1. Connecticut

Iconic Head Coach Geno Auriemma’s Huskies enter the season as national title contenders once again. After losing to Notre Dame in last season’s Final Four, UConn has reloaded with another top-ranked recruiting class. Three all-Big East players —  junior guard Bria Hartley, junior center StefanieDolson and sophomore forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis — should easily help the Huskies make up for the graduation of leading scorer Tiffany Hayes.

2. Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish return two starters, boast eight veterans and welcome a freshman class that has been rated as one of the nation’s best. Senior guard Skylar Diggins, who has been named Big East preseason MVP for a second consecutive year after coming off a 600-point junior season, will lead a core of experienced players that has already gone to the national championship. Expect the experienced Irish to be the Huskies’ most serious competition this year.

3. Louisville

The Cardinals finished last season ranked No. 16 in the national coaches’ poll but disappointed in the postseason by being ousted in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Louisville will hope to break through this season, and four returning starters give them hope to do so. First team all-Big East junior point guard Schoni Shimmel, who averaged 14.3 points and 4.7 assists per game last season, is the best of the returnees.

4. St. John’s

Although they were ranked seventh in last year’s Big East preseason poll, the Red Storm defied expectations by finishing second in the league. St. John’s followed those results with a Sweet 16 finish, and although it’s lost two seniors to graduation, the team could make a similar run this year. Key returners are senior guards Shenneika Smith and Nadirah McKenith, who are both preseason all-Big East. Look for Smith and McKenith to lead the dark horse Red Storm.

5. Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights have been exceptionally consistent under Head Coach C. Vivian Stringer. This season, Rutgers returns three starters from a team that was in and out of the top 10 last season. Although that squad has lost two of its players — point guard Khadijah Rushdan and forward April Sykes — Stringer struck gold with the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class, bringing in forward RachelHollivay and guard Kahleah Copper.

6. DePaul

DePaul’s current situation bears striking similarity to Georgetown’s a year ago. After a 23-11 finish last season, the Blue Demons can boast one major advantage going into the upcoming season: experience. Preseason all-Big East senior guard Anna Martin leads a squad that returns six players from 2011-2012, including four starters. With that in mind, DePaul has a good chance to improve on its second-round finish in last year’s NCAA tournament.

7. Syracuse

The Orange expect to improve on last season’s WNIT semifinal finish. Although leading scorer IasiaHemingway has graduated, Syracuse returns senior center Kayla Alexander, the main contributor to Syracuse’s finish atop the Big East in rebounds per game last season. Head Coach Quentin Hillsmanexpects to bolster his backcourt with a five-player recruiting class that ranked sixth in the nation. Big things are expected from freshman guard Brianna Butler, the nation’s No. 13 recruit.

8. Georgetown

9. South Florida

After making a run in last season’s WNIT, USF will hope to make the Big Dance this season. The Bulls are experienced, having lost only one starter to graduation in guard Jasmine Wynne. But Wynne was the team’s leading scorer at 15.4 points per game, and who will shoulder the load remains unclear. With an uninspiring recruiting class and no dominant scorer, it will be tough for South Florida to make much noise in the Big East, let alone on the national scene.

10. Villanova

Experience could be on the side of the Wildcats this season, as they return four starters from their 2011-12 campaign. Senior forward Laura Sweeney — who led her team in points, rebounds, steals and blocks last season — has been named preseason all-Big East Honorable Mention. The pressure is undoubtedly on Sweeney to live up to preseason billing and help her team build on last year’s WNITthird-round appearance. If not, it’ll be a down year in Philadelphia.

11. Marquette

Last season was the worst in more than a decade for the Golden Eagles, who finished below .500 for the first time since the 2000-2001 season. While Marquette returns all five of last year’s starters, the team failed to recruit any serious help from the ranks of high school stars. To be more successful, the reeling Golden Eagles must hope the two freshmen they did land, forward Katherine Plouffe and guard Brooklyn Pumroy are ready to contribute in a big way.

12. Cincinnati

The Bearcats have been on an upswing in recent seasons, finishing 16-16 last year — seven more wins than the previous season’s total. Cincinnati also won its first postseason game in 10 years, defeating Duquesne in the first round of the postseason WNIT. To keep the momentum going, theBearcats will have to count on redshirt junior guard Dayeesha Hollins, who averaged 14.8 points per game last year but also finished with a team-high 105 assists.

13. Seton Hall

The Pirates finished a disappointing 8-23 last year, winning just one Big East game. Seven new players will join the program, though, and Seton Hall’s turnaround hopes are pinned on them. Senior guard Brittany Morris, who started all 31 games and averaged 11 points per game, will lead the Pirates. Joining Morris in a leadership role is redshirt sophomore Ka-Deidre Simmons, who missed all of last season with an injury but was selected to the 2011 Big East all-freshmen team.

14. Pittsburgh

After a winless in-conference campaign 2011-12, the Panthers have nowhere to go but up. Pitt is resting its hopes on the development of freshman Marvadene Anderson, who, at 6-foot-11, is the world’s tallest teenage girl. With Anderson anchoring the middle and leading scorers Briana Keisel, a sophomore guard, and Ashlee Anderson, a redshirt junior guard, returning, the Panthers should be able to win at least one Big East game.

15. Providence

In addition to losing Head Coach Phil Seymore — who resigned at the end of last season — Providence lost key seniors Teya Wright, Rachel Barnes and Lola Wells. Although their outlook seems bleak, the Friars hope for development from senior point guard Symone Roberts. The Friars also have an interesting young prospect in freshman forward Evi Iiskola, a member of Finland’s national team.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*