Something old, something new: DePaul women’s basketball on the move

HARTFORD, Conn., – Seated in front of media members at DePaul’s press conference Sunday evening, head coach Doug Bruno took a moment of reflection.

The Blue Demons had just lost to the UConn Huskies in their quarterfinal game in the Big East Tournament and, with the conference banner displayed behind him, Bruno proffered his thoughts on the past eight years and what lies ahead.

“I think it was said by somebody, maybe it was Geno (Auriemma, Connecticut head coach), that the league got stronger when the league restructured with all of us entering in 2005 and ’06,” said Bruno. “We helped the Big East get stronger, and it’s been a great conference for DePaul women’s basketball. It gets a little bit nostalgic now that it’s over.”

Since joining the Big East for the 2005-2006 season, DePaul has finished in the top-5 three times, boasting an overall record of 183-83. In Big East Championship play, however, the Blue Demons held an 8-8 record, including their win over Marquette and loss to UConn this go-around.

Now, with DePaul set to depart for the “new” Big East conference with Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s and Villanova, Bruno feels his team is being offered a chance to become an elite team. Heavyweights like UConn, Notre Dame and Louisville – not transferring over to the so-called “Catholic 7” – will no longer be present as tough opponents for DePaul to overcome, though they did enable the Demons’ program through their stiff competition.

“It’s been a good, strong competitive mix throughout, so I think it’s been a mutually beneficial eight years. The competition is over, so it starts to really sink in that this is the last tournament,” said Bruno. “I think the challenge in the new league is for someone – and I expect it to be DePaul University – to step up and take what we have learned from this league and make ourselves a UConn.”

Bruno praised Connecticut in particular because no other team has been as dominant in its reign over the Big East. UConn’s individual and team accomplishments are too countless to name, but perhaps most impressive is their 18 Big East Championship crowns, 15 more than the next closest overall winner, St. John’s.

With UConn no longer in the conference picture for the departed teams, DePaul and the rest of the Big East has a chance to forge their own legacy. Bruno strongly believes DePaul can take its competitiveness to the “next level.”

“We’ve been a nice little 15 to 25 to 30-place team in the country,” said Bruno, “and I think somebody has to step up and do what they (UConn) do and I think that’s the challenge in the new league with the new teams.”

Terri Mitchell, head coach of Marquette’s women’s team, is similarly optimistic about the future of the new conference. Like Bruno, Mitchell was a part of the original Conference USA move, DePaul and Marquette among the teams who made the jump over to the Big East.

“I’m extremely excited about what’s ahead of us. You’re talking longevity here – Great Midwest, Conference USA, Big East and now whatever the new situation is,” said Mitchell. “Every opportunity you look at is just one to grow and get better at. Everything I’ve learned as a coach and our players in the current Big East that we have has been fantastic.

“It’s made us better, and now we move on to another situation that … at the end of the day, we’re talking about our institution, Marquette, and we always find ways to win and get better, no matter league what the league is,” said Mitchell. “We’re gonna make the very best of it and I’m excited about what’s ahead for us.”

With any major move such as this, there is a great deal of uncertainty, both for coaches and for players. When asked Sunday whether or not the reputation of conferences can even have an impact on recruiting, or if an institution’s program is the more important determinant, DePaul senior guard Anna Martin was uncertain.

“I came to DePaul for many reasons and the Big East was one of them, but I can’t say,” said Martin, in reference to the significance of conference affiliation. “I love DePaul for the coaches, the team, the administration, and I love the team so I can’t really say.”

The reality of college sports today is that conference realignment and the governance of TV contracts have become the norm. Geographic and institutional rivalries are being pushed aside, and teams must adapt as a result. And yet, teams like DePaul have made these moves before – this is just another bump in the road.

If all goes as Bruno hopes, DePaul will this time find itself atop the Big East leaderboard.