NEW YORK, N.Y. – Notre Dame, the 2010-11 NCAA Championship runner-up, was picked to win the 2011-12 BIG EAST women's basketball regular-season title. The selection was made by the league's 16 head coaches, who were not permitted to select their own teams. The Fighting Irish received nine first-place votes.
Notre Dame edged Connecticut, the 2010-11 regular season and BIG EAST Tournament champion, by three points, the closest finish since 2002, when both the Huskies and Fighting Irish earned seven first-place votes to tie for the top spot.
Louisville was chosen third, followed by Rutgers and Georgetown in the fourth and fifth spots. DePaul was selected to finish sixth, St. John's seventh and Syracuse eighth. West Virginia was picked ninth and USF rounded out the top 10. The Bulls were followed by Marquette, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Providence, Cincinnati and Seton Hall.
This year's poll marks the first time since 2005 that the Huskies were not picked to finish first. Rutgers received 11 first-place votes that year for the top spot.
Notre Dame will be led by Preseason BIG EAST Player of the Year Skylar Diggins, who averaged 15.0 ppg, 4.8 apg and 4.0 rpg in 2010-11. Diggins is joined by two Preseason All-BIG EAST selections, senior guard Natalie Novosel (15.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.9 spg) and senior forward Devereaux Peters (11.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg). Fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory (7.1 ppg) and All-BIG EAST Freshman Team selection Natalie Achonwa (6.9 ppg) also return to help the Fighting Irish.
Connecticut has claimed 17 league championships, 19 regular-season titles and has won both titles in the same season 15 times, all during the past 30 years. UConn received seven first-place votes. The Huskies and Irish met four times last year, twice during the regular season, once in the title game of the BIG EAST Championship and once in the NCAA Final Four. While Connecticut took both regular season victories and the win in the BIG EAST Championship final, Notre Dame defeated the Huskies in the NCAA Championship to advance to the title game.
Louisville tied for fifth in the conference last season and reached the NCAA Sweet 16 after upsetting No. 2 seed Xavier. UofL has advanced to the Sweet 16 in three of the past four seasons under head coach Jeff Walz. The Cardinals are led by two Preseason All-BIG EAST selections: senior forward Monique Reid and sophomore guard Shoni Schimmel. Reid led the team with 15.5 points per game, which ranked fourth in the league. She was named an All-BIG EAST First Team selection for the second straight season. The senior forward also led the team in rebounding (6.1 rpg). Schimmel averaged 15.1 ppg as a freshman and dished out 172 assists.
Rutgers posted a 20-win season in 2010-11, going 11-5 in league play for a fourth-place finish. The Scarlet Knights advanced to the second round of the NCAA Championship, falling to eventual champion Texas A&M. RU is led by Preseason All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention selections Khadijah Rushdan and April Sykes. Rushdan averaged 11.8 ppg last year, along with 5.8 rpg and 5.2 apg. Sykes averaged 14.1 ppg and 4.2 rpg.
Georgetown tied for seventh in the league after going 9-7 in conference play. The Hoyas are coming off a 24-11 season that ended in the NCAA Regionals with a five-point loss to No. 1 seed Connecticut. GU is led by unanimous Preseason All-BIG EAST selection Sugar Rodgers, the league's top returning scorer (18.7 ppg) from last year.
DePaul finished in a tie for second place in the BIG EAST last year. The Blue Demons posted a 29-7 overall record, their fourth straight 20-win season. DePaul has a 19-game home winning streak, including a 17-0 mark at home in 2010-11. DePaul reached the NCAA Regionals in 2010-11, falling to No. 2 seed Duke. Unanimous Preseason All-BIG EAST selection Keisha Hampton returns after averaging 16.0 ppg last year, which ranked fourth in the conference.
St. John's returns almost a full roster, including four starters, from a team that went 22-11 last season. The Red Storm reached the second round of the NCAA Championship, losing at No. 1 seed Stanford. St. John's went 9-7 in league play, tying for seventh. Preseason All-BIG EAST selections Shenneika Smith and Da'Shena Stevens return to lead the team this season. Smith averaged 12.2 points per game, while Stevens added 11.8 points per game. Stevens was the team's leading rebounder with 6.4 boards per game.
Syracuse reached the quarterfinals of the WNIT, falling 71-68 in overtime at Toledo. The Orange finished 25-10, their second straight 25-win season. Preseason All-BIG EAST selection Kayla Alexander, a junior center, returns to lead the squad after averaging 14.8 points per game last year. Alexander led the BIG EAST in blocks last season with 2.6 bpg and was fifth in the league in field goal percentage (.549). The Orange return 10 players, including three starters, and 80.4 percent of their scoring.
West Virginia, which was receiving votes in both national polls at the conclusion of last season, was picked ninth in the Preseason poll. The Mountaineers were 24-10 overall, their fourth 20-win season in five years. WVU was 8-8 in the conference to finish 10th and reached the NCAA Championship, defeating No. 8 seed Houston in the first round before losing to No. 1 seed Baylor. Junior Aysa Bussie is the only returning starter after averaging 8.2 points per game last year.
Picked in the 10th spot is USF, which went 12-19 in 2010-11, picking up three conference wins. The Bulls posted one win over a ranked opponent, defeating then-No. 18/19 Georgetown in the final game of the regular season. Guard Andrea Smith, a 2011 Preseason All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention selection, returns for her senior season after ranking third in the league last year with 16.5 points per game.
Marquette returns two starters and five letterwinners from a team that won 24 games in 2010-11 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Championship. The Golden Eagles were picked 11th in this year's preseason poll. MU returns two of its top six scorers from last season, junior Sarina Simmons (7.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and sophomore Katherine Plouffe (6.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg).
Pittsburgh, picked by the league coaches to finish 12th, has a young team entering 2011-12 with eight sophomores and five freshmen. The incoming freshman class is ranked No. 18 by ESPN Hoopgurlz, the highest ranked class in Pitt history. Redshirt sophomore Ashlee Anderson is the lone returning starter.
Villanova, which returns 90 percent of its scoring from last year, has all five of its top scorers from 2010-11 back for this season. The Wildcats were picked to finish 13th this season. VU will be led by junior Laura Sweeney, who averaged 11.5 ppg, and senior Lindsay Kimmel, who averaged 10.2 ppg.
Providence finished 11th last season and was picked to finish 14th in this year's poll. The Friars were 13-16 last year, including a 6-10 mark in league play. PC has two redshirt-seniors this year, Tiffany Hurd and Teya Wright. Wright averaged a team-leading 8.0 rpg and shot a team-high .434 from the field.
Cincinnati, picked to finish 15th in the preseason poll, went 9-20 last year. The Bearcats return two BIG EAST All-Freshman team members in Kayla Cook and Jeanise Randolph, who scored 8.1 and 5.7 points per game, respectively.
Seton Hall was picked to finish 16th. The Piratesposted an 8-22 record in head coach Anne Donovan's first season. Donovan returns all five starters from last year's squad, including senior Jasmine Crew, who led the team in scoring with 11.6 points per game and was among the BIG EAST leaders in free throw percentage (77.3).
The 2012 BIG EAST Women's Basketball Championship Presented by American Eagle Outfitters returns to the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., for the ninth straight year. After a successful championship in 2011, that again was the national leader in attendance among all conferences, the five-day, 15-game event returns March 2-6, 2012. All 16 teams battle for the conference title and the winner will earn the league's automatic bid to the 64-team NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship.