“Unlike all the other leagues that are primarily college football leagues…this is a basketball league,” said Geno Auriemma of the University of Connecticut’s decision to return to the Big East Conference. UConn left the Big East in 2013 to join the American Athletic Conference due to football driven conference realignment.
“Obviously, we raise the profile of the Big East because of who we are,” he added. “At a lot of other places, they just don’t care about women’s basketball…In this conference, basketball is a passion of the ADs, of the presidents. It’s the DNA of the schools in this league. It’s why it’s so great to be in this league.”
Needless to say, the Huskies, which have won a record 11 NCAA titles, were picked to finish first in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Junior guard Christyn Williams was named 2020-’21 Big East Preseason Player of the Year and Paige Bueckers was unanimously selected Preseason Freshman of the Year. Beyond the court, both players said they voted via absentee ballot in this year’s election.
“I feel like it’s my duty to vote,” said Williams, who noted that years ago her grandmother knocked on doors to get people to register and vote. Auriemma invited the team to his home for election night, recalling the night in 2008 when he and the team watched Barack Obama win his first term.
As far as basketball goes, on a team with no seniors (New York Liberty forward Megan Walker entered the WNBA draft after her junior year), Williams and two other juniors are comfortable with filling the leadership role. “We have a lot more responsibility this year,” she said. “The younger guys have been so good. They have a willingness to learn and they listen.”
Although the decision to return to the Big East was made before the pandemic, the relative proximity of most of the institutions in the conference is a plus. Now, the Huskies will have shorter road trips and require less air travel.
“I think the wear and tear on our players is going to be much more manageable, so much more bearable,” said Auriemma. “We’re anxious for hopefully a safe season and a healthy season. I can’t wait for the games to begin.”
The preseason schedule has not yet been finalized, but the Big East did release its conference schedule for December. UConn will take on Seton Hall in New Jersey Dec. 6.
During men’s basketball Big East media day, the conference announced the establishment of the John Thompson Jr. Award, named for the renowned Georgetown coach who passed away in August. The award will recognize significant efforts to fight prejudice and discrimination and advance positive social change.