“We’re not what they think we are. … The quality of play is only going to get better.”
That’s what University of Connecticut women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma said when asked about the Big East this season. UConn may have won the conference tournament, but this has been a talking point by several other conference foes when asked about their case for making the women’s March Madness.
According to ESPN’s NCAA women’s bracketology as of Tuesday), UConn is a No. 2 seed in the Bridgeport regional while Creighton is a No. 9 seed in the Spokane regional. Villanova is one of the first four out while DePaul and Marquette are both next four out. I would include all these teams if I were a part of the selection committee, but why exactly should they all make it in?
Villanova Wildcats (23-8, 15-4 Big East)
Villanova’s biggest reason is momentum. Since Big East Player of the Year Maddy Siegrist came back from injury, the Wildcats have gone 20-3. Those losses were a road loss to DePaul, a road loss to Seton Hall and a loss to UConn in the Big East Championship game Monday.
That’s right, they beat UConn in a Big East basketball game, the only team to do so in conference play in the last nine seasons. Anyone who beats the Huskies in conference play should automatically qualify for the tournament.
The biggest things going against them are their losses to Princeton and Maryland as well as their 30-point loss with everyone’s playing in question. However, leaving Siegrist off the bracket when Auriemma described her as a top 10 player in the country is an absolute disgrace. Include Most Improved Player Lior Garzon, Brianna Herhily and All-Freshman Team selection Lucy Olsen, and this team could handily defeat some of the other competition in the field of 68.
Creighton Blue Jays (20-9, 15-5 Big East)
The Blue Jays have the best shot to make the tournament. Their only weak spot was a road loss to Drake, but they have been consistent otherwise, splitting Marquette, DePaul and Villanova. This team’s biggest strength comes from their shooting, as they are 36.7% from beyond the arc and 46.6% from the field, second only to Marquette and UConn, respectively.
All-Big East First Team selection Emma Ronsiek (14.9 PPG), All-Big East Second Team selection Lauren Jensen and Morgan Maly have been their offensive contributors, and they will lead the Blue Jays to the second weekend.
“Creighton and ‘Nova deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament. Period,” DePaul head coach Doug Bruno commented when asked about the conference.
DePaul Blue Demons (22-10, 14-6 Big East)
“People with 16 and 17 and 18 wins get in and you’re sitting here on 22, you’d like to think that that should have been enough.”
When comparing his team’s tournament resume, Bruno referenced wins and a tough schedule. The Blue Demons lost six games in conference play, but have a quality win over the SEC champion Kentucky Wildcats. Like Siegrist with Villanova, Freshman of the Year Aneesah Morrow should be in the tournament. This team is more than Morrow (21.7 PPG and 13.8 RPG), as All-Big East First Team selection Sonya Morris, All-Big East Honorable Mention Deja Church and All-Big East Second Team selection Lexi Held have been just as productive and could cause offensive problems for weeks on end.
If I had to choose between the high-octane offenses of Villanova and DePaul to make the tournament, I would pick both because they both deserve it.
Marquette Golden Eagles (21-10, 13-7 Big East)
Head coach Megan Duffy and the Golden Eagles have the resume to lead this team back to their second consecutive March Madness. They run on an intimidating defense, where three players collect over five rebounds a game and the team averages 40.6. On the offensive side, Marquette is steadily improving, being the only team to score more than 50 points against UConn since they lost to Villanova, and dropped 105 points against DePaul.
This is also a last ride for All-Big East First Team selection Lauren Van Kleunen (13.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG) and Karissa McLaughlin; it would be disrespectful to leave them out of the tournament after all of their hard work.
“We’ve always been a well-balanced team. I hope the committee will give us the opportunity to make some noise,” Duffy remarked.
Seton Hall Pirates (19-12, 12-8 Big East)
“We have a damn good team and the lack of respect we get is disgusting.”
Head coach Anthony Bozzella’s expletive filled rant following the Villanova loss in the semifinals proved one thing, this team has a strong case. Seton Hall’s weakness is that they have double figure losses, but most of them against opponents more talented, if not, just as talented as them. However, they won 11 out of their last 12 games prior to the semifinals, including a comeback win against Creighton in the quarterfinals, beating DePaul on the road and Villanova at home.
All-Big East First Team selections Lauren Park-Lane (17.6 PPG), Sydney Cooks (15.5 PPG) and All-Big East Second Team selection Andra Espionza-Hunter have been their star players and are paving the way for this up-and-coming team. Despite losing Espionza-Hunter after this season, if they make the tournament, it would strengthen the program for the next decade.
As much as I want each of these teams participating in the tournament, my biggest concern is that only two or three from this list, including Creighton, are going to make it. Some will get screwed over by bid stealers in other conference tournaments while others won’t be given serious consideration by the selection committee.
When asked about the league, Big East Coach of the Year Denise Dillon said, “I think the Big East is a great league, it’s tough night in and night out and that will be recognized.”