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Notre Dame

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Big East: Women

Predicted finish

1. Connecticut

2. Notre Dame

3. Louisville

4. St. John’s

5. Rutgers

6. DePaul

7. Syracuse

8. Georgetown

9. South Florida

10. Villanova

11. Marquette

12. Cincinnati

T13. Pittsburgh

T13. Seton Hall

15. Providence

Top 3 teams

Connecticut

Why it’s good: The defending Big East tournament champions return four starters – Bria Hartley, Stefanie Dolson, Kelly Faris and Caroline Doty – and last season’s conference’s Big East freshman and sixth man of the year Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.

Tough stretch: The preseason No. 2 Huskies face five ranked opponents over the span of seven games, starting with a home game against No. 5 Maryland on Dec. 3. UConn then plays host to No. 8 Penn State, and after games against Oakland (Dec. 19) and Hartford (Dec. 22), it plays at No. 4 Stanford on Dec. 29. Connecticut then plays at Oregon on Dec. 31 before returning home to play No. 7 Notre Dame on Jan. 5.

X-factor: Mosqueda-Lewis, who led the team with 15 points per game last season, will have to avoid a sophomore slump as more will be expected from her after the graduation of Tiffany Hayes.

Notre Dame

Why it’s good: Skylar Diggins returns for her final season with the Irish. The senior guard was a unanimous Associated Press preseason All-American and led Notre Dame is scoring (16.8 points per game) and assists (5.7) last season.

Tough stretch: Notre Dame plays three games against teams picked to finish in the top five of the Big East when it starts conference play. The Irish begin with a trip to favored Connecticut on Jan. 5, and after a trip to South Florida on Jan. 8, they return home to play Rutgers, picked to finish fifth, on Jan. 13. Notre Dame then plays host to Georgetown on Jan. 15 before playing host to St. John’s, picked to finish fourth, on Jan. 20.

X-factor: The Irish need guard Kayla McBride, who averaged 11.6 points last year, and forward Natalie Achonwa, who averaged 7.6 points and 4.4 rebounds, to replace the lost production from graduated Natalie Novosel, 15.2 points per game, and Devereaux Peters, 11.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

Louisville

Why it’s good: The Cardinals return 11 players from last year’s team that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Tough stretch: The preseason No. 9 Cardinals play back-to-back games against ranked foes when they travel to play Notre Dame on Feb. 11 and then return home to play host to No. 25 DePaul on Feb. 17.

X-factor: Louisville only has to replace one player from last year’s team, but that player was a big part of its offense. Becky Burke was the Cardinals’ second-leading scorer last season, averaging 11.5 points, and she led the team with 81 three-pointers. The Cardinals will need to make up for that lost production.

tkrausz@jg.net

– Tony Krausz, The Journal Gazette

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