Notre Dame becoming the class of the Big East
When Notre Dame lost to Texas A&M in the national championship game last year, many people thought the Fighting Irish could not repeat their performance, not with Connecticut in the way.
Instead, the Fighting Irish clinched their first outright Big East regular season championship with a 72-59 victory over the Huskies Monday night.
The odds were stacked against Notre Dame (28-2, 15-1 Big East), who needed overtime to knock off Connecticut (26-4, 13-3) 74-67 in South Bend in early January.
The Fighting Irish had never won at the XL Center in Hartford, and Connecticut had a chance to clinch a share of the Big East title. Any fan would assume that the Huskies would answer the bell, but this year was different.
Notre Dame looks like the only team that could hang with the No. 1 ranked and undefeated Baylor Bears, though the Fighting Irish lost by 13 points at Baylor in mid-November.
The Bears rely heavily on national player of the year candidate Britney Griner, but Notre Dame is more of a team-oriented unit. Four Fighting Irish players average double figures in scoring and no player averages more than 30 minutes a game.
The class of the Big East may be swaying toward the team in South Bend rather than the one in Hartford. Since 2000, Notre Dame has more wins than any other team in America. The Fighting Irish are one of five teams with more than three wins against the Huskies since the start of the century.
Connecticut can silence the critics with a championship run on their home court in the Big East Tournament this week. Unfortunately for the Huskies, Notre Dame may be waiting for another chance to silence the big dogs.
Upsets could dominate the Big East Tournament
The women’s Big East Tournament has been one of the most predictable brackets in all of sports. Connecticut has dominated the tournament since 2005, winning six of the seven championships.
The Huskies’ only loss in seven years was in the championship game to Rutgers in 2007. The Scarlet Knights lost in the national championship game to Tennessee that season.
This year’s tournament is filled with a few under-the-radar teams. Second-seeded St. John’s is riding a wave of momentum, winning eight consecutive games.
Four of those eight wins were against teams that finished in the top six of the final league standings. Three of the four wins were on the road against ranked opponents, including putting a halt to Connecticut’s 99-game home winning streak.
Four Red Storm players average double figures in scoring and three of those four players have earned Big East weekly honors at least once this season. If the Red Storm do not win the title, the champion may have to go through them.
There are elite teams at the top of the standings and weak teams at the bottom of the Big East, but the middle of the pack is relatively strong. DePaul has been ranked in the top 25 most of the season but finished eighth in the conference. Fourth-seeded Georgetown has spent most of the season in the top 15.
Fifth-seeded West Virginia is the only team in the conference to beat Notre Dame. The Mountaineers knocked off the Fighting Irish 65-63 in South Bend three weeks ago.
Connecticut has dominated the conference for the last decade, but this may the year the Big East Tournament on the women’s side can match the madness of the men’s tournament.
Game of the Week
West Virginia vs. Georgetown, March 4
This probable quarterfinal match up is a rematch of a Feb. 24 game that the Hoyas won 64-54. Georgetown and West Virginia are two of the top four teams in scoring defense in the league.
An NCAA Tournament bid may be on the line for the Moutaineers, who could use another win against a ranked opponent. This will be a grind of a game and the prize for the winner is the second best team in the country, Notre Dame.
Player of the Week
Skylar Diggins, junior guard, Notre Dame
19.7 points, 6.0 assists, 3.0 steals
Diggins put the finishing touches on her Big East player of the Year campaign with an impressive final week. The junior guard played all but four minutes in three wins for the Fighting Irish, including two wins over nationally ranked opponents.
Diggins scored 20 points on 8-of-17 shooting with four rebounds and three steals in a Big East title-clinching win at Connecticut. The South Bend native ranks in the top five of five statistical categories and should add to her trophy case.