DePaul takes center stage in Big East

DePaul junior Brittany Hyrnko was the Big East's co-most improved player last season. Bob Stowell/BIG EAST Conference/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

The Big East still exists, except it looks nothing like the Big East we remember.

Gone are the top four teams -- Connecticut, Notre Dame, Louisville and Syracuse -- from last season's final standings. Gone are many of the marquee names that have made Big East women's basketball arguably the most competitive league in the country over the past decade, including three of last season's Final Four teams. A number of the old stalwarts (the Catholic 7) remain, but the 2013-14 season will introduce to the country a very different league as Xavier, Creighton and Butler join the fray and try to help keep the league on the map.

DePaul, which last season made its 11th straight trip to the NCAA tournament, should be at the top of the league this season. The Blue Demons come back with the league's most loaded lineup, returning three starters and 81.4 percent of their offense from a season ago, including Big East Preseason Player of the Year Brittany Hyrnko.

The teams joining DePaul at the top of the league should be St. John's, Creighton and Villanova, all of which made appearances in last season's NCAA tournament. The most interesting thing to watch for in this new Big East is a greater level of parity. Without such dominant squads at the top, the league should be more balanced from top to bottom.

Predicted order of finish

1. DePaul (21-12): Coach Doug Bruno has a good deal of firepower returning to his squad, led by sophomore Chanise Jenkins, senior Jasmine Penny and junior Hyrnko. Penny and Hyrnko combined to average 27.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game last season and will be looked upon to lead the Blue Demons back to the NCAA tournament.

2. Creighton (24-7): There are high expectations in Nebraska, where senior forward Sarah Nelson is expected to pair with star sophomore guard Marissa Janning, last season's Missouri Valley Conference freshman of the year.

3. Villanova (21-11): 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 one of them is guard Caroline Coyer, who should provide a steady presence in the backcourt.

4. St. John's (18-13): The Red Storm lost the bulk of last season's starting lineup, but they return redshirt senior Eugeneia McPherson, who has already said the team is setting its sights on a fifth consecutive berth in the NCAA tournament.

5. Butler (17-13): Last season, the Bulldogs made a trip to the WNIT, and they return their top three scorers in guard/forward Daress McClung, center Liz Stratman and guard Taylor Schippers. Butler has the chance to surprise some folks if everything comes together.

6. Marquette (16-16): The Golden Eagles are coming off a WNIT appearance last season. This season, coach Terri Mitchell will lean heavily on senior Katherine Plouffe and junior guard Arlesia Morse, who last season combined to average 25 points per game.

7. Georgetown (15-16): The Hoyas return only six players from last season's team, including second-leading scorer Andrea White, who finished her junior season averaging 10.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Georgetown will need to have some unknowns take a big step forward in order to pull itself out of the middle of the pack.

8. Xavier (13-16): The Musketeers will be coached this season by interim head coach Brian Neal after Amy Waugh surprisingly tendered her resignation in early October. The team has seven freshmen and three sophomores. The top returning scorer is guard Ashley Wanninger, who averaged 9.3 points per game last season.

9. Providence (7-23): Susan Robinson Fruchtl is in her second season at the helm of the Friars, who still have an uphill climb to get themselves into the mix. At least Providence will have guard Tori Rule, the team's leading scorer last season, back to lead the way.

10. Seton Hall (11-20): The Pirates are led by first-year coach Anthony Bozzella, who will have three starters returning from last season's team, including All-Big East selection Ka-Deidre Simmons. She started all 31 games last season and averaged 11.5 points per game.

Players to watch

Brittany Hyrnko, junior, G, DePaul: This 5-foot-8 guard has started 55 consecutive games for the Blue Demons and last season averaged 14.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. The Philadelphia native was named the 2013 Big East's co-most improved player with Connecticut senior guard Kelly Faris. Hyrnko has led DePaul in assists for two seasons running, and there's no reason to believe she won't make it three.

Marissa Janning, sophomore, G, Creighton: Janning is coming off a remarkable freshman season that saw her lead the Bluejays in points (12.6 per game) and 3-pointers (74). The 5-8 guard, who is from Minnesota, was named the MVC freshman of the year but will certainly be facing tougher competition in the Big East and will need to step up her game.

Aliyyah Handford, sophomore, G, St. John's: This New Jersey product is exciting to watch, especially when she has the ball in her hands. She started 25 games as a freshman, averaging 9.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. If St. John's wants to continue its streak of NCAA appearances, Handford will need the ball in her hands.