Having big programs in a conference can only elevate all the other programs in it. In women’s basketball, there is perhaps no bigger program than the University of Connecticut. The powerhouse Huskies will make their return to their traditional home this season, but the rest of the conference will not be a pushover. This year, the Big East features several prominent programs at the top of women’s basketball and several teams on the rise as well. This is by no means a one-team league, and the competition will be exciting to watch.
With all that being said, however, this was the easiest prediction for me to make, men’s or women’s. We know all of the accolades that coach Geno Auriemma has collected in his time at UConn: 19 Big East regular-season championships, 18 Big East Tournament championships, and 11 NCAA national championships. This team should be the prohibitive favorite to win the conference yet again, headed by guard Christyn Williams, a top contender for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award, which honors the nation’s top women’s basketball player. The Huskies’ star power makes them a force every year, and this year is no exception.
Player to watch: Freshman guard Paige Bueckers
Another year, another #1 recruit headed to the Huskies. This time, it is Paige Bueckers of Minnetonka, Minnesota, one of the most decorated high school players in history. In her senior year at Hopkins High School, she averaged 21.4 points, 9.4 assists, and 5.4 steals (!!) a game, leading the Lions to 62 consecutive victories and a state championship. She will make an impact right away with her explosiveness and all-around game.
The Blue Demons finished the season as a top-15 team in the country and won their third consecutive Big East Tournament title. Though leading scorer Chante Stonewall is on to bigger and better, DePaul still returns twelve members of last season’s squad, including All-Big East second team guard Sonya Morris, who averaged 15.6 points per game and led the Big East with 76 steals last season. With the continuity of a team that lost just five times last season, DePaul will remain a national power looking to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. They can play with anyone in the nation.
Player to watch: Junior guard Lexi Held
If the Blue Demons are to contend for a championship, they will need Lexi Held to deliver in big moments like her track record suggests she will. Held was named the 2020 Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player, averaging 21.3 points over the three games including a massive 31-point effort in the final against Marquette. It will be a treat to watch Held perform on the national stage at the NCAA Tournament.
We at the Voice weren’t the only ones who severely underrated Marquette to begin last season. The Golden Eagles were slated to finish ninth in the Preseason Coaches Poll, but they subverted all expectations despite the loss of Big East Player of the Year Natisha Hiedemann to the WNBA. This year, I won’t be making the same mistake of underestimating head coach Megan Duffy. Marquette will return their top two scorers in senior guard Selena Lott (15.5 points per game) and redshirt senior forward Lauren Van Kleunen (11.8 points per game). They have clearly built a winning culture and I expect them to be near the top of the table once again.
Player to watch: Senior guard Selena Lott.
Lott proved last season that she is much more than just a scorer. She will be the leader and facilitator for this Golden Eagle team, as she came in second in the Big East with 5.6 assists per game. She was also a relatively efficient scorer, shooting 52.5% from the field. If she can maintain these totals with a higher level of volume, she will elevate herself into the Big East’s elite.
4. St. John’s
The Red Storm are a team on the rise, having appeared in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament last season. Two of their most important players, senior guard Qadashiah Hoppie and sophomore guard Leilani Correa, will return to the squad looking to build on their performance from last year. Hoppie had her best season, making the All-Big East second team while averaging 15.4 points per game. The team will go as far as Hoppie and Correa take them, but they will not be alone. Junior guard Fapou Semebene, who transferred from Northwest Florida, gives them strength on the boards, as she averaged 9.4 points per game. If St. John’s can improve defensively, they have the pieces to knock off the top tier of the Big East.
Player to watch: Sophomore guard Leilani Correa
Correa made an impressive debut in the Big East last season, averaging 12.7 points per game. Her efforts were rewarded with a unanimous selection to the All-Big East Freshman Team and the Sixth Woman of the Year Award. She stepped up her play in the Big East Tournament, averaging 20 points per game and shooting 44% from three. She is a constantly improving player, which should thrill the Red Storm and make her an All-Big East player very soon.
The Wildcats will have a new coach for the first time in 43 seasons following the retirement of Harry Perretta. They have tapped alum Denise Dillon to lead the program, but I refuse to underestimate them simply due to the coaching change. That’s because there is still a lot of talent on this team. Sophomore forward Maddy Siegrist and senior guard Raven James will lead the charge for the Wildcats this season as the returning starters. The return of senior forward Brianna Herlihy will also provide the team with a boost as a rebounder and a three-point shooter. Do not overlook this team.
Player to watch: Sophomore forward Maddy Siegrist
Siegrist had one of the most prolific freshman campaigns in Big East history, averaging 18.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, both second in the Big East. She was the unanimous Big East Freshman of the Year and a member of the All-Big East First Team. She is a player who can score from all three levels and shoulder the load for a talented team. Expect her to challenge the best players for the Big East Player of the Year award.
It will be very difficult for the Bluejays to fill the void that opened up with Jaylyn Agnew’s graduation. The 2020 Big East Player of the Year has moved on after a magnificent season (20.8 points per game shooting 95% from the free throw line), signing with the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA after being waived by the Washington Mystics. Creighton will have to count on senior guard Temi Carda to take the next step and help mitigate their losses. They will still remain competitive in the league, but I think they are a tier below the Big East’s best.
Player to watch: Senior guard Temi Carda
Carda had a fine season last year, averaging double figures as the second-leading scorer on Creighton while earning an All-Big East Honorable Mention. Without Agnew, Carda is expected to take on a featured role. She already averaged 37.1 minutes on the floor per game last season, showcasing her durability and endurance. If she can make the most of her opportunities offensively, she will be scoring in bunches the entire game, placing pressure on all opponents.
7. Seton Hall
The Pirates are another team who have lost a great talent with the departure of forward Shadeen Samuels, who was on the All-Big East Second Team as a competitive rebounder and scorer. They advanced to the Big East Tournament semifinals last year, losing to DePaul in an 83-80 nail-biter. To get back to that point and have a shot at redemption, they will need senior guard Desiree Elmore and All-Big East Freshman honoree Mya Jackson to take them there. Seton Hall’s trademark toughness will be tested this season in a competitive Big East.
Player to watch: Senior guard Desiree Elmore
Elmore will be looking to crack an All-Big East team this season. She totaled six double-doubles last year, averaging 13.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. If she can follow in Samuels’ footsteps and continue to churn out double-double efforts, Seton Hall may raise some eyebrows and surprise me in the Big East.
The Bulldogs fought their way to a third-place tie in the Big East largely due to the efforts of their defense, which conceded just 61.8 points per game. Much of their offense came from the departed Kristen Spolyar, who made the All-Big East First Team. After Spolyar’s graduation, Butler now turns to sophomore guard Oumou Toure and redshirt senior guard Genesis Parker. They will have to assume greater leadership roles if Butler is to rise in the Big East. Toure in particular must build on a freshman campaign and the team will need to find scoring elsewhere too.
Player to watch: Junior forward Okako Adika
One potential source of relief could come from Okako Adika. At Odessa College, she averaged 11.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game en route to being named an NJCAA Division I First-Team All American. Junior College transfers can certainly play at the Division I level, and if Adika can provide that spark of energy for Butler, they will have a better chance to improve as an offense.
The Friars had a difficult season in the Big East last year, finishing eighth while recording just three conference wins, and I expect that their overall struggles may continue. To break out of their slump, they will need junior forward Mary Baskerville and junior guard Kaela Webb to continue their development. Webb has always been a deadly three-point shooter, to the tune of 40.8% from deep last season. Baskerville and Webb each constitute a threat from the inside and the outside, and the Friars will once again rely on this class to establish that connection.
Player to watch: Junior forward Mary Baskerville
Baskerville is capable of taking over a game on the defensive end, finishing atop the Big East with an average of 1.8 blocks per game. She is a tough inside scorer who can match up with any big the league has to offer, as demonstrated by her 24 point outburst against Marquette. With her size in the middle, she can will her way to the basket and protect the paint. If Providence is successful this season, Baskerville will easily be the biggest reason why.
Though the Musketeers return all five starters, they too had a difficult season last year, finishing 8th in the Big East in scoring offense and 9th in scoring defense. Aside from forward A’riana Gray, none of the Musketeers finished in the top 30 in scoring last season, and nobody else received a regular season Big East award. Perhaps there is some optimism with the return of Gray and senior guard Aaliyah Dunham, but this season figures to be an uphill climb for Xavier.
Player to watch: Senior forward A’riana Gray
What is it with Big East players in this space playing with a ton of energy and pulling down rebounds? That’s what A’riana Gray brings to the table. She led the Big East with 9.3 rebounds per game, in addition to her impressive 15.8 points per game. If she can dominate on a more consistent basis and secure a spot on an All-Big East team, that would be the best-case scenario for an offensively challenged Musketeers squad.
It pains me to say this, but the Hoyas are looking at another difficult season following last year’s 5-25 campaign. They lost five players as graduates or transfers, including the clear leaders of the team, guard Taylor Barnes and forward Brianna Jones. To fill that leadership void, the Hoyas will turn to a select few of their returners. Defensive stalwart forward Anita Kelava returns for her graduate season, tied for the most blocks (53) in the Big East last season. Highly touted sophomore forward Graceann Bennett will also have a fresh start after an injury cut her season short. If she can live up to her billing and step into a leadership role, Georgetown may be able to better navigate a treacherous season.
Player to watch: Junior forward Jillian Archer
Archer is a transfer whose arrival on the court has been highly anticipated. She is an energetic forward with good size who will be expected to rebound the ball and be another leader of the team as well. More importantly, she has high-major experience from her days at USC, and she will know the type of competition she is up against this season. Experience comes at a premium for this Georgetown team, and Archer can help the many newcomers and contribute right away.
All statistics courtesy of bigeast.com