All 10 of the women's basketball programs that will make up the new Big East are in for some adjustments.
Creighton, Xavier and Butler face dramatic changes on and off the court as they join the seven holdover Big East teams to form the new league.
And the holdovers step out of the giant shadows cast by perennial national championship contenders Connecticut and Notre Dame.
“In the past, the rest of us would go into our seasons striving to be in the top four in the conference,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. “We knew that if we could be in the top four of the Big East, we could have a chance to be in the Final Four of the (NCAA) tournament.
“It's no good to have unrealistic goals, and with UConn and Notre Dame in the league, we all knew you didn't really think about winning the league. We just wanted to finish in the top four.”
The new league removes any ceiling, real or imagined, that DePaul, Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova, Seton Hall, Marquette and Providence faced going into each season.
“I think this has us all excited and a little rejuvenated,” said Bruno, who just completed his 27th season at DePaul. “We all have solid programs. It will be up to us to step up to the plate and prove that.
“I believe we will. I believe this will become a great basketball league even without the juggernauts we had in the old league.”
Creighton coach Jim Flanery also notes the absence of Connecticut and Notre Dame when he tries to assess where the Bluejays might fit into their new neighborhood. The competition figures to be more difficult than Creighton faced in the Missouri Valley.
But Flanery believes his program is at a point, coming off two straight trips to the NCAA tournament, that it can contend for championships.
“I think we have things in place where we're not going to be overwhelmed,” Flanery said. “The schools we're joining all have good programs, but it's not like anyone is UConn and Notre Dame. Those two schools were on a different level.”
Flanery's team faced Big East squads in each of its trips to the NCAA tournament the past two seasons. St. John's ended the Bluejays' 2011-12 season by pulling out a two-point win on a basket at the buzzer.
Creighton opened tournament play this season with a win over Syracuse, which is leaving the old Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference. From what Bruno saw in that game, as well as other videotape he watched during the season, the DePaul coach considers the Bluejays a fine fit for the new league.
“I saw what Creighton did against South Florida of our league in that tournament in Cancun,” Bruno said. “They destroyed South Florida. Creighton is going to be right in there in this new league.
“I don't mean they're going to be in there as one of the top five. They're going to be fighting for a championship. They're good enough to do that.”
Watching the Bluejays beat Syracuse in the NCAA tournament had Bruno wrestling with mixed feelings.
“You always cheer for the teams in your conference, so I started out wanting Syracuse to do well,” he said, chuckling. “About five minutes in, I got to thinking, 'Those guys are going to the ACC. Creighton is going to be a part of our new league and our new future.
“I got really excited for Creighton and started rooting for them.”
DePaul also played in the tournament, making its 11th straight NCAA appearance. St. John's and Villanova also earned spots in the 64-team field.
The strength of the old Big East helped it place five or more teams in the tournament annually. One challenge the coaches in the new Big East will face, Bruno said, is finding a scheduling mix to help the league continue to earn multiple tournament bids.
“I think one of the initial challenges for some of us will be to beef up our nonconference schedules,” he said. “I don't know if we're going to have to go over-the-top beefed up, but we'll have to beef it up to a degree.
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“Still, I see the competitiveness within the league being a lot stronger than, say, when we used to be in the old Conference USA. We were getting four or five teams in back then, and this is going to be a lot stronger than that league was.”
Creighton traditionally played the strongest nonconference schedule in the Valley, which had become a one-bid league over the past decade. The Bluejays' success out of conference this season helped them become the first Valley school since 2002 to earn an at-large NCAA tournament bid.
Flanery doesn't intend to back off his nonconference scheduling philosophy.
“This is going to be a good league, but I don't know if it's a 5-out-of-10-teams-going-to-the-NCAA-tournament league,” Flanery said. “I still think we're going to need to challenge ourselves in the nonconference to put ourselves in a good at-large position.
“I don't think finishing fifth place in this league is going to do it. We're still going to have to do some work in the nonconference.”
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