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It hasn’t been easy being the American Athletic Conference’s commissioner

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In Mike Aresco’s tenure as a conference commissioner, turmoil has been the norm.

The former CBS executive vice president took over as commissioner of the Big East last August, just in time to deal with the fallout of Syracuse and Pitt leaving for the ACC, Notre Dame’s decision to follow them south, Rutgers and Louisville beating UConn and Cincinnati out the door, and the Catholic 7 splitting from the conference the form their own brand-new, basketball-centric league.

Which, of course, they wanted to call the Big East.

So in the midst of watching teams sprint from the conference like freshmen from a house party when the cops show up, Aresco not only had to work out a television rights deal while figuring out how to keep the league from being a season-long punchline, he literally had to go back to square one: he needed a name.

He had been a conference commissioner for less than eight months at that point. Talk about being thrown into the fire.

“We didn’t want to be called the No Name Conference. We didn’t want to be called The Conference To Be Named Later,” Aresco told NBCSports.com. “We knew that to remain viable, we needed the name fairly soon.”

Once the name — American Athletic Conference — was officially decided upon, the next step was developing a logo, a trademarked patch that would start to build the brand of a league that completely redefining itself; the new Big East may have taken the name and Madison Square Garden, but the AAC is actually the old Big East.

That process was a success, as the American’s logo seems to be the one thing that everyone on twitter didn’t hate, but it was also a bit more complicated.

source:  Aresco reached out to a former CBS colleague named Leslie Ann Wade who had assembled a group that had been doing work on branding corporate logos. That group had contributed to the conference as a consultant on the PR front, so Aresco asked them to develop something, and they came up with the A with a star in the middle of it.

The decision-makers in the AAC offices loved it, but that was only the first step. They had to see what league members thought of it without allowing the logo to leak.

“We had to protect it,” Aresco said. “We couldn’t let anyone see it because we had to trademark it.”

That created a problem, because Aresco wanted to make sure that his conference member’s athletes and administrators all were fans of the logo he had developed. “We’ve got to make sure we have buy-in,” he said.

So what the AAC did was fly around the country to each of the member institutions, inviting a sampling of everyone involved with the school’s athletic department — presidents, ADs, coaches, athletes from revenue sports, athletes from Olympic sports — to get their feedback. The support was overwhelming.

Now that Aresco had a logo, he could actually get to work on turning the league into the powerhouse he believes it can be. Things like ensuring that all of the league’s basketball games will be aired on a national platform, whether it be ESPN, ESPN3 or CBS Sports Network. Or taking the time to talk to reporters to push support for his conference.

That may not be the most glorious part of his job, but it’s certainly better than trying to figure out who is trying to jettison themselves from the conference.

“If you ask me how it’s going compared to eight or nine months ago, it’s going extremely well,” he said. “We’re rejuvenated. We’re optimistic.”

“It’s been tough. We went through a period of real instability where we weren’t sure what we would have. We weren’t sure that we’d be here.”

Thursday marked the official beginning of the AAC as a conference, as three league members began their football seasons on opening night.

As it turns out, that’s anything but a chance for Aresco to slow down.

Two of the three AAC teams in action lost last night, with UConn losing to Towson at home (by 15!) and Rutgers dropping a road date with Fresno State in overtime.

Such is life when you’re trying to kickstart a rebranded league.

Whitehead to stay in NBA Draft

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) shoots past Xavier forward Sean O'Mara (54) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.

Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.

The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Michigan St. at Duke highlights ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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A matchup in Durham of likely top-10 teams is the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, whose schedule was released Tuesday.

Michigan State, expected to open the season in the top-10, and Duke, the presumptive preseason No. 1, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the most intriguing contest of the 14-game event.

The Spartans are losing Denzel Valentin, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, but the recruiting class of Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward is one of coach Tom Izzo’s best and has Michigan State positioned as one of the Big Ten’s favorites.

Izzo’s recruiting class, though, pales in comparison to what coach Mike Krzyzewski is bringing to the Blue Devils, with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier in their 2016 class, which is why, when paired with the likes of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard, make Duke nearly everyone’s No. 1 heading into next season.

Krzyzewski is 9-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans.

Among the other highlights of the conference competition is Syracuse at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) Pittsburgh at Maryland (Nov. 29), Purdue at Louisville (Nov. 30) and Ohio State at Virginia (Nov. 30).  

Monday, Nov. 28

Minnesota at Florida State

Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Syracuse at Wisconsin

Michigan State at Duke

Pittsburgh at Maryland

Iowa at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Penn State

N.C. State at Illinois

 

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Purdue at Louisville

North Carolina at Indiana

Ohio State at Virginia

Virginia Tech at Michigan

Rutgers at Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska at Clemson