Connecticut satisfied with their new home

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When the dust had settled with conference realignment finally coming to an end — it is over, right? — it became clear that Connecticut was on the outside looking in. Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse would all be headed to the ACC with Louisville joining the league for the 2014-15 season. Even Rutgers, the school with little basketball history to speak of, is destined for the Big Ten in 2014. Only Cincinnati and South Florida, along with the Huskies, were seemingly left out in the cold without a home.

Connecticut, the school with three National Basketball Championships since 1999, is relegated to the newly formed American Athletic Conference — a combination of schools formerly hailing from the Atlantic 10, Big East, and Conference USA. It almost certainly wasn’t their ideal destination, but Connecticut athletic director Warde Manuel is satisfied with the conference, he told the Associated Press

I’ve been done (speaking of looking to transition to one of the five power conferences). If my focus is always looking outside this organization and what we’re doing, we’re not going to maintain the success that we’ve had…It’s a business problem. My concern is the stability of UConn, and what we do at UConn. We’re going to compete for national championships.

The business problem Manuel speaks of is not generating the kind of dollars Connecticut would have received from the ACC, as an example, through a lucrative television deal. Despite less money coming in through this avenue, Manuel is confident Connecticut will be able to get creative to bring in money through other methods, such as ticket prices, corporate sponsorships or other revenue generators.

How confident is he? Well, a $40 million basketball training center is already under construction, and plans are in the works for a new on-campus hockey arena — it was announced last year that the Huskies will be joining Hockey East, arguably the best college hockey league in the country — and upgrades to the soccer, baseball and softball facilities.

Regardless of conference affiliation, Connecticut is still very relevant in the national college basketball scene. Whether they are wearing the ACC logo or AAC logo on their jerseys doesn’t change that. However, it is imperative that they continue to play a rigorous non-conference schedule and make routine trips to the NCAA Tournament to maintain their luster.

Added Mike Aresco, the commissioner of the AAC: “I think it’s really, really important for UConn to be able to play at the level they’ve become accustomed to. And while they will have different teams coming in, and a different look, they will be playing a high level of competition, and presenting marquee matchups will be important to us.”

It’s very possible that the AAC becomes a great niche for the Huskies, especially for their football program that proved they could be more than competitive since making the transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2004 — they reached the Fiesta Bowl in 2011 playing Oklahoma.

Granted they will be in a much smaller pond compared to the power five conferences, but perhaps the AAC is a much better spot for football than the ACC or Big Ten would have been. It would have been a tall task to compete against the top teams in the ACC and Big Ten, especially when basketball is the marquee sport at Connecticut.

As Warde Manuel has made clear, the AAC is Connecticut’s home, and excited times are ahead for the Huskies and the other schools in the newly formed conference.

You can find Kevin on twitter @KLDoyle11

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.