- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame have followed up a trip to the NCAA championship game by being selected the favorite to win the Big East.

It’s the first time Notre Dame has been the top choice in the preseason since 2002. Connecticut has dominated the conference over the last two decades and last wasn’t No. 1 in 2005.

“It’s good for the league having a team other than Connecticut be number one in the preseason,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “It shows there is some parity in the league. I think there are a few teams that could win it, so it’s exciting for the league.”

The Irish are led by Diggins, who was the conference’s choice as preseason player of the year. She had a fabulous sophomore season, getting the Irish back to the NCAA finals for the first time since they won the title in 2001.

“This is a great honor winning preseason player of the year,” Diggins said. “They could have picked six or seven players and they would have been worthy of the honor. The great thing about the Big East is that we have so many great players in it.”

Besides Diggins, the Irish return guard Natalie Novosel and forward Devereaux Peters. They joined the junior guard on the preseason all-Big East team.

Notre Dame received nine of the 16 first place votes.

“It’s so close, you have great teams, UConn, Louisville, Georgetown,” Diggins said. “It’s so hard to rate the Big East because there are so many great teams.”

Connecticut was predicted to finish second for only the second time since 1992-93, when they began their dynasty.

“I would think that if you go to the national championship game and bring back so many of your key players, I would think that absolutely they should be No. 1,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.

Auriemma was more interested in talking about conference realignment than the team’s No. 2 ranking. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference and TCU, which was scheduled to start competing in the Big East in 2012, left for the Big 12.

He thinks all the problems that the conference is having with teams leaving could have been solved a long time ago had the Irish football team joined instead of remaining independent.

“They’ve been in our league 17 years, so how long are we going to date before we just decide this ain’t working. And I’m not happy about it,” said Auriemma. “That’s not the opinion of the University of Connecticut, the Big East Conference, (UConn) president (Susan Herbst), (UConn interim) AD (Paul Pendergast). That’s just Geno Auriemma’s opinion.”

On the court, the Huskies will attempt to replace All-American Maya Moore. They return four starters with Bria Hartley, Tiffany Hayes, Stefanie Dolson and Kelly Faris. They also have a strong freshman group led by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who was selected preseason rookie of the year.

Louisville was picked third with Rutgers, Georgetown, DePaul, St. John’s and Syracuse rounding out the top half of the conference.

West Virginia, South Florida, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Providence, Cincinnati, and Seton Hall rounded out the preseason poll.

Joining the Notre Dame trio on the preseason first team are Hartley and Hayes; DePaul’s Keisha Hampton; Georgetown’s Sugar Rodgers; Louisville’s Shoni Schimmel and Monique Reid; St. John’s Shenneika Smith and Da’Shena Stevens; and Syracuse’s Kayla Alexander.

Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team or players.


Follow Doug Feinberg at https://twitter.com/dougfeinberg.

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