UConn will return to the Big East starting in 2020

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UConn will return to the Big East starting in 2020

Annalisa Baranowski / The DePaulia

Annalisa Baranowski / The DePaulia

Annalisa Baranowski / The DePaulia

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If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.

That will be the case for DePaul women’s basketball, and the other nine teams in the Big East when the University of Connecticut rejoins the conference in 2020. 

UConn women’s basketball is known to be one of the most dominant programs in college sports history. They have won 11 national championships.

“If it weren’t for two buzzer beaters,” said Doug Bruno, DePaul women’s basketball head coach. “they would have 13 National Championships.”

UConn was part of the Big East until the reconfiguration in 2013. After moving to the AAC (The American Athletic Conference), the program cruised to six straight conference championships. During their first stint in the Big East from 1983 to 2012, they won 18 conference championships, with 16 of those coming in a 19-year span.

It is no secret how dominant this UConn program is. They put themselves in a position to win every year, and there is no reason to assume that will change any time soon.

“From a parochial point of view it’s going to make it very much harder for anybody else to win a Big East championship,” Bruno said. “UConn is arguably the best intercollegiate basketball program in the history of all intercollegiate basketball, men or women.”

Starting in 2020, the rest of the Big East contenders will have a tougher challenge ahead of them by getting the chance to play this dominant program at least twice a year. The last time DePaul shared a conference with UConn, they never finished better than 3rd (twice) in conference standings with other programs like Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pitt making it arguably the best conference in women’s college basketball. 

“Just the fact that UConn is coming to our conference,” DePaul junior transfer Deja Church said. “It’s just kind of like a basketball player’s dream because you want to play a competitive game every single night.”

UConn is not the only high-level program inside the Big East. DePaul, Marquette and St. John’s have also had their shares of success in this conference.

DePaul has been one of the only teams that have had the chance to still play a non-conference game against UConn every year since their departure. Some players have been able to learn and take away some things from playing them in the past.

“The main thing is worrying about our game plan, and not what they’re going to do,” sophomore Lexi Held said. “Because when we play our game, we’re better.”

The one game at a time motto has been a common theme. Not looking ahead of other conference opponents, focusing on UConn is key.

“I think every team in the Big East is competitive and could be just as good as UConn,” Church said. “I wouldn’t take the other teams for granted, we still have to look forward to them and UConn is just icing on the cake. I think it’s just going to make us better players, more competitive, because obviously when we step on the court against UConn we want to win; that’s the main goal.”

This UConn women’s basketball program isn’t just run by some ordinary guy. It’s run by arguably one of the best basketball coaches of all time, Geno Auriemma.

Auriemma’s record (1,062-139) at UConn speaks for itself, and puts him in the conversation for best collegiate head coach of any sport in history.

“Count my friends on one hand, and he’s one of my five best friends,” Bruno said, about Auriemma. “He’s like a brother, you go out on the playground or the backyard and you want to beat each other up, but at the end of the day, you’re still brothers.”

The girls aren’t the only ones who are ready for the challenge against UConn – so is Coach Bruno.

UConn coming back gives the rest of the Big East head coaches a good recruiting pitch by getting to play a top team multiple times a year. 

“Absolutely helps recruiting – no question it helps,” Bruno said. “We already play a monster non-conference schedule for the purpose of helping our recruiting, but them [UConn] being in the league makes it even better.”

It must be a great pitch to use because it sure seems to work when it comes to getting elite talent. Most competitors love the opportunity to play against the great teams.

“I think UConn coming back to the Big East just rises everybody’s level of competitiveness,” DePaul senior Chante Stonewall said. “It also could be good for recruits, because they might want to come join the Big East so they can come play at such a high level.”

It’s not only good for recruits coming out of high school, but also a good pitch to current college players who aren’t happy where they are and are looking to transfer.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to play UConn,” Church said, since she transferred here from the University of Michigan. “But next year it’s going to be pretty exciting; that’s one of the reasons I came here because DePaul always had a competitive schedule.”

DePaul has had great success nationally and in the Big East, but no matter which conference you’re in, the main goal is to win the National Championship.

That road usually has to go through UConn at some point.

DePaul has struggled against UConn in the years past. Since joining the Big East in 2005, they have gone 0-16 against UConn. 14 of those 16 games DePaul lost by double-digit points. 2007 was the year they came closest to beating them, losing by one point, 77-76. 

“We are proud of what we have achieved,” Bruno said. “It’s not easy to be one of the five schools who have went to 17 straight NCAA tournaments. There have been 12 [Big East] championships since realignment, and DePaul has won nine of them.”

“It’s not easy to do what we’ve done, but our goals are higher. There is a food chain in women’s basketball, and we’ve done everything except conquer being one of the top 10 schools to win the national championship.”

DePaul will begin their road to the national championship in the WNIT on Nov. 8 against Miami University (Ohio). Their final game against UConn comes Dec. 16, before they are conference opponents and playing each other multiples times a season.