It’s that time of year again — March. It’s like Christmas for college basketball fans, as the sport they love takes center stage and is televised all day. For the Big East, Friday is the start of the women’s conference tournament, an event as highly anticipated this year as any year in the past. It’s not completely open, as the UConn Huskies are still the top seed, but their two losses in-conference to the Big East’s fourth and fifth place squads add a different feel. With the short-staffed Huskies needing to win three games in three days, there are a number of teams who have a chance to take home the hardware. Who are those non-UConn teams? Let’s take a look.
Associate Sports Editor
A lot of people wrote the Red Storm off after they crashed following their improbable 13-0 start that saw them enter the AP Top 25. Most people had their suspicions that the Johnnies weren’t the real deal when they cut it close against so many mediocre opponents and they felt great when St. John’s lost three of four. Even though they’re just 9-7 since their torrid start, the Red Storm is still a talented team that really wants to win and prove themselves. The latest demonstration of this was in their away revenge win against UConn, showing that their ceiling is a lot higher than many initially thought. It’s easy to look at that outcome as an off game for the Huskies and a lucky break for the opportunistic Red Storm, but a win is a win. They’ll get the chance to win three games in as many days, already holding wins over two of the Big East’s top three teams. There’s no reason they can’t break through and get off the bubble with a massive weekend.
As much as I want to pick UConn to win the Big East Tournament title, there are some potential wild cards that could make a deep run. The Marquette Golden Eagles, one of two teams to beat the Huskies in conference play, have been one of the few units that can keep it close with just about anyone above them in the standings. It’s a three-headed attack on offense as Jordan King, Chloe Marotta and Liza Karlen all average double figures, but what makes Marquette so successful is how effective they are in shutting down their opponents. The Golden Eagles lead the conference in scoring defense as they allow 57.5 points per contest, but their bread and butter comes on the boards as they have averaged over 37 rebounds per contest during each of the last two seasons. Especially with the way that the Huskies have been playing throughout the month of February, do not be surprised if Marquette can steal a spot in the tournament with the automatic bid and burst another team’s bubble.
This season, the Villanova Wildcats have emerged to be a top-team in the country, currently sitting at No.11 in the national rankings. They finished off the regular season with a 26-5 overall record, tying with UConn. However, they finished Big East play with a 17-3 record, which is second in the conference behind UConn’s 18-2 record. One of the main reasons why Villanova can make a far run in the tournament is because of star Maddy Siegrist. Siegrist has been breaking records all season, being the Wildcat’s biggest weapon and a potential candidate for the National Player of the Year. With other offensive strengths with Lucy Olsen and Maddie Burk, it can be tough for other teams to stop their high-flying offense. It could be difficult for the Huskies to take down Villanova for a third straight time as both regular season matchups were tight. The Wildcats have been dominant on all sides of the court this season, putting up a solid case of why they could beat the odds and be champions of the Big East Tournament next week.
The Bluejays got off to a hot start winning seven in a row, and were ranked as high as 13th in the country in early December. However, they cooled off, losing four of their next five games and, at times, struggled to mount any significant offense. Despite the midseason blues, Creighton has still played the part of a top contender in the Big East, finishing with the third-best in-conference record of 15-5. Take their last matchup against the Huskies on the road as an example; Connecticut was the 14.5-point favorite, yet Creighton made it a fight. Despite losing 62-60, they made it come down to two free throws with under five seconds remaining. They even held the Huskies scoreless for the first five minutes in the second half, turning a 30-21 deficit into a 40-31 lead. Creighton can neutralize the best offenses in the country and find ways to win; Big East teams should be worried about playing this Bluejay team that is at the top of their game and has no stop in sight.