BIG EAST Women's Basketball

BIG EAST Tournament: UConn Rolls, Villanova Awaits Fate

BIG EAST Tournament: UConn Rolls, Villanova Awaits Fate

Monday’s BIG EAST Tournament final ended in a familiar sight—the Huskies lifting silverware. Now the rest of the BIG EAST wait for their name to be called.

Mar 8, 2022 by Briar Napier
BIG EAST Tournament: UConn Rolls, Villanova Awaits Fate

Allow UConn to reintroduce itself.

The Huskies were always going to be the overwhelming favorites to take yet another conference tournament title until someone else said otherwise, but as it learned in a shock loss to Villanova earlier in the conference season, there are never any guarantees in basketball. Especially in March.

No matter. Monday’s BIG EAST Tournament final ended in a familiar sight—the Huskies lifting silverware. UConn looks to now prove itself once again against the national elites in March Madness. For their opponents, it’ll be a tense few days as the fate of their season rests on a selection committee’s opinion of them—and if they did enough to warrant a bid to the Big Dance.

Here’s the status of the BIG EAST for the final time in the 2021-22 season before the NCAA Tournament tips off and how league teams are shaping up for the postseason (or lack thereof).

UConn Get Sweet, Sweet Revenge

If you’ve been following the BIG EAST women’s basketball coverage on FloHoops throughout the season, you already know what happened the last time Villanova and UConn squared off. In case you need a refresher, the Wildcats did the near-impossible last time around: beat the Huskies in conference play. Not only did ’Nova defeat the Huskies 72-69 on Feb. 9, but the Wildcats did it in Connecticut and ended UConn’s historic 149-game conference winning streak. 

Lightning didn’t strike twice in the BIG EAST Tournament title game. The top-seeded Huskies handled the No. 2 Wildcats 70-40 to win their 20th BIG EAST conference tournament title and ninth straight. UConn went wire-to-wire and emphatically got revenge for its only league defeat of the year, passing its final test of the season with flying colors before its 33rd consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance later this month. The scary part is that the Huskies have room to get even better. Coach Geno Auriemma’s squad only shot 25 percent (3 for 12) from 3-point range and All-American guard Paige Bueckersn(who finished with two points) still isn’t getting starter’s minutes. She remains less than 100% while recovering from a knee injury. 

With the weapons that UConn has at its disposal (as it usually does most seasons), many teams really can’t keep up anyway. Evina Westbrook, Aaliyah Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa all got into double-figures while the Huskies controlled the rebounding battle 39-17 in vintage UConn dominance. The Huskies are currently a No. 2 seed in ESPN “bracketologist” Charlie Creme’s latest bracket projection released Monday morning, and if chalk holds, they’ll be set for a rematch with the likely top overall seed in South Carolina, which UConn lost to way back on Nov. 22 in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Siegrist’s Incredible Run Falls Short

Tip your cap to Maddy Siegrist, everyone, especially if her incredible run to the BIG EAST Player of the Year this season ends with no berth for Villanova in the NCAA Tournament. Try as she might Monday night—playing all 40 minutes and leading all scorers with 16 points—Siegrist just had too little help and UConn too much firepower for her to shoulder the weight all by herself and propel Villanova to a second win this year over the BIG EAST queens. And though the BIG EAST season probably didn’t end the way she wanted, Siegrist deserves to hold her head up high for one of the greatest individual seasons in conference history. 

The Wildcats started 3-5 with Siegrist out for a portion of the stretch due to injury. The junior forward from New York then returned for ’Nova’s game against James Madison on Dec. 9. Since then, the Wildcats have gone a fantastic 20-3 with wins over every BIG EAST team, while Siegrist broke a three decade-old record for scoring per regular-season league game: 27.9 points, eclipsing the old mark by a full point. However, that slow start has been Villanova’s Achilles heel all season long, and it has coach Denise Dillon’s team as the “First Team Out” in Creme’s latest projections. Essentially, it’s a 50-50 shot on if the Wildcats get a bid to the Big Dance, and how much the selection committee puts the fairly uncompetitive title game into consideration of the Wildcats’ resume will prove critical come selection day.

Now, We Wait

Speaking of selection day, Villanova isn’t the only BIG EAST team that’ll be sweating things out. Of all the league’s teams, UConn is a lock for the NCAA Tournament while the conference’s basement-dwellers—Butler, Xavier, Georgetown, Providence and St. John’s—are going to be watching March Madness from home. Seton Hall, despite an upset of Creighton in the BIG EAST Tournament and only one loss in February, had numerous rough patches throughout the first half of the season and is likely WNIT-bound. Tthe Bluejays are probably in the field even with the quarterfinal defeat to the Pirates, though Creme has Creighton slotted in as a No. 9 seed that’ll be in a tough spot to make it out of the first two rounds. 

That leaves Villanova, DePaul and Marquette, all of whom are right on the bubble for a bid. The Wildcats have already been talked about fairly extensively, but with the win over UConn on their resume, they have a claim on their resume no one else can hold a candle to. ’Nova plays efficient (1.18 assist-to-turnover ratio) and eye-catching offense through Siegrist, but did struggle early in the year in two double-digit defeats to likely tourney teams Maryland and Princeton—and Siegrist played in those. 

If the eye test is what you look for in a tournament team, look no further than DePaul, holders most of the season of the nation’s highest-scoring offense 88.3 points per game and possibly the best freshman in Aneesah Morrow, who was a monster averaging 21.7 points, 13.8 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 1.8 blocks a night in Year 1 with the Blue Demons. But with that offensive prowess came an atrocious defense (78.3 points allowed per game) that would sometimes have glaring off nights … like in its 105-85 loss to Marquette in the BIG EAST Tournament quarterfinals. Probably at the longest odds of the three league bubble teams to make the Big Dance, the Golden Eagles still have an outside shot. But double-digit losses—with four of them coming in February—knocked Marquette down a few notches and it’s probably on the outside looking in. Alas, all predictions are merely speculation, however, and until a field is decided for good, that’s all that can be done for now.