Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com 1134d

DePaul will dominate Big East again

Women's College Basketball, Depaul Blue Demons, Villanova Villanova, St. John's Red Storm

This is another season of change in the Big East.

DePaul takes over the mantle as the power team in this conference, and it's hardly by default. The Blue Demons' trip to the Sweet 16 last year was impressive and sets a tone.

Although Butler, Georgetown and Marquette have new coaches, there's a lot of experience in this conference, with a multitude of teams returning the majority of their starters from last season.

The Big East -- which also has bid adieu to Connecticut and Notre Dame the past two years -- is going to have to rebuild its reputation as a "power" conference in women's basketball. No better way to do that than have veteran teams find success.

Big East predicted order of finish

1. DePaul (29-7 in 2013-14): The Blue Devils raised the bar with last season's trip to the regional semifinals. The Blue Demons finished 15-3 in the conference and are regarded as the best team, returning four starters. Guard Brittany Hyrnko is the go-to player, but she has plenty of help from Megan Rogowski, Chanise Jenkins and Megan Podkowa. The four returners put up nearly 50 points a game between them last season, and DePaul ranked third in the nation with 19.6 assists per game.

2. Villanova (23-9): Harry Perretta, in his 35th season, always has his Wildcats in the mix, and this season should be no exception. Villanova returns only two starters and six players from last season's team, but junior guard Caroline Coyer should provide a steady presence in the backcourt.

3. St. John's (23-11): The Red Storm are picked to finish second in the league by the coaches -- the same place they finished last year -- despite returning just two starters. But they are two very good players: Junior guard Aliyyah Handford scored in double figures in 30 games last season, and senior forward Amber Thompson finished with 11 double-doubles.

4. Creighton (20-14): Coming off a third consecutive 20-win season, Creighton lost six seniors but still has the league's best player in Marissa Janning. The junior guard, the reigning Big East player of the year, averaged 17.6 points a game last season. The Bluejays also return senior point guard Sammy Jensen and Alexis Akin-Otiko inside.

5. Seton Hall (20-14): The Pirates, who won 20 games last season for the first time since 1995, have four returning starters. That quartet includes a pair of standouts: fifth-year senior point guard Ka-Deidre Simmons and junior wing Tabatha Richardson-Smith, who were the Nos. 3 and 4 scorers in the league, respectively. Simmons was the first Seton Hall player since 1996 to be named to the All Big-East first team and the all-tournament team. She averaged 16.7 points a game. Richardson-Smith averaged 17.1 points a game and finished with 82 steals.

6. Marquette (22-11): Senior Arlesia Morse leads a team that's coming off its second-best league record (11-7) since it joined the Big East in 2005-06. The season ended with a trip to the WNIT, the program's 12th postseason appearances in 13 seasons. But this is a team with a new head coach in alumna Carolyn Kieger and one that needs to replace three starters. Morse, a senior guard, averaged 11.5 points a game.

7. Georgetown (11-21): The Hoyas, in their first season under coach Natasha Adair, will pin their hopes for a better finish on freshman Dorothy Adomako. The forward averaged 21.0 points and nine rebounds a game in her senior prep season in Virginia. Georgetown returns two starters and eight players overall, including Faith Woodard.

8. Providence (7-23): The Friars return their top six scorers (and all five starters) from last season, but will have to do better than last year's stumble to the finish, when they lost 22 of 25 (losing 14 of those games by fewer than 10 points). Senior forward Alexis Harris is the top returnee, averaging 14.0 points and 8.9 rebounds a game last season with 12 double-doubles, the most by any returning player in the conference. Sophomore point guard Sarah Beal will be the floor leader after a strong rookie season in which she averaged 11.8 points and 4.7 assists.

9. Xavier (8-23): A program that's a long way from the days when deep NCAA tournament runs were the expectation, the Musketeers return three starters, including 2014 conference newcomer of the Year Maddison Blackwell as well as juniors Jenna Crittendon and Briana Glover.

10. Butler (15-16): The Bulldogs are playing their first season under new coach Kurt Godlevske and will begin the season with a brand-new starting five after four players transferred following the coaching change. It is a complete program makeover, as there are four freshman and two transfers on the roster, as well as volleyball player Belle Obert. Senior Ijeoma Uchendu is Butler's top returning scorer and rebounder, averaging 8.1 points and 4.9 rebounds in 2013-14.

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