beat this year’s other No. 2 seed, the Utah Utes, in the Elite Eight. Maryland and Utah both could be Elite Eight teams this year, but it doesn’t seem likely they will be in Dallas.
Creme: We still don’t know exactly what UConn will look like with Fudd’s full return. She eased back into the lineup in the Big East tournament but didn’t produce much. That might have not been the best indicator given the timing. If it’s anything like the version of the Huskies that beat Texas, the NC State Wolfpack, the Duke Blue Devils and Iowa in succession in November, UConn is a Final Four team. Without Fudd, the Huskies remained competitive with South Carolina in February, so they are another team that could possibly upend the heavy favorites.
Final Four picks
LSU’s NCAA tournament preview
Charlie Creme breaks down his forecast for LSU’s NCAA tournament prospects.
Andrea Adelson: South Carolina (champion), LSU, UConn, Iowa
Charlie Creme: South Carolina (champion), Indiana, UConn, Iowa
Aja Ellison: South Carolina (champion), Indiana, Virginia Tech, Iowa
Kelly Gramlich: South Carolina (champion), Indiana, Virginia Tech, Iowa
Doug Kezirian: South Carolina (champion), Indiana, Virginia Tech, Iowa
Kevin Pelton: South Carolina (champion), Indiana, UConn, Iowa
Alexa Philippou: South Carolina (champion), Indiana, UConn, Iowa
Roy Philpott: South Carolina (champion), Utah, Virginia Tech, Iowa
Steffi Sorensen: South Carolina (champion), Indiana, UConn, Iowa
Christy Thomaskutty: South Carolina (champion), Indiana, UConn, Stanford
M.A. Voepel: South Carolina (champion), Indiana, UConn, Iowa
Stephanie White: South Carolina (champion), Indiana, Virginia Tech, Iowa
Bradbury has played with the Vikings since 2019, when Minnesota drafted him No. 18 overall out of NC State. In 12 games in 2022, he played 809 snaps, had only four penalties and allowed two sacks.
Bargains are hard to find in free agency, but getting Pro Football Focus’ No. 11 center back for just three years and $15.75 million feels like a good value. Bradbury has missed nine games in the past two years, so staying healthy is a key moving forward.
The Vikings had to experience life without Bradbury for a couple of games last season — and it wasn’t pretty. They should figure out a way to hold onto him, but if they don’t, an underrated center like Bradbury won’t last long on the open market.
If you hold the belief that college basketball playing greatness is a meaningful prerequisite to college basketball coaching greatness, 2022 was your year.
Each of last season’s Final Four coaches — Kansas’ Bill Self (Oklahoma State), North Carolina’s Hubert Davis (UNC), Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (Army) and Villanova’s Jay Wright (Bucknell) — had Division I basketball playing experience, the first time in 10 years that each of the men’s Final Four coaches played at the D-I level.
It was quite a switch from 2021, when none of the men’s Final Four coaches — Baylor’s Scott Drew, Gonzaga’s Mark Few, UCLA’s Mick Cronin and Houston’s Kelvin Sampson — played D-I, and only Sampson (a UNC Pembroke grad) played college basketball at all.
Will the coaching stars of March Madness 2023’s third weekend be serious ex-ballers, or something less than? As history has demonstrated, it doesn’t matter. But after the retirement of Coach K and Wright, and given Davis’ inability to get the Tar Heels back to the Dance, we know the sideline mix at NRG Stadium in Houston on April 1 will bring different origin stories ranging anywhere from “former NBA All-Star” to “never played in high school.”
(Annual disclaimer: Our ranking of the 68 NCAA tournament coaches as players was devised in largely unscientific fashion by the writer, who still has not discovered a method to reliably compare a Division III star to a D-II reserve to a D-I walk-on. Feel free to vent your frustrations like this guy did if you take issue with the ranking.)
First, the breakdown of the highest level of basketball achieved from this year’s group:
NBA (regular-season roster): 6 Other professional basketball experience: 10 Division I college basketball: 19 Lower NCAA levels, NAIA, NCCAA or junior college: 22 High school (varsity roster): 8 No varsity high school experience: 3
68. Bruce Pearl, Auburn Tigers — Pearl did not play basketball at Sharon (Massachusetts) High School, as an injury suffered playing football during his freshman year prevented him from pursuing the sport. The Quincy (Mass.) Patriot-Ledger reported in 2008 that Pearl played high school baseball, primarily as a designated hitter. Pearl’s path to basketball coaching started when he was hired as a student assistant at Boston College under Tom Davis, and was later added to Davis’ coaching staff at Stanford.
67. Leon Rice, Boise State Broncos — Rice played junior varsity basketball at Richland High School in southeast Washington but did not lace ’em up in his collegiate stops at Columbia Basin College or Washington State. Rice did play college football for Columbia Basin, and for the second straight year is the only former college football player in our survey.
66. Scott Drew, Baylor Bears — Drew’s playing days ended with the JV team at Valparaiso (Indiana) High School. Though his brother, Grand Canyon coach Bryce Drew, played in the NBA (more to come on him later), Scott Drew was a tennis player (he played on the team but didn’t letter) and basketball manager at Butler.
65. Joe Pasternack, UC Santa Barbara Gauchos — Pasternack played varsity basketball for four years at Metairie Park Country Day School in New Orleans but did not play college basketball. Pasternack was a student manager at Indiana in the latter stages of the Bob Knight era, graduating from IU in 1999.
64. Rob Senderoff, Kent State Golden Flashes — Senderoff played high school basketball for Spring Valley High School in suburban New York City but did not play college basketball at Albany, instead serving as a student assistant. “I was a bad player in high school,” Senderoff told Cleveland.com in 2019. “I went out for the junior varsity team at Albany. The coach cut me and kept nine guys. I would have been the 10th to help practice, but the coach didn’t even think I was good enough to do that.” (The coach, current Yale leader James Jones, later hired Senderoff as an assistant coach at Yale.)
63. Bob Marlin, Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns— Marlin started at point guard for a state tournament team at Tupelo High School in Mississippi but declined junior college offers in favor of ending his playing career and attending Mississippi State.
62. Brian Dutcher, San Diego State Aztecs — Dutcher played his final level of competitive basketball for the varsity team at Jefferson High School in Bloomington, Minnesota, later attending the University of Minnesota but not playing under his father, Jim Dutcher, the Golden Gophers’ head coach from 1975 to 1986. The younger Dutcher worked for his dad in a nonplaying role during college before beginning his coaching career at Apple Valley (Minnesota) High School and later the University of Illinois.
61. Mark Few, Gonzaga Bulldogs — Few led Creswell (Oregon) High to the state’s AAA semifinals as a senior point guard. Shoulder problems prevented him from playing at Linfield College, where he intended to play basketball and baseball.
60. John Becker, Vermont Catamounts — Becker was a good high school player at Roger Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, Connecticut. Read here about his 35-point game as a senior. Becker did not play intercollegiate basketball at Catholic University, his alma mater.
59. Mick Cronin, UCLA Bruins — Cronin was an undersized but good high school point guard under his father, Hep, at Cincinnati’s La Salle High. Cronin reportedly led the city in assists and was second in 3-point percentage during his junior season of 1988-89, but a knee injury sustained as a senior was a factor in Cronin’s playing career ending before he reached college at Cincinnati.
58. Buzz Williams, Texas A&M Aggies — Williams played at Van Alstyne (Texas) High School and told ESPN in 2012 that he could’ve made the roster at various “Bible colleges” across the country. Williams ultimately did not play basketball at either of his collegiate stops — Navarro Junior College (Texas) or Oklahoma City University — but served as a student assistant at both places.
57. Jerome Tang, Kansas State Wildcats — Tang was a student at North Central University in Minneapolis in 1985 (then known as North Central Bible College) when he was asked to try out for the Division III Rams (“I didn’t play a lot, but I made the team,” Tang told the Topeka Capital-Journal), and later played for Normandale Community College (1987-88) in Bloomington, Minnesota, for one season.
56. Dusty May, Florida Atlantic Owls — May was a quality high school point guard under coach Mark Barnhizer at Eastern Greene High School in the Bloomington, Indiana, area, later playing one college season at the NAIA level for Oakland City (Indiana) University before transferring to become a student manager under Bob Knight at Indiana (1996-2000).
55. Paul Mills, Oral Roberts Golden Eagles— Mills was a good high school player at MacArthur Senior High School in Houston, earning a scholarship to the powerhouse NAIA program at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma. Mills did not letter for the Bronchos because of a back injury suffered during his freshman year, then transferred to Texas A&M, where he did not play basketball.
54. T.J. Otzelberger, Iowa State Cyclones — Otzelberger was a three-year letterwinner as a guard at the Division III level for Wisconsin-Whitewater, before his playing career with the Warhawks was cut short due to lateral compartment syndrome in his left leg. Otzelberger is one of several coaches on this list who are not the best player in their own families — his wife, Alison Lacey, was a star at Iowa State and a first-round WNBA draft pick of the Seattle Storm in 2010.
53. Nate Oats, Alabama Crimson Tide — Oats played at Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown, Wisconsin, from 1993 to 1997, participating at the Division II level of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA). Oats appeared in all 30 games for a Maranatha Baptist team that reached the Division II semifinals of the 1997 NCCAA tournament.
52. Steve Lutz, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders — Lutz began his college basketball career at Ranger Junior College before transferring to then-NAIA Texas Lutheran University of Segun, Texas. Lutz played three seasons for the Bulldogs (1992-95) and was a team captain during his senior season.
51. Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s Gaels — Bennett started his career playing under his father, Tom, at Mesa Community College in Arizona (1980-82), then played two seasons as a point guard at then-Division III UC San Diego (1983-85). Bennett led the Tritons in assists in both of his seasons with the team.
50. Kevin Keatts, NC State Wolfpack — Keatts played point guard for Division III Ferrum (Virginia) College from 1991 to ’95, helping lead the Panthers to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 1992 in what remains the school’s lone postseason appearance. Keatts, whose teams won three Dixie Conference regular season titles in four years, averaged 13.3 points per game as a senior.
49. Rick Barnes, Tennessee Volunteers — Barnes served mainly as a reserve guard under head coach Bob Hodges at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory, North Carolina, from 1974 to 1977, never averaging more than three points per game. “He was good, but it didn’t translate to games,” Barnes’ teammate John Lentz told the Dallas Morning News in 1998.
48. Kelvin Sampson, Houston Cougars — Sampson was a point guard and later a team captain at NAIA Pembroke State (now UNC Pembroke) from 1973 to 1978, and was eventually named to the school’s athletics hall of fame, alongside his father, Ned. Sampson also earned three collegiate letters as a baseball player at Pembroke.
47. Bob Richey, Furman Paladins — Richey was a high school standout at Florence Christian in Florence, South Carolina, winning 3A Player of the Year honors and leading the Eagles to a 28-2 mark and state title as a senior. Richey played college hoops at now-dormant Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, ranking among the leading scorers on a team that won the 2003 National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Division I title. After suffering a knee injury, Richey transferred to North Greenville College, where he concluded his playing career.
46. Eric Musselman, Arkansas Razorbacks— Musselman was an undersized reserve guard at the University of San Diego (1983-87), earning limited playing time but appearing in a pair of NCAA tournaments as a player. After graduating, Musselman was a fifth-round draft choice of the CBA Albany Patroons, who were at the time coached by his father, Bill.
45. Micah Shrewsberry, Penn State Nittany Lions — Shrewsberry played college basketball at the Division III level for Hanover College in Indiana, starting for the Panthers for three seasons and leading the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in free throw percentage and assists during his senior season of 1998-99.
44. Mike Morrell, UNC Asheville Bulldogs — Morrell played college basketball at the NAIA level for Milligan University in Tennessee, scoring 1,000 career points as a three-year starter who also appeared in the 2001 NAIA tournament. A two-sport star, Morrell was also a two-time all-conference pick in golf for the Buffaloes.
43. Rodney Terry, Texas Longhorns — Terry was a three-year starter at point guard for Division II St. Edward’s University (1986-90) in Austin, Texas, serving as a two-time team captain for the Hilltoppers. Terry also contributed as a freshman for a Hilltoppers team that was a co-champion in the Big State Conference.
42. Ed Cooley, Providence Friars — Cooley was a three-year captain at then-Division II Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, from 1990 to 1994, averaging 7.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game for his career.
41. Tom Izzo, Michigan State Spartans — Izzo played point guard at Division II Northern Michigan from 1974 to 1977, captaining the team and also winning all-conference and team MVP accolades as a senior.
40. Shaka Smart, Marquette Golden Eagles— Smart was a four-year starter (1995-99) and three-year captain at Division III Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. He made the All-North Coast Athletic Conference team during his senior season and remains the school’s career assists leader (542) by a wide margin.
39. Tobin Anderson, Fairleigh Dickinson Knights — Anderson was a 1,000-point scorer at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut (other famous Wesleyan alumni: Tony Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, NFL coach Bill Belichick and ESPN’s Field Yates). Anderson ranks in the all-time top 15 in points for the Division III Cardinals and still holds the record for 3-point percentage in a season (48.1% in 1992-93).
38. Tommy Lloyd, Arizona Wildcats — Lloyd played at Walla Walla (Washington) Community College, where he was a prolific scorer who set a school single-season record with 52 points in a game and was an NWAAC All-Star. Lloyd told the Tucson Daily Star his play in Walla Walla generated “some low, low-level D-I interest” before he transferred to Division II Southern Colorado (now CSU Pueblo) for the 1995-96 season and finished his career at Division III Whitman College. Lloyd went on to play semi-pro basketball for two seasons in Australia and Germany before beginning his coaching career.
37. Pat Kelsey, Charleston Cougars — Kelsey played at Wyoming (1993-94) and then Xavier (1995-98), serving as a reserve guard on two NCAA tournament teams under Skip Prosser. Kelsey, who later launched his collegiate coaching career when he was hired to Prosser’s staff at Wake Forest, scored 122 points and dished out 131 assists during his college playing career.
36. Ryan Odom, Utah State Aggies— Odom played at Division III Hampden-Sydney, scoring 1,162 career points, logging 362 assists and appearing on a pair of NCAA tournament teams with the Tigers. A 5-foot-10 guard, Odom continues to hold HSC records for 3-pointers in a season (82 in 1994-95) and consecutive games with a 3 (24 in 1995-96).
35. John Calipari, Kentucky Wildcats — Calipari started his career at UNC Wilmington, scoring 29 points during the 1979-80 season before transferring to Division II Clarion, closer to his native Western Pennsylvania. Calipari was a starter at point guard for the Golden Eagles, averaging 5.3 points and 5.3 assists during his senior season.
34. Kevin Willard, Maryland Terrapins — Willard played for his father, Ralph, at Western Kentucky (1993-94) and then Pittsburgh (1995-97), serving mostly as a backup point guard. He made his lone NCAA tournament appearance as a player for WKU in the 1994 NCAA tournament, scoring 5 points in 14 minutes in a first-round loss to Texas. Willard, who scored 299 career points as a college player, passed up his senior season at Pitt to become an advance scout for Rick Pitino with the Boston Celtics.
33. Rick Pitino, Iona Gaels— Pitino played as a point guard at UMass (1972-74), totaling 329 assists during his career there on teams that included future NBA player (and eventual Rhode Island, Boston College and Kennesaw State coach) Al Skinner.
32. Chris Jans, Mississippi State Bulldogs— Jans was a three-year starter and prolific scorer at Division III Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, between 1987 and 1991, averaging 28.3 points per game and making a school-record 133 3-pointers during his senior season. During Jans’ college career, the Duhawks broke 16 scoring records and two Division III records for 3-point shooting.
31. Brad Korn, Southeast Missouri State Redhawks — Korn was a key player for Southern Illinois during a successful period for the Salukis (1999-2004), playing three seasons under Bruce Weber and one under Matt Painter and appearing in 121 games over that stretch. The 6-foot-9 forward played in five NCAA tournament games over three different seasons, including all three games in SIU’s march to the 2002 Sweet 16. Korn scored 15 points in his final collegiate game, a 65-64 loss to Alabama in the first round of the 2004 NCAA tournament.
30. Brad Underwood, Illinois Fighting Illini — Underwood started his collegiate career at then-Division I Hardin-Simmons (1982-83) in Abilene, Texas, before moving on to Independence (Kansas) Community College (1983-84) and then to Kansas State for two seasons (1984-86). Underwood was an occasional starter at guard under head coach Jack Hartman, scoring 105 points in two seasons in the Big Eight.
29. Andy Enfield, USC Trojans — Enfield was a Division III All-American at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, where he still holds the school’s career scoring record (2,025 points) and also played in a pair of NCAA tournaments. Enfield was particularly legendary at the line — he graduated holding the NCAA’s all-divisions career free throw percentage record (92.5%, hitting 431 of 466 shots).
28. Mike Rhoades, VCU Rams — Rhoades didn’t just play Division III basketball, he was the best player in Division III, winning national player of the year honors in 1995 and two All-America citations at Lebanon Valley (Pa.) College. The shooting guard — who also led the team to a national title in 1994 — holds school records for points, assists, steals and free throw percentage, and his jersey was retired by the school.
27. Kenny Blakeney, Howard Bison — Blakeney is one of five former Duke players in this tournament, having appeared in 93 games (11 starts) as a guard for the Blue Devils from 1991 to ’95. A Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Maryland after playing under the legendary Morgan Wootten at DeMatha Catholic, Blakeney averaged 3.2 points and 1.2 assists per game over his collegiate career, appearing in six NCAA tournament games during his time in Durham. As a redshirt freshman in 1992, Blakeney logged 13.5 seconds at the tail end of Duke’s national championship win over Michigan’s Fab Five.
26. Dennis Gates, Missouri Tigers— Gates played four seasons at Cal (1998-2002) under Ben Braun, appearing in 114 games (34 starts) at guard including a pair of NCAA tournaments. Gates averaged 3.8 points per game for his collegiate career and was a two-time Pac-12 All-Academic choice.
25. Fran McCaffery, Iowa Hawkeyes — McCaffery started his career in the ACC, averaging 5.3 points as a freshman at Wake Forest (1977-78) before transferring to Penn for his final three collegiate seasons. As a senior (1981-82), McCaffery totaled 105 assists for a Quakers team that reached the NCAA tournament.
24. Darrin Horn, Northern Kentucky Norse — Horn was a baller at Western Kentucky (1991-95), playing in three NCAA tournaments as a guard and picking up an All-Sun Belt citation as a senior. Horn (8.9 PPG for his career) played on the legendary 1992-93 WKU team that knocked off Memphis and Seton Hall before being upended by Sam Cassell, Charlie Ward, Bob Sura and Florida State in overtime in the Sweet 16. He was a teammate of current Maryland coach Kevin Willard (see No. 31 above) on the 1994 team that fell to Texas in the first round.
23. Bill Self, Kansas Jayhawks — Self played at Oklahoma State from 1981 to 1985, starting at point guard over his final two seasons in Stillwater. Self also played in the 1983 NCAA tournament as a sophomore at OSU, scoring eight points in a No. 5 vs. 12 upset loss to Princeton in the first round.
22. Darian DeVries, Drake Bulldogs— DeVries was a 1,000-point scorer and two-time captain at Northern Iowa (1994-98), developing into a double-digit scorer and the team’s assist leader over his final two seasons at UNI. DeVries led the Panthers in 3-point shooting three times, including 44% from 3 as a senior. DeVries did not play professional basketball but has a pro in the family — his younger brother, Jared, was an NFL defensive end for 10 years with the Detroit Lions.
21. Greg McDermott, Creighton Bluejays — McDermott was a reliable center at Northern Iowa (1984-88), scoring 1,033 points (or about 2,000 fewer than his son, Creighton legend Doug McDermott) and being selected to the All-Mid-Continent Conference team as a junior. McDermott briefly played professional basketball in Switzerland following his graduation.
20. Danny Sprinkle, Montana State Bobcats — Sprinkle was a Montana State playing legend before he became a coaching legend in Bozeman, playing four seasons with the Bobcats (1996-2000), including a starting role on an NCAA tournament team in 1995-96. Sprinkle, the Big Sky Freshman of the Year, was an All-Big Sky tournament pick for his 30-point performance in the ’96 Big Sky championship win over Weber State. Sprinkle would earn three All-Big Sky citations, including a first-team selection in 1997, and graduated as the MSU career and season 3-point leader. He remains in the school’s top 10 with 1,497 career points and was a 2006 inductee into the Montana State Athletics Hall of Fame.
19. Johnny Jones, Texas Southern Tigers — Jones played point guard for four seasons at LSU under Dale Brown (1980-84), averaging 4.4 points and 2.2 assists per game over a 121-game career and playing in a pair of NCAA tournaments as a Tiger. Jones is one of seven coaches in this tournament with Final Four playing experience — he played nine minutes in LSU’s loss to eventual champion Indiana in the 1981 Final Four in Philadelphia.
18. Amir Abdur-Rahim, Kennesaw State Owls — Though his older brother, 13-year NBA veteran and current G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim, was better known as a player, the younger Abdur-Rahim also played at a high level. After starting his career at Garden City (Kansas) Community College, Amir averaged 15.4 points over three Division I seasons at Southeastern Louisiana, where he played under future Texas A&M coach (and Abdur-Rahim’s future boss) Billy Kennedy. The three-time All-Southland Conference guard finished his career in the Lions’ top 10 in scoring.
17. Mitch Henderson, Princeton Tigers — Henderson played in 106 games over four seasons at Princeton (1994-98), playing in three NCAA tournaments under Pete Carril and Bill Carmody, and starting for the team that scored an iconic upset of UCLA in the 1996 tournament. Henderson, a second-team All-Ivy pick in 1998, ranks in the school’s top 10 in both assists (304) and steals (142). He would play one professional season in Ireland before beginning his coaching career. Henderson, also a fine prep baseball player at Culver (Indiana) Military Academy, was selected by the New York Yankees as an outfielder in the 29th round of the 1994 draft.
16. Matt Langel, Colgate Raiders — Langel was a very good player on some formidable teams at Penn (1996-2000), starting on a pair of NCAA tournament squads under Fran Dunphy and earning All-Ivy first-team honors as a senior. Langel went to rookie camp with the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics and was on the Philadelphia 76ers’ pre-summer league squad, also playing for a range of teams in Europe before beginning his coaching career.
15. Matt Painter, Purdue Boilermakers — Painter was a four-year letterman at Purdue (1989-93), playing on three NCAA tournament teams and becoming a full-time starter as a senior. Painter was an honorable mention All-Big Ten choice in 1992-93, when he averaged 8.6 points and 4.5 assists per game.
14. Dan Hurley, UConn Huskies — Though brother Bobby received more of the limelight for his exploits at Duke (more on him in a bit), the younger Hurley was a collegiate point guard of some renown as well. Hurley played in 121 games over five seasons at Seton Hall (1991-96), appearing in a pair of NCAA tournaments and later developing into a double-digit scorer over his final two seasons at the school. Hurley’s 437 assists rank among the top 10 in Seton Hall history.
13. Sean Miller, Xavier Musketeers — Miller started for four seasons at Pitt between 1987 and 1992 (he missed the 1989-90 season due to a foot problem), with teammates including Jerome Lane, Charles Smith and Brian Shorter. Miller, who averaged 10 points and 5.8 assists over his career, was the Big East’s Freshman of the Year and would play in two NCAA tournaments.
12. Bob Huggins, West Virginia Mountaineers — Huggins, a prep standout who still ranks in the top 20 on the all-time Ohio high school scoring list, began his collegiate career at Ohio University in 1972 before transferring and playing three seasons at West Virginia under Joedy Gardner (1974-77). Huggins averaged 13.2 points and 3.8 assists as a senior, subsequently attending NBA training camp with the 76ers before being cut. A knee injury suffered when Huggins was hit by a car while bicycling weeks before the 1977 NBA draft curtailed his playing career.
11. Jamie Dixon, TCU Horned Frogs— Dixon played at TCU from 1983 to ’87, with his best season coming as a senior, when he earned All-Southwest Conference honors, led the league in assists and paced the Horned Frogs to an NCAA tournament win. Dixon scored 11 points and had four assists in that first-round victory over Marshall. Dixon was selected in the seventh round of the 1987 NBA draft by the Washington Bullets and played professionally in the CBA and overseas.
10. Jim Larranaga, Miami Hurricanes — Larranaga was a star at Providence from 1968 to ’71, graduating as the school’s all-time fifth-leading scorer (1,258 points) and leading the team in scoring in two of his three years with the Friars. He was inducted into the Providence Hall of Fame in 1991. Larranaga was selected in the sixth round of the 1971 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons but left the team’s rookie camp when a position on Terry Holland’s staff opened at Davidson.
9. Chris Collins, Northwestern Wildcats — Collins played four seasons as guard at Duke (1992-96), most notably on the 1993-94 team (along with Pitt coach Jeff Capel and Howard coach Kenny Blakeney) that reached the national championship game before falling to Arkansas. A 9.1 point-per-game scorer who bombed 209 3-pointers over his four-year career, Collins was a 1996 All-ACC pick and later played two seasons of professional basketball in Finland.
8. Jeff Capel, Pittsburgh Panthers — Capel was a four-year starting guard at Duke (1993-97), playing as a freshman on the Grant Hill-led Blue Devils team that reached the 1994 national championship, where they lost to Arkansas. Capel averaged 12.4 points and 3.4 assists per game over his collegiate career and was an All-ACC pick during the 1995-96 season. Following graduation, Capel played professionally for three years, mostly in the CBA and briefly in France, before beginning his coaching career.
7. Jon Scheyer, Duke Blue Devils — One of two former Illinois “Mr. Basketball” honorees in this tournament, along with fellow Duke alum Chris Collins, Scheyer developed into an outstanding college player with the Blue Devils. Scheyer averaged 18.2 points per game and was a first-team All-ACC pick for the 2009-10 Duke team that defeated Butler to win the national championship, graduating as the only player in Duke history to record at least 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists, 250 3-pointers and 200 steals in a career. Following his collegiate career, Scheyer played professionally in the NBA G League in addition to stints in Israel and Spain.
6. Bryce Drew, Grand Canyon Antelopes — The former Valparaiso star Drew is best remembered for his iconic buzzer-beater against Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA tournament, also known as “The Shot.” But Drew was a lot more than that on the floor, a two-time Player of the Year in the Mid-Continent Conference who graduated as Valpo’s leading scorer and was selected No. 16 overall by the Houston Rockets in the 1998 NBA draft. Drew played in 243 NBA games as a member of the Rockets, Bulls and Hornets from 1998 to 2004.
5. Tony Bennett, Virginia Cavaliers — While playing for his father, Dick, at Green Bay, Bennett was a two-time Player of the Year in the Mid-Continent Conference (now the Summit League), leading the Phoenix to three postseason berths while graduating as the conference’s leader in points and assists. Bennett played 152 NBA games as a backup guard with the Charlotte Hornets before injuries hastened the end of his career.
4. Bobby Hurley, Arizona State Sun Devils — Hurley was a decorated player at Duke, a two-time All-American who reached three Final Fours, won two national titles and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 1992 Final Four. Hurley remains the all-time assists leader in NCAA history, with 1,076 over his four seasons in Durham. Hurley was the No. 7 overall pick by the Sacramento Kings in the 1993 NBA draft, but his pro career was set back by a serious car accident just 19 games into his rookie season. Hurley averaged 3.8 points and 3.3 assists over parts of five NBA seasons.
3. Steve Alford, Nevada Wolf Pack— Alford was one of the finest college basketball players of the 1980s, a two-time All-American who won a national championship (1987) at Indiana and a gold medal on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, during the era when Team USA was composed of college players. Alford graduated IU as the school’s all-time leading scorer. After exhausting his eligibility as a Hoosier, the former Indiana “Mr. Basketball” was selected No. 26 overall in the 1987 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks, playing 169 games over four seasons with the Mavs and Golden State Warriors (1987-91) before beginning his career in coaching with Division III Manchester (Indiana) in 1991.
2. Mike Woodson, Indiana Hoosiers — Woodson was a fantastic college player as a member of the Hoosiers from 1976 to 1980, and currently ranks No. 6 all-time in IU annals with 2,061 points (19.8 points per game) over his career. The Big Ten Player of the Year as a senior, Woodson was the No. 12 overall pick in the 1980 NBA draft by the New York Knicks and ultimately averaged 14 points per game while playing for six franchises in an 11-year NBA career. Woodson’s season best was an 18.2 PPG scoring average with the Kansas City Kings in 1982-83. In addition to his collegiate and professional exploits, Woodson won a gold medal representing Team USA in the 1979 Pan American Games.
1. Penny Hardaway, Memphis Tigers — A four-time NBA All-Star with the Orlando Magic, Hardaway also played for the Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Miami Heat over a 14-year NBA career (1993-2006, 2007-08) that saw him emerge as one of the game’s most recognizable players. Hardaway reached the NBA playoffs eight times in his career — a 1995 NBA Finals loss to the Houston Rockets was the closest he got to a title — and averaged 20.4 points and 6.2 assists per game in the postseason.
Hardaway’s basketball achievements went beyond the NBA — he was a consensus All-American in college at Memphis in 1993 and won gold with USA Basketball at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Nike’s “Lil’ Penny” ad campaign also helped launch Hardaway to superstardom off the court. Though injury problems that began with a serious knee injury in 1997-98 likely prevented Hardaway from reaching his full potential as a player, he is remembered as one of the important players of his generation.