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2018-19 Big East Women’s Basketball: Where Are We Now?

League play begins on Saturday, so let’s see what we everyone has been getting up to so far this season.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Marquette vs DePaul Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

You may have already seen our full Big East men’s basketball rundown, and now it’s time to take a look at what’s going on over on the women’s basketball side of the aisle in the league.

With the men’s basketball rundown, we had to put in a disclaimer about the fact that there were still non-conference games left to be played. That’s not the case for women’s basketball, or at the very least, there are no more non-conference games between now and Saturday afternoon when Marquette and Providence kick off the double round robin. As we go through the rundown in alphabetical order here, you’ll see an info dump for each team. RPI rank, Her Hoop Stats Rank, HHS tempo rank, stats leaders, and then the best win and worst loss for each team as determined by the RPI rankings. The tempo rank is in there because it’s almost assuredly going to come up one way or another in a lot of these because slow basketball is the worrrrrrrrrst, so we may as well get to it right at the top. We’re using the RPI as marked on the official NCAA team sheets through games played on December 22nd, as that covers every game that the league will play before conference action starts.

Below the info dump is a brief or maybe sometimes not so brief discussion of each team and their trials and tribulations through the first dozen or so games of the season. Some of them will be longer than others, and I will almost guarantee that the Marquette one will be the shortest one of them all. This is a Marquette blog and I’m writing for a Marquette fan audience. If you want lots of discussion of the Golden Eagles, you’re literally staring at an archive of information, so knock yourself out as needed.

Enough preamble. That’s enough words for a blog post all by itself and we’ve got 10 teams to get through.

Butler Bulldogs (10-1)

RPI Rank: #32
Her Hoop Stats Rank: #42
HHS Tempo Rank: #118
Points Leader: Whitney Jennings, 14.5 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Tori Schickel, 9.4 rpg
Assists Leader: Michelle Weaver, 4.7 apg
Best Win: vs #106 Ohio State on a neutral floor, 66-53
Only Loss: at #15 Indiana, 66-46

Last year in this space, I wondered if Butler was good. They were 8-4 after going 10-21 the year before. Well, bad news: The Bulldogs went 6-12 in league play and lost to Marquette in the Big East quarterfinals.

This year, I am presented with the same question, but this time around, I think I have a better answer. I’m less convinced of Butler being a good team this year than I was last year. At this point of the year last season, Butler had five games against top 60 opponents. This year? One, that ugly road loss to Indiana. Ohio State isn’t just their best win, it’s their best game following the IU contest. There’s seven sub-200 wins on the BU slate so far, and there’s a few very uninspiring wins in there, too.

They’ve got good balance with four players averaging over 10 points a game, and in terms of pure unadjusted numbers, Butler has the second best defensive efficiency in the country per Her Hoop Stats. There’s an awful lot to like here..... but the Bulldogs just don’t have the challenges on the schedule to make you think any of this is real.

Creighton Bluejays (6-5)

RPI Rank: #102
Her Hoop Stats Rank: #83
HHS Tempo Rank: #316
Points Leader: Audrey Faber, 17.2 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Audrey Faber, 5.6 rpg
Assists Leader: Jaylen Agnew, 3.3 apg
Best Win: vs #111 Nebraska, 74-65
Worst Loss: at #67 Northern Iowa, 65-55

As if the start to the season wasn’t enough of a kick in the teeth for Creighton, they get to open up league play with two road games against the co-favorites to win the regular season title. That stinks.

The first 11 games of the year have been a bit of a good news/bad news proposition for the Jays. Good news: They played five top 100 teams! Bad news: They lost all five games and three weren’t even close! Good news: They got three top 25 opponents at home in Omaha! Bad news: Well, you already know that they lost those games.

Audrey Faber and Jaylyn Agnew provide a nice 1-2 punch for head coach Jim Flanery, but Agnew has already missed four games this season. Olivia Elger is providing pop off the bench, especially from behind the three-point line, but she’s missed two games as well. Jays fans, I’d really love to hear what’s going on with Brooke Kissinger who has started all but one game, but is averaging under 12 minutes a game.

You’d like to think that Creighton will do better against more familiar opponents this season, but when league play is going to feed you a bunch of top 100 games and you haven’t shown the ability to win one of those...... well, it could be a long year at DJ Sokol Arena.

DePaul Blue Demons (9-3)

Associated Press Poll Rank: #19
RPI Rank: #42
Her Hoop Stats Rank: #36
HHS Tempo Rank: #7
Points Leader: Ashton Millender, 13.8 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Chante Stonewall, 6.9 rpg
Assists Leader: Kelly Campbell, 5.3 apg
Best Win: vs #35 Green Bay, 73-64
Worst Loss: vs #6 Syracuse on a neutral floor, 83-81

DePaul’s three losses this season: at home against RPI #1 Notre Dame, on the road against RPI #2 Connecticut, and RPI #6 Syracuse on a neutral floor in overtime when the Orange hit a buzzer beater. That’s pretty darn great.

The Blue Demons are pretty much what everyone expected them to be this season: A high quality, high tempo team with multiple options that can hand you your lunch if you’re not paying attention. Millender’s team lead in scoring is razor thin with Stonewall getting them 13.5 points per game and Mart’e Grays is right behind at 12.2. As a team, they shoot the ball well both inside and outside the arc, they’re a pretty good defensive rebounding team, and they do the little things right like finding the open woman better than most teams and they don’t turn the ball over, either.

The big thing to watch with DePaul is their tendency to shoot three-pointers. According to HHS, they’re #4 in the country in terms of percentage of shots from behind the arc. Their three-point shooting percentage of just 35% doesn’t sound great, but it is #64 in the country. If they’re getting free to let fly, they can start overwhelming you in a hurry.

It’s a minor note, but I think we have to point out that head coach Doug Bruno recently had back surgery. He didn’t even miss a game, but he is 68 years old and the Blue Demons haven’t had to travel at all since the surgery and won’t until January 4th, and even then that’s just a bus trip to Milwaukee. He’ll have to deal with air travel for the first time in mid-January when DePaul goes to Georgetown and Villanova for the weekend, so we’ll see how things go after that.

Georgetown Hoyas (6-5)

RPI Rank: #142
Her Hoop Stats Rank: #72
HHS Tempo Rank: #298
Points Leader: Dionna White, 14.5 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Dionna White, 8.5 rpg
Assists Leader: Mikayla Venson, 3.0 apg
Best Win: vs #119 Pittsburgh, 70-41
Worst Loss: vs #128 VCU, 47-41

In my head, I think I expected more from the Hoyas this season, and upon looking at it now, I’m not entirely sure why I have that impression. They lost three major contributors who were seniors last year on a team that went 16-16 and lost in the second round of the WNIT, and they just don’t have the pieces to take a step forward from that.

Dorothy Adomako returns for her senior season after missing all of last year with an injury, and Dionna White makes a quality combo in the backcourt with Mikayla Venson... but there’s just not a lot of anything there to write home about. They come into league play having lost four of their last six games, including a 47-45 home bout against VCU where they got 28 points combined from Adomako and White but gave up a 17-9 fourth quarter to fritter away a six point lead at the start of the frame.

They are a very strong defensive team, ranking #29 in the country in HHS’ defensive metric and #39 in terms of raw points allowed per possession. They get there by being incredibly stout on the interior, and I would imagine their tempo plays a big factor in that. Last year, Marquette got absolutely shattered by the Hoyas in DC, so that’s a potential landmine for the Golden Eagles to avoid for a second straight season.

Marquette Golden Eagles (9-3)

Associated Press Poll Rank: #22
RPI Rank: #17
Her Hoop Stats Rank: #5
HHS Tempo Rank: #54
Points Leader: Allazia Blockton, 17.4 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Erika Davenport, 6.9 rpg
Assists Leader: Natisha Hiedeman, 5.8 apg
Best Win: vs #35 Green Bay, 80-54
Worst Loss: at #20 Miami, 63-55

Here’s the big takeaways for Marquette so far this season: If they win, they win in a blowout. Even the two closest victories this season were easily in Marquette’s control until the opposition made a late but pointless push. The losses this season have been two close ones on the road against ranked opponents and a home game against the reigning national champs that got away from MU in the second half.

Can Marquette carry this attitude through the slog of league play? They’re going to play 18 games over the next nine weeks. They appear to be primed and set to go for a run at a Big East regular season championship, but the bigger item on the checklist is putting themselves in position for a top 16 seed in the NCAA tournament and thus home games to open up tourney play. Can they do that? Can they avoid pitfalls and off nights? We’ll see.

Providence Friars (8-4)

RPI Rank: #132
Her Hoop Stats Rank: #97
HHS Tempo Rank: #200
Points Leader: Jovana Nogic, 14.3 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Mary Baskerville, 6.8 rpg
Assists Leader: Chanell Williams, 2.9 apg
Best Win: at #82 Boston College, 61-57
Worst Loss: at #116 Rhode Island, 72-65

For me, the most interesting part of this check-in is seeing what’s up with freshman Kaela Webb. The Michigan native was originally committed to play for Marquette before changing her pledge to the Friars, and if it comes down to an issue of playing time as a freshman, I can’t look at Marquette’s senior class and fault her for that. She’s right in the mix of things for PC, coming off the bench to play 19 minutes a game and is averaging 6.9 points, 1.8 rebounds, and just a shade over an assist per game while knocking down 42% of her three point attempts. Good for her.

As for the team as a whole, they haven’t had a particularly impressive non-conference slate, playing just one top 50 team and taking losses against four of the five best squads that they’ve faced. There is a certain amount of “yes, and?” to that, though, as the Friars are coming off of a 10-21 season where they went 3-15 in Big East play and were picked to finish ninth this season. This is the kind of schedule that you assemble when you’re trying to get your team on the right track heading into Big East play, and since they’ve already eclipsed last year’s non-con win total, you can’t really argue with any of it. Can they make some noise and surprise some people in league play? I wouldn’t cross my fingers.

St. John’s Red Storm (7-4)

RPI Rank: #75
Her Hoop Stats Rank: #74
HHS Tempo Rank: #338
Points Leader: Qadashah Hoppie, 12.0 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Kayla Charles, 7.5 rpg
Assists Leader: Tiana England, 6.1 apg
Best Win: vs #72 Purdue on a neutral floor, 68-62
Worst Loss: at #91 James Madison, 64-51

Credit where credit is due: St. John’s went out and put some names on their schedule this season. It didn’t really work out for them very well, as you can see from those four losses, but they’re all to top 100 opponents, and three of them were away from Carnesecca Arena. Points for effort, even if we can’t give them points for success. They weren’t that far from getting a large amount of praise here as they gave Connecticut everything they could handle for three quarters before finally falling by 10 to the always great Huskies.

Head coach Joe Tartamella is doing a quality job with the roster he has, and that phrasing is set up that way on purpose. They’re beating the teams that they should and being competitive against the top teams on the slate. They’re doing this with just 10 women on the roster, and one of them is Alissa Alston who is sitting out a year after transferring from Ole Miss. Nine active players, and two are averaging less than seven minutes per game. That’s a heavy workload on the other seven, but given their incredibly slow pace, it might just be able to work. The Johnnies don’t do anything exceptionally well other than not turning it over, so we’ll see how long they can keep this balancing act up during conference play.

Seton Hall Pirates (8-3)

RPI Rank: #110
Her Hoop Stats Rank: #56
HHS Tempo Rank: #15
Points Leader: Shadeen Samuels, 16.0 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Shadeen Samuels, 9.3 rpg
Assists Leader: Kaela Hilaire, 5.1 apg
Best Win: at #87 Princeton, 70-66
Worst Loss: vs #64 Georgia Tech on a neutral floor, 84-73

There’s a weird trend in the league this season with nearly everyone losing all of the best games that they’ve played. Even Marquette and DePaul, the league’s co-favorites, are not immune to this. The same applies here, where SHU’s three losses are their three best opponents, at least in terms of RPI at this point of the season, and all three were away from Walsh Gym. Heck, all four of their four best opponents were away from home, so that’s a pretty snazzy scheduling move by head coach Tony Bozzella. The difference between a lot of the other teams and Seton Hall is that there is a major drop off in their opponent quality. Thumbs up for scheduling four top 100 opponents.... but you wanna explain why there’s no one on the slate between #90 and #230? Yeah, yeah, I know, some of this isn’t under SHU’s control, but this is what happens when you schedule Kennesaw State and UT-San Antonio. If it were a collection of local-ish games (hello, 55 point win against #336 Wagner), I could excuse a little bit of it, but the Pirates went out of their way to bring in some far flung squads to South Orange and as a result, the back end of the slate ain’t that great.

I’m looking forward to the two Marquette/Seton Hall games this season. Bozzella has the Pirates running up and down the court (#15 in the country in possessions/game) and they shoot the lights out all over the place. #42 in FG%, #27 in effective FG%, #33 in two-point shooting, and #58 in three-point shooting. They’re also shooting a ton of three-pointers, so the entire enterprise should be a fascinating matchup for the Golden Eagles.

The Pirates have been dealing with some roster tumult so far this season with three players starting all 11 games and six more starting at least once. Perhaps the most interesting part of all of that is the fact that Kaela Hilaire has started just twice while appearing in all 11 contests. The 5’2” junior from Queens was a major component for the Pirates as a freshman, but she’s been largely relegated to reserve duty since. Her Hoop Stats has her with the 14th best assist rate in the country, so I’m not quite sure why Bozzella is limiting the minutes for what has to be his most prolific passer, especially in this kind of an attack.

Villanova Wildcats (8-2)

RPI Rank: #29
Her Hoop Stats Rank: #52
HHS Tempo Rank: #348
Points Leader: Kelly Jekot, 14.0 ppg
Rebounds Leader: Mary Gedaka, 7.0 rpg
Assists Leader: Adrianna Hahn, 3.9 apg
Best Win: vs #87 Princeton, 67-46
Worst Loss: vs #27 Virginia Tech on a neutral floor, 61-59

Hey, look, Nova lost to their two best opponents this season, too. Fun. Does no one in this league have a signature win that the entire conference can point to with enthusiasm??

Anyway, Harry Perretta continues to chug right along doing what Harry Perretta teams do. They’re slow as all get out, but they make you pay for it on both ends of the floor. They’re in the top 80 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in terms of raw numbers, and Her Hoop Stats has them as a top 60 squad on both ends in their official metrics. They’re going to get good shots, they’re going to force you into bad ones, they’re going to make the extra pass, they’re not going to turn it over, and they’re not going to foul you.

Last year was the first NCAA tournament appearance for the Wildcats since 2013. Can they make it two in a row? Seems like they’re on track.

Xavier Musketeers (9-2)

RPI Rank: #89
Her Hoop Stats Rank: #117
HHS Tempo Rank: #184
Points Leader: A’riana Gray, 13.8 ppg
Rebounds Leader: A’riana Gray, 10.1 rpg
Assists Leader: Aaliyah Dunham, 4.5 apg
Best Win: at #59 Wake Forest, 62-50
Worst Loss: at #134 Cincinnati, 79-61

Xavier finished last year with a record of 10-20 after going 3-15 in league play. You’re not going to hear me knock them for getting to nine wins here after only putting up seven in non-con action last year. Nice work.

The Musketeers are a very good shooting team, ranking in the top 70 in the country in effective field goal percentage along with both two- and three-point shooting according to Her Hoop Stats. They also take a whole bunch of threes, with nearly 40% of their shots coming from behind the arc. Lauren Wasylson is the primary beneficiary of that aspect of the offense, as she’s averaging nearly six attempts a game and shooting 48% from long range. Xavier also defends the three-point line very well, ranking #6 on HHS in that particular shooting percentage defense. They also don’t let you get threes off, which is a pretty smart way to run a team: Shoot and make a ton of threes, never let your opponent shoot any and force them into bad looks when they do. By default, you’re going to be putting yourself in an advantageous position when you allow twos but knock down threes.

XU was picked to finish last in the Big East this season, and it wasn’t that far from a unanimous choice. If their shooting and defense can survive the upgrade in opponent level — they’ve only played three top 100 opponents, going 1-2 — then they’re going to surprise a team or three as the league schedule goes on.