Here come the Huskies
UConn picked over defending champ Notre Dame
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Defending national champion Notre Dame was picked to finish behind perennial power Connecticut in the Big East in a preseason poll of conference coaches.
The coaches picked the Huskies to win the league title by an 11-2 margin over the Irish, with Rutgers third.
The Huskies have captured the last eight Big East regular season and tournament championships.
"Notre Dame has won the national championship, and Rutgers has made the Final Four, but neither won the conference," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "In a good league, that's what should happen."
Auriemma has four starters back, including Sue Bird, the preseason Big East Player of the Year, and Swin Cash from last year's 32-3 Final Four and Big East tournament champion. His lineup also includes sophomore Diana Taurasi, a former high school player of the year.
Bird was the unanimous choice as the Player of the Year.
Cash, a 6-2 forward who averaged 12.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last year, was selected to the preseason All-Big East team, along with Rebekkah Brunson of Georgetown, Becky Gottstein of Boston College, Trish Juhline of Villanova and Alicia Ratay of Notre Dame.
Notre Dame lost national player of the year Ruth Riley to graduation, but should contend with returnees like the sharp-shooting Ratay (12.9 points), who led the nation in 3-point shooting last season.
"The leadership we lost with Ruth and Niele Ivey will hurt," said coach Muffet McGraw, who guided the Irish to a 34-2 record last year and the school's first NCAA women's title, earning national coach of the year honors. "Having them made it an easy year for me. I think we're going to play with more enthusiasm now, because we're not expected to win."
Rutgers lost four starters from last year's 23-8 team, but will count on senior forward Davalyn Cunningham (9.8 points, 4.6 rebounds) to pick up the slack.
"With the impression we made over the last four or five years, we were the hunted," said Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer. "Now, we should be the hunters."