Published Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 10:52 am
Some in Big East have new outlook minus old powers
Big East preseason poll
1. DePaul (8), 79
2. Creighton (2), 67
3. St. John's, 62
4. Villanova, 56
5. Marquette, 55
6. Georgetown, 36
7. Butler, 31
8. Providence, 25
9. Xavier, 20
10. Seton Hall, 19

Preseason player of the year: Brittany Hrynko, DePaul
Preseason rookie of the year: Shayla Cooper, Georgetown
Preseason all-conference: Daress McClung, Butler; Marissa Janning, Creighton; Sarah Nelson, Creighton; Jasmine Penny, DePaul; Andrea White, Georgetown; Katherine Plouffe, Marquette; Tori Rule, Providence; Aliyyah Handford, St. John's; Ka-Deidre Simmons, Seton Hall; Caroline Coyer, Villanova.
Preseason honorable mention: Arlesia Morse, Marquette; Ashley Wanninger, Xavier; Eugenia McPherson, St. John's.

NEW YORK — The message rang a bit hollow at Wednesday's Big East women's basketball media day.

It started with Commissioner Val Ackerman and was echoed by several coaches in their opening remarks to reporters: Though the league lost perennial powers Connecticut and Notre Dame, as well as 2013 national runner-up Louisville, the new 10-team league has a chance to move toward greater heights.

Creighton coach Jim Flanery never had to compete against UConn in the old Big East, though his team did lose a couple of lopsided games to Notre Dame in recent seasons. And he wasn't buying any of the addition-by-subtraction themes being championed by some of his peers.

“We're very excited to be a part of this new league,” Flanery said, “but it's going to be what it is.”

What the new Big East should be is a league that has a chance to place multiple teams in the NCAA tournament, and the seven holdover schools could be energized by no longer having to knock heads with Connecticut and Notre Dame.

Villanova coach Harry Perretta, who was around when the original Big East was formed in 1979, said his players have embraced the latter concept.

“Our kids were very excited about this league,” said Perretta, whose team was picked fourth in the coaches' preseason poll. “They're not dumb. They know that with some teams that left that no matter how well they played we just couldn't beat them on a given night.

“Now they know that if they play well they have a chance to win the league, either in the regular season or the Big East tournament. It changes their mentality. It's difficult to get kids up for games when they know that even if they play the best they can, they still couldn't win.”

DePaul's Doug Bruno, whose team was picked to win the league, disagreed with his long-time coaching rival that the departure of Connecticut and Notre Dame should be cause for celebration.

Bruno has taken his teams to 11 straight NCAA tournaments. Part of the process of getting the Blue Demons to that level, Bruno said, was in setting realistic goals.

“We always wanted to finish in the top four,” said Bruno, starting his 29th season at DePaul. “We got there a couple of times in recent years, but the thing I never sensed with any of our players was defeatism.

“I was never bothered by the strength of UConn. What people can't grasp is how good UConn is. They had seven pros on their team last year. No other team in the country had seven pros.”

Bruno said not having to face that kind of talent won't change his mindset, nor should it alter his players' approach.

“I loved the league for what it was, and I love it for what it is,” Bruno said. “The real strength of the old league was (teams) two through 16. Now, it's going to be (teams) one through 10. We know that we're going to have a hard game every night in the new league.

“I just think this provides all of us with an opportunity to demonstrate our competitiveness.”

Bruno's team received eight of the 10 first-place votes in the coaches balloting and had 79 points. Creighton picked up the other two first-place votes and totaled 67 points.

“Being picked second indicates that there is a respect toward our program and what we've done,” Flanery said. “I think our players understand and we'll tell them that it doesn't mean anything other than we do have a lot of experience returning.

“The thought they need to be guided by is that the league is going to be tougher from top to bottom and the travel is going to make it tough to win road games. Maybe we are one of the best teams, but our margin for error probably is less than it's ever been within a conference.”

For the seven holdover schools, the margin for winning a championship has never been greater in the past two decades.

“I can remember when UConn wasn't the UConn it is today,” Perretta said. “We were 2-17 against them the past 10 years. Now, we know that if we play well, we might be the team that can win a championship two out of three years. That wasn't possible in recent years.

“It's like everyone is in the same boat now. We have similar academics, we have similar resources in terms of facilities and budgets. We all now have a fighting chance, and that's a big thing.”

Contact the writer: Steven Pivovar    |   402-679-2298    |  

Steven Pivovar is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and primarily covers Creighton athletics and the College World Series.

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