DePaul Women's Hoops Ready for Big East

The DePaul Women's Basketball team exited Conference USA last season and now prepares to take on the challenge of the expanded Big East conference. The league which features teams that are expected to contend for the national championship like Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Rutgers, now welcomes in five teams from Conference USA – Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, and South Florida. They enter a Big East conference that has taken four of the last five national championships.

Doug Bruno's Blue Demons squad, which returns four starters including player of the year candidate Khara Smith, is ranked in a number of pre-season polls and feels up to the challenge. "I really believe that we are prepared to go into this league as competitive," said Bruno. "We are prepared to go into this league and be competitive at that level, which is top four in the league level. Whether we're ready to beat UConn or beat what Rutgers is supposed to be this year, I'm not ready to say that until we really get them on the floor."

Bruno is quick to point out that the conference that he is leaving was very strong. "I really think the league we just left was a very good league," remarked Doug. "I think it's important to note that we are also strengthening this league. The five teams coming in are helping. We are bringing five very quality teams to this league. People have no idea how good Louisville is going to be this year. Louisville is going to be very, very good. Jazz Covington was a very good player last year for Conference USA and she's going to be one of the five or six best players in this league this year. They've recruited a kid by the name of Helen Johnson from Milwaukee. They're going to be very good. South Florida is going to be very good. We're bringing some good quality ballclubs to the league."

Geno Auriemma's UConn Huskies are among the favorites to win the conference this season. "Everyone knows how UConn plays," observed Bruno. "They are a very efficient offensive machine. It's a much better defensive team than people realize."

Some might consider UConn vulnerable after their failure to make the Final Four last year, but not Bruno. "UConn is going to be very strong," Doug stated. "UConn is never going to have a down year. The standard at UConn is a very, very high standard. By the UConn established standards, last year was a slightly less than UConn norm. They've got a kid named Brittany Hunter (transfer from Duke) sitting out. Those kids that played last year got great experience. They return two of the top five players in the league. The Houston kid is going to be a year older. I picked UConn number one."

With player of the year candidate Cappie Pondexter, Rutgers will be right up there with the Huskies if they stay healthy. "Rutgers is a supposedly banged up right now," Bruno stipulated. "If everyone plays that's on Rutgers roster, it's a (number) one, 1-A year this year. Vivian (Stringer) has always gotten down and dirty on the defensive end. They have tough little scorers."

Beyond UConn and Rutgers, the Big East will not get any easier. "I'm picking Notre Dame third. Muffett (McGraw) is a very efficient offensive coach. Then you've got the Villanova / West Virginia factor, two very, very talented teams as well. The Harry Perretta Villanova style is unique to Harry Perretta and Villanova. You can't forget about South Florida. They took UConn to triple-overtime last year. They went to the NIT. They were very close to making the NCAA tournament themselves."

There really is no such thing as a night off in the expanded Big East Conference "You've got teams that are always strong and competitive like Marquette and Pittsburgh. St. John's won twenty games last year. Syracuse is getting stronger. Georgetown, Seton Hall, Cincinnati are all like going to the dentist, they are all going to be very, very competitive ballclubs."

Bruno has found the new affiliation with the Big East conference to be of tremendous assistance in recruiting prospects. "We are getting a great benefit by being able to go to the Big East," said Bruno. "This benefit is really a recruiting benefit. We are being able to be perceived to be a member of one of the best leagues in the country. That has already paid major dividends in recruiting. That is huge. Our participation in the Big East is huge for that purpose."

Among the huge dividends that Bruno has landed are three recruits from outside the state of Illinois. In the class of 2006, the Blue Demons will see Kayla Guidry, a 5-10 guard from Alexandria, Louisiana, China Threatt, a 5-9 guard from Auburn Hills, Michigan, and Felicia Chester, a 6-2 forward from St. Louis, Missouri.

The Big East has definitely been an advantage with recruiting nationally. "We're in one of the premier conferences in the country," remarked Bruno. "For years, people would recruit against us by saying ‘would you rather play in Conference USA or the Big Ten?' They weren't negatively recruiting, but they were comparatively recruiting. We're always going to be Chicago-based recruiting. The Big East allows us to expand our breadth of recruiting, because of the demographics of the major markets that the Big East is located in. That's just more people for us to be able to choose from. Now those parents can watch their kids. Everyone thinks that this league is spread out, but this is so much tighter geographically than what Conference USA was."

DePaul is coming off of a 26-5 season and a Conference USA championship. The Blue Demons are eager to prove they belong amongst the best in the Big East. DePaul has had three straight 20 win seasons, three straight NCAA tournament appearances, and has advanced to the second round the last two years.

For Bruno and the Blue Demons, Big East conference play begins on January 3rd as the Pittsburgh Panthers come to the DePaul Athletic Center in a game that will be televised nationally on CSTV. One thing you can count on for sure is that Bruno will have his team fully prepared.

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