The expectations for Caitlin Clark are obscene. Let’s get that out of the way now. She’s coming off a run to the national title game and back-to-back-to-back seasons of averaging 27-plus points. While it’s all but guaranteed she eclipses 27 PPG again, it might be hard to repeat the same team success. Iowa isn’t UConn, South Carolina, or (I guess) LSU, and the Hawkeyes’ proximity to the rest of the pack was on display Thursday night.
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I’m not going to act like a women’s college hoops expert, but as a hoops fan in general, Clark really had to work for her 44 points, and No. 3 Iowa needed all of them in an 80-76 win over No. 8 Virginia Tech. The nature of her highlights makes you think she’s Steph Curry out there, and though she’s not far off, this feels more like junior-year Curry than sophomore-year Curry that took Davidson to the Elite 8.
Don’t mistake nitpicking for hating because a 44 burger against a top-10 team is exemplary. It’s just that 44 points on 31 attempts — when the next closest teammate only had nine shots — is a lot. With Clark’s longtime pick-and-roll partner Monika Cziano gone, the team is in need of a second banana.
Seeing as I don’t care whatsoever about Iowa’s success, this should at the very least be great TV. A more apt and timely comparison for Clark and Iowa might be Caleb Williams and USC, but I guess that’s kind of the point: It’s hard to replicate success in consecutive college seasons. Lamar Jackson’s Heisman campaign came in his second-to-last year on campus, and ditto for Bryce Young.
Roster turnover comes for us all, so it’s not a surprise. A season ago, Clark didn’t take 31 shots in a game until the Hawkeyes’ upset of 1-seeded South Carolina in the Final Four. It can start to feel gross when one player has more attempts than the other four starters combined, yet when a great player is established, it doesn’t feel as empty.
So maybe temper some of those aspirations, and appreciate the individual greatness?
Caitlin Clark and the Smush Parkers is not a bad consolation prize. Ideally, fans get a repeat of the best player-highest stakes last March. Until then, let’s see how hot she can run. If it’s anything like Thursday night, we’re in for a spectacle.
With Damian Lillard sitting out due to a calf strain against Indiana on Thursday, Giannis Atetokuonmpo sent a reminder to the NBA that when the Bucks’ duo figures it out, it’ll be devastating. The two-time MVP dropped 54 points on 19 of 25 shooting (check the efficiency, Caitlin), but Milwaukee still lost, 126-124.
The top-heavy Bucks’ roster should lend itself to two higher-usage players, and each has to realize they can be as aggressive as normal. The 76ers are a perfect example of how this should work. Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey are attempting 21 and 19 shots, respectively. Antetokounmpo and Lillard are at 17 and 16-ish.
What about the playmaking, you ask? The Philly combo averages 13 assists between the two of them while the Milwaukee tandem combines for only 8. Production in recent years would indicate that Dame and Giannis should be creating at a level on par with Joel and Tyrese.
Does it inspire confidence that first-year head coach Adrian Griffin got ejected Thursday, and fired his best offensive assistant before the season? No, no it doesn’t, so that’s an ongoing story to watch.
The expectations for Milwaukee on offense were high enough to make them title favorites, and Giannis reiterated Vegas’ thought process against the Pacers. The flip side is Lillard’s absence illustrated that both are holding back when they share the court.