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Big East basketball is back -- and could be better this year

The Big East has a great year last year, how will the conference fare this year?

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Although the BIG EAST has no teams in the first AP poll of the year, don't expect that for long. USA Today has the DePaul Blue Demons coming in at #22 and St. John's, Seton Hall, and Villanova all receiving votes. With the non-conference slate tipping off next week, let's take a look at what fans can expect from BIG EAST Women's Basketball this season:

1. DePaul - The Blue Demons were picked #1 overall in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches Poll, after winning the BIG EAST Tournament title a season ago. DePaul loses the BIG EAST Player of the Year in 2015, Brittany Hrynko, who found herself a spot on the Tulsa Shock in the WNBA (now Dallas Wings).

However, the team does return three key starters in Megan Podkowa, Chanise Jenkins and Jessica January. Both Podkowa and Jenkins were named to the Preseason All-BIG EAST team. Podkowa, a three-year starter, was named the Most Outstanding Player during last year's BIG EAST Tournament, and will arguably be the best post player returning to the conference.

Jenkins spent her summer playing for Team USA at the World University Games, which won gold with a perfect 6-0 record. Filling the void that Hrynko leaves will be a challenge, but Doug Bruno's club has the pieces to make it work.

2. St. John's - The Red Storm was picked to finish second overall in the conference this season in the Preseason Coaches Poll. St. John's senior Aliyyah Handford was selected as the Preseason Player of the Year in the BIG EAST, with teammate Danaejah Grant being selected to the Preseason All-BIG EAST team.

The Red Storm will likely look to play a more fast-paced tempo with a guard-heavy lineup that will have to fill the void of Amber Thompson, who led the BIG EAST in rebounding a season ago with 10.9 per game. Coach Joe Tartamella adds two new assistants to the program that will help develop his players even further.

Tasha Pointer, a superstar at Rutgers during her playing days and an assistant to Vivian Stringer for the past eight seasons, joins the Red Storm program after helping the Scarlet Knights claim the WNIT two seasons ago. Da'Shena Stevens also finds herself at St. John's.

She is the sixth all-time leading scorer at the school and one of the best players in St. John's women's basketball history. She hopes to continue to build St. John's into a powerhouse women's basketball school.

3. Villanova - The Wildcats lose three starters to graduation, yet find themselves at #3 in the Preseason Coaches Poll, after making it to the quarterfinals of the WNIT last season, a lot due in part to the return of Caroline Coyer. Coyer, a Preseason All-BIG EAST selection and All-BIG EAST First Team selection a season ago, is one of the most experienced guards in the league.

She was selected to be a part of Team USA for the Pan Am Games over the summer, alongside the likes of Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson. She, alongside twin sister Katherine, will be the go-to leaders for this young program.

Coach Perretta knows his team is young, and believes it may take some time for his team to get used to the system that Villanova runs. However, if his team can remain injury-free, he feels that they have a solid chance at making a run for an NCAA bid.

4. Creighton - On paper, Coach Flanery's team is a tough choice for the #4 pick in the BIG EAST, because of how young they are. However, it doesn't hurt that the Jays still have one of the best players in college basketball back for one last season in Marissa Janning.

Janning, the 2014 BIG EAST Player of the Year and a Preseason All-BIG EAST Selection, is one of just two seniors and five upperclassmen on the roster, but is a tremendous leader who has the ability to make the big plays when her team needs her to.

Sophomore Sydney Lamberty joins Janning on the Preseason All-BIG EAST team, and while there are ten underclassmen, many saw action a season ago and know what it takes to compete in this gritty conference.

5. Seton Hall - The reigning BIG EAST Regular Season Champions find themselves in the middle of the pack in the Preseason Coaches Poll after a stellar 2014-15 season. Head Coach Tony Bozzella put the Pirates back on the map, leading his team back to the NCAA tournament with an at-large bid.

Gone are the likes of Ka-Deidre Simmons and Daisha Simmons, but Tabatha Richardson-Smith, an All-BIG EAST Second Team selection a season ago and Preseason All-BIG EAST selection, is back and ready to lead this team. Expect to see a lot of new faces this year, but not inexperienced players.

The Pirates add Tiffany Jones (ASA Junior College), Aleesha Powell (Iona), and Shakena Richardson (Florida State) to their lineup, all with proven collegiate basketball success who are ready to step in and fill the holes left by graduation.

6. Xavier - The Musketeers are looking to make some noise in the BIG EAST this season. They return their two leading scorers from a year ago in Preseason All-BIG EAST selection Briana Glover and Raeshaun Gaffney. The team as a whole is rather young, with nine underclassmen, but Coach Neal is very optimistic about his team's success this year.

The team ranked ninth nationally last season in win improvement, with ten additional wins from the season before. The team went 4-0 over the summer on an international trip to Canada and looks to make some noise in the conference this season.

7. Georgetown - After finishing at the bottom of the BIG EAST a season ago, the Hoyas were picked seventh in the Preseason Coaches Poll, as they return a star in last year's BIG EAST Freshman of the Year, Dorothy Adomako. Adomako was selected to the Preseason All-BIG EAST team after leading the Hoyas in both points and rebounds last season and was the only freshman to be named to an all-conference team a year ago.

The team found success on their European tour over the summer — a promising start for Coach Natasha Adair in her second season with the program.

8. Butler - The Bulldogs finished sixth a season ago but find themselves coming in at #8 in the Preseason Coaches Poll. The team finds their leadership in their two upperclassmen, seniors Blaire Langlois and Belle Obert. Langlois was selected to the Preseason All-BIG EAST team.

Coach Godlevske has a very young team, with six freshmen and two sophomores, and will rely heavily on his two seniors to lead this program this season. Of the six freshmen entering the program, Brittany Ward has high expectations on her shoulders. She was selected as the Preseason BIG EAST Freshman of the Year.

9. Marquette - The Golden Eagles return just two players from last year's team, so there is a lot of unknown for Coach Carolyn Kieger's team this season. Marquette's roster features no seniors, but they will rely on the leadership of junior McKayla Yenta and sophomore Shantelle Valentine.

10. Providence - The Friars round out the Preseason Coaches Poll at number ten. The Friars have guard Sarah Beal on the Preseason All-BIG EAST team after she sat out most of last season with an injury. Captains Evi Iiskola and Aliyah Miller also serve as experienced returners for the team. Coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl welcomes five freshmen to the program and has high expectations for her girls this season.