New Big East gives other women’s teams a chance

With the New Year, a new chance for Big East teams to win the

conference title without Connecticut.

There’s a feeling of hopefulness among the 10 coaches in the

newly configured Big East as conference play gets underway.

In the previous 25 years, only three current members have won

the Big East tournament – the last coming in 2003 when Villanova

upset Connecticut. It’s been 17 years since one of them won the

regular season championship.

”There is no question this league is wide open,” DePaul coach

Doug Bruno said. ”Anyone from 1 to 10 can win this league. I was

never bothered by the fact that the old setup put you in a position

that you were fighting for third or fourth. Third or fourth in the

Big East was a Final Four level team. In the present Big East,

everyone can win it.”

Bruno’s Blue Demons, the preseason favorite to win the

conference, begin Big East play Wednesday when they host Xavier.

St. John’s and Seton Hall, two of the founding members of the

conference, opened up the ”new” league Saturday.

The teams put on a fun, competitive game in front of a spirited

crowd with the Red Storm holding on for a 72-63 win. In the past,

one loss to anyone other than Connecticut or Notre Dame would doom

any chance of a title. Now the winner of the conference might have

a few losses.

”All of us know that anyone can win it,” St. John’s coach Joe

Tartamella said. ”We want to be the benchmark similar to the

dynasties of the past. One thing I know is that you got to show up

every game and you can’t take a night off.”

New Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella is no stranger to having one

team dominate a conference. He came from the MAAC, where Marist has

controlled the league for years. When he arrived at Seton Hall last

spring to replace Anne Donovan, he knew the Pirates had a chance to

be competitive despite finishing near the bottom of the league the

past few seasons.

”I knew this program had a chance to be a contender for a

league championship pretty quickly,” he said. ”This conference

definitely is one that will be won with a few losses. You just need

to take care of your home court and steal a few on the road to have

a chance.”

While the new configuration gives everyone shot, it also has

some downfalls. For years the Big East was the pinnacle of women’s

basketball, capped by last season’s NCAA championship game that

featured Connecticut and Louisville.

Finishing .500 in the Big East of old would almost guarantee a

spot in the NCAA tournament. Now teams likely will have to finish

near the top to earn a bid. The conference RPI hasn’t taken a huge

drop yet – it’s still among the top seven or eight in the

country.

Wins over Top 25 teams also have been hard to come by. The

conference is 0-9 against ranked opponents in the non-conference

schedule. This would be the first time in the past 20 years that a

member school didn’t have a win over a ranked opponent, according

to STATS.

DePaul did play Kentucky close and Marquette gave a scare to

Duke. Still, the Red Storm have the best non-conference win with a

thrilling, last-second victory over Texas A&M in the Maggie

Dixon Classic on Dec. 22 at Madison Square Garden.

The preseason poll marked the first time since Feb. 23, 1993,

that no Big East team was in the Top 25. That’s a far cry from Feb.

20, 2012, when the conference had seven teams among the nation’s

Top 25.

”Give it time,” Tartamella said. ”While it may not be what it

once was, we’ll be OK.”

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