Monday, January 9, 2017

Big East Conference Forecast

The present Big East is made up of the formerly so-called "Catholic Seven", the septet of teams that remained after several of the conference's teams split to form the AAC, as well as an additional trio of teams that joined the reorganized conference in the midst of the changeover. Of the conference's ten teams, eight sponsor the sport of softball.

The top four teams in the regular-season standings earn berths to the conference tournament. The tournament operates on a single-elimination format over a two-day span. The tournament champion earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament's field of sixty-four. The 2017 conference tournament will be held in Rosemont, Illinois.

Team that could improve and surprise: Butler Bulldogs
     (A surprising postseason run saw the Bulldogs take home not only the conference tournament crown, but also the Big East's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and, thus, the first NCAA appearance in Bulldogs history. Though the team made little noise in that same postseason, the hot streak showed the promise and "talent of the future" that the program holds; redshirt freshman Maggie MacBeth paced the squad with a .380 batting average and put together a .380/.436/.429 slash line. While another NCAA run may not be in the cards, few should be surprised to see the Bulldogs as solid contenders going forward.)

Now an assistant coach at Rider, former
Villanova P Kate Poppe will be tough
to replace in the circle for the Wildcats.
Team that could decline and disappoint: Villanova Wildcats
     (While the Wildcats' softball program may not match the record and dominance of their men's basketball counterparts, Maria Dibernardi has had her program in a solid and successful way the last couple of seasons, improving each year. Much of this success was thanks to the right arm of P Kate Poppe. With Poppe now gone via graduation and having entered the coaching ranks, the Wildcats' fate remains a sizable mystery, but it likely will not include the conference's #2 seed after the regular season.)

Player of the Year: Dylan Christensen, DePaul
Pitcher of the Year: Kristin Gutierrez, Butler
Coach of the Year: Scott Hall, Butler

Conference Champs: Butler Bulldogs
Top WCWS Contender: DePaul Blue Demons

Players to Watch:
--> Dylan Christensen, DePaul – The 2016 all-conference first-teamer led her team with a .404 batting average and finished as one of the top three Blue Demons in the categories of runs; hits; doubles; and RBI. Christensen has never hit below .300 in her career and is a solid rock in the Blue Demon offense; she'll be someone they depend on heavily in her senior season as the program looks to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014.
--> Lauren Hanna, Villanova – The freshman stud impressed in her inaugural season at Nova, en route to being named the conference Freshman of the Year and earning second-team all-conference honors. Her .341 batting average was good for third on her team and she showed signs frequently of her capabilities beyond the numbers she put up in her first year. Expect similar, if not greater, stats in her second year in Pennsylvania.
--> Emma Lee, Providence – Lee was a bright spot as a freshman for a Friars program that finished amidst the conference's cellar. In her inaugural season, Lee set a program record for single-season batting average with her .423 mark. Her .507 slugging percentage didn't set a record, but did lead her program. She earned all-conference first-team honors for her efforts and should be looked at as a budding superstar in the conference.

Biggest Questions:
* Will Butler be able to sustain their late-season hot streak into the 2017 season?
* How will Villanova replace Kate Poppe in the pitching circle?

Top Seniors:
P – Tori Free, St. John's
C – Nicole Lundstrom, Providence
IF – Dylan Christensen, DePaul; Lauren Herschberg, Villanova; Chase Snell, Villanova; Jen Daro, Creighton
OF – Brandyce Sallee, Butler; Brittany Garcia, St. John's; Valerie Suto, Seton Hall; Allie Reinhart, Creighton
UT/DP – Nicole Pihl, DePaul

Conference Projection:
1. Butler Bulldogs
2. DePaul Blue Demons
3. St. John's Red Storm
4. Seton Hall Pirates
5. Villanova Wildcats
6. Creighton Blue Jays
7. Providence Friars
8. Georgetown Hoyas

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