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2017-18 Big East Women’s Basketball: Where Are We Now?

Let’s take a quick spin around the league to see what everyone has been doing.

NCAA Basketball: Sacred Heart at St. John Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Can you believe that Big East play begins for women’s basketball on Thursday? It’s coming up quick!

As such, it’s time to take a spin around the league and see what everyone has been up to so far this season. There’s been some good wins, there’s been some great wins, and... y’know what, let’s not talk about bad losses.

For each team, we’ll give you a little stat blurb, including their overall record, their current rank in the RPI, and their efficiency margin according to HerHoopStats.com. To be clear: That’s their straight up difference between points per 100 possessions on offense and defense, and not the adjusted margin that you get on KenPom. Close enough, though. We’ll also highlight their scoring, rebounding, and assists leader, and where appropriate, mark where they rank in the top 10 in the Big East. The blurbs wrap up with each team’s best win and worst loss of the season in terms of the RPI rank of the opponent.

We’ll also chat about each team along the way to one degree or another, but I don’t think that you really need that part explained to you all that much.

Butler Bulldogs (8-4)

RPI: #51
HerHoopStats Efficiency Margin Rank: #138 (+6.0)
Points Leader: Whitney Jennings, 18.7 ppg (3rd)
Rebounds Leader: Tori Schickel, 10.7 rpg (3rd)
Assists Leader: Whitney Jennings, 3.6 apg (9th)
Best Win: vs #40 Virginia Tech on a neutral floor, 79-77
Worst Loss: vs #58 Drexel on a neutral floor, 76-62

.... Is Butler good? The Bulldogs have been hovering around being a .500 team for most of this decade and are coming off a season where they went 10-21 and 4-14 in league play. However, they had no seniors last year, and stellar freshman Kristen Spolyar was lost to injury after just 12 games. Now they’re winning games, although they are just 1-4 against top 60 opponents. That’s not a terrible mark, especially when that accounts for all of their losses.

They’re also not as dependent on Tori Schickel as they were last season. The Indiana native accounted for a full 20% of Butler’s shots a year ago, and she was their only rebounder of real importance. This season, she’s not even leading the team in shots, and while she’s still averaging a double-double, grad transfer Iman Lathan and sophomore Shae Brey are grabbing at least four rebounds per game. Their biggest change from last season is the addition of Whitney Jennings to the active roster. She transferred from Iowa after two seasons, and the Indiana native is leading BU in both points and assists while knocking down 37% of her team high 86 three-point attempts. This is a real team that can catch you off guard if you’re not prepared to play them.

Creighton Bluejays (6-4)

RPI: #47
HerHoopStats Efficiency Margin Rank: #133 (+6.4)
Points Leader: Audrey Faber, 18.9 ppg (2nd)
Rebounds Leader: Jaylyn Agnew, 6.4 rpg (10th)
Assists Leader: Sydney Lamberty, 5.6 apg (2nd)
Best Win: vs #35 South Dakota State, 72-65
Worst Loss: at #155 South Dakota, 73-68

Creighton is one of the many painfully slow teams in the Big East, but you have to take them seriously due to their efficiency. Via Her Hoop Stats, the Jays are scoring nearly 107 points per 100 possessions, which puts them at #41 in the country. How do they get there? Three-point shooting. 39.7% of their longballs drop, good enough for the 14th best mark in the country.

That long range excellence runs primarily through the two Bluejays mentioned in the stat blurb at the top: Audrey Faber and Jaylyn Agnew. Those two have combined for 138 of Creighton’s 267 three-point attempts this season, and they’re both splashing more than 45% of their tries. They must be defended out there at all costs.

While the Jays might be ruthlessly efficient on offense, they are prone to screwups. No one’s going to blame them for their losses to UCLA and Florida State this season, since both were in the top 15 in the country at the time of the games. The loss at South Dakota and against Washington on a neutral floor? Kind of a problem if Creighton sees themselves as a postseason team, even if both games came away from Omaha. The connection between both games? Creighton’s offense just didn’t do enough to win.

DePaul Blue Demons (8-4)

RPI: #54
HerHoopStats Efficiency Margin Rank: #100 (+10.9)
Points Leader: Ashton Millender, 14.1 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Kelly Campbell, 6.5 rpg (9th)
Assists Leader: Kelly Campbell, 5.5 apg (3rd)
Best Win: vs #37 Oklahoma, 111-108 (OT)
Worst Loss: vs #60 Northern Colorado, 94-88

We have to offer a mild disclaimer on the loss to Northern Colorado. That was DePaul’s first game of the season, and while clanking a game at home in your opener is never a great plan, their other losses are to a top 40 RPI team on a neutral floor, Connecticut, and at Notre Dame.

In other words, the Blue Demons are, as always, primed to make a run at a Big East title again this season.

They’re doing it with a little bit of a different cast than they had a year ago. Gone are Brooke Schulte, Jessica January, and Jacqui Grant, three of Doug Bruno’s double-digit scorers last year. Ashton Millender is healthy after having her 2016-17 season ended by injury after nine games, and Amarah Coleman is fitting into place as well. While the top of the stat sheet names are different, they’re not new to DePaul. Mart’e Grays missed last season with an injury, while Chante Stonewall, Kelly Campbell, and Tanita Allen all saw decent minutes last year.

DePaul likes to play as fast as Marquette does, and to make things worse in terms of the Golden Eagles defending them, the Blue Demons shoot a bajillion threes. 49% of their shots this season have come from behind the arc, which is just an absurd level of artillery, and they have four players with over 30 attempts and a shooting percentage over 37%.

Georgetown Hoyas (5-5)

RPI: #175
HerHoopStats Efficiency Margin Rank: #149 (+5.2)
Points Leader: Dionna White, 17.6 ppg (5th)
Rebounds Leader: Cynthia Petke, 10.8 rpg (2nd)
Assists Leader: DiDi Burton, 4.1 apg (T-6th)
Best Win: vs #151 Northwestern on a neutral floor, 55-54
Worst Loss: vs #126 Auburn on a neutral floor, 60-40

Five top 130 opponents, five losses for James Howard in his first season as Hoyas head coach. That’s a problem, especially given that Howard has been an assistant for the Hoyas for the two previous seasons. He was given the job in June when Natasha Adair left for Delaware, most likely to attempt continue the continuity of the team given the circus around Adair’s hiring in spring of 2014. This is a team that, to some extent, Howard recruited but he doesn’t seem to be able to rally the troops.

Here’s a weird one: Georgetown is one of the slower teams in the country, which seems like an odd choice given their atrocious shooting. They shoot just 36% overall, and have an effective field goal percentage of just 41%, ranking #287 in the country. Usually you see incredibly accurate teams trying to slow the game down to minimize their flaws elsewhere on the floor, but the Hoyas can’t hit the broad side of a barn and are maximizing that flaw by going as slow as they can.

All of this may just be a side effect of Dorothy Adomako not playing a single minute due to a season ending injury. The Virginia native has been a consistent contributor since her freshman year, averaging 14 points, six rebounds, and a bit more than an assist per game.

Marquette Golden Eagles (6-5)

RPI: #36
HerHoopStats Efficiency Margin Rank: #57 (+17.2)
Points Leader: Allazia Blockton, 18.4 ppg (4th)
Rebounds Leader: Erika Davenport, 7.5 rpg (4th)
Assists Leader: Amani Wilborn, 4.4 apg (4th)
Best Win: at #108 Milwaukee, 83-68
Worst Loss: at #46 Michigan, 82-76

I could say a lot of things here about the Golden Eagles, but I think it was almost all said very well in Besay’s midseason review. Go check it out. Remember this: Marquette’s losses are all to top 50 RPI teams, and four of them are to top 16 RPI teams.

Providence Friars (7-5)

RPI: #128
HerHoopStats Efficiency Margin Rank: #148 (+5.2)
Points Leader: Jovana Nogic, 19.3 ppg (1st)
Rebounds Leader: Maddie Jolin, 4.8 rpg
Assists Leader: Jovana Nogic, 2.9 apg
Best Win: vs #69 Wright State on a neutral floor, 74-69
Worst Loss: at #227 Sacred Heart, 78-75

I think we’d all look at the Friars a little differently if it weren’t for their recent loss at Sacred Heart. Gutted out an OT win at Northeastern, narrow loss at Penn State, and quality wins away from home against Wright State and Yale. That’s a pretty decent assemblage of a non-con schedule.... except Jim Crowley’s squad got clipped by the Pioneers. Credit must be paid to their resolve, as they trailed by 14 (!) late in the first quarter of that game, and they ended up with a one point lead with 1:38 to play.

But they still lost the game. Even if it was a close win, you could say “hey, they gutted out the W, good for them.” Nope. Loss. That’s a big difference between 8-4 and 7-5.

I think it’s pretty wild that one of 20 slowest teams in the country is still sporting the most prolific scorer in the Big East. Part of this is that Jovana Nogic is dominating the Friars’ offense with nearly 29% of their overall shots and 48% of their three-point attempts. Nogic shooting just 5-for-13 against Sacred Heart is probably a big part of their loss, if we’re being honest. Defending her will be crucial for the Golden Eagles, especially after they lost in Rhode Island last year because MU couldn’t stop her from connecting on threes.

St. John’s Red Storm (7-4)

RPI: #24
HerHoopStats Efficiency Margin Rank: #114 (+8.9)
Points Leader: Akina Wellere, 13.3 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Maya Singleton, 11.6 rpg (1st)
Assists Leader: Tiana England, 6.5 apg (1st)
Best Win: vs #76 Kansas, 65-53 (OT)
Worst Loss: vs #83 Fordham, 67-64 (2OT)

The Red Storm might be the biggest surprise of the non-conference schedule in the league, as they were expected to be a bottom half of the league team this year. Sure, that record isn’t super great, but their losses were all pretty challenging games, and even that Fordham contest had to go to two extra sessions before the Rams swiped the W.

The reason for the more impressive than expected start for the Johnnies has to be the play of Tiana England. The redshirt freshman from Connecticut is just dishing assists left, right, and center, and she’s doing it while playing in Joe Tartamella’s painfully slow offense. England has assisted on 25% of SJU’s overall total of baskets, and she’s tossed in a helper on 35% of their buckets while she’s on the floor. That’s a top 70 assist rate, and perhaps made more impressive by her 5’7” height.

The five Red Storm players that have played in all 11 games so far this season are all averaging at least 10 points per game, which adds a nice wrinkle to being so incredibly slow. Akina Wellere, a former Marquette commit, does lead the team in total number of shots, but Andrayah Adams, a sophomore from Minnesota, is connecting on 53% of her triples. Leaving her open will spell doom for opponents.

Seton Hall Pirates (8-3)

RPI: #84
HerHoopStats Efficiency Margin Rank: #46 (+20.2)
Points Leader: Donnaizha Fountain, 14.5 ppg (9th)
Rebounds Leader: Donnaizha Fountain, 6.8 rpg (6th)
Assists Leader: Kaela Hilaire, 4.2 apg (5th)
Best Win: at #88 Wake Forest, 67-57
Worst Loss: vs #22 Princeton, 85-83

Tony Bozzella is off and running this season, and perhaps the most important part of the deal is that he’s doing this with a grad transfer running the show. Donnaizha Fountain started her career at Georgia Tech before graduating from Temple. She averaged 14 and eight a year ago, which is pretty much what the six-footer from Boston is doing for the Pirates.

The Hall is playing with speed (#73 in the country in tempo), and shooting (#78 in effective field goal percentage, #81 in three-point percentage), and rebounding. On the rare occasion that the Pirates miss a shot, more likely than not, they’ll grab up the miss. That 37% offensive rebounding rate is in the top 100 in the country, and more importantly, their rebounding rates overall this season are the biggest difference between last year’s squad that finished with just 12 wins.

Villanova Wildcats (10-0)

AP Rank: #18
RPI: #5
HerHoopStats Efficiency Margin Rank: #38 (+22.7)
Points Leader: Adrianna Hahn, 13.9 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Megan Quinn, 6.3 rpg
Assists Leader: Adrianna Hahn, 2.8 apg
Best Win: at #22 Princeton, 62-59

Yep, that’s right, the Wildcats are undefeated, in the top 10 in RPI, and ranked in the AP Poll, and they have no one ranked in the top 10 in the three major stat categories. Now, this probably has a lot to do with the fact that Villanova ranks 342nd out of 349 Division 1 teams in possessions per game. It’s hard to rack up counting stats when you’re literally trying to slow people into submission.

With that said, I think we have to address the fact that Villanova is, in fact, actually underrated. The RPI seems to indicate that as well. You can level all the criticisms you want at Harry Perretta over his style of play, but facts are facts: Villanova is undefeated while playing just two home games all season. Three neutral site games, five road games. Part of that is luck of the draw, as VU went to visit Temple and La Salle for their regularly scheduled local rivalry games this season. But playing at Hartford, Princeton, and Fairfield? That’s not a usual course of action, but the Wildcats have come away with the W each and every time.

Weirdly, their RPI best win of the year isn’t the win that launched them into the top 25, as that was the home upset of then-#11 Duke. It’s clear that Villanova isn’t going to be cowed by any situation or scenario this season, so it will be interesting to see how the rigors of league play affect them.

Xavier Musketeers (7-4)

RPI: #93
HerHoopStats Efficiency Margin Rank: #170 (+3.0)
Points Leader: Jada Byrd, 9.9 ppg
Rebounds Leader: A’riana Gray, 7.0 rpg (5th)
Assists Leader: Na’Teshia Owens, 2.5 apg
Best Win: vs #75 Furman on a neutral floor, 75-62
Worst Loss: at #102 Bowling Green, 63-53

I suppose we should start with a mild qualifier on Xavier’s scoring leader. Jada Byrd has played in nine of the Musketeers’ games, missing two contests in the middle of their non-conference schedule. However, that’s still more than Imani Partlow, who has only appeared in their last four games. Since rejoining the lineup, Partlow has been averaging 10.5 per game, so odds are she’ll stay atop the stat sheet for the rest of the season. Amongst players that have appeared in every game, Anniina Aijanen is your scoring leader for XU at just 8.8 points.

I’ll tell you this much: Signing up for Her Hoop Stats has been incredibly depressing. Not because the site is bad, far from it. If you care in the slightest about women’s college basketball, I highly recommend that you subscribe. However, what I have discovered is that Big East coaches LOVE playing slow. It’s the worst. Xavier is one of a heavy majority of teams trying to play as absolutely slow as possible, ranking #322 out of 349 in the country in tempo. At least the Musketeers are a relatively effective two-point shooting team, which explains their choice to play with so little speed, and they rank in the top 80 in assist rate, too. Good news: They make good passes to get easy baskets. Bad news: You can fit in a nap in between the start and the end of their possessions.