Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Marquette and DePaul stand out among the top of the BIG EAST as conference play nears

                   Photo Credits: Marquette Athletics/DePaul Athletics

As Christmas nears, one thing is for certain– the gift that is BIG EAST women's basketball looms once more.

Coming into the regular season, the Creighton Blue Jays' expectations were sky high as they were tied with the DePaul Blue Demons in the conference preseason poll and returned leading scorer Marissa Janning after missing most of last season with a broken leg.

The possibly of contending can exist as league play starts on Dec. 28, but a 5-4 start from Creighton has given way for Marquette's 8-2 mark in non-conference play, highlighted by wins over No. 18 Arizona State and No. 22 Oregon State.

Given how some of the non-conference opponents have overlapped with several BIG EAST schools, DePaul coach Doug Bruno is not surprised at all about Marquette's start.

"I have not had the need yet to see [Marquette] and any other conference opponents because some they play people that are on our schedule," Bruno said.

The Golden Eagles' fast start has been fueled by sophomore Allazia Blockton's league-leading 18.5 points per game, along with 5.4 rebounds per game.

"We know Marquette pretty well and while they might be a surprise to most, they return their talented freshman [Allazia Blockton] from a season ago and will be a solid contender," Bruno said.

Two more Golden Eagles are in the Top 10 in scoring (Natisha Hiedeman, eighth at 14.3 PPG and Erika Davenport, tenth at 13.8 PPG).

Despite a 1-3 mark against top 25 teams in the non-conference slate, DePaul remains as the class of the conference, despite an 8-4 record and out of the Associated Press poll as of Dec. 19. 

DePaul's only win against a ranked team came against No. 11 Syracuse, who played in the Final Four last season.

Jessica January has lived up to the billing of preseason BIG EAST Player of the Year as she leads the Blue Demons in points (16.1), assists (6.8), and steals (2.4) per game.

The Blue Demons were dealt a significant blow at the start of the season as projected starting center Mart'e Grays went down with a season-ending knee injury and were forced to adjust to a smaller lineup.

Amarah Coleman has been the benefactor from Grays' injury with an average of 9.9 PPG in 12 starts for DePaul.

With each BIG EAST team playing eight games in 18 days to kick off league play, Bruno knows it will be a grind with the depth from top to bottom.

"The whole league will be up for grabs and a lot of teams will make noise this season," Bruno said. "There's good wins in this league coming from every direction and as tough as our losses to Notre Dame, UConn, Baylor and Temple were, we had some solid wins against teams like Northwestern and Syracuse."

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