Big East

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Report: Big East votes to invite UConn to rejoin

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WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The presidents of the schools in the Big East voted Monday to extend an invitation to UConn to rejoin the conference for basketball and other sports.

A person with firsthand knowledge confirmed to The Associated Press that the schools’ presidents voted by conference call on Monday morning. That person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

UConn has a Board of Trustees meeting scheduled for Wednesday when it is expected to accept the invitation, and an announcement is expected from the Big East as early as Thursday morning.

“I know a little bit about the back and forth on it. I think it could be a great thing for the state,” Democratic Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont told reporters at an unrelated news conference Monday. “Let’s face it, UConn, in particular UConn basketball, we can compete with anybody. We’re ready to take on the very best. Let’s see how the negotiations go.”

The result of the vote was first reported Monday by CBS Sports.

UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma cautioned that the expected move doesn’t mean a return to the glory days of the old Big East.

The Hall of Fame coach, speaking to reporters at a charity golf event, noted the conference is not the same one that once included schools such as Notre Dame and Louisville.

“It’s like saying you’re moving back to your hometown, but the block that you lived on and half the city is gone,” he said. “It’s not the same.”

Auriemma said his team’s success has never depended on what conference it is in, and he doesn’t see that changing.

The UConn women have never lost to an American Athletic Conference opponent, going 120-0 in the regular season and six conference tournaments.

The conference bylaws require UConn to pay a $10 million withdrawal fee and give 27 months’ notice before leaving. But terms of the departure were still being negotiated on Monday.

UConn is expected to spend at least another season in the AAC before it moves, and junior Megan Walker said keeping that spotless record intact will be a priority. She said the Huskies understand the league’s other teams now have even more motivation to beat them.

“Ever since I got to the University of Connecticut, we’ve always been the black hats, the bad guys,” she said. “I enjoy it. If we didn’t want that challenge, we wouldn’t be here at this university. I’m excited to leave the conference or whatever. Whatever conference we are in, I’m excited to play.”

Trading trips to Tulsa and Tulane for games at St. John’s and Villanova, Auriemma acknowledged, would help the school when it comes to finances and selling fan interest. UConn currently is dealing with a deficit in its athletic division of more than $40 million.

Auriemma said he’s not sure what the move means for the future of UConn’s football program. But the coach said he can foresee a day when all schools, not just UConn, have multiple conference affiliations based on what is best for each sport. UConn already plays hockey in Hockey East and has retained its Big East membership in field hockey and lacrosse.

Auriemma also challenged UConn fans, many of whom he noted have been calling for the Huskies to rejoin the Big East for six years, to back up their preference by attending more games.

“So, if this does happen, there better be 16,000 at the XL Center every night,” he said.

LJ Figueroa staying at St. John’s

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St. John’s received some positive news on Wednesday as LJ Figueroa decided to return to the program after exploring transfer options.

Hitting the transfer portal after the departure of previous head coach Chris Mullin, Figueroa will be able to play next season instead of sitting a transfer year.

By staying with the Red Storm, the 6-foot-6 Figueroa gives St. John’s a proven two-way wing and double-figure scorer for new head coach Mike Anderson. Figueroa averaged 14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game last season — his first with the school — as he shot 51 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three-point range.

St. John’s has a chance to be solid with Figueroa returning next season but they’ll have to figure out how to plug a few roster questions — most notably replacing point guard Shamorie Ponds. The return of Figueroa at least gives the Red Storm an all-conference threat who helps them in multiple ways.

Four Xavier players declare for NBA draft process

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Four Xavier players will declare for the 2019 NBA Draft and explore the process, according to an official release from the school.

Quentin Goodin, Tyrique Jones, Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs will all go through the draft process after all four players had solid seasons for the Musketeers. Goodin (11.0 pts, 4.8 ast) and Jones (11.3 pts, 7.7 reb) are both juniors as the point guard and big man, respectively, are both solid defenders and double-figure scorers.

Marshall (14.7 pts, 7.2 reb) and Scruggs (12.3 pts, 4.9 reb) are both sophomore guards who are the team’s two leading scorers.

While Xavier struggled early in the season under first-year head coach Travis Steele, a late-season surge put them close to the bubble picture of the NCAA tournament as expectations will be high if these four guys all return.

Report: Chris Mullin stepping down at St. John’s

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St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin is expected to step down from his position with an official announcement this week.

First reported by Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, Mullin will exit his alma mater after four seasons at the helm. Even though St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg said that Mullin would be back next season as head coach with a statement only a few days ago, Mullin will step aside after a disappointing tenure.

One of the greatest players in program history, Mullin’s hiring was met with a lot of local excitement. After landing some talented recruits, those expectations grew even bigger. But Mullin was never able to make a significant postseason run as he struggled to gain traction in a tough Big East.

During his tenure, Mullin finished 59-73 overall and 20-52 in the Big East as St. John’s had a disappointing end to this season after a 12-0 start. Flaming out in the First Four of the 2019 NCAA tournament after barely making into the Field of 68, the Red Storm suffered a blowout loss to Arizona State in Dayton to end their season.

Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley could be an option to make a move back to the East coast as his name is already being linked to the St. John’s opening.

Kevin Willard will remain at Seton Hall after turning down Virginia Tech

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Kevin Willard will stay the head coach at Seton Hall after listening to an offer from Virginia Tech.

After being linked to the Hokies after former head coach Buzz Williams took the job at Texas A&M, Willard will instead stay with the Pirates as Seton Hall is expected to give Willard a new contract with a raise. With Seton Hall potentially bringing back most of its roster from an NCAA tournament season, hopes are high for the Pirates in 2019-20 — particularly if guard Myles Powell returns after testing the NBA Draft waters.

“Didn’t want to leave my team,” Willard said to Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press. “I really enjoy this group. That was the reason.”

While Virginia Tech attempted to lure Willard away with more money and the draw of playing in the loaded ACC, the Hokies also haven’t had a lot of sustained basketball success until Williams turned the program around. Leaving the comfort of a good thing at Seton Hall would have been a risk for Willard as he’s guided the Pirates to four straight NCAA tournament appearances.

Now that Virginia Tech’s top target has said no, it’ll be interesting to see where they turn to next as they remain one of the better jobs still available in the 2019 coaching carousel.

Arizona State races past St. John’s

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Arizona State raced out to an early lead and never trailed as they advanced past St. John’s with a 74-65 win on Wednesday night during an NCAA tournament First Four game in Dayton.

Jumping out to a double-digit lead 10 minutes into the game, the Sun Devils were barely threatened until late in the second half as the Red Storm had a disjointed night on offense. St. John’s had some early momentum in the second half during an 8-0 burst when the Arizona State lead was cut to eight points. The Sun Devils quickly pushed the lead back to double-digits with another run. With under five minutes left, St. John’s made a final push to cut the Arizona State lead to seven but they never made it over the hump to get fully back into the game.

Freshman Luguentz Dort was the standout for Arizona State on Wednesday as he finished with 21 points. Although Dort experienced a scary fall early in the second half, he shook off the hard landing to return. Dort’s health will be something to monitor for the next round as he’s clearly the best offensive weapon for the Sun Devils. Forward Zylan Cheatham (14 points) was the only other double-figure scorer for the Sun Devils on Wednesday as Arizona State didn’t play a particularly crisp game on offense.

Although Arizona State (23-10) led the entire game, they had 21 turnovers and some sloppy possessions that they’ll need to clean up before Friday’s first-round matchup with Buffalo. Arizona State advances to play the No. 6 seed Bulls on Friday in a West Region game in Tulsa. The matchup will feature Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley going against his former team as he left Buffalo four seasons ago to take the job in Tempe. Hurley will also be facing a head coach, Nate Oats, that he hired as an assistant coach at Buffalo. Wednesday’s win for the Sun Devils also marks the first NCAA tournament win for Arizona State since 2009 when they beat Temple in the first round.

St. John’s (21-13) never found a rhythm on offense as they shot 32 percent (22-for-69) from the field and 26 percent (8-for-31) from three-point range. Junior guard Shamorie Ponds (25 points, four assists) and guard L.J. Figueroa (19 points) were two of the only bright spots for the Red Storm as St. John’s turned the ball over 16 times.

Starting the 2018-19 season with a 12-0 record, St. John’s finished the year 9-13 as they plummeted once Big East play started. After such a promising start to the season, many predicted that St. John’s would be a factor in the Big East race.

Instead, St. John’s slipped to the point of barely making the Field of 68 as they were the last at-large team let into the field. Losing in a First Four game after being a top-25 team only two months ago is a very disappointing ending to what looked like a comeback season for this program. The Red Storm have not won an NCAA tournament game since 2000 as they’ve dropped five straight in the Big Dance.