Big East commissioner Val Ackerman (c) with the conference’s head coaches Credit: Lois Elfman photo

It goes without saying that University of Connecticut is the unanimous preseason favorite in Big East women’s basketball. Now in year two of the Huskies’ return to the Big East Conference, the preseason coaches’ poll, announced on media day Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, placed Connecticut at number one, DePaul University at number two and Seton Hall University at number three.

UConn sophomore Paige Bueckers was the unanimous choice for Big East Preseason Player of the Year. Bueckers made history last season as the first freshman to win the Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy, AP National Player of the Year, USBWA National Player of the Year and the Lieberman Award. The Huskies’ newest player, Azzi Fudd, was a unanimous pick for Preseason Freshman of the Year.

With all student-athletes being granted another year of eligibility after last year’s challenging season played with pandemic restrictions, several teams in the Big East have players opting for a fifth year. Megan Duffy, head coach at Marquette, said she convinced forward Lauren Van Kleunen to return by reminding her how exciting it is to play college basketball for fans.

“You look back at film from two years ago and you remember how special it is to be playing in front of those crowds,” said Duffy. “Ultimately, when she decides to go overseas and play pro or start her real life, I don’t think you’ll ever get those moments back.”

The ability of student-athletes to earn money from their name, image and likeness (NIL) will receive attention this season. Georgetown senior forward Jillian Archer said she’s upping her game on social media. “I really believe in vulnerability as well as transparency when it comes to letting people see what my everyday life is like. I’m definitely trying to engage more with my followers on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok,” said Archer.

Basketball is number one, but Bueckers, whose name has been prominently mentioned in discussions about NIL, is happy to have choices. “It’s a great opportunity for kids in college to be able to market off of what they do,” said Bueckers. “I think we all deserve it as much as we give to the game.”

The energy of First Night, the first official practice, reminded UConn players of the energy surrounding the Huskies. “Being able to play in front of people this year, we’re super excited for it. I think it’s going to be great for our game,” said senior forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa.

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