Blogger Spotlight: Big East Coast Bias sorts out this mess

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Nobody’s got a handle on the conference realignment mess. Just when you think things have settled, someone else gets happy feet. If it’s not Missouri trying desperately to leave the Big 12, it’s TCU being courted by the Big 12 and away from the Big East.

Hey, even the conference commissioners hardly know what’s going on.

But if you need news and some semblance of understanding, the guys at Big East Coast Bias are tough to beat.

Makes sense. The Big East has taken the brunt of the realignment chaos, losing two founding members – Syracuse and Pittsburgh – to the ACC, while another founding school – Connecticut – is trying to do the same, while West Virginia consistently mentioned as possibly the SEC’s 14th member. That makes Mark Ennis, one of the site’s managers, ideal for the return of Blogger Spotlight.

I traded emails with Mark recently over a 10-day period, right when the Big 12 seemed on the brink of collapse and right before TCU became a courted school. We did our best to figure out what’s ailing the Big East, what can be done and how BECB is handling it all.

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Q: Big 12 fans spent most of the last six weeks fretting about what the future holds. But at least they knew this was coming (thanks Longhorn Network!). Safe to say everyone in the Big East was thrown by Syracuse and Pitt applying to the ACC, conference commissioner John Marinatto among them?

source: APA: You know Syracuse has long had a wandering eye for the ACC and the Big East has had to try and stop them from going to the ACC before, but Pittsburgh making such a quick move like this, yeah, you could say that the conference’s remaining members and the Big East leadership were quite thrown by both the move and the clandestine nature of the whole thing. You can see it clearly in the comments from Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich. Pittsburgh’s leadership was viewed as one of the main parties rallying the football schools to be bold. To then turn around and leave unannounced, it’s stunning.

Q: Thus prompting Rick Pitino’s “Godfather” themed betrayal blog post. There’s some serious animosity rising among schools. What will the season be like for Syracuse and Pitt – and UConn if it bolts? (I’d include Rutgers, but I’m certain nobody will care if the Knight leave.) Road trips will not be pleasant.

A: I imagine that for both football and basketball, the road trips for Pittsburgh and Syracuse will be harsh, especially from those schools who might be left with no real options because of the decisions made by those two schools. Can you imagine the animosity for a place like Seton Hall, a founding member of the conference that might be forced to the Atlantic 10 or something? It’ll be understandably rough.

Q: And it sounds as if – though this could change – that both Syracuse and Pitt won’t be in the ACC until 2014! Hope they’re ready thousands of obscenities thrown their way. Might want to get those plastic shields soccer teams have to protect their benches in some of the more … ahem … vigorous fans. So what’s the best way to combat this? What would help the Big East schools feel better about their situation?

A: I’ve been asked this question by a number of people and honestly I have no idea what could have been done to make Pittsburgh or Syracuse feel more secure in the Big East prior to their departure and I definitely don’t know what could be done now to keep the remaining teams more committed outside of miraculously adding Notre Dame as a football playing member right now. Which, of course, we know won’t happen.

Q: What about hiring a new commissioner? The Big 12 ditched Dan Beebe. Would moving on from John Marinatto help, even if it’s only for cosmetic purposes? (As you say, Notre Dame football is really the only thing that would solve everything, but that isn’t happening.) Or is that just like trying to put out a fire with a water pick?

A: Firing Marinatto might help, but only if there was a guy out there that would definitely bring some sort of fireworks with him, or perhaps an “in” that would ensure some quality football teams are also coming to the Big East. I’ve knocked Marinatto as much as the next guy, but, I’m honestly not sure what anyone else could have done to make the Big East better than it has been.

Q: That’s life in a league that isn’t built around football, right? So I have to ask: Would the conference be better served if it only had basketball and had the schools play football in other leagues? Or is that something that hurts too much to think about?

A: I think that might wind up being its future whether it would be better or not. With the conference openly discussing adding Temple rather than allowing Villanova to grow up in the league, it’s pretty obvious that they really aren’t concerned with what’s best for the basketball playing members even though, with the loss of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the value in the conference is clearly on that side.

source: APQ: I’ll say. Declaring the Big East tournament as the most important – and perhaps best  — tourney after the NCAA tournament, protecting that might just be more important than retaining that automatic BCS bid. 

A: I think there’s a lot of true to that. And since you mention it, is there anything sadder than the thought of a Big East tournament in MSG without Syracuse? No Flynn overtime magic, no McNamara, no games with Georgetown. It’s a shame the ACC and Pitt/Syracuse sacrificed that in a panic over superconferences.

Q: I’ll miss Pitt just as much. For a while there, they seemingly were in the title game every season. And UConn just ripped off its historic run yet it’s openly trying to get out. Fairly certain winning the ACC tournament (in Greensboro) won’t hold the same appeal. But hey, you’re a Louisville guy, right? Maybe it’ll give your Cardinals a boost.

A: I’ll you that Louisville and Rick Pitino love being a part of the Big East Tournament and all of the pageantry associated with it. They’d miss that if all of this resulted in a conference change.

Q: Would the conference just be better off as a basketball-only league? Football’s crucial for thriving, but I’d wager the Big East is the one league that could make it work as a hoops league. The logistics would be hell, though.

A: I think that’s the question that everyone is trying to grapple with. It might be in the best interest of schools like Marquette, St. John’s, Georgetown, etc. to go ahead and have discussions about whether they even want to bother dealing with the football members anymore. The television contracts are essentially separate anyway. If the football schools came to a meeting and said they wanted to stick you with playing basketball games against East Carolina or Central Florida, wouldn’t you at least think twice about just going it alone? It’s illustrative of the biggest problem with the Big East: members whose interests are not just different, but diametrically opposed.

 Q: OK then, onto to other things. Big East Coast Bias. How’s the reception been since it launched? Do you miss covering only Louisville sports?

A: The response to the site has been fantastic, and I feel badly for the basketball minded fans because we launched in the deadest of dead seasons and then went right into football. We love basketball and the idea for the site was something Pat Johnston and I hatched during the NCAA Tournament because of the negative attitude toward the Big East and the way it played in the tournament. As basketball draws near, we’ll expand coverage of it.

Conference realignment rumors also tend to help drive traffic.

Q: You seem like a football guy. Would you rather focus on hoops or football, or do you just go with the news and time of year?

A: I would say I understand football at a deeper level than basketball, but like most everyone that moves to Kentucky from somewhere else, basketball gets into your blood. I love splitting my time between both and it’s fun as a blogger that looks at the entire conference to get to be a fan of just about everyone on any given night. It’s a bit of a schizophrenic experience to cover the best basketball and worst BCS football conference, but it helps you stay grounded.

Q: What’s your hope for the site’s future and your place in it? Is this the dream?

A: I would love for the site to become synonymous with Big East sports, but that’s a very big picture goal and with the (daily) changing landscape of conference membership, I honestly have shifted my focus to just trying to stay on top of who the Big East’s members and hoping the league survives.  If the league survives as a viable BCS league and doesn’t water down the basketball side of things, I think Big East Coast Bias has an extremely bright future.

You can read more of Mark’s writing here and follow him on Twitter @Mengus22 and follow Big East Coast Bias @becg_sbn.

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You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Charlotte head coach Ron Sanchez resigns after winning CBI title

Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ron Sanchez resigned as head coach of the Charlotte 49ers.

Sanchez took over the 49ers on March 19, 2018, inheriting a team coming off a 6-23 campaign. In five years Charlotte went 72-78 under Sanchez, highlighted by winning the College Basketball Invitational championship this past season, the Niners’ first post-season tournament title in school history.

The 22 wins this past season are the most for Charlotte since 2001.

“Ron took over a proud but struggling program and carefully rebuilt it into a 22-game winner. He has led with class, dignity and devotion to our young men,” Charlotte director of athletics Mike Hill said. “His decision to step down from Charlotte was a difficult one for him and everyone associated with our program. We wish him and his family every happiness.”

Hill said the team has already begun a national search for a replacement.

“This is a bittersweet day for me and my family as I step down to pursue other opportunities,” said Sanchez, who came the 49ers after working as an assistant coach at Virginia under Tony Bennett. “It has been a tremendous privilege to lead the 49ers basketball program over the past five years and I want to thank Niner Nation for its support. I will be forever grateful to my staff, players and the university.”

Marquette extends Shaka Smart’s contract through 2029-30 season

marquette smart
Adam Cairns/USA TODAY NETWORK
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MILWAUKEE — Marquette coach Shaka Smart has received a contract extension after leading the Golden Eagles to their first outright regular-season championship and tournament title in the Big East.

Smart’s contract now runs through the 2029-30 season. This is the first extension Smart has received since signing a six-year deal when he took over as Marquette’s coach in 2021.

Marquette didn’t release financial terms of Smart’s deal.

“In a very short period of time, Shaka and his staff have done a tremendous job of establishing a winning culture, both on and off the court,” athletic director Bill Scholl said in a statement. “Shaka’s vision for the program is focused on extended, sustainable success. The individuals who interact with the team on a daily basis are able to observe frequent examples of growth and the excitement around the program is contagious.”

Marquette has gone 48-20 in Smart’s two seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament each of those years.

The Golden Eagles went 29-7 and won the Big East’s regular-season and tournament championships last season after the league’s coaches had picked them to finish ninth out of 11 teams. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.

STAYING IN SCHOOL

TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.

GOING PRO

KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events

Jack Gruber / USA TODAY NETWORK
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WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.