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Irish women picked to win Big East

Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins (4) talks with head

Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins (4) talks with head coach Muffet McGraw during a break in the second half of the women's NCAA Final Four college basketball championship game against Texas A&M in Indianapolis, Tuesday, April 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan) Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mark Duncan

There was a changing of the guard at the top in Big East women’s basketball as Notre Dame, fresh off an appearance in the national championship game, was picked to finish first by the coaches. Led by preseason conference player of the year pick Skylar Diggins, the Irish garnered nine of the 16 first-place votes.

Connecticut, which lost to the Fighting Irish in the national semifinal, was picked second with seven first-place votes. It was the first time since 2005 that the Huskies weren’t picked No.1.

Most coaches agree the Fighting Irish earning the top ranking in the preseason over Connecticut speaks to how deep and competitive the league is.

“The thing about the Big East is that there always seems to be a couple of surprise teams,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “Two years ago Georgetown and St. John’s kind of jumped ahead of what was predicted…There are so many teams with good players that could just as easily win the league this year.”

As for Connecticut, not having four-time AP All-American Maya Moore doesn’t mean the Huskies won’t be a factor.

Geno Auriemma returns several talented leaders, including North Babylon graduate Bria Hartley, Kelly Faris and Tiffany Hayes and believes his program’s tradition still carries a lot of weight around the country.

“In sports some teams, some programs have that aura that people are not sure whether they can beat them, even when the other people have a better team,” said Auriemma. “The kids feel that when they put the uniform on and when they practice.”  

That air of invincibility usually has a sell-by date, according to the coach. “But unless you keep winning that gets chipped away little by little until all of a sudden that aura doesn’t exist anymore,” Auriemma said.
 
Fresh off the best season in school history, Georgetown is the latest example of how deep the conference is and how much Connecticut and Notre Dame needs to worry.

“It’s unbelievable. You look at the preseason ranking and see how many teams we have there to see have how tough our conference is,” said Hoyas coach Terri Williams-Flournoy, whose squad advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. “With so many great teams they have to pick a high number of teams to go to the NCAA Tournament.”

St. John's, fresh off its second straight NCAA appearance and third in six years, was picked seventh. The Red Storm returns its backcourt in Shenneika Smith and Nadirah McKenith and senior forward Da'Shena Stevens.

Stevens' return will be delayed for four to six weeks, however, as she recovers from a sprained MCL. She is expected back sometime in December.

2011-2012 Preseason Big East Coaches’ Poll

1. Notre Dame (9)
2. Connecticut (7)
3. Louisville
4. Rutgers
5. Georgetown
6. DePaul
7. St. John’s
8. Syracuse
9. West Virginia
10. South Florida
11. Marquette
12. Pittsburgh
13. Villanova
14. Providence
15. Cincinnati
16. Seton Hall

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