Big East will be competitive -- behind UConn

Contributor
November 13, 2012 - 11:05am
2012 Big East Freshman of the Year Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led the Huskies in scoring last season with 15 points per game. (photo courtesy of Connecticut Athletics)

2012 Big East Freshman of the Year Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led the Huskies in scoring last season with 15 points per game. (photo courtesy of Connecticut Athletics)

Despite all the football-driven machinations of the summer, the Big East team lineup is actually pretty stable this season. Only West Virginia has paid the money and left the Big East, so 15 teams remain. (I will leave next year’s major upheaval for another day, though the women’s side will hardly miss Pitt and Syracuse.)

 This season’s real losses, though, are in the coaching ranks. Terri Williams-Flournoy and Kim Barnes-Arico, two of women’s basketball’s young stars, bailed on their tournament teams (Georgetown, St.John’s) in a damaged league to coach also-rans in stable conferences. Their moves, to Auburn (SEC) and Michigan State (Big 10) respectively, leave the teams they built to excellence without stable leadership.

On the court this season, UConn should return to its historical dominance, as Notre Dame lost three crucial stars from its back-to-back Finals’ squads. Big East Player of the Year Skylar Diggins cannot keep the Irish in the lead with this season’s supporting cast. The coaching losses at St. John’s and Georgetown raise major questions about their future and competitiveness, and both will fall from last year’s heights.

On the upside, teams that return most of their top performers include DePaul, South Florida, Louisville and Villanova. Each should improve from last year, and beat each other up in what still looks like a competitive center of the league. Unfortunately, the lousy teams are still going to be lousy.

1. Connecticut (33-5; 13-3 -- lost to Notre Dame in NCAA semifinal)

Coach: Geno Auriemma (28th year)

Return: PG Bria Hartley, C Stephanie Dolson, G Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, G Kelly Faris

Lost: G Tiffany Hayes

Quality newcomers: Breanna Stewart, 6-4 forward; Morgan Tuck, 6-2 forward; Moriah Jefferson, 5-7 guard

Connecticut enters the season riding five straight Final Four appearances, but also smarting from two straight losses to Notre Dame in the semifinal game. The Huskies lost three times to the Irish last year, but beat them to take the Big East Tournament title -- it is, however, unlikely that the rivalry will have similar results this season. Geno Auriemma’s team has improved depth and talent, and has a real chance to knock off even Baylor.

The team should be led by WBCA All-American point guard Bria Hartley, the junior who has been a consistent performer for two years now. Hartley, however, starts the season on the injured list with an ankle sprain that has refused to heal. The official line is that she will be back on the court soon, but I wonder. Without her, UConn is still best in the league, but will be less likely to dominate. Without Hartley, the Huskies will rely on a talented freshman, Moriah Jefferson, and a greatly improved sophomore, Briana Banks, at the point. Their play may be excellent, but the leadership of Hartley will be hard to match.

Of course, even without Hartley, UConn still has top-level talent. Stephanie Dolson has quietly shown herself to be an elite center, and her play should improve yet again this year. The best news for Dolson, however, is that she is no longer alone in the post. Depth will not be the issue it was last year, with new recruits and improved sophomores.

Although UConn’s leading scorer (in conference), Tiffany Hayes, has graduated, the Huskies will have no problem putting up points. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Big East Freshman of the Year, is a prolific scorer who needs only a bit more consistency to establish herself firmly among the nation’s elite. She should take on a starting role this season after coming off the bench in all but one game last year. The unheralded glue of the team, Kelly Faris, returns to do all the little things that make a team gel. Add to these proven players the nation’s best recruiting class, and it becomes clear why Connecticut is ranked second only to Baylor in the early polls.

Coach Auriemma once again landed the nation’s best high school player in power forward Breanna Stewart, a 6-4 scoring, rebounding and blocking machine. Stewart has guard skills matched with a 7-1 wingspan that makes her an offensive and defensive matchup nightmare. She was leading scorer and rebounder (and the only high schooler) on the 2011 Pan Am championship team. The right-handed Stewart can be seen dunking with her left on You Tube. She posts up. She shoots the three. She dribbles the length of the floor after a rebound. Freshman of the year is in her future.

Forward Morgan Tuck, another McDonald’s All-American, is the other part of the Huskies’ improved post depth. Tuck also has international experience, having starred on the U19 and U17 US Championship teams. Jefferson, the No. 2 prospect and top point guard in the class of 2012, rounds out Connecticut’s fantastic freshmen. Jefferson’s background is a first for UConn: she was home-schooled all her life, and stayed under the radar for much of her high school career playing in a Texas home-school league. If Hartley’s injury continues to linger, Jefferson is the obvious replacement. UConn has had success with freshmen point guards, but leading a bunch of All-Americans is not easy when you are 18 years old.

Bottom line: Connecticut should win the Big East regular season and tournament championships, and make it to a sixth straight Final Four. With Stewart and her fellow freshmen, UConn has a good chance at challenging Brittney Griner and Baylor for the nation’s top spot. The two teams play in Hartford on Feb.18 in what could be a national championship preview.

2. Louisville (23-10; 10-6 -- lost to Maryland in NCAA second round)

Coach: Jeff Walz (sixth year)

Return: Shoni Schimmel, 5-10 point guard; Bria Smith, 5-10 guard; Sheronne Vails, 6-4 center; Asia Taylor, 6-1 forward

Lost: Guard Becky Burke

Quality newcomers: Courtnee Walton, 6-3 forward; Megan Dienes, 6-1 guard

Nearly everyone is back for a Cardinals’ team that was very good last season. Shoni Schimmel is among the nation’s best scoring point guards, and the junior has already shown that she can lead this squad to victory. Besides returning all but one player from last year’s squad, coach Jeff Walz also gets back Monique Reid and Tia Gibbs from injury. Senior guard Reid led the team in scoring for two years, and is fully healthy again. Adding her 17 points, 6.1 rebounds and experienced leadership makes Louisville the second best team in the league.

Louisville also will be among the most versatile teams in the conference, with depth at every position. The two freshmen are post players: 6-3 Courtnee Walton was Arizona player of the year, and should be a useful backup to Reid, Shawnta’ Dyer and Sara Hammond in the post. A bevy of guards include Gibbs, returning starter Bria Smith and Jude Schimmel, Shoni’s younger sister.

Louisville is ranked No. 9 nationally in preseason polls, and the Big East coaches missed something by ranking the Cardinals only fourth in the league -- xpect performance more in line with the national ranking.

All-American Skylar Diggins has led the Irish to back-to-back Final Four appearances (photo by Kelly Kline)

3. Notre Dame (35-4; 15-1 -- lost to Baylor in NCAA Final)

Coach: Muffet McGraw (26th year at the school)

Return: Point guard Skylar Diggins (BE pre-season Player of the Year), guard Kayla McBride

Lost: Guard Natalie Novosel, forward Devereaux Peters, guard Brittany Mallory

Quality newcomers: Michaela Mabrey, 5-10 guard; Jewell Loyd, 5-10 guard; Hannah Huffman, 5-9 guard

Notre Dame has the league’s best player, Skylar Diggins, an outstanding competitor who defends, shoots, and leads her team with outstanding energy. But life is going to be far more challenging for Diggins this year as the Irish lost their leading rebounder and two of their top three scorers. Natalie Novosel was one of the most underrated players in America last year, and she and the athletic Devereaux Peters kept defenses from collapsing on Diggins, while providing great defense and lots of scoring. Novosel and Peters are gone, along with Brittany Mallory, a guard who saved the best moments of her career for the postseason. Sophomore guard Kayla MacBride is a solid player, but not a star. The remaining letterwinners totaled just 39 minutes a game, most of them in garbage time.

Coach Muffett McGraw will need major contributions from her No. 3 ranked recruiting class if Notre Dame is to be back among the best teams in the country. That could well happen, but when even talented freshmen are essential to success, the season can seem very long, even when you are as good a coach as McGraw.

Guard Jewell Loyd has the best resume, and is most likely to contribute quickly. The top shooting guard in the class of 2012 scored more than 3000 points in high school, averaging 26.9 points and eight rebounds her senior year. In Notre Dame’s guard-centric offense, her size (5-10) and shooting will look a lot like Novosel. But few freshmen are great defenders, and the Irish defense was a big part of the success of the last two years. The other McDonald’s All-American freshman is Michaela Mabrey, a 5-10 point guard who will be Diggins’ backup. She averaged 17 points and 6.2 rebounds as a senior, and could see time in a four-guard offense.

Profiling the freshmen highlights Notre Dame’s biggest problem: There are no post players in the recruiting class, and just one experienced post player returning. Junior forward Natalie Achonwa is going to get lots of minutes, and will need to be stronger on the boards. The junior has talent, and was occasionally brilliant last year, but the pressure on her will be magnified several-fold this season. How she responds will be a significant factor in Notre Dame’s national standing.

The Irish deserve respect for their masterful two-year run, but unless things go nearly perfectly, don’t expect anything like the same level of success this year. The Big East coaches got this one wrong: Notre Dame is not going to be second in the league. 

4. DePaul (23-11; 9-7 --lost to Tennessee in NCAA second round)

Coach: Doug Bruno (27th year)

Return: Guard Anna Martin; forward Katherine Harry; point guard Brittany Hrynko; guard Chanise Jenkins

Lost: Keisha Hampton (lost to injury last season after 12 games)

Quality newcomers: Megan Podkowa, 6-2 guard/forward; Brooke Schulte, 5-7 guard; Kelsey Reynolds (junior transfer from Boston College) 5-7 guard

DePaul was a really good team last year and the Blue Demons were good even after losing their best player, Keisha Hampton, to a career-ending injury after 12 games. Coach Doug Bruno returns all the players who managed a 13-8 record after Hampton went down, regains two players from injury, and by conference time, adds two established transfers. Why shouldn’t folks be optimistic in Chicago?

All-American Anna Martin does not really need to improve on her outstanding junior season, during which she averaged 19.1 and dished 111 assists from the two-guard position. Forward Katherine Harry plays tough in the post, and should average a double-double this season, though it would help if she could learn to shoot free throws. Brittany Hrynko survived her freshman year at the point with far too many turnovers, but her outside shot is reliable, and experience may help her make better decisions. Forward Jasmine Penny complements Harry inside, and scored 13 points per game in conference contests.

Bruno features a run-and-gun offense in which the first open player is expected to shoot. The team averaged 34 percent from beyond the arc, even after guard Chanise Jenkins was injured. She’s back, still a freshman, and ready to light it up from outside. BC transfer guard Kelsey Reynolds can play after sitting out a year, and she has been impressive in the preseason.

Of course, there is not often much defense played by the Blue Demons, and they really need to improve on a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, but they will outrun and outscore a significant number of teams. The AP preseason poll has DePaul at No. 25, quite a bit too low. Expect them to be nationally ranked much of the season once the coaches realize how much talent returned.  

5. St. John’s (24-10; 13-3 --lost to Duke in Sweet 16)

Coach: Joe Tartamella (first year)

Return: Point guard Nadirah McKennith, guard Shenneika Smith

Lost: Coach Kim Barnes-Arico (to Michigan); forward Da’Shena Stevens

Quality newcomers: Ashley Perez, 5-9 guard; Sandra Udobi, 6-2 forward; Aliyyah Handford, 5-9 guard

St.John’s shocked a lot of teams last season, not least UConn, who they defeated at Storrs in February on the way to a second-place finish in the league. The Red Storm success was built on speed, slashing to the hoop, and defense. Despite mediocre outside shooting and no real post game, coach Kim Barnes-Arico motivated this undersized group to maximum achievement.

But with Barnes-Arico and the powerful Da’Shena Stevens gone, it mystifies me how St. John’s is picked third in the league and 14th in the nation preseason. The Red Storm lost their third leading scorer and one of the nation’s best young coaches, and gained decent but hardly outstanding recruits. What am I missing? They rank this high here only because the middle of the league is so evenly matched that some team has to be fifth, and it could as easily be any of the next four teams.

Nadirah McKenith is an outstanding  point guard who can organize and lead the team on the court. She showed an ability to take charge of the scoring in key situations, even without a reliable outside shot. Shenneika Smith is the leading scorer and rebounder from the wing, but at only 6-1, cannot be a post presence. Amber Thompson is a true power forward, but there is no depth at the position, unless freshman Sandra Udobi develops quickly. Can a team play a five-guard offense?

Freshmen guard Aliyyah Handford has the pedigree (Shabazz High School) and Ashley Perez is a speedy scorer, but they are two more guards. Athleticism, leading to smothering defense, worked for the Red Storm last season, and could again. But if you note how often the word “freshman” showed up in these three paragraphs, you know the difficulty for St. John’s. The newcomers need to be very good very fast if the rankings are to be justified.

6. Rutgers (22-10; 10-6 -- lost to Gonzaga in NCAA first round)

Coach: C. Vivian Stringer (18th year)

Return: Post Monique Oliver; guard Erica Wheeler; forward Chelsey Lee

Lost: Point guard Khadijah Rushdan; guard April Sykes

Quality newcomers: Rachel Hollivay, 6-4 forward; Precious Person (really her name …), 6-1 guard; Kahleah Copper, 6-1 guard

It may sound like a corrupted .wav file (I’m trying to modernize the phrase “a broken record”), but once again, Rutgers has a stable of great athletes, who I expect to underperform because of the coaching of a legend. Please, coach Stringer, just this one year, unleash the  hounds! Let these women play freely on offense. Let them use their speed and athleticism. Lighten up a bit on the control. Rejoice in as many offensive possessions as you can. Your team could still play great defense while scoring in the 80s, and finally live up to its tremendous potential.

Unfortunately, it ain’t gonna happen. For 16 years I have offered this advice to the Hall of Fame coach. Every year she has ignored me. Rutgers is regularly a very good team -- but not as good as it could be.

To begin with, the Scarlet Knights will miss the energy and leadership of Khadijah Rushdan more than her numbers would indicate. The team returns a very talented and complementary pair in the post, but that is actually part of the problem. Offcourt leadership can come from big girls, but on the court, a team needs a point guard who sets the tone. Can that player be Erica Wheeler? Maybe, but she shot under 40% last year, had more turnovers than assists, and even though she was the best three-point shooter on the team, she made just 30 percent.

This squad is a rare Rutgers’ team with its main strength in the paint. Monique Oliver is big and tough, capable of scoring against nearly any defender, and Chelsey Lee’s athleticism is capable of far more than the 8.5 points and 7.5 boards she averaged last season. With Wheeler, these too are a solid foundation for the Scarlet Knights, but those three will lead an inexperienced supporting cast.

Wing Betnijah Laney and guard Briyona Canty saw playing time last year, but neither shot acceptably well (below 40%) so it appears that the freshmen will have much to say about the final picture, as is often the case at Rutgers. Those freshmen do not include a point guard, and the best of them, 6-4 Rachel Hollivay, is another post player. Two freshman guards, however, have potential and size on their side. Both are 6-1 with established guard skills, but neither has point experience. But whatever their position in the Scarlet Knight offense, I am looking forward to hearing announcers say “at guard, Precious Person” The big guard has handle and shooting range, and should share the wing with another freshman, Kahleah Copper.

The big question for Rutgers is who will play the point? There does not seem to be an answer on this season’s roster. Given that serious flaw, the ranking here could be too high. 

7. South Florida (19-16; 8-8 -- lost to James Madison in WNIT third round)

Coach: Jose Fernandez (13th year)

Return: Everyone except Jasmine Wynne, including guard Inga Orekhova; forward Tiffany Conner

Lost: Guard Jasmine Wynne

Quality newcomers: Courtney Williams, 5-9 guard

South Florida returns nearly everyone from last year’s NIT team, and regains the play of Andrea Smith after she missed last season with an injury, and she more than makes up for the loss of Jasmine Wynne as she was the league’s third leading scorer in 2010-11, behind only Maya Moore and Sugar Rodgers. Her outside shooting will be a huge addition to a team that shot just 28.4% from beyond the arc last season.

The running game and pesky defense are the strengths of this team, which is guard-rich but post-poor. Senior center Caitlin Rowe (6-4) has shown ability but not consistency and her development could change the equation for the Bulls.

The consistent scoring from Andrea Smith and junior Inga Orekhova is supported and complemented by a roster that plays ten deep. Coach Jose Fernandez can keep throwing quickness at opponents, and teams wear down under the pressure. The post is a concern, but the experience and depth of the Bulls should yield reasonable success.

8. Villanova (19-15; 6-10 -- lost to Colorado in WNIT third round)

Coach: Harry Perretta (35th year)

Return: Top six scorers, including forward Laura Sweeney, guard Rachel Roberts, forward Lauren Burford

Lost: Guard Lindsey Kimmel

Quality newcomers: Twin guards Caroline (5-10) and Katherine (5-11) Coyer

Seven seniors may return Villanova to contention this season after a few years of decline. Laura Sweeney is an outstanding player who led her team last year in scoring (14.4 ppg), rebounding (7.6 rpg), field goal percentage (50.4%), steals (52) and blocks (39), and she will be surrounded by the usual Villanova bevy of three-point shooters. Rachel Roberts, Lauren Burford, Devon Kane and  Emily Suhey were 37.5% or better from outside last year.

Joining the team and likely to see time at the point is Caroline Coyer, AP and Gatorade Virginia Player of the Year. Coyer fits the Villanova profile of a tall (5-10) guard with outside shooting skills and a high basketball IQ. The other freshman is Caroline’s twin sister Katherine, also a Virginia all-state selection. Katherine is an inch taller, and may have a slightly better outside shot.

Coach Harry Perretta’s teams protect the ball, milk the shot clock and shoot threes. This experienced group looks like some of the better squads of the past, which means they should frustrate their opponents and win a lot more games than last season.

Team captain #14 Sugar Rogers led Georgetown with 18 points per game last season (Photo courtesy of Georgetown Athletics)

9. Georgetown (23-9; 11-5 -- lost to GA Tech in NCAA second round)

Coach: Keith Brown (first year)

Return: Sugar Rodgers, 5-11 guard; Sydney Wilson, 6-6 center

Lost: Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy (to Auburn); forward Tia Magee, point guard Rubylee Wright, center Adia Crawford

Quality newcomers: Logan Battle, 6-2 wing; Katie McCormack, 5-9 guard

Sugar Rodgers could have a frustrating year. Georgetown is one of the most changed teams in the league, losing three key starters and a dynamic head coach. The team has just 11 players on the roster, and few returning players have shown an ability to score. Rodgers will supply a regular 15 to 20 points, and a surprising tally of rebounds (5.4 rpg in 2011-12), but who else will step up?

In the season’s first game, the answer was junior forward Andrea White, who improved on last year’s 1.9 point average with 24 points against Sacred Heart on 11 of 13 shooting. First-year coach Keith Brown (a five-year assistant for the Hoyas) has to hope White’s performance was not a fluke.

Georgetown made its tournament run on smothering defense and transition baskets and enough returning players worked with that defense to keep it effective despite the loss of so many players. While scoring looks on paper to be a problem for the Hoyas, the first game challenged that perception. The 90 points the Hoyas scored in their season opener exceeded last season’s best, and if Georgetown can score even in the mid-70s, they will be a solid, competitive team. The historical record says this is unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

Freshman Logan Battle, a 6-2 forward, played well in the opener, with ten points and four rebounds. The college game is fun because predicting which players will suddenly understand the game is so random. If Georgetown can get freshmen and previously ineffective sophomores to contribute regularly, the Hoyas should stay right in the mix -- but then you could say that about most of these middle-level teams.

10. Syracuse (22-15; 6-10 -- lost to James Madison in WNIT semifinals)

Coach: Quentin Hillsman (seventh year)

Return: Center Kayla Alexander; guard Carmen Tyson-Thomas; guard Rachel Coffey

Lost: Forward Iasia Hemmingway

Quality newcomers: Briana Butler, 5-11 guard; Brittney Sykes 5-9 guard; Pachis Roberts 6-1 forward

Syracuse returns four starters and eight of the top nine scorers from a good team that may have underperformed last year. Center Kayla Alexander is a Big East first-teamer who was second on the Orange in points (14.8) and rebounds (7.5) last year – and Syracuse led the league in rebounds and rebound margin. With Alexander and Carmen Tyson-Thomas (10.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg) back, that could happen again. Junior Rachel Coffey is a competent point guard (120 assists) and the team’s main three-point threat.

Coach Quentin Hillsman continues to recruit better than the team’s record, as Syracuse has two McDonald’s All-American guards joining the team to add depth where it is most needed. Brianna Butler is a high-scoring big (5-11) shooting guard who ESPNHS called “a college player among junior high competitors.” Brittney Sykes is a point-ready guard who played on the USA U-18 team last summer. And Pachis Roberts, a 6-1 forward, was MS Georgia Basketball. This trio brings abundant talent to a decent Syracuse team but can they make the Orange into winners? Great players have not generally done that under Hillsman, whose coaching skills do not match his recruiting. In six years, Syracuse has won only 42% of its games under him, and though the team’s final Big East year could be an exception, the competition is stiff, and the past predicts otherwise.

Last season #31 Dayeesha Hollins led Cincinnati is scoring with 14.5 points per game. (Photo courtesty of Ashley Kempher)

11. Cincinnati (6-10; 16-16; 6-10 -- lost to Toledo in WNIT second round)

Coach: Jamelle Elliott (fourth year)

Return: Guard Dayeesha Hollins, guard Kayla Cook, forward Tiffany Turner; forward Jeanise Randolph

Lost: Forward Chanel Chisolm, guard Bjonee Reeves

Quality newcomers: Jasmine Whitfield, 5-10 guard

After a 16-16 season that saw Cincinnati win a postseason game, it is time for coach Jamelle Elliot to have a winning record. But this year, the league is still generally strong, and the loss of two key contributors makes a winning Big East season a difficult challenge for this improving program.

A good solid core of players returns, led by redshirt junior point guard Dayeesha Hollins, also the leading scorer last season (14.8). Forwards Jeanise Randolph and Tiffany Turner are rebounding bookends in the post, and Kayla Cook is an adequate shooting guard. But a better record will need freshmen contributions, and this is a recruiting class of relative unknowns. Jasmine Whitfield is a tall (5-10) shooting guard that any team would welcome as she can score inside and outside (the Bearcats only three-point shooter graduated). She also averaged 2.4 assists and over four steals a game in high school, and expect her to play a significant role from early in the season. No other recruit stands out, but Elliott is a good teacher, and someone else may emerge.

The defense should be sound, and the scoring similar to last season for the Bearcats. If a few players outperform expectations, Cincinnatti could reach .500 in conference. Exceeding last season’s performance, however, is a long shot.

12. Marquette (14-17; 4-12)

Coach: Terri Mitchell (17th year)

Return: Five starters, including forward Katherine Plouffe; guard Sarina Simmons;

Lost: None

Quality newcomers: Assistant coach Tyler Summitt (yes, that one); Ashley Santos, 5-7 guard

Sometimes the best player on a bad team is overlooked – and in the USA, maybe being Canadian adds to the anonymity. Katherine Plouffe averaged 13.5 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 50.3% from the field without many other stars to distract defenses while Sheneika Smith of St.John’s, voted to the all-Big East Team, averaged 12.5 points, 6.4 boards and shot 42.6%. Smith is a very good player, but the numbers at least say Plouffe should have made the team. She did not. Thus it is when your team does nothing to draw attention to itself, and Marquette had a really poor season.

The Golden Eagles, though, return all five starters, and experience could improve the team’s results. Plouffe is very good, and Sarina Simmons is a steady small forward. Arlesia Morse shoots the three well, but Marquette just gave the ball away too often to win regularly. For every two assists, they had three turnovers in conference and were outscored by 12 points by Big East teams. Marquette should be a better team than last year, but so will many of those above them. Can they win a few more games? Maybe. The coaches don’t think so, though, as they ranked the Golden Eagles 11th in the pre-season poll.

The rest:

Sadly, the bottom of the Big East really is an unfinished basement. These three teams were lousy last year, and probably will be lousy this year. Providence lost three starters and is down to eight players. Seton Hall coach Anne Donovan has merely confirmed the long-held belief at Full Court that she is not a very good coach. And Pittsburgh sadly demonstrates that being one of the nicest human beings in coaching is not a guarantee of success. These three teams won six Big East games in 2011-12. Don’t expect much more this season.

15. Providence (11-17; 5-11)

Coach: Susan Robinson Fruchtl (first year)

Return: Guard Symone Roberts;

Lost: Center Teya Wright, guard Rachel Burns, guard Lola Wells

Quality newcomers: Lexi Sells, 5-10 wing

Yet another new coach comes to Providence – but maybe it is time for the Friars bigwigs to realize that the entire program needs a major overhaul. Without commitment of resources, this small university (3,900 students) will just not be able to compete in the league. Perhaps with the scheduled influx of weak teams next season, Providence can reach the middle level, but there is no reason to think that a squad of just eight players, with only Symone Roberts (a very good player) to lean on, will be competitive this year. The other five returners averaged just 6.5 points combined last season.

Even if both freshmen, Lexi Sells and Evi Ilskola, are outstanding performers, Providence would be only mediocre. Opposing coaches should triple-team Roberts and make someone else prove themselves. It does not look good.

15. Pittsburgh (8-22; 0-16)

Coach: Agnus Beranato (10th year)

Return: Guard Brianna Kiesel; guard Ashlee Anderson

Lost: Center Leeza Burdgess

Quality newcomers: Brittany Gordon, 5-8 guard

Since assistant coach Shea Ralph left for Connecticut, Pittsburgh has been in decline. My theory is that coach Agnus Beranato is just too nice to get the kind of scrappy performance that Ralph was able to elicit from the team. Recruiting dropped off as well. The signing of 6-11 recruit Marvadene Anderson got lots of attention, but the team has decided to redshirt her for 2012-13, so she will never play in the Big East.

The Panthers do return guards Brianna Kiesel and Ashlee Anderson (no relation) who were responsible for twenty-four of the fifty-six points Pitt averaged last year. Gone, however, is the only consistent rebounder, Leeza Burdgess. Freshman Brittany Gordon is a talented all-around guard who could contribute important minutes, but Pitt will be naked in the post, and winning will be just as rare as last year.

15. Seton Hall (8-23; 1-15)

Coach: Anne Donovan (third year)

Return: Guard Terry Green; guard Brittany Morris; forward Alexandra Maseko; guard Ka-Diedre Simmonds;

Lost: Guard Jasmine Crew; forward Tajay Ashmeade

Quality newcomers: Tabithah Richardson-Smith, 6-0 forward; Sydney Cook, 6-2 forward

Seton Hall plays in an ugly little gym, and the Pirates always play a very physical game, which doesn’t make them an attractive opponent. But they were awful last year, and they really did not get any better as the season progressed, so teams don’t really mind visiting. Anne Donovan has coached a lot of good teams, including a gold medal Olympic squad, but her teams routinely underperform. Years of such results lead to just one conclusion: She doesn’t do this very well.

As for the talent on this team, perhaps the best measure is the outcome of their first game of the 2012-13 season. The Pirates defeated NJIT by three points, 69-66. In case you are not familiar with New Jersey Institute of Technology, they are picked to finish second this season in Division I’s Great West Conference. Utah Valley is selected first. And Seton Hall won by three.


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