NCAA – 2017 Big East Preview

Chris’ Big East Projections

1. Georgetown
2. DePaul
3. Butler
4. Saint John’s (NY)
5. Marquette
6. Villanova

7. Xavier
8. Providence
9. Seton Hall
10. Creighton

Most believed that Georgetown were going to have a very good season in 2016 with a talented core of returners, including some of the nation’s best players. But few probably believed that that season would extend into the final weekend of the season. That’s perhaps less of an indictment on the Hoyas as it is the modern DI WoSo landscape, which is predominantly tilted towards “Power Five” conference teams. An early season 3-0 loss to Stanford at home didn’t exactly reveal the Hoyas to be hotly tipped for a title challenge either. But they rounded into form as the weeks passed, racking up big wins over Rutgers, Virginia, and West Virginia. Given the Hoyas surge in non-conference play, a Big East title appeared easily attainable. But Georgetown would struggle for consistency and ended up in a shock third place when all was said and done. The Hoyas would put it together in the postseason though, winning three matches to win the Big East Tournament before taking down Saint Francis (PA), Rutgers, Virginia, and finally Santa Clara to advance to their first College Cup. USC would edge them out in the semi-final, but it had still been an unbelievable campaign for a program that has grown exponentially in the past decade.

With the loss of three key starters, it might be hard to replicate that College Cup season, but the Hoyas still have a ton of talent. The biggest of which is senior Rachel Corboz, who has done a more than convincing job of filling her sister Daphne’s shoes with GU, and given last year’s heroics, perhaps eclipsing her legend. Eleven goals and sixteen assists was a stunning return, with Corboz netting at least one goal or assist in six straight postseason matches at one point. At this point, it’s about surrounding Corboz with enough offense to ensure she’s not triple-teamed out of matches.

This is hardly a sure thing, as the club’s two other top scorers others than Corboz graduate, with the twenty-five combined goals of Grace Damaska and Crystal Thomas both gone after each had tremendous senior seasons. The hope has to be that Amanda Carolan, a revelation here with ten goals on just twenty-seven shots, can avoid a sophomore slump and take on more of the scoring responsibility. Others like junior Caitlin Farrell may need to have a big breakthrough for the Hoyas’ offense to not skip a beat.

That turnover on offense might mean an increased emphasis on GU’s defense, which gave up the fewest goals in Big East play last year. This unit also takes a big hit though, as All-American and Big East Tournament Defensive Most Outstanding Player Marina Paul graduates after a typically brilliant season. GU does return a cadre of veterans who could slot in on the backline though, including Drew Topor, Elizabeth Wenger, and Taylor Pak. The Hoyas also add some nice recruits in the form of Lauren Hess and Kelly Ann Livingstone, who could work their way into the lineup quickly. In goal, Georgetown took a risk on Arielle Schechtman, who was unimpressive at UCLA, an watched her blossom into a fine goalkeeper at this level. She should again be a big asset for the Hoyas’ defense which will be in a tiny bit of flux without Paul anchoring it.

The Hoyas probably won’t be able to replicate last year’s College Cup run given some of their losses, but this is still a dangerous team. A Big East title should be within their reach, as could a nice NCAA Tournament run.

If DePaul and the NCAA Tournament selection committee hadn’t become permanent enemies before last year, that might be the case now after another controversial omission of the Blue Devils from the Big Dance. The Blue Demons captured a share of another league title, but the club’s lack of creditable non-conference results would prove fatal in the end, as they would win just one of their first seven. DePaul would win seven of their first eight once league play rolled around, though they ceded important ground in the RPI and a share of the league title by losing on the last day of the regular season to Marquette. The Blue Demons knew that their NCAA Tournament fate might depend on their Big East Tournament performance, which made the shootout defeat in the semi-finals to Georgetown a crushing one. Despite having beaten and technically drawn a Hoyas side that was #7 in the RPI heading into Selection Monday, the Blue Demons were one of the highest profile snubs to miss out on an at-large bid.

Odds are, DePaul is going to come into 2017 fighting mad after last season, and they’ve got a squad that should be able to do some real damage. The Blue Demons have scored goals for fun the past few years and again have a loaded attack despite the loss of Big East Offensive Player of the Year Abby Reed. Reed’s eleven goals and six assists aren’t going to be easy to replace, but the Blue Demons do have their fair share of players that could be capable of picking up that slack.

Reigning league Midfielder of the Year Alexa Ben has twenty goals and twenty-one assists in three seasons and is likely to go out with a bang and could repeat as an All-American with more of the offense likely to go through her this season. Also back is Franny Cerny, who had a breakout season, with nine goals and six assists to her name on fabulous efficiency numbers. Things bottom out a bit after that though, with nobody else who returns having netted more than two goals last year. It might open up a few more opportunities for some newcomers, including highly touted midfielder Mikaela Hoard, the top pick of this class for the Blue Demons.

Defensively, DePaul looks to be in solid shape again, though it also faces a big loss with one of the league’s best defenders in Taylor Schissler graduating after a great senior season. The new leader of the backline is likely to be senior Lucy Edwards, who had a quietly impressive 2016 season, while Avery Hay will also be looking to build on a great rookie campaign. Senior Lauren Frasca is likely to be first choice in goal after taking over as the club’s starter last season.

DePaul are a tick behind Georgetown in my projections, but I do feel there’s enough quality on the roster to warrant a belief they’ll be NCAA Tournament bound this year.

Butler was always going to be in danger of a program hangover after the glory of 2015’s Big East Tournament triumph. Their most eventful non-conference win was a good one, as they topped a good SMU team at a neutral sight, and winning their league opener was a positive start. But the Bulldogs suffered a collapse in form, going winless in four that forced them to rally with three wins in their final four just to squeak past Creighton and clinch a spot in the postseason once more. Hopes of a second straight miracle run through the Big East Tournament were dashed quite early, as Georgetown blasted Butler for the second time in a month in Washington D.C., winning 4-0 to end Butler’s season. The question now is which way does Butler go? Are they the scrappy side that fought their way to sixteen wins and the NCAA Tournament two years ago? Or do they resemble the teams of 2014 and 2016, i.e. a mid-grade Big East side that won’t cause waves in the hierarchy of the league.

Whatever Butler’s fate, it’s going to come without one of the best players in program history, Serina Kashimoto. Kashimoto took a little while to settle but turned into one of the nation’s best all-around players when all was said and done, stepping up into a more offensive role last year and finishing with nine goals and seven assists. With Kashimoto gone, Butler’s attack is in unsteady waters. Paige Monaghan is the leading returning scorer with six goals last year and will be hoping to rebound after a downturn in form from her rookie season. The Bulldogs seemingly made the attack an emphasis with their recruiting, bringing in highly rated trio Payton Black, Taylor Crowe, and Elena Gutlove to help inject some youthful energy into the midfield.

The defense looks to be in more assured shape this year, with all the big hitters returning. Senior Shannon McDevitt could be one of the league’s top defenders, while sophomore Kyra Cooke also made a big impression here as a rookie. The team also adds in a nice rookie in Julia Leonard, so this could be one of the league’s better defensive units. The situation in goal could bear watching though. While Hannah Luedtke impressed last season as a redshirt freshman, the Bulldogs pulled off a shocking coup by signing German U17 starting GK Leonie Doege. Even if Doege doesn’t win the job right away, Butler could have one of the league’s best situations in goal.

My projections have Butler solidly in the second tier of the Big East, but there are too many questions on offense for a title run.

Considering Saint John’s (NY) had to replace a couple of their best players ever after the 2015 season, the Red Storm coped relatively well, even if the 2016 season ended trophy less and without an NCAA Tournament trip. Non-conference play wasn’t exactly encouraging, with draws at Towson and Loyola (MD) and a loss at Portland, which raised worries heading into league play. With just one win in the club’s first five conference games, it looked like the Red Storm were going to bow out early in 2016, even if one of those results was a draw with Georgetown. But Ian Stone’s side rallied for four wins to close out the regular season safely in the postseason places. They’d even win a Big East Tournament quarterfinal before bowing out to Marquette in the semis, but few would probably argue that it hadn’t been a job well done to rally to eleven wins considering some of the challenges faced through the year.

The Red Storm have reached a point where moral victories aren’t quite fulfilling though, and they’ll be looking to get back into the title hunt in the Big East this year. Unfortunately for the Johnnies, they’re probably in the same situation they were in last year, being forced to replace their two best players. The loss the club knew they would have to deal with is that of goalkeeper Diana Poulin, a stud here during the club’s run to glory and one of the nation’s best netminders. There’s a frightening amount of inexperience at the position this season, with just Sarah Chaides having any playing time at this level, and the fifth-year senior has just a quarter hour to her name last year and is grossly undersized at 5’4” for the position. The loss the club didn’t likely expect was Anna Maria Baldursdottir, one of the nation’s best young defenders and a budding Icelandic international. Stone has brought in another Icelandic youth international in Ingibjorg Run Oladottir, but it’s a difficult ask to expect her to replace Baldursdottir’s production right away.

There are worries aplenty if the defense tails off, because the attack netted just eight goals in the league last year. The stats from last year read rather painfully, as the Red Storm had nobody net more than four goals, and the team as a whole were over ten shots per goal scored. Top returnee in the midfield Allie Moar is quality, but she’s also a defensive midfielder who didn’t score last year. The top pair of threats look to be senior Shea Connors and Samie Scaffidi, who each netted four goals last year, but they might need a career year to propel Saint John’s forward.

Despite what would appear to be a pessimistic take on the Red Storm given the above, there’s still talent here. At the same time though, mid-table might be the ceiling for them this year unless Stone can find a diamond or two in the rough.

After two seasons in which Marquette had seen their year end short of the NCAA Tournament, some likely wondered if the former Big East powerhouse had peaked. But the Golden Eagles recaptured some of their old magic last season in a comeback campaign that culminated with a share of another league title. Marquette showed some signs of quality in the non-conference season with a win over Michigan and draw at Santa Clara, but they also dropped their league opener in a shock 3-2 defeat to Creighton. There were few other missteps though, as Marquette won seven of their eight other matches in the Big East to claim a share of the league title, beating DePaul on the last day of the regular season to clinch it. Marquette would advance to the Big East Tournament final but fall to Georgetown but had still done enough to clinch an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. There, they’d meet bitter rivals Wisconsin but fall in a tight 1-0 decision.

2017 could be much more difficult for the Golden Eagles, as they lose five starters and some big contributors from last season’s title winners. The Defense gets hit particularly hard with the loss of Morgan Proffitt a massive blow for Markus Roeders’ side. Proffitt played both center-back and defensive midfield roles over the course of her collegiate career and did it exceptionally well, winning league Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior for Marquette. Despite their reputation as a defensively stout side, Marquette’s defense last year was merely above average. Part of that might be down to having some very young pieces to the puzzle last season. Sophomore Emily Hess looks like the next great defender here after a strong rookie season and will likely be key again with fellow returnees Leah Celarek and Madison Dunker. Marquette has a long history of great goalkeeping, and it looks like Maddy Henry is the next in that line after taking over in the job as a rookie and looking very impressive for the Golden Eagles in the process.

It was largely scorer by committee last season, with nobody netting more than six goals last year for Marquette. With two of the club’s top four scorers gone, it could be a challenge to keep the offense revving this year though. The best hope for goals this year is returning leading scorer Carrie Madden, who netted six goals and also led the team in assists with five. It’s much more up in the air after Madden, but Darian Powell is the wild card. Powell missed the first two seasons of her career through injury but has eighteen goals in three seasons and may need to keep scoring at a decent clip for the Golden Eagles to keep rolling on offense.

My projections point towards a bit of a step back for Marquette this season, though they’re often a side more than the sum of their parts and could yet challenge for an at-large bid.

The less said about the now concluded Fran Kulas era at Villanova, the better. Last year was an improvement for the Wildcats over a staggeringly poor 2015, but an absurdly difficult non-conference season with matches against the likes of Minnesota and North Carolina left them drained for Big East play. A 2-7-0 league season would follow, leading to Kulas’ exit and another new era for a Villanova side trying to finally find some glory after a nondescript history to this point. Into the breach steps Chris McClain, associate head coach at Ohio State most recently. Some might wonder what McClain knows about rebuilding, or more appropriately here just “building”, coming from a Big Ten school, but he previously served in a similar role at Colgate and helped recruit and craft some wildly entertaining and winning teams in the Patriot League. He’ll need all of that nous and more to turn the tide at a program that’s known little but losing in the Big East over the past half-decade.

McClain doesn’t inherit a side that’s without talent, it’s just that almost all of Villanova’s most promising talent is exceedingly young. The first thing to get sorted might be the Wildcats’ offense, which scored just six goals in nine league matches, which, amazingly, wasn’t the worst figure in the league. As noted above, there’s scoring potential here, but the top two scorers last year, Kristin Barbour and Ida DiClemente were both rookies. McClain should add to the attacking ranks with some solid rookies as well, with midfielder Mia Ciardiello and forward Cathy Dager being highly rated upon signing with the Wildcats. The lack of proven veteran scoring is a worry though, especially if inconsistency rears its head as it often does with underclassmen.

They need to score goals, because the defense wasn’t great either last year, giving up almost two goals a game in Big East play. They need to replace center-back Callie Duliba but should otherwise return the major defensive contributors from last year’s backline, for better or worse. Conner Huggins saw time on the backline as a rookie and showed potential, while another touted rookie, Jules Laskaris, could also make a reasonably big impact as a freshman. Emily Harris likely takes over full-time in goal after splitting last season with graduated Emmalee Meyer.

Villanova clearly has the best to come with such a young squad, but with the bottom half of the Big East as unpredictable as ever, a top-six finish might not be out of the question.

It might be a bit hyperbolic to say that Xavier went through the offseason from hell, but the Musketeers didn’t exactly have a relaxing time of it. They had seemingly made a great choice in replacing Woody Sherwood, who had resigned following 2016, by tabbing Kacey White, who had excelled in her one season as manager at Wisconsin-Green Bay. But in the Spring, U.S. Soccer poached White for a youth coaching job, leaving Xavier to find their third head coach in less than a year. They didn’t have to look far, bringing in Cincinnati associate head coach Nate Lie. Lie knows about big turnarounds after helping drag his former club from the abyss, and that should help at an Xavier program still waiting for their first postseason appearance as a Big East member five years into their tenure. Last season was more of the same for XU, as they did well in non-conference play, only to see their pitch become unplayable thanks to flooding, which was followed by eight losses in nine league games and a finish on bottom of the conference.

Given the Musketeers’ history, as well as a late start on the job, Lie’s going to have his hands full heading into the new season. However, he does have a nice building block in the form of junior Samantha Dewey, who was a shining light on offense in an otherwise pedestrian attack. Dewey netted eight goals to easily lead the team and didn’t just feast on the club’s overmatched non-conference foes, scoring three times in the league. If she can improve just a bit and get in double digits, Xavier’s attack could be in business. However, Xavier also loses second leading scorer Tori Doss and returns just one other player who scored more than once, meaning auxiliary sources of offense are going to be needed, be they from returners or newcomers.

If Xavier suffers a power outage in front of goal, it could get ugly, as this was the league’s worst defense last year, shipping two and a half goals a game in the league. Expect some of the newcomers to get major minutes early, with defender Abigail Janszen tipped for a big role.

Given the offseason chaos and some of the limitations of this XU squad, the postseason normally wouldn’t look likely. But this league looks wide open after the top four, and if Lie can inject enough energy into the program, it might be enough for a surprising top six finish.

A season after a near miracle run to a Big East Tournament title, Providence had to pick themselves up and try to keep the positive momentum going. A draw at Rutgers on the opening weekend of the season certainly boosted hopes, though four days later, they’d lose at Northeastern. The Friars would again show their quality with a draw at Georgetown to begin league play and started the Big East season with a 3-0-1 league record. But Providence also seemed to run out of gas a bit in the final weeks of the regular season, alternating losses and wins, and finishing up with a 2-1 loss at Saint John’s (NY). Even though the Friars had a pair of very good draws on the road, they also hadn’t beaten anybody in the RPI Top 60, meaning they probably needed another Big East Tournament run to punch an NCAA Tournament ticket. They wouldn’t get it, as Saint John’s (NY) dealt them another loss in the quarterfinals to leave Providence just a little short of making it into the field of sixty-four for the Big Dance.

The Friars may regret coming up a few wins short last season, as 2017 looks like the very definition of a rebuilding season. Both the offense and defense takes some serious hits this season, as the Friars lose five starters overall, tied for most lost in the Big East. Providence gave up less than a goal a game in the league last season, a mark they’ll be hard pressed to replicate losing the club’s starting goalkeeper Kristyn Shea and their top defender, Hannah Wear. Shea was a long-time standout here, playing every minute in goal in 2016, and her departure leaves an experience void in between the pipes, with sophomore Makayla Brady and redshirt freshman Shelby Hogan. Juniors Katie Day and Hailee Duserick are among the experienced returnees, but the unit really does need a star to step up and take control.

Attacking-wise, the Friars could be in trouble as well, as the club’s top two scorers, Kathryn Hiller and Rachel Ugolik both graduate after combining for fourteen of the team’s twenty-eight goals last season. The sole returning player with more than two goals last season is Juliana Pellegrini, but she only grabbed three, while junior Casey Estey could see an increased role after starting eight games last year as well.

Sam Lopes has done phenomenal things with the Friars in his short tenure thus far, but he faces a huge task this season given all the club has lost. The postseason isn’t an impossibility, but I don’t think the Friars will be in the top six.

Seton Hall has been a women’s college soccer graveyard for decades now, and there are few signs that the worm is going to turn any time soon. The Pirates had seemingly hired well in bringing back Rick Stainton, an assistant at the school a while back and a successful head coach at Fairleigh Dickinson in more recent days. But three seasons in, Stainton has done little to move the needle at the Big East strugglers. Last year was as dismal as ever around these parts, as SHU found themselves losing to the likes of Fordham and Monmouth even before league play started. It got much worse once league play rolled around, as SHU lost their first four games to almost extinguish their postseason hopes right away. The Pirates narrowly avoided the Big East basement by beating Xavier but finished with a 1-8-0 record in the Big East for the second straight season and have won just two league games in Stainton’s three years at the helm.

The challenge for Stainton is not just to get Seton Hall off the bottom of the league but into a position to contend for the postseason in the Big East. With the league’s bottom half look as closely bunched as ever, SHU might not have a better chance to break out from their malaise than this season. It won’t be an easy task though, as the Pirates were uniformly awful on both sides of the ball last year. The attack netted just four goals in nine league games and twelve goals overall and has to get better by leaps and bounds if Stainton’s side are to make the postseason. There’s no clear source of goals either, as nobody netted more than two, with leading shot taker Frankie Maier (who also led the team in assists) having graduated. Getting Mexican youth international Eva Gonzalez back should help after she redshirted for the U20 World Cup last season, but she’s also not a player that’s going to be a prolific scorer.

Seton Hall were appalling on defense last season as well, giving up over two goals a game to Big East opponents. Sophomore Marissa Aniolowski was a rare bright spot on the defense last year and will need to continue to impress if this group’s to take a big step forward. Adding in highly touted rookie Dani Brinckman could also provide a much needed boost to this unit.

The bottom half of the Big East looks pretty tightly bunched, but given the litany of questions on both sides of the ball, Seton Hall might be closer to the league basement than the postseason this year.

As a part of the Big East’s underclass, Creighton have struggled to make an impact since joining the conference. However, head coach Ross Paule has avoided a losing season in two campaigns thus far and actually got very close to a postseason breakthrough last year. The Bluejays made a statement early by beating Iowa in the season opener and then went on to top Marquette in the league opener. After winning three of their first five in the league, Creighton did look like having a chance to make the top six and qualify for the Big East Tournament. But they ran out of steam late in the season. Losses to postseason rivals Providence and Butler were killers, and defeats in three of four sealed Creighton’s fate. Still, the Bluejays finished just a point out of the postseason places, so it’s hard to argue progress isn’t being made in Omaha under Paule’s leadership.

If Creighton are to break that postseason drought, Paule’s going to have to pull off one of the league’s great coaching jobs. The Bluejays lose four starters, which isn’t atypical for the league, but they’re short on star power and lost their best player and a club legend in Lauren Sullivan. Sullivan was the offense for Creighton last season, leading the club with twelve goals and adding six assists, meaning she had a hand in almost half of the Bluejays’ goals last year. Creighton scored the third most goals in league play last season, so there are other options but none as prolific as Sullivan was. Sophomore Taryn Jakubowski is probably the closest thing Creighton has to a returning star, as she’s the joint leading scorer of those returning with four goals last season while also adding six assists. Jakubowski, or someone else, perhaps another with four goals last season, Hannah Miller, needs to step up to keep the offense humming.

While not awful last year, Creighton’s defense definitely wasn’t good, and a slightly better showing could have seen the Bluejays into the postseason. The Bluejays lose starting full-back Gabriela Braga and center-back Emily Roll, which hurts but do return Alyssa Swift and Maureen Kerr, who started matches at both wide positions, as well as Jaylin Bosak, who started every match at center-back as a rookie. Sophomore McKenzie Meola looks like the number one in goal here after starting most matches as a freshman.

Losing Sullivan could be a killer for this program in the short-term, as great forwards don’t grow on trees, and unless she’s replaced quickly, Creighton might not get a clear glimpse of the top six in 2017.

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