This afternoon is the road opener of the 2014-15 American Athletic Conference season for the UConn women. They will travel to Grenville, NC to take on AAC newcomer East Carolina (9-3 overall, 0-1 American) at 2:30pm on SNY/ESPN3.
For the No. 2 UConn women (10-1, 1-0), most of the teams in the American will provide little or no challenge for them this season. Gone from the AAC are Louisville and Rutgers.
Last year, the Cardinals battled the Huskies three times in conference play and were ranked in the top 10. The Scarlet Knights and coach C. Vivian Stringer made life often difficult for UConn throughout the 18 years the two teams were conference foes.
This is a new era of the American. UConn is the dominant program and then there is everyone else. However, the Big East used to be like that 20 years ago. Starting with the 1994 season, UConn could name their final scores. During UConn's rise to power, anti-Husky fans around the country would mock the conference competition by calling the league the Big Least.
But the Big East got better and stronger. Teams stepped up as they recruited better players. At the end, it was easy to place 8 or 9 Big East teams in the NCAA Tournament each season and in its final season as the conference as we know, three teams advanced to the 2013 Final Four.
So all hope is not loss for the American in the future. There are some decent programs having some pretty good seasons so far. Three teams are ranked in the top 100 of the RPI - Tulane (11-2) at 38, South Florida (10-3) at 35 and East Carolina at 76. However, Temple (6-8) and Cincinnati (3-9) are struggling this season to build programs under former UConn assistant coaches.
However, reality is reality for the Huskies. The entire conference schedule is terrible for them. Seven teams are ranked 159 or lower in the RPI. Moreover, four of those teams are ranked 200 or worse. Six of those teams are entering conference play with records of below .500. There strength of schedule will possibly suffer for potential seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Consider this, out of the ten non-conference opponents UConn has played this season - three are currently below .500 (UCLA, UC-Davis and Charleston) and two have RPIs lower than 100 (UC-Davis at 145 and Charleston at 241). UConn still St. John's and South Carolina in non-conference play. Both are ranked in the top 30 in RPI.
There is a lot of potential for the American, but those ten other programs need to step up and challenge UConn like the old Big East teams did. Unfortunately, it won't be this year. And if they do not, UConn's dominance in the sport may suffer.
The Huskies are coming off a 31 point thrashing over No. 10 Duke on Monday night at the XL Center. In the 83-52 victory, Moriah Jefferson scored 18 points, while Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart each scored 14 points. Morgan Tuck added 13 points and seven rebounds. UConn used a full-court press to disrupt the Blue Devil offense forcing 22 turnovers and allowed 31.5% shooting.
The Pirates are a pretty good defensive team. They are holding teams to 53 points per game and no team has scored over 70 points in a game this season. ECU leads the NCAA in block shots at 7.6 per game. However, they are coming off a 69-62 road loss to USF last Sunday.
Preseason First-Team All-AAC member Jada Payne leads the Pirates scoring at 18.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.