The Coleumn: Big East women’s basketball is competitive once again

11/14/2022 WBB vs. Texas by Sofia Sawchuk, Associate Photo Editor UConn women’s basketball defeats No. 3 Texas 83-76 at Gampel Pavilion on a chilly Monday night in Storrs, Conn, on Nov. 14, 2022. Preceding the matchup was the retirement of UConn women’s basketball legend Swin Cash’s number, No. 32. Cash won two national titles with the Huskies, and was also inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame a part of the 2022 class.

On Monday, Feb. 27, the No. 9 UConn women’s basketball team grabbed sole possession of their 22nd Big East regular season championship after beating the Xavier Musketeers and finishing with an 18-2 conference record. Despite everything they have experienced and their success, UConn had to put in the work to win the regular season crown outright, beating their conference opponents by 10 or less seven times. While this season marks the first time the Huskies lost two or more games in conference play since 2013, it also is the first instance in which they won the regular-season championship by less than three games since 2014. 

This is really the first time since at least the final years of their first Big East stint where the conference has been a battle for the Huskies. During those seasons, Connecticut regularly played close against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Louisville Cardinals and Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Close contests did not always end in victory for UConn, who lost to Notre Dame four times in the regular season between 2011-12 and 2012-13. But even in today’s Big East, playing close games against conference foes is a major improvement from the beatdowns the Huskies delivered to teams in the American Athletic Conference. 

During their seven-season stay in the American from 2013-2020, UConn did not lose a regular-season conference game, winning by less than 10 just twice while taking home seven conference tournament championships. Since returning to the Big East, the Huskies have lost three conference games by single digits, two of which were at the XL Center. Even though UConn won three national titles and went to the six straight Final Fours as a member of the AAC, the Big East will prepare them for increasingly tougher competition in March Madness while continuing their postseason success. 

In his bracketology released on Feb. 28, Charlie Creme has the Big East being a five-bid league, which would be one more than the number of teams who went dancing last year. The Big East has improved as a whole from last season to now, and that will strengthen the tournament resumes of multiple programs to the point where the conference could have six to seven representatives on an annual basis. Even then, several teams have the pieces to grab a March Madness bid this year and for at least the next few seasons. 

Villanova is ranked No. 11 in the most recent AP poll, which is tied for their highest ranking in program history. Maddy Siegrist is the conference’s all-time leading scorer in women’s basketball, and although she will most likely go to the WNBA after this season, head coach Denise Dillon has the pieces to have the Wildcats remain a top-tier program for years. Lucy Olsen may be a sophomore, but she has the qualities to be an effective scorer from all over the floor while Christina Dalce can shut opposing players down at the rim. 

One season removed from going to their first ever Elite Eight, the Creighton Bluejays were the only team not named for Connecticut to beat in conference play. Their core is made up of juniors, which gives the Bluejays at most two more years with this class before head coach Jim Flannery has to rely on another recruiting class to compete in the conference. If all of the cards fall in their favor, next season could be a special one for Creighton. 

The St. John’s Red Storm are one of two teams in the Big East Creme currently has on the March Madness bubble. It is more surprising how they are not already a lock to go dancing, especially since they walked into the XL Center and beat the Huskies by five last week. Even though this year’s Red Storm are a senior-heavy team, wins like that as well as their 13-0 start will only boost the team’s competitive reputation. 

The other Big East bubble team is the Marquette Golden Eagles, who beat UConn for the first time ever in early February. Marquette can play anyone tough as they lost to Villanova by just two at home and beat then No. 3 Texas in the Battle 4 Atlantis in November. The Golden Eagles stay close through their rebounding, and that is going to be their calling card as they consistently compete for one of the top spots in the standings. 

Over the past few years, the Seton Hall Pirates have been on the outside looking in when it comes to March Madness. While it is unlikely that the Pirates go dancing this year, they’ve produced a lot of high-scoring talent that will help them get there very soon. Lauren Park-Lane has been the team’s offensive mastermind for years, and even with a senior core, Seton Hall has players like Connecticut-native Shailyn Pinkney who can develop into a scoring machine next season. 

Head coach Doug Bruno and the DePaul Blue Demons may be having a down year, but they can never be counted out when Aneesah Morrow plays like an All-American. Outside of Morrow, the Blue Demons have several pieces who can both score points and attack the glass, which has helped the team compete for decades. As long as Bruno is in charge, DePaul will be an annual conference contender. 

Although people have talked about how UConn’s return to the Big East brought the men’s basketball team back to national relevance, head coach Geno Auriemma’s squad also benefitted from the move. Especially since there is no clear favorite to win the Big East Tournament, the competition that each team faces will get them ready for the battles in March Madness in this year and beyond. The Big East is competitive in women’s basketball once again, and regardless of what star power the Huskies put out on the court, the outcome of every game they play is no longer a given. 

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