Remember when many predicted doom was imminent for the Big East Conference after seismic realignment gutted the league of a plethora of programs that were the foundation of the conference’s legacy in basketball? By now, you know that those grim predictions were as on-point as those predicting chaos on Y2K, with the Villanova men’s basketball team’s national championship this past April being the crowning achievement of the Big East 2.0. (Or might it be Big East 3.0 by now?)
What many failed to realize, especially for those who unfortunately don’t follow women’s basketball other than Connecticut, was that the same doom-and-gloom predictions could have easily been applied to Big East women’s basketball. Yes, Connecticut was gone, but Notre Dame, Rutgers and Louisville, other former Big East members who had made Final Fours while members of the league, were gone. Syracuse, last year’s national runner-up, could have been representing the Big East in Indianapolis. They were representing the ACC. If the prospects looked so dark on the men’s side, wouldn’t it have been even more opaque on the women’s side?
The men proved all of the naysayers wrong. So have the women. This season, the Big East looks to hit even more landmarks in terms of sending teams to the Big Dance.
With DePaul being the lynchpin, the Big East has received at least three bids into the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in two of the last three seasons, with the Blue Demons reaching the Sweet 16 in both 2014 and last season, where it defeated former Big East member Louisville on its home floor to make it to the Regionals. The past three seasons has seen an emerging power in Seton Hall, winners of the regular season conference title in 2015 who have reached two consecutive NCAA Tournaments. St. John’s, regulars at the top of the league standings, won the conference tournament title last season. Creighton, who reached the NCAA Tournament the season before joining the Big East Conference and defeated, you guessed it, a former Big East member in Syracuse in the first round in 2013, have almost all of their production back from last season. Speaking of returning production, Marquette, who had the youngest team in the country last season, returns 99 percent of its production from a team that finished 9-9 in conference in 2016. Like the Golden Eagles, the future looks bright in the Big East.
In this edition of Midnight Madness, we hear from at least one member of each of the 10 teams in the Big East Conference, with each of the interviews conducted during Big East Media Day last month. We hope you enjoy getting to know some of the movers and shakers in the league better. Stay tuned for the men’s edition of Midnight Madness involving the Big East Conference, to be released later on today. The interviews are listed in the order of how the teams each person represents were selected in the Big East Preseason Poll.
T-1. Marissa Janning (Creighton Blue Jays)
In the first year A Lot of Sports Talk covered Big East Media Day, Creighton guard Marissa Janning was one of our first guests, in 2013. Three years later, and three more interviews later, Marissa is ready to make her senior season count in Omaha.
Actually, this is her second go-round with making that happen, as last year’s season was cut short with a broken leg early in the season. After receiving her medical redshirt, Marissa leads a team that overcame a lot of inexperience on the floor without her to come within one win of making the NCAA Tournament after reaching the Big East Tournament Championship Game as the No. 7 seed. Here’s our interview with Marissa, as we talked about the hardest part about her recovery, her excitement level knowing that almost everyone from last season is back and what it means to be selected as the co-favorites in the Big East Conference to start the season (along with DePaul).
T-1. Jessica January (DePaul Blue Demons)
While Janning was the 2014 Big East Player of the Year, the person projected to win that award this season is getting ready to continue to lead her team that’s been the lead dog in the conference for a few years now.
Jessica January of the DePaul Blue Demons was named the 2016 Big East Preseason Player of the Year, and we got a chance to talk with her again before the start of the season. January saved her best play of the season for the NCAA Tournament, leading the Blue Demons to another Sweet 16 appearance, the fourth appearance in the Regionals for DePaul under longtime head coach Doug Bruno. January spoke about her play late in the year as well as her thoughts about the preseason accolades that she and her team received going into 2016-17.
3. Carolyn Kieger (Marquette Golden Eagles)
The youngest team in the nation last season was also one of the most exciting teams in the country, as Marquette averaged over 77 points per game even though their roster included eight freshmen. The Golden Eagles exceeded expectations last season, and what is now expected from them in 2017 is a return to the NCAA Tournament.
Once one the great players in the history of the program, head coach Carolyn Kieger goes into her third season coaching her alma mater, and she joined us to talk about expectations for this season, the difficult non-conference schedule they’ve put together for this season and what allowed the group of young women last year to flourish.
4. Adrianna Hahn (Villanova Wildcats)
If one thing is certain with the Villanova Wildcats, especially in the past few years, is that no matter what happens during the season, Harry Perretta’s squad will find itself right in the middle of the Big East Championship picture.
Villanova was on the fence in terms of making the NCAA Tournament late last season before star guard Caroline Coyer was lost for the season to injury (and ending her collegiate playing career in the process). In stepped then freshman Adrianna Hahn, who averaged 17 points per game in the last six games to keep the Wildcats on course for a postseason berth. Villanova has finished 12-6 in conference play each of the last three seasons, but has not made it to the NCAA Tournament since 2013. Hahn joined us and talked about her freshman season last season and how the team will be better going into the 2017 season.
5. Dionna White (Georgetown Hoyas)
If Marquette is the emerging power in the Big East Conference because of the potential on the roster, Georgetown probably isn’t too far behind them for those same reasons.
After winning only four games overall and going 2-16 in 2015 under then first-year head coach Natasha Adair, the Hoyas engineered the third-biggest turnaround in the country in 2016, winning 16 games and finishing 9-9 in conference play. Going into 2016-17, the Hoyas return four starters, including the runner-up in the Big East Freshman of the Year balloting, guard Dionna White, who averaged 14.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists last season. She stopped by for an interview about the Hoyas’ prospects going into this season and why the team engineered such a turnaround from a couple of years ago.
6. Aaliyah Lewis (St. John’s Red Storm)
Creighton and DePaul might be the teams picked to win the league, but don’t forget the team who’s currently holding the championship trophy…at least the conference tournament championship trophy.
The Red Storm reached the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in the last seven seasons after they won the Big East Women’s Basketball Tournament last season. St. John’s returns three starters, but the two starters they lost will be real hard to replace: Aliyyah Hanford, the school’s all-time leading scorer, and Danaejah Grant, last year’s Big East scoring champion and a First Team All-Big East selection. One of the players who is back in point guard Aaliyah Lewis, who saved her best game last season for the conference tournament championship game against Creighton. She joins us in breaking down the Red Storm for 2016-17.
7. Tony Bozzella (Seton Hall Pirates)
For the past three season, the Seton Hall Pirates have become the biggest threat to the DePaul Blue Demons at the top of the Big East. For that to remain the standard for the Pirates, they’re going to be asking a lot of their newcomers in 2016-17.
One of our favorite conversations going into every season is when we get a chance to talk with Pirates head coach Tony Bozzella, and he stopped by to preview this year’s team. One of the interesting things during the conversation was his frankness about the expectations for this team, as well as how he has to, in a way, coach this team differently than the ones he’s had in the past few years. Take a listen.
8. Sydney Buck (Butler Bulldogs)
If I ever get into one of the hallowed grounds of college basketball, I’ll have one of the Butler Bulldogs’ players to thank.
Guard Sydney Buck is the leader of Butler’s basketball team, and she joined us to talk about her streak of starting in every game in her college career so far. Also, she mentioned to us that there’s a chance that we could get on the floor and shoot around at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Honestly, that would be awesome!
9. Raeshaun Gaffney (Xavier Musketeers)
Three teams made the NCAA Tournament last season from the conference, but that number easily could have been four if Xavier had maintained their excellent early-season pace in the final month of the season. After a win on Feb. 7, the Musketeers were 17-6 and 8-4 in Big East play. However, the Musketeers lost their final seven games on the year, spoiling what could have been a special campaign in Cincinnati.
The Musketeers are picked ninth in the preseason, but can easily surprise pundits this year. One of the players back for another go-round is last season’s leading scorer on the team, Raeshaun Gaffney, and she joined us to talk about last season and what her team looks like going into the 2017 season.
10. Jim Crowley (Providence Friars)
There’s a new sheriff in town in the Ocean State.
After a long and successful run at St. Bonaventure, head coach Jim Crowley has taken over the helm of the women’s basketball team at Providence College. We sat down with Jim and talked about how he built a winner in Olean, what he has to do to build a winner in Providence and the similarities between the two schools.