Caitlin Clark from Iowa is the most exciting player in college basketball.

It’s rare to find a true superstar who does it all in college basketball, because all its alot. The best point guards don’t usually rack up rebounds. The best centers do not usually make many triples or distribute many assists. It is a team sport. There are players in other positions to do those things.

Iowa first-year point guard Caitlin Clark, 19, does literally everything. She scores more than anyone else, 26.5 points per game, the most in Division I, and she does it from long distance, from middle distance and close to the basket. She gets more assists, 7.2 per game, than (almost) anyone else. At 6 feet, he bounces at the speed of a power forward or center. He also steals the ball and blocks shots. And he rarely sits down, averaging 34 minutes per game. He played 37 in the second round of the NCAA tournament, when No. 5 Hawkeyes faced No. 4 Kentucky. For Iowa to beat UConn in the Sweet 16 on Saturday, it will likely need to play 40 and score more than 40.

That game against Kentucky, which Iowa won 86-72, showed Clark is more than capable of destroying a quality opponent. It was a close matchup, on paper, but the Wildcats quickly learned how horrible it can be to play against the Hawkeyes’ first-year sniper. Just check this out:

A breakneck dribbler, Clark makes tight ball defense moot by fading for long triples that would send lower-level players to the bench but only lead to higher scoring total. Take good contact around the rim and finish with authority.

All of those skills have been on display in both Iowa tournaments so far. In the first round, the fifth-seeded Hawkeyes beat No. 12 Central Michigan behind Clark’s 23 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. In Kentucky’s game, he finished 13 of 21 shots from the field for 35 points (including 6 of 12 on 3s) and added another 7 rebounds and 7 assists. At halftime, ESPN produced a graphic that an opposing team never, ever wants to see:

Clark isn’t just getting his own thing, he’s made the entire Iowa offense nearly unstoppable. The Hawkeyes rank second in the country in points per game (86.6), second in field goal percentage (51.6) and first in 3-point percentage (40.7), even though they have made many more shots from deep than the next two. teams on that leaderboard, Maryland and Oregon State. Maryland’s offense is operating at historically great levels, but Clark’s heavy lifting gives Iowa a strong case for America’s second-best unit.

Unlike Maryland, Iowa is not teeming with former top-line recruits. But Iowa has Clark, who by racking up numbers for herself has opened up opportunities for the rest of the lineup. Center Monika Czinano shoots 70 percent from the field, leading the nation. Czinano, a talent from every first team conference, would be a key contributor to any team in the country. But it helps when your point guard can do this:

The Hawkeyes have some perimeter threats beyond Clark. Guard Gabbie Marshall and wing McKenna Warnock shoot better than 40 percent on 3s and are frequent beneficiaries of Clark’s way of playing. At other times, Clark generates his own takes with what appears to be surprising ease. At times, it appears to be operating slowly, in suspended animation:

Other times, he stops at less than a dime, has a transitioning defender skid out of the arena, and gets up for a quick 3. No answer for this:

Clark, a high school student at this time last year, was the No. 4 player in the country, a transcendent talent who could have landed a scholarship from any program she wanted. The Hawks have a regular postseason presence and in 2019 produced the Big Ten’s first national player of the year, forward Megan Gustafson. But the recruiting gods don’t make players like Clark often, and shows like UConn generally get them.

To land a crown jewel like Clark, Iowa needed luck, skill and patience, as Hawkeyes recruiting director Jan Jensen told the school’s student newspaper, the Daily Iowan. Clark is from West Des Moines and considered Iowa City close to home, but not as well close, which ruled out Ames. (Sorry, Iowa State. The difference is about an hour’s drive). Clark’s immediate predecessor at point guard, Kathleen Doyle, was the fourteenth pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, meaning Iowa had proof she could coach point guards and a coveted Clark starting lineup.

If you’re not one of the sport’s few regular powers, a March deep run usually requires a lot of stars to line up perfectly: the right opponents, the right injury luck, the right mix of seniors and young players who are just enough. good. contribute immediately. Iowa, for its part, has historically struggled to get into the postseason. The Hawkeyes have now played in 15 NCAA tournaments this century; it would have been 16 if the 2020 ones had not been canceled, but they have almost always lost in the first or second round. They did the Elite Eight in 2019, Gustafson’s last year, and it seemed possible it would take them a while to sniff out that round again. But getting a program-altering cornerstone like Clark can speed up a timeline.

To maintain her rookie year, Clark will have to push Iowa past the only freshman, actually the only player, comparable to her. That’s UConn point guard Paige Bueckers, the number one recruit in the high school class of 2020.

Clark and Bueckers are unusual products in a veteran’s sport, where the best teams have a lot of experience. The two teens are the only freshmen in the top 30 of the average national scoring leaderboard. Bueckers is averaging 20 points to Clark’s 27, but much of that difference is likely a function of UConn’s typically stacked roster.

Given Iowa’s less-advertised cast, Clark is more of a one-woman stick of dynamite, breaking down defenses on her own. Iowa has made 923 shots from the field this season, and Clark has hit 259 of them and helped another 208. Not to mention Clark’s excellence in other areas of the game, he has accounted for more than half, 50.6 percent. , to be exact – of the field goals made by Iowa. Bueckers, by contrast, has been in the 40.5 percent of the best-seeded Huskies buckets on the field. Breanna Stewart, the three times The player of the year who ended her UConn career in 2016, she was in 32.4 percent of the Huskies’ field goals last year, although her position on the front court made it more difficult to rack up assists. LeBron James, in his 2012 MVP season, accounted for 41.2 percent of the baskets made by the Heat. There are more scientific ways to judge gamers, but for pure high-volume production, Clark is an unusual star.

Clark and Bueckers are friends, and Clark has downplayed efforts to present the game (and his one-on-one match with Bueckers) as a personal rivalry. “It’s not Caitlin Clark versus Paige Bueckers,” Clark told reporters, displaying a youthful mastery of sports clichés. “It’s Iowa versus UConn.”

It is true. But for Iowa to stick with the sport’s most imposing dynasty, Clark must do the kind of heavy lifting that hardly anyone else in the sport can pull off. Regardless of the outcome, it will be amazing to see her try.

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