On Wednesday, the UConn Board of Trustees voted unanimously to accept an offer from the Big East Conference to join the league in all sports offered. A press conference is scheduled for Thursday in New York City where the school and the conference will make their reunification complete.
The move will allow for the Husky men’s and women’s basketball programs to return to a conference that prioritizes the sport and reignites rivalries that were lost five years ago, when UConn opted not to join the new Big East after the seven catholic schools departed.
UConn is expected to join the Big East for the 2020-21 season.
The Big East does not have football or hockey, which means that UConn’s football program will be left without a home. The American is not expected to allow UConn to keep their football team as a member of the league.
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.
There is so much that is going to happen between now and the time that next season starts that it almost seems foolish to publish a preseason top 25 today.
But we’re doing it anyway!
A couple of notes: Who is going to head to the NBA is very much in the air right now. There are still a number of freshmen that have yet to announce where they are playing their college ball. The transfer market has barely heated up. For decisions that are up in the air, you’ll see an asterisk next to their name. We’re making predictions on what certain players will do and ranking based off of them.
So with all that said, here is the preseason top 25.
1. MICHIGAN STATE
WHO’S GONE: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Nick Ward
WHO’S BACK: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier
WHO’S COMING IN: Rocket Watts, Malik Hall, Julius Marble
That is according to a report from Digital Sports Desk that has since been confirmed by The Athletic, Stadium and the Hartford Courtant. The plan, according to the report, is for UConn to get the basketball program back into the Big East Conference for the 2020-21 season, but that nothing can be made official until UConn finds a place for its football program to land. Stadium is reporting that the rest of UConn’s athletic programs, including their powerhouse women’s basketball team, will return to the Big East as well.
The football team went 1-11 this past season with an 0-8 record in the American.
“It is our responsibility to always be mindful of what is in the best interest of our student athletes, our fans and our future,” UConn said in a statement released on Saturday morning. “With that being said, we have been and remain proud members of the American Athletic Conference.”
UConn was a founding member of the Big East, joining in 1979, but they parted ways with the catholic schools in the league in 2015 when those programs formed this iteration of the Big East, instead joining the American.
This is a blow for the American, as UConn is one of the most storied basketball programs in college basketball. They have won four national titles in the last 20 years, including one in 2014 as a member of the AAC.
But – and I’m saying this as a Connecticut native that grew up a huge UConn fan – this news could not be any better for the basketball program, the Big East or the state’s fan base.
UConn belongs in the Big East. They belong playing two games a year against Villanova, and Providence, and Georgetown, and St. John’s. It’s not going to be the same without Pitt, Syracuse and the rest of the teams that headed to the ACC in the last round of realignment, but playing regional rivalries against programs that the Huskies have a history with will be huge. Ask any UConn fan if they care about watching their team play the likes of Tulsa, East Carolina or Tulane and you’ll get laughed at.
With a return to the historic league that they helped found and the jolt that second-year head coach Danny Hurley is going to give the program, there is suddenly reason to be excited about UConn basketball again.
With the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA draft and return to school having come and gone, we can now have a full sense of what the 2019-20 season will look like.
A number of would-be All-American candidates ended up keeping their names in the draft despite the fact that they may not end up getting drafted, but there is still a solid crop of upperclassmen to pair with some talented newcomers that will give us a pretty strong contingent of All-Americans.
So without further ado, here is a first look at what those All-American teams could end up looking like.
PRESEASON FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State: Winston, for my money, will enter this season this season as the Preseason National Player of the Year. He is the lone First-Team All-American returning from last season, and he will be playing for the consensus No. 1 team in the country. It may be hard for him to improve on the 18.8 points and 7.5 assists that he averaged last year, but that is largely because he should have more help this year with Josh Langford healthy and Aaron Henry on the verge of a breakout year.
MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette: Markus Howard averaged 25 points and 3.9 assists last season, and that was when he was playing on a team that still had both of the Hauser brothers on it. This year, they are gone, meaning that there is a real chance that he ends up averaging upwards of 30 points this year. I don’t know how many wins that will lead Marquette to, but it is enough to get him some hype in the preseason.
MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall: Powell is Howard-lite. He’s not quite as consistent or efficient, but he is just as dangerous when he gets into a rhythm. As a junior, Powell averaged 23.1 points, and I would expect him to be just as dangerous as a senior on a team that returns everyone from last season. Hopefully, we’ll have at least one duel between Seton Hall and Marquette that turns into a shootout between Howard and Powell.
JORDAN NWORA, Louisville: The Cardinals got Nwora back for his junior season after he spent this past year proving himself as one of the most improved players in college hoops. He averaged 17 points and 7.6 boards while shooting 37.4 percent from three, and he should see an uptick in his efficiency this year with Louisville’s talented freshman class providing him with some more help.
JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis: Wiseman, to me, has the best chance to end up being a First-Team All-American. The way he plays should fit in well with the style that the Tigers play under Penny, and he is the consensus top player in this recruiting class and projected as the first pick in the 2020 NBA Draft playing on a team that many believe will be a top ten team.
PRESEASON SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina: If Wiseman doesn’t end up being the best freshman this season, I think Anthony will. At the very least, he has a chance to put up the most impressive numbers. Think about what Coby White did for North Carolina last year, and Anthony is not only a better fit for North Carolina than White was, he is also probably a better player.
DEVON DOTSON, Kansas: Dotson really came on strong down the stretch of last season and should be the sparkplug that keeps Kansas in the mix for the Big 12 title this year. Think about this: Both Quentin Grimes and R.J. Hampton are playing some where other than Kansas this season at least in part because Dotson will handle the lead guard duties.
KERRY BLACKSHEAR JR., TBD: It is a bit difficult to truly rate Blackshear since we don’t know where he is going to be yet, but I think there is an argument to be made that he will be the best frontcourt player in college basketball next season. The fifth-year senior was terrific playing in Virginia Tech’s system a year ago, and will be an anchor no matter where he ends up this year.
MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia: I’m fine being out on an island on this one, but I think that Diakite is the guy on Virginia’s roster that benefits the most from all the talent they lost this offseason. We already know how good he is defensively, but he has a burgeoning perimeter stroke and proved during run to the national title that he was better offensively that some believed. There is plenty of space left on the bandwagon when you’re ready to join me.
ISAIAH STEWART, Washington: There’s a real chance that Stewart ends up being the most productive of the elite freshmen in this class. He has a terrific motor and is an absolute monster around the rim, checking in as the best rebounder in this class. He’ll soak up Noah Dickerson’s touches offensively and anchor the Syracuse zone defensively.
PRESEASON THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
TRE JONES, Duke: He may end up being the best defender in college basketball next year, and I think that his leadership will be vital for a Duke team that is going to be very young again. If he doesn’t improve his perimeter jumper, however, ranking him here will look silly come March.
ANTHONY COWAN JR., Maryland: Cowan had something of a disappointing junior season, as his efficiency went down. I’m looking at him to bounceback this season and prove himself one of the best point guards in college hoops. I can see him averaging 17 points and six assists for a team that I currently have in the top five nationally, but I can also see a situation where he ends up being the piece that holds Maryland back.
TYRESE MAXEY, Kentucky: Once again, it is tough to figure out who, exactly, will be Kentucky’s All-American candidate next season, so we’re going with Maxey because he seems to be the guy that projects as the leading scorer right now.
JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati: Cumberland quietly was awesome this past season, averaging 18.8 points and 3.6 assists while shooting 38.8 percent from three to help keep Cincinnati relevant after they lost so many critical pieces the season before. How will he adjust to John Brannen taking over for Mick Cronin?
SAM MERRILL, Utah State: Merrill has a case as the best player in college basketball outside of the top seven leagues. He’s coming off of a season where he led the Aggies to the Mountain West crown and a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament while averaging 20.9 points and 4.2 assists. USU will enter this season as a preseason top 25 team.
UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas
YOELI CHILDS, BYU
TRISTAN CLARK, Baylor
AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois
ANTHONY EDWARDS, Georgia
JORDAN FORD, Saint Mary’s
JON AXEL GUDMUNDSSON, Davidson
KIRA LEWIS, Alabama
NAJI MARSHALL, Xavier
SKYLAR MAYS, LSU
ANDREW NEMBHARD, Florida
JALEN PICKETT, Siena
PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon
JAVONTE SMART, LSU
JALEN SMITH, Maryland
KILLIAN TILLIE, Gonzaga
KALEB WESSON, Ohio State
RJ Hampton signed with New Zealand team ‘probably like a month ago’
RJ Hampton surprised many earlier this week when he decided to bypass college basketball by signing with the New Zealand Breakers of the Australian pro league. Until then, Kansas, Memphis and Texas Tech had held out hope that it would land a five-star prospect late in the recruiting cycle that would provide an instant and dramatic boost to any of the program’s 2019-20 fortunes.
Turns out, they all stopped having a chance quite awhile ago.
Hampton decided to play overseas and signed his contract with New Zealand “probably like a month ago,” he said in a Bleacher Report video.
“Some people would say it to my face, like, are thinking of going overseas?” Hampton said. “I’d be like, ‘I have my top three, Kansas, Memphis and (Texas) Tech.'”
It’s a decision that certainly impacts those three programs immediately, but it’ll remain to be seen how many other prep players pursue the same route as Hampton. It’s been a little-traveled path in the nearly 15 years since the NBA’s one-and-done rule was put in place.
“The response has been great from my friends and my family, like my teammates from my AAU team to high high school team, jsut everyone in my city. Everyone is just happy for me,” Hampton said. “My dream is to just go to New Zealand, play for five months and then go to the NBA and start my NBA career.”
The fans – and coaching staffs – of Kansas, Memphis and Texas Tech probably would have liked to have that information a month ago, but when you’re a five-star prospect like Hampton with options galore, you get to make the rules and set the timetable.