Even without home-and-home pairings against Notre Dame, the Big East represents a significant step up in conference competition for UConn in the 2020-21 season and beyond. Especially in the last two seasons, the weakness of the Huskies’ AAC schedule significantly weighed down their March resume and failed to pose the kind of in-game challenges they needed to get ready for the NCAA Tournament.
It won’t be all that shocking if UConn continues to run the table in their new conference, but doing so will certainly be a tougher task. The Big East boasts a handful of formidable opponents where an off night or bad shooting performance could hand the Huskies a conference loss. Additionally, in ESPN’s (way too early) bracketology for the 2021 tournament, four Big East teams are in the field. Having a handful of conference games on the schedule for January and February against quality opponents will be a huge asset for UConn as it prepares for March.
Here’s a deeper look at some of those opponents:
2019-20 Record: 28-5 (15-3)
DePaul is a familiar opponent for the Huskies, making frequent appearances on the non-conference schedule throughout their time in the American. The Blue Demons have appeared in the AP Poll every season since 2003 and were ranked in the top 25 for the entire 2019-20 season.
UConn will look to topple DePaul from its position at the top of the Big East. To do so, the Huskies will have to make sure to control the pace when they face off. The Blue Demons strive to push the pace of play to put up a lot of points. They ranked second in the country last season, averaging nearly 85 points per game.
2019-20 Record: 24-8 (13-5)
Marquette’s rise in the Big East is more recent, driven by a pair of star players in Natisha Hiedeman and Allazia Blockton. Hiedeman and Blockton both graduated in 2019 — and Hiedeman now plays for the Connecticut Sun — but Marquette still remained near the top of the Big East in 2019-20.
Last season, the Golden Eagles were led by Selena Lott, who will be a senior on this year’s team. Lott is one of the most efficient players inside the arc in the country and capable of putting up big numbers against tough opponents.
2019-20 Record: 19-12 (11-7)
As DePaul and Marquette represent the top of the Big East, St. John’s starts the mid-tier opponents in the conference. The Red Storm are one of five teams that finished with an 11-7 conference record last season. Of course, St. John’s also previously handed UConn one of their most infamous losses in 2012 — snapping the Huskies’ 99-game home win streak — which still remains their last loss to an un-ranked opponent.
Last year’s team featured a lot of young talent, so expect the Red Storm to be better this year. St John’s offense also stacks up among the elite for efficiency, ranking in the top 20 for points per play.
2019-20 Record: 19-12 (11-7)
Seton Hall gave UConn a tough test this past December, which the Huskies narrowly survived thanks to a break out 25 point, 12 rebound game from Aubrey Griffin. However Griffin’s former Ossining teammate and the Pirates’ leading scorer, Shadeen Samuels, graduated this Spring. Seton Hall will have a young team next season with nine freshmen or sophomores on the roster.
Overall, Seton Hall has been inconsistent in the Big East. The Pirates finished 11-7 this year for their first conference winning record in three seasons. Prior to that, Seton Hall finished first and second in the conference in back-to-back years.
2019-20 Record: 19-11 (11-7)
Butler posted a winning conference record for the second year in a row, ranking them among the mid-tier rather than the bottom of the conference. In 2018-19, the Bulldogs won 23 games and made a WNIT appearance, a huge turnaround from winning just six games two seasons prior.
2019-20 Record: 19 - 11 (11 - 7)
Creighton has consistently sat around the middle of the Big East for the past few seasons. However, after graduating Jaylyn Agnew — who is currently on the Atlanta Dream’s roster after being drafted in the second round of the WNBA Draft — the Blue Jays may find themselves in the bottom portion of the conference next season.
2019-20 Record: 18 - 13 (11 - 7)
Other than the 2018-19 season, Villanova has recorded 11 or 12 conference wins every year since 2013 and consistently ranks among the top half of the conference. The Wildcats made a NCAA Tournament appearance in 2018 and are consistently contenders in the league despite not falling in the top tier.
Bottom of the barrel
The remaining three Big East teams (Providence, Georgetown and Xavier) combined for just seven conference wins all last season. The Huskies should have no problem steamrolling through them like many of their AAC opponents.
Overall, DePaul and Marquette will pose the biggest threat to UConn in conference play. With potential for three games against each, including the Big East Tournament, the Huskies should have at least a handful of challenging games on their conference slate — a vast improvement from the American.