December 5, 2022
The rising competitiveness of the BIG EAST
'I don't think people realize how good this league is'
PROVIDENCE — Providence women’s basketball coach Jim Crowley addressed the media after the Friars’ 25-point loss to Villanova on Sunday. He knew his team didn’t perform how it needed to secure a win over a talented Wildcats program sitting on the periphery of a Top 25 ranking with a 7-2 record.
“I don’t know if, nationally, the country realizes how good [the BIG EAST conference] is. I mean, there’s really, really good players; really, really good coaches … I don’t think people realize how good this league is or what a grind January and February is going to be,” Crowley told the press after the game.
On this particular Sunday in Providence’s Alumni Hall, Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist was Crowley’s BIG EAST headache of the day. The conference preseason Player of the Year lit up for 29 points against the Friars, which was pretty average for her. Siegrist averages 27.3 points a game per Her Hoop Stats, second in the nation only to Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and just ahead of BIG EAST peer Aneesah Morrow, who is putting up 26.9 points per contest.
Outside of Providence, other matchups around the BIG EAST showed just how deep and talented the conference is this season. Moving into the BIG EAST regular season schedule, fans should expect less stability at the top and more balanced play from top to bottom. Let’s take a look at how things shook out Sunday and how the results have impacted the national rankings of BIG EAST teams.
St. Johns takes down Creighton
Undefeated St. Johns maintained its unblemished record after taking down then-13-ranked Creighton for a resume win on Sunday. The Red Storm move to 8-0 for just the fourth time in program history and are 2-0 in conference play.
Led by redshirt senior guard Jayla Everett’s 20-point scoring performance, St. Johns came at the Bluejays with energy and intensity. Creighton pushed back on St. Johns to the very end, closing the gap to 61-59 with 1:27 remaining in the game. The Red Storm rallied at the end though, behind key free throws and a steal by Kadaja Bailey down the stretch to clinch the game, 66-62.
Today’s win was the highest ranked win the program has had since it defeated no. 8 Marquette on Feb. 15, 2019. https://t.co/ArPvqCvRal— St. John's WBB (@StJohnsWBB) December 4, 2022
“What a game. I’m really proud of our players and their ability to compete, especially today against a team that I think is really good,” said St. Johns head coach Joe Tartamella. “Creighton is very good … These guys [Jayla Everett and Kadaja Bailey] stepped up and made big plays time after time. I’m really pleased with how we played and finished. We set the tone in the first half, which gave us an ability to have some slippage, which we knew was going to come. They’re too good to be able to stop for 40 minutes. It’s a great win for these guys, and I’m happy for them.”
AP Poll implications: The St. John’s victory caught the attention of AP voters around the nation, as St. Johns is receiving votes (RV) in this week’s AP poll (week five), released Monday, for the first time all season. Meanwhile, Creighton falls five spots, from No. 13 to No. 18, in this week’s poll. Villanova, which was handily defeated by Creighton 67-46 on Friday evening, remains in the AP Poll at its week four position of No. 25.
Seton Hall knocks Marquette from Top 25
Seton Hall senior studs Lauren Park-Lane (31 points) and Sidney Cooks (23 points) led the Pirates to an 82-78 upset win over then-24-ranked Marquette on Sunday. Seton Hall (6-3) is now on a four-game winning streak and off to a 2-0 start in conference play. The Next was there and you can catch Howard Megdal’s analysis of the victory below:
Facing a three-point deficit at the start of the third quarter, Seton Hall took over the game with a 14-0 run to take an 11-point lead over the Golden Eagles. The Pirates were up 56-49 headed into the final quarter and would lead the rest of the way to secure the victory.
Marquette was led by senior Chloe Marotta, who contributed a double-double with 30 points and 12 rebounds, including shooting a perfect 12-12 from the charity stripe. It wasn’t enough, though and with the loss, Marquette dropped to 7-2 (1-1, BIG EAST) on the season.
Marquette head coach Megan Duffy believes that the return of a nationally-prominent program like Connecticut to the conference in 2020 pressured all BIG EAST teams to elevate their level of play.
“I think the last couple years, especially since Connecticut came in the league, we always had a goal that we thought we could make our conference stronger, top to bottom … And I think the BIG EAST is stronger than it ever has been,” Duffy told The Next. “I think we got star power in the league. We got great coaches; we got some stability with just, you know, our top teams continuing to put out a great product. And I think now we’re starting to see just a little bit more depth with that national recognition, which is great.”
AP Poll Implications: Seton Hall is receiving one vote towards the AP poll this week, its first vote towards the AP poll of the season. With the loss, Marquette drops out of the Top 25 but is still receiving votes towards the poll.
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It’s fitting that on a day of upsets and chaos in the BIG EAST, the then-unbeaten UConn Huskies would be defeated by former conference rival Notre Dame.
The Connecticut Huskies have been the top dog in the BIG EAST for several decades. As members of the “old” BIG EAST from 1982 to 2013, UConn won 37 conference titles (19 regular seasons, 18 tournaments). The Huskies have snagged two more regular season and conference titles each since they returned to the conference in the 2020-21 season after a stint in the American Athletic Conference.
While UConn holds a 38-14 overall advantage over the Irish all-time, Notre Dame holds a 5-3 edge over the Huskies in Final Four or championship match-ups. The last time the teams faced off in a conference game, Notre Dame secured its first BIG EAST tournament title with a thrilling 61-59 over UConn in the 2013 conference tournament final. The following season, both teams departed the conference for the ACC (Notre Dame) and American Athletic Conference (UConn). Sunday’s Notre Dame victory marks the first Irish victory in the rivalry since the 2019 Final Four and the first in South Bend since 2013.
Notre Dame propelled itself to a 41-24 lead at halftime behind 65.4 percent shooting. UConn sharpshooter sophomore Azzi Fudd went down after a teammate collided with her knee late in the first quarter. Though she returned some minutes later in the half, she wasn’t moving well. The Connecticut coaching staff decided to hold her out of the game as a precautionary measure.
“I think she’ll be alright,” Auriemma said about Fudd. “It was just one of those things that things happen and your own man falls on top of you. So she tried to go again, but obviously, it didn’t look like she could move. So rather than rather than take any chances, I figured we’d take some precautions instead.”
Despite cutting the Irish lead to five late in the third, UConn couldn’t find its offensive rhythm all night. The Huskies collapsed on the defensive end late in the game as well and were outscored 25-16 over the last quarter and a half of the contest. Then No. 7 Notre Dame would eventually pull up the upset, defeating then No. 3 UConn 74-60.
AP Poll Implications: After two weeks at the No. 3 spot in the poll, UConn drops three spots to No. 6. Notre Dame jumps just above UConn to No. 5, up two spots from last week’s poll.
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It’s just getting started
All 11 BIG EAST teams played this past weekend for the first time all season. And BIG EAST fans, it was not at all boring! You can expect physical play, skillful coaching, lights-out shooting and fierce competitiveness from the BIG EAST this season.
With six teams either in the AP Top 25 or receiving votes toward the poll, the nation is beginning to recognize and respect the talent that the conference holds. There is so much depth from the top to bottom of the conference and stars like Maddy Siegrist, Aneesah Morrow, Azzi Fudd and Lauren Park-Lane are forcing their way into the national conversation.
As this iteration of the BIG EAST conference continues to gel, rivalries are taking shape, players are developing, schools are investing in their programs and elite basketball is being played.
Written by Tee Baker
Tee is a women's basketball reporter and historian. At "The Next" Tee covers the BIG EAST conference and contributes articles and media featuring the WBL, the first professional women's basketball league in the United States.