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Big East women’s basketball midseason power rankings

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Trib File Photo

Trib File Photo

Midway through conference play in the Big East, there have been some surprises in women’s basketball. Teams have played significantly better than their preseason rankings, while others have disappointed. Here is the Tribune’s midseason rankings for Big East women’s basketball.

1. Seton Hall (20-2, 9-1)

The Pirates were picked to finish fifth in the Big East in the conference preseason poll, but the team had other plans. Seton Hall is ranked 24th in the USA Today Coaches Poll and sits one position outside the Top 25 in the AP Poll, while leading the charge in the Big East with a 20-2 record. The team’s only conference loss was a 59-50 loss at St. John’s Jan. 2.

The Pirates have three of the top six scorers in the conference in grad student guards Daisha and Ka-Diedre Simmons (no relation) and junior Tabatha Richardson-Smith, all averaging more than 17 points per game. The Pirates have not lost since stumbling to St. John’s and look to take the Big East regular season crown, as five of their last eight games come against teams under .500 in the conference. A showdown at DePaul on Feb. 12 will likely decide which team finishes atop the Big East.

2. DePaul (17-6, 9-2)

DePaul was unanimously selected to win the Big East at the conference media day in October, but with a 17-6 record some are writing off the Blue Demons. A closer look shows all of DePaul’s non-conference losses, except for a double-OT thriller against Northwestern, which came against teams ranked No. 5 or better, including Texas A&M, Notre Dame and UConn. DePaul lost a heart-breaker in overtime at Villanova, which knocked them out of the Top 25, and then the Blue Demons were crushed by 20 at the hands of conference-leading Seton Hall. Despite all this, DePaul looks poised to finish strong.

The Blue Demons have won eight of their last nine and senior guard Brittany Hrynko is one of the best players in Big East history, averaging more than 19 points per game, good for second-best in the conference. She leads the Big East in steals per game (2.9) and Hrynko sits tied for 10th in Big East history in three-point makes (136) and is tied for 17th in assists (306). One more 3-pointer will tie Hrynko with 2009 Naismith winner and Final Four MVP Maya Moore, while three more assists will tie her with two-time Big East Player of the Year Skylar Diggins. DePaul faces three of the conference’s top five teams before finishing the season with three games against basement-dwellers Creighton, Providence and Marquette.

3. Butler (12-10, 8-3)

The Bulldogs are another Big East Cinderella emerging into the conference elite. Butler was picked to finish dead last in the conference preseason poll, based on having to replace all five of the starters from a year ago. The Bulldogs played the part early, losing their first six games. Butler came into conference play at a dismal 4-8 and lost the Big East opener to Seton Hall Dec. 30, 70-65.

But as soon as the calendar turned, so too did the Bulldogs’ fortune. Butler won every game in January, reeling off eight straight wins. Butler now sits third in the Big East standings, thanks in part to senior forwards Ijeoma Uchendu and Belle Obert. Uchendu is tied for the conference lead in defensive rebounds per game (7.0) and averages more than 14 points and nearly 10 rebounds a night. Obert is second in the Big East in blocked shots (2.4) and scores 8.5 points, while scooping almost seven rebounds per game. But perhaps most impressive is sophomore guard Loryn Goodwin, who averages 16.2 points and just less than six and a half rebounds per game. Butler will have its work cut out for them though, facing off against Seton Hall and DePaul before its season is done.

4. Villanova (13-10, 7-4)

The Wildcats are arguably the nation’s most fundamentally sound team, holding the top spot in both assist-to-turnover ratio (1.69) and turnovers per game (8.9) for the second straight season, which will serve them well down the stretch. Villanova also holds the conference’s best three-point shooting percentage at .350.

The Wildcats are led by junior guard Caroline Coyer, scoring 12.8 and dishing out 4.4 assists a night. In the front court, its senior forward Emily Leer at the helm, with 12.2 points and six rebounds a night. ‘Nova has lost to each of the three teams ahead of them in the standings and will have to get past Butler and Seton Hall before the season is finished.

5. St. John’s (15-6, 6-4)

The St. John’s Red Storm was the 2014 Big East runner-up and was selected to finish in the same position in this season’s preseason poll. The Red Storm raced out to a 10-0 start and was even ranked 25th in the country, before a double-OT loss to Indiana State snapped the streak. From there on, St. John’s has gone 5-5, losing back-to-back games twice. Statistically, St. John’s is one of the Big East’s best teams. It leads the conference in field goal percentage offense and defense, rebounding defense and margin and blocked shots.

Senior forward Amber Thompson is averaging 11.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, both of which are conference highs, and is on pace to be one of the all-time greats in the two fields in Big East history. Offensively, the Red Storm have the league leader in scoring, junior guard Aliyyah Handford, who puts up 20.6 a night, and her fellow junior in the backcourt, Danaejah Grant, is scoring an impressive 18.6 per game. St. John’s has made the NCAA Tournament five years in a row, but will have to get some lucky bounces for year number six, as the squad must still take on DePaul, Butler and Villanova.

6. Creighton (12-10, 5-6)

The Creighton Bluejays are riding a three-game winning streak and, if nothing else, look to play spoiler as the Big East season comes to a close. Last year’s Big East Player of the Year and this season’s Preseason Big East Player of the Year, junior guard Marissa Janning, is at the helm, scoring 16.4 points per game and is the conference’s third best three point shooter. When hot, Janning is lethal from the field and could help this team make a run in the conference tournament.

Also crucial to Creighton’s success is senior forward Alexis Akin-Otiko, who averages 12.6 ppg and 6.4 rebounds. Akin-Otiko is also third in the Big East is blocks, with 1.6 a night. Creighton will have to face four of the five teams that sit ahead of them in the current standings before their year is done, giving the Bluejays plenty of opportunity to make a late run.

7. Xavier (13-9, 5-6)

The Musketeers were picked to be the second worst team in the conference this season, coming off an 8-23 campaign in 2014. However, Xavier made an early stand to quiet the nay-sayers. Xavier won its first three conference games this season and came into a matchup against Seton Hall ready to prove a point. But, the Musketeers fell hard, losing the match, as well as four of its next six, mainly against the conference elite.

Mathematically, Xavier is still in the running for the conference crown, but the team will have to take on Seton Hall, DePaul and Butler before season’s end. This means the Musketeers will need significant contributions from leading scorers junior forward Briana Glover and redshirt sophomore guard Raeshaun Gaffney. Together, the tandem averages roughly 21 points per game.

8. Marquette (5-17, 1-10)

The Golden Eagles are coming off their first Big East win of the season, after losing their previous 10 games, nearly setting a program record for consecutive losses. But the potential the Golden Eagles have is far beyond their record. Marquette has two freshman guards, Kenisha Bell and Tia Elbert, who continue to improve with each game. Bell averages more than 14 points and five rebounds on the year and Elbert contributes 8.5 points a night. Marquette’s star, however, is senior guard Arlesia Morse, who averages 14.5 points and 6.3 boards. Morse is the nation’s second best free throw shooter at 92.8 percent from the line. The Golden Eagles rely on free throws for much of their scoring, but as this team matures under first-year coach Carolyn Kieger, they could steal a few more wins.

9. Providence (5-17, 2-9)

The Friars have won just two of their last 14 games and will look back on the 2014-15 season as one where all the pieces were there, but the team just couldn’t bring it all together. Providence had their six top scorers returning this season, but nothing seemed to work.

Senior forward Alexis Harris leads the team in scoring with 11.1 points a night and 7.1 rebounds her fellow front-court teammate Chanise Baldwin is just behind her in rebounding with 6.9 a game. Providence has already shown that it can play the upset role, having defeated Villanova earlier in the year.

10. Georgetown (4-19, 2-9)

The Hoyas have had two separate losing streaks of at least seven games, dropping 10 in a row from Nov. 21 to Dec. 30, and are losers of seven straight. Georgetown came into the season with some promise, as the team has the Preseason Big East Freshman of the Year in Dorothy Adomako. The freshman forward is living up to the hype, averaging 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, both of which are team highs, but her performance hasn’t been enough. The Hoyas have the conference’s worst field goal shooting percentage and average the most turnovers in the Big East (18.8). Adomako has the looks of becoming a star in the league, and maybe Georgetown can build around her, but this season is a lost cause.

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