By DOUG FEINBERG,  AP Basketball Writer

NEW YORK (AP) _ Connecticut is back on top of the Big East
women’s basketball preseason poll.

The Huskies have returned to their all-too-familiar perch atop
the preseason conference rankings, one year after they were not
picked as the favorite to win the Big East for only the second time
since 1994.

UConn received 12 of the 15 first-place votes from the coaches

“It’s nice to be up top, but it’s more about what we do at the
end of the season that matters,” said coach Geno Auriemma. “We
have four starters back and a really good freshmen group so it’s no
surprise we’re No. 1.”

Notre Dame, which has lost in the national championship game the
past two years, received the other three first place votes.

“With what we lost to graduation, I’m happy we were recognized
as No. 2,” said Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “There are
some really good teams in this conference with Louisville and St.
John’s returning most of their teams.”

The Cardinals were picked third and the Red Storm fourth.
Following St. John’s in the poll are Rutgers, DePaul, Syracuse,
Georgetown, South Florida, Villanova, Marquette, Cincinnati,
Pittsburgh, Seton Hall and Providence.

Connecticut and Notre Dame have played 11 times over the past
three years and have one of the top rivalries in women’s college
basketball. It may all come to an end soon with the Irish planning
on moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference at some point over the
next few years. Notre Dame can’t leave the Big East without penalty
before 2015.

“I’d love to see it continue,” McGraw said. “We reached out
to people at Connecticut to see if we can make it work.”

Auriemma was not willing to commit to seeing the series

“I think we’re going to have to sit down and look at our
schedule and see how it fits in,” he said. “We’ll see how it
goes. We did a lot for Notre Dame. Connecticut did a lot for Notre
Dame and the Big East did a lot for Notre Dame. We’re going to miss
them and they are going to miss us.”

New Big East commissioner Mike Areico said there is no timetable
for Notre Dame’s departure, but said he has started having
conversations with Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

“At this point there is nothing new to report,” Areico said.

“Jack and I have talked about a potential earlier departure. I
don’t know if that will happen. I think Notre Dame will be
comfortable staying in the league another three seasons. When
you’re going to a new conference sometimes it’s better for everyone
if they leave sooner. If they were to leave after this year there
would have to be an arrangement.”

While it’s still unknown when the Irish will leave, Pitt and
Syracuse will definitely be playing their final season in the Big
East before bolting to the ACC.

The Irish have had a lot of recent success in the conference,
winning the Big East regular-season title last year led by point
guard Skylar Diggins. She was chosen for the second straight year
as the conference’s preseason player of the year.

“It’s a great honor but it’s really about what you do in the
season,” Diggins said. “I just want to keep helping my team win

Joining Diggins as unanimous selections on the preseason team
were Bria Hartley of UConn, Anna Martin of DePaul, Sugar Rodgers of
Georgetown and Shoni Schimmel of Louisville.

Connecticut freshman Breanna Stewart was chosen as the
conference’s preseason freshman of the year.

The league also has three new coaches– the most in seven years.
Joe Tartamella takes over at St. John’s after former coach Kim
Barnes Arico left for a job at Michigan. Tartamella inherits a
squad that made it to the regional semifinals for the first time in
school history. He has been an assistant coach at the school for
nine years.
Keith Brown was promoted from assistant coach at Georgetown when
Terri Williams-Flournoy took the Auburn job. Brown had been an
assistant at the school for the past five seasons.

“It definitely helps having been at the school before since I
helped recruit all these kids,” Brown said. “The defense is the
same, the offense is the same, so they already have a

The only new coach to the league is Susan Robinson Fruchtl, who
took over at Providence.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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