New City for Big East Women's Tournament

CHICAGO - At the inaugural BIG EAST Tournament in 1983, Debbie Beckford was named MVP as she helped St. John's beat Providence, 74-63, in the championship game at Alumni Hall in Providence, Rhode Island.

And while Beckford most likely won't be attending this year's BIG EAST title game, St. John's and Providence may very well be there.

And so might any of the BIG EAST's other eight teams.

In a conference that saw now-departed Connecticut win the league tournament 18 out of 22 years, this year's tournament could belong to St. John's, Villanova, DePaul, Marquette, Seton Hall, Providence, Georgetown, or to newcomers Creighton, Xavier, and Butler.

"There is a lot of parity in the conference," said Villanova head coach Harry Perretta. "It's fun for the fans and for the players because they know they can win every night and they also know they can lose every night."

Villanova was the last team among the current BIG EAST teams to win the conference tournament, defeating Connecticut, 52-48, in 2003.

The loss of teams from a conference can cause fans to either leave or stay. And for those fans that have stayed with the BIG EAST, it is fair for them to put the conference under their collective microscope, studying the new teams and re-evaluating the old ones.

And to see this year's BIG EAST under a microscope is really to see a bigger picture.

The parity that exists in the current BIG EAST should not be mistaken for mediocrity. The conference continues to excel nationally, placing teams and players in the Top 50 of virtually every major statistical category.

Villanova ranks No. 1 in Division I in assist-to turnover ratio at 1:94. DePaul ranks No. 8 (1:35) and Creighton No. 37 (1:12). Villanova also holds the No. 1 spot in turnovers per game (9.3).

DePaul ranks No. 4 in assists per game (21.1) and Villanova No. 17 (18.0). DePaul ranks No. 10 in scoring offense (84.5 ppg) and No. 5 in steals per game (12.3).

Marquette ranks No. 5 in rebounding margin (14.4).

St. John's ranks No. 19 in three-point field goal percentage defense (26.3 percent).

Performance so far this season has gone along with numbers.

Creighton and DePaul won their respective brackets in this year's Duel in the Desert Tournament in Las Vegas.

The 10 current BIG EAST teams have 68 NCAA Tournament appearances between them, with DePaul earning 17, including 11 straight, Xavier and Villanova with 10 each, and Marquette with nine. Last year, Creighton, Villanova, DePaul, and St. John's all qualified for the Tournament.

"To me, right now, it is the whole conference that is standing out," said DePaul head coach Doug Bruno. "It is a conference that is so threatened by each other top to bottom, and that is what makes it a great conference and a very difficult conference. I knew in the preseason that that was what was going to make this a great conference. We lost two juggernauts, but the bulk of the strength of the conference stayed."

The fact that DePaul, the preseason pick to finish first in the BIG EAST, currently sits in third place is evidence of that difficulty.

Individual performances have been equally high and equally widespread.

Caroline Coyer of Villanova ranks No. 5 in assist to turnover ratio (3.61). DePaul's Chanise Jenkins comes in at No. 13 (3.00). Coyer's teammate, Devon Kane, ranks No. 20 (2.69) and Marquette's Brooklyn Pumroy is 35th (2.41).

The BIG EAST's Preseason Player of the Year selection, DePaul's Brittany Hrynko, is 22nd in the nation in assists per game (6.0). Seton Hall's Ka-Deidre Simmons is 29th (5.9).

Jasmine Penny of DePaul is No. 4 in field goal percentage (64 percent) while Butler's Liz Stratman is 12th (60.2 percent).

Georgetown's Natalie Butler is No. 6 in rebounds per game (13.3).

Katherine Plouffe of Marquette is No. 47 in points per game (19.4) and No. 25 in rebounds per game (10.8).

Creighton's McKenzie Fujan poured in 38 points in one game and her teammate, Marissa Janning, scored 34 points in another game. DePaul's Megan Rogowski broke her school's record with 30 points in one game.

The BIG EAST has five current players with 1,000 or more career points and four players with 500 or more career rebounds.

And occupying the first seat on these respective benches is a coaching staff that has a combined record of 2,934 - 2,134 (72.7 winning percentage).

Perretta has 651 career wins and Bruno has 544. Seton Hall's first year head coach, Anthony Bozzella, has his team off to its best start since 2008. The BIG EAST has five coaches each with over 300 career wins.

And the road for all these teams points this year to the 18,500 capacity Allstate Arena in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Ill.

"Chicago overall is a great women's basketball market, from high school to college to professional, said the BIG EAST's Associate Commissioner of Women's Basketball, Amber Cox. "I think that is what we want to accomplish - bringing fans together from all different levels."

Rosemont is five minutes from O'Hare International Airport and 16 miles from downtown Chicago. The CTA's Blue line train runs from Chicago to the Rosemont stop.

"There are a lot of people that have not been to Rosemont or don't know about it," said Bruno. "It's a great place to have fun and be entertained when you are not at the games. And the fans still have Chicago to visit."

All 10 teams will participate in the quest for the BIG EAST's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"I think the conference this year has been more than what we expected," said Cox. "I have seen these teams live and in person, and every night you have somebody that can compete for the conference title, and that will make the tournament exciting."

The BIG EAST Tournament runs March 8 -11. The top six teams in the conference will receive first-round byes. The first round games will be played on Saturday, March 8, at 4:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. CST at McGrath-Phillips Arena on the DePaul campus.

The quarterfinals will be played at Allstate Arena on March 9, with games scheduled at noon, 2:30 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 8:30 p.m.

The semifinals on March 10 are at 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. and will be televised on FOX Sports 1.

The title game is set for March 11 at 8:00 p.m., also televised on FOX Sports 1.

All-session, lower-level, center-court ticket booklets start at just $75, which is just over $8 per game. The best seats at the best prices will be available until Feb. 1, with prices increasing after that date. Single-session tickets will be available in the weeks to follow. See below for the full pricing breakdown.

Fans can call 773-325-SLAM (7526) to purchase tickets, or buy them online by clicking HERE.

The BIG EAST in the past was known for monopoly and certainty. The only certainty this year is that a new city will crown a new champion.

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