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2016-17 Big East Women’s Basketball: Where Are We Now?

The double round-robin kicks off on Wednesday, so let’s see what everyone’s been doing.

Allazia Blockton
With the league lead in scoring, Allazia Blockton might be the favorite for Big East Player of the Year.
Facebook.com/MarquetteWBB

Before we get into what we’re doing here, this is going to serve as the preview for Marquette’s first two Big East games which will be played between now and Friday, so let’s get to the details for those two contests first......

Big East Game #1: at Villanova (4-6)

When: Wednesday, December 28, 2016, at 11am CT
Where: The Pavilion in Villanova, PA
Audio/Visual: Fox Sports Wisconsin has the TV broadcast, and it’ll be streamed on the Big East Digital Network on Fox Sports Go as well. Live stats will be here.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

Big East Game #2: at Georgetown (8-2)

When: Friday, December 30, 2016, at 1pm CT
Where: McDonough Arena in Washington, D.C.
Audio/Visual: Fox Sports Wisconsin has the TV broadcast, and it’ll be streamed on the Big East Digital Network on Fox Sports Go as well. Live stats will be here.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

As is our custom around these parts, we’re going to take a spin through the Big East to see what all of the women’s hoops teams have been up to so far this season. You’ll see each team’s record and their RPI rank as recorded on NCAA.com through the games of December 23rd. Below that is each team’s leader in points, rebounds, and assists, and if they’re ranked in the top 10 in the league in that stat, that’s in parenthesis there. Below that, we wrap up the quick hits with each team’s best win and worst loss at least in terms of the opponent’s RPI rank.

Onwards we go......

Butler (3-8, #224)

Points Leader: Tori Schickel, 13.6 ppg (#10)
Rebounds Leader: Tori Schickel, 9.7 rpg (#2)
Assists Leader: Michelle Weaver, 3.0 apg
Best Win: #144 Indiana State at home, 66-48
Worst Loss: #252 East Tennessee State at home, 68-59

Whether you want to look at their record, their RPI rank, their worst loss, their average scoring margin, or their average home attendance, Butler is the worst team in the Big East. They’re one of just two teams in the league with a sub-.500 record at this point, and there’s no dancing around that fact. We can point out that the ETSU loss was in their very first game of the season, and we can point out that the Indiana State win was in their second most recent game, so perhaps, even with a six game losing streak already, perhaps the Bulldogs are getting their legs underneath them a bit.

While we might be able to objectively point to Butler as the worst team in the league through non-conference play, it doesn’t mean that I don’t think that they’ll give Marquette fits. Tori Schickel is clearly a force inside to contend with and Marquette probably caught a break last year when she played just 20 minutes off the bench in the game at the McGuire Center. Schickel finished with 14 points and six rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting, and that’s something Marquette is going to have to contend with twice this year. The good news? For some reason, head coach Kurt Godlevske is letting freshman Kristin Spolyar take the most shots on the team.

Creighton (6-4, #83)

Points Leader: Audrey Faber, 13.8 ppg (#9)
Rebounds Leader: Brianna Rollerson, 7.6 rpg (#4)
Assists Leader: Marissa Janning, 3.9 apg (#7)
Best Win: #33 Drake at home, 80-77
Worst Loss: at #223 Wichita State, 62-54

When I published my preseason picks and ignored Marissa Janning and the Jays, I took a lot of flack from Creighton fans, and maybe it was slightly justified flack. After all, the Minnesota native does have a Big East Player of the Year trophy on her mantle already. She also broke her fibula after six games last season and wasn’t close to full speed in late January.

And now, after Creighton tied with DePaul as the preseason favorite to win the Big East, the Jays are 6-4 with a 1-3 record against RPI top 60 teams. There’s also that loss to a sub-200 Shockers team that followed up their win over the Big East preseason favorite by losing their next four games. Huzzah.

It’s a senior heavy team, with three players in their final year playing three of the four highest minutes averages and junior Sydney Lamberty gets the fourth spot. Even without Janning last year, this team advanced to the Big East title game before bowing out, so maybe they’re just reorganizing around her? They’ll be in the McGuire Center on January 2nd, so we’ll get an up close look to see what’s going on with the Jays.

DePaul (8-4, #19)

Points Leader: Jessica January, 16.1 ppg (#2)
Rebounds Leader: Jacqui Grant, 6.7 rpg (#8)
Assists Leader: Jessica January, 6.8 apg (#1)
Best Win: #45 Northwestern at home, 89-66
Worst Loss: at #56 Temple, 84-74

Yes, the Blue Demons have four losses. However, only one team in the league has a “better” worst loss than DePaul, and the other three aren’t anything to feel bad about: #1 UConn, #2 Notre Dame, and #32 Baylor. None of those three were particularly close, though, so while Doug Bruno’s team might be the favorite to win the Big East, they’re nowhere near the level of a national contender, either.

I keep saying that MU’s Allazia Blockton is a Big East Player of the Year contender, but as long as Jessica January keeps averaging two assists more than anyone else in the league and the Blue Demons stay atop the standings, the preseason POY is the postseason award favorite. It’s a near tradition at this point for Doug Bruno’s point guard to be one of the best players in the league, and there’s no signs that it’s going to stop this year.

The two games (maybe three?) this year between Marquette and DePaul should be ridiculous affairs. Both teams want to play up and down basketball, and they’re the top two scoring offenses in the league as a result, as well as the two best average margins of victory. It’s almost disappointing that the two squads will take a full cycle through the rest of the league before squaring off with each other.

Georgetown (8-2, #4)

Points Leader: Faith Woodard, 15.6 ppg (#3)
Rebounds Leader: Faith Woodard, 9.3 rpg (#3)
Assists Leader: DiDi Burton, 4.6 apg (#4)
Best Win: vs #37 Penn State on a neutral floor, 68-54
Worst Loss: at #15 Minnesota, 68-60

Is Georgetown good? They were picked to finish fifth in the Big East this season, and they’ve been on the rise under head coach Natasha Adair. Now they’re 8-2, and both losses came on the road to top 15 RPI teams. They’ve scheduled pretty tough, too, with their worst RPI game coming on the road and the second worst coming as part of a multi-team event. This Hoyas team might be for real, and we’ll get a good understanding of where they stand when they open with DePaul and Marquette at home.

Woodard is clearly going to be a force to be reckoned with this season, and it’s not like her supporting cast is a bunch of schmucks. Dorothy Adomako is neck-and-neck with her for the team scoring lead, and Dionna White isn’t far behind. They do have a potential weakness of liking the three-pointer a little more than they should (32% of their shots behind the arc, only connecting on 31%), but the Woodard/Adomako/White triumvirate need to be taken seriously when they let fly from long range.

There is one other thing to keep in mind about Georgetown. While they’ll be on a seven game winning streak when the Blue Demons come to McDonough Arena on Wednesday, it will have been 17 days since their last game. I don’t really know why Coach Adair let the team sit without a game for so long (the men’s team has played twice since then), but that long of a layoff before tangling with the two best teams in the league can’t be a good thing for them.

Marquette (9-2, #42)

Points Leader: Allazia Blockton, 17.4 ppg (#1)
Rebounds Leader: Erika Davenport, 9.8 rpg (#1)
Assists Leader: Natisha Hiedeman, 4.5 apg (#5)
Best Win: at #7 Oregon State, 74-73
Worst Loss: vs #87 Santa Clara on a neutral floor, 65-62

At least in terms of RPI, the Golden Eagles have two of the three best non-conference wins in the entire league. Obviously, the roadie against Oregon State is one, and the home W over #29 Arizona State is only beaten out by Xavier’s home win against Michigan.

MU’s loss to Santa Clara is clearly the red flag for the Golden Eagles this season. Their other loss is to a Green Bay team that’s on their way to their nine millionth straight Horizon League title, so whatever to that. But MU shot the ball atrociously against the Broncos and trailed by 10-plus for most of that game. They somehow nearly pulled off the W, but were ultimately in too much of a hole to find their way out. If the shots aren’t falling for Marquette - and for the most part, they’re shots at the rim - then things can get bad in a hurry for Carolyn Kieger’s squad.

Providence (8-3, #94)

Points Leader: Jovana “Yoyo” Nogic, 14.0 ppg (#8)
Rebounds Leader: Aliyah Miller, 6.8 rpg (#6)
Assists Leader: Sarah Beal, 3.3 apg
Best Win: at #154 Hartford, 77-65
Worst Loss: at #206 Brown, 77-70

I’m torn as to what to think about the Friars. On one hand, they already have more wins than they did all of last season, so shoutout to first year head coach Jim Crowley. On the other hand, Hartford is the best team in terms of RPI that they’ve played all season. That 8-3 record is a little gaudy as they’ve been feasting on cupcakes. On Zaphod Beeblebrox’s third hand, their last eight games have come away from home, although two of them were merely across town in Brown’s gym. There’s a lot of sub-200 RPI teams on this list, but there’s also a lot of trips to go play them in their sub-200 barns, so that’s not exactly easy, either.

The Friars were picked to finish last in the league for a reason. Crowley’s got them playing like a team that can sneak up and punch you in the face if you’re not paying attention, though. They’ve got four players averaging 10 or more points per game, and they all rebound and they all dish it. Watch out for the Friars if they get hot from long distance. They shoot 42% on threes as a team, and while they don’t shoot that many, they can bury you in a hurry if they’re hitting.

St. John’s (8-3, #75)

Points Leader: Jade Walker, 11.7 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Jade Walker, 5.0 rpg
Assists Leader: Aaliyah Lewis, 4.9 apg (T-2)
Best Win: vs #85 Virginia on a neutral floor, 66-55
Worst Loss: #65 Duquesne at home, 71-65

St. John’s is absolutely a basketball team that exists. They’re winning games that they should win and losing games that aren’t surprising that they lose. They don’t play particularly fast (67 possessions a game), and they don’t have anyone who particularly excels at anything to the point of being a star. I guess technically Lewis qualifies since she’s tied for second in the league in assists, but somehow I feel that this is an extension of having five players on the team that aren’t her averaging five points a game.

It’s probably a testament to head coach Joe Tartamella that the Red Storm doesn’t appear to be slipping this season after losing seniors and “they’re still in school” all-stars Danaejah Grant and Aliyyah Handford to graduation last year. Of course, this all makes sense, since Tartamella had been an assistant in Queens since 2005 before taking the top chair in 2012. Tartamella’s yet to miss out on the postseason as coach, but this year could be interesting with DePaul, Marquette, Creighton, and perhaps Georgetown and Seton Hall vying for spots as well.

Seton Hall (7-4, #165)

Points Leader: JaQuan Jackson, 17.1 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Lubirdia Gordon, 7.3 rpg
Assists Leader: Kaela Hilaire, 4.9 apg (T-2)
Best Win: #63 Wake Forest at home, 70-63
Worst Loss: at #216 Princeton, 94-67

Ok, so you’re probably looking at Jackson’s scoring average and Gordon’s rebounding average and trying to figure out how they’re not ranked. Fair question. Jackson and Gordon have only played in eight of Seton Hall’s games, which is only 73%. The league office requires you to be in 75% of your team’s games to be on the charts, so there’s the hold up. They’ve both played in at least the last five games, and playing in just one more game will push them over the line, so they’ll probably pop into the top six in each category after their league opener against St. John’s.

With all of that said, both Jackson and Gordon were in the starting lineup when the Pirates got blown out of the water by Princeton. The Tigers (who are only 5-6 on the season now) were white hot from the floor through the first three quarters and just blitzed SHU to end up with that lopsided victory. The most whacky thing about that bad loss is that Seton Hall turned around and beat a quality Wake Forest team at Walsh in their very next game.

I’m looking forward to Marquette’s two games against Seton Hall this season. Carolyn Kieger has never lost to Tony Bozzella in the McGuire Center, but she’s never beaten his teams outside of Milwaukee, either. If the Golden Eagles are aiming at the postseason, victories over the Pirates may be a requirement.

Villanova (4-6, #129)

Points Leader: Alex Louin, 13.1 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Megan Quinn, 5.8 rpg
Assists Leader: Alex Louin, 3.2 apg
Best Win: #146 Purdue on a neutral court, 58-44
Worst Loss: #167 VCU on a neutral court, 68-66

Three of Villanova’s losses are to high quality teams: Mississippi State, Temple, and Duke. Can’t fault them for top 60 losses. Those are also their three best opponents of the season, as everyone else is a sub-110 RPI squad. Even with taking that into account, it’s been a pretty challenging schedule, with just four home games.

It’s probably not a surprise that the Wildcats are struggling a bit following the departure of the Coyer twins, who had been a major part of three straight WNIT squads since The Reformation of the Big East. In terms of what she’s doing for her team, Louin is living up to her preseason all-Big East honors, but as you can see, it might be a little hard to say that when compared to the rest of the league. Adrianna Hahn also earned all-league honors, and she’s been.... fine. She’s not that far behind Louin for the team lead, and at just slightly under 40% shooting, she’s sixth in the league in three-point percentage. She performed well when pressed into service last season, but now, when expected to carry a load for the Wildcats, it doesn’t seem like she’s stepping into the void all that much.

I want to point out that Harry Perretta has been the head coach at Villanova for my entire life, and it’s the only job that he’s had since graduating from college. This isn’t a critique or a criticism of any kind. It just continues to fascinate me.

Xavier (8-3, #117)

Points Leader: Raeshaun Gaffney, 15.0 ppg (#5)
Rebounds Leader: Leah Schaefer, 6.7 rpg (#7)
Assists Leader: Marquia Turner, 4.3 apg (#6)
Best Win: #25 Michigan at home, 61-58
Worst Loss: #139 Southern Miss on a neutral floor, 73-59

The Musketeers are 3-3 against teams in the RPI top 200. Hooray for them for smashing the Delaware States and Arkansas-Pine Bluffs of the world, I suppose, but it’s not a particularly interesting non-conference schedule. With that said, they do have the second best win in the entire league in that W over Michigan. They shut down the high powered Wolverine offense and managed to rally late after giving away a six point lead with four minutes to play. It was Imani Partlow’s layup with 47 seconds left that gave XU the victory, and two more free throws iced it away.

With three different players registering as the team leader in the three categories above, that provides head coach (and Chris Mack clone) Brian Neal with some really solid roster balance. Neal took over the team in less than ideal circumstances, but has turned the Musketeers into a competitive team during their time in the Big East. If they can bottle what they did against the Wolverines this season, they will definitely out-perform their second to last place spot in the preseason poll of the league’s coaches. The interesting thing to watch will be how Neal uses his underclassmen. Gaffney and Schaefer are both seniors, and XU will need to fill those major roles going forward.