November 20, 2020 

BIG EAST 2020-21 preview

The return of UConn makes for an even more top-heavy conference

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Paige Bueckers. (Photo courtesy of UConn Athletics)

The BIG story for the last two BIG EAST Media Days has been the return of UConn. The only story bigger than UConn is the impact of coronavirus on the 2020-21 season. Commissioner Val Ackerman address both topics rather heavily during BIG EAST media day last month.

However, don’t be fooled. There are plenty of other stories coming from the best basketball conference that ever was until football caused nonsensical realignments. With UConn back and Mohegan Sun Arena locked in to host the conference tournament for the next three years, there is much to celebrate.

Yet not all BIG EAST teams a suited to immediately keep up with the likes of DePaul, Marquette, and the return of UConn. The conference had five of its ten teams (so half of the field in 2019-20) tied for third place. Co-champions and ties in the standings have become commonplace in the BIG EAST. With UConn returning, the conference will likely have a clear top three and bottom 2-3 teams. Everything else is likely to bloat somewhere in the middle.

Over time, it will be interesting to see if certain programs are more successful at signing recruits to help the Xavier’s, Creighton’s, and Seton Hall’s of the BIG EAST separate themselves from the field. Time will tell!

In the meantime, here’s all you need to know about the BIG EAST Conference.

The Schedule

Next month, the BIG EAST will return to action December 4 with a 22-game slate. The remaining schedule is expected to begin December 30 and will be announced at a later date.  

“Our plan at this point is to hold off a bit longer and announce the second part of our conference schedule. So that we can continue to assess the world landscape and determine the best scheduling format which will in turn hinge on the status of the Coronavirus and related factors,” said commissioner Val Ackerman.

#BETheChange – Racial & Social Justice Initiatives

In addition to working through COVID-19 concerns, the BIG EAST is also doing its part to continue the national conversation about racial and social justice moving. In July, the Ackerman announced the #BETheChange initiative aimed to “to engage on a wide range of contemporary racial and social justice issues.” The initiative came from a conference office working group and will be the front facing initiative for the BIG EAST. Ackerman is focused on hiring, education, awareness, and action as she mentioned on the RISE podcast in August.

Last month, longtime BIG EAST associate commissioner Tracey Ellis-Ward was named Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer for the entire BIG EAST Conference.

The conference has partnered with RISE, has named a new award after the late Georgetown head coach John Thompson Jr., and will wear Black Lives Matter patches on all team jerseys starting this season.

Other Social Justice initiatives in the BIG EAST

Preseason Poll

1 Connecticut

The Huskies are coming off a 16-0 (29-3 overall) run in their final season of American Athletic Conference play. Their 7th AAC conference championships are the most consecutive conference wins since Auriemma led UConn to the last of its nine consecutive BIG EAST Conference titles in 2003. The Huskies won five straight titles from 2008-2012 before joining the AAC in 2013.

In addition to being selected first among coaches in the preseason poll, UConn swept the individual preseason honors as well. Crystyn Williams was named BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year and Paige Bueckers scooped up Freshman of the Year.

In true Auriemma fashion, Geno isn’t allowing his players or the media to buy the hype.

“I don’t even know why we have a preseason Freshman of the Year. It’s pointless. I thought we did away with this stuff … We used to have like a preseason All Freshmen team, where you actually had to vote for five guys who you’ve never seen play a college game … By the end of the year, half of those guys didn’t even play. So, you know, I don’t even know, your let me put my hand over – I don’t even know why we have Paige on this call”

Juniors Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Evina Westbrook were named to the Preseason All-BIG EAST Preseason Team.

2 DePaul

DePaul is coming off a 15-3 conference record (28-5 overall) en route to a sixth regular-season championship in the last seven years. Doug Bruno led his team to a third consecutive BIG EAST Tournament title and a 18th consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament. Of course, COVID-19 cancelled the 2020 Tournament.

The Blue Demons are a solid team and often crack the Top 20 nationally ranked programs in the country. Bruno and the Blue Demons are a program that will definitely benefit from UConn coming back home to the BIG EAST. Expect to see them in the running for yet another conference title in 2021.

Guards Lexi Held and Sonya Morris were named to the Preseason All-BIG EAST Preseason Team. Morris was one of five unanimous selections.

3 Marquette

Under new head coach Megan Duffy, Marquette was projected to finish 9th in the 2019-20 Preseason Poll. The Golden Eagles shocked the field and posted a 13-5 record in BIG EAST play (24-8 overall) and advancing to its fourth consecutive conference tournament final. Duffy earned BIG EAST Coach of the Year in her first season.

Marquette started getting lots of attention under former head coach and alumna Carolyn Kieger (now at Penn State). Her roster was boosted by current Connecticut Sun guard Natishia Hiedeman. Under Kieger, Marquette did well to fight up a weight class, first in the BIG EAST and then on the national stage.

Duffy is hoping to continue to elevate Marquette WBB and all signs say she and her staff with be successful. Senior guard Selena Lott is the lone representative for Marquette on the All-BIG EAST Preseason Team.

4 St. John’s

St. John’s finished 11-7 in conference play (19-12 overall) and made its first trip to the BIG EAST Tournament Semifinals since 2017. They were one of the five teams that broke the third place prize Mean Girls-style last season.

St. John’s guards Leilani Correa and Qadashah Hoppie represent the Big Red on the All-BIG EAST Preseason Team. Hoppie was one of the five unanimous selections for the 2020-21 season.

5 Creighton

Creighton was another team that scooped up a piece of the 5-way tie last season. The Bluejays will be without the services of Jaylyn Agnew, who became the first CU player drafted into the WNBA (Atlanta Dream).

Jim Flanery has always found ways to push his program and it will be interesting to see who he taps to lead the Jays this season. Senior guard Temi Carda is the obvious choice, or at least the BIG EAST coaches think so. Carda represents the Jays on the 2020-21 All BIG EAST Preseason Team.

6 Seton Hall

Seton Hall mirrored St. John’s with a 19-12 overall mark and 11-7 BIG EAST finish, advancing to the BIG EAST Tournament Semifinals for the first time since 2016 before being edged by eventual champion DePaul.

Desiree Elmore was a unanimous selection to the All-BIG EAST Preseason Team.

7 Villanova

After 42 years at Nova, Harry Perretta has stepped aside and alumna Denise Dillon has taken the reins. VU finished with a 11-7 record in BIG EAST behind freshman Maddy Siegrist. Maddy was one of five unanimous selections to the All-BIG EAST Preseason Team.

Nova has been working to get out of the middle of the BIG EAST pack for several years now. With one more team, UConn, now presumed to join DePaul and Marquette at the top of the table, teams like Villanova will have to work even harder to stand out and keep up.

8 Butler

In 2019-20, Butler once again exceeded expectations, finishing in the five-way tie for third place at 11-7 after being picked seventh in the preseason poll. The Bulldogs, who went 19-11 overall, will look to excel once again this year.

9 Xavier

Xavier won only two BIG EAST conference games and three games overall last season. Its roster is one of the most veteran ones returning to the BIG EAST, but will it be enough to take on BIG EAST titan DePaul, Marquette, and now UConn? Forward A’riana Gray was selected by the BIG EAST coaches to the All BIG EAST Preseason Team.

10 Providence

Providence won nine non-conference games to start last season, but struggled in BIG EAST play. Despite their 3-15 conference record, they did advance to the second round of the BIG EAST Tournament. The Friars fell to eventual champion DePaul.

Needless to say, Providence needs to focus on creating more balance between their non-conference and BIG EAST performances.

11 Georgetown

It’s going to be another uphill battle for the Georgetown Hoyas. Although they return seven letter winners, Anita Kelava is the only returning starter. Coach Howard has been with the program for five seasons, including two as an assistant. In his third season as head coach, The BIG EAST got a lot tougher, with UConn joining DePaul and Marquette at the top of the table. The Hoyas need to figure out a way to climb the conference standings.

One things I will say is Georgetown WBB is a MUST FOLLOW on social media. They really lean into unique #content coming from their athletes and even have a killer Social Justice playlist. Music is the healing balm for all movements!

Written by Erica L. Ayala

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