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Non-Power 5 update: Big East flexes its muscles

The No. 3 UConn Huskies, No. 16 Creighton Bluejays, No. 23 Villanova Wildcats and Marquette Golden Eagles are a combined 17-1 overall and 6-1 versus ranked opponents.

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NCAA Womens Basketball: Texas at Connecticut
Nika Mühl (left) and Azzi Fudd (right) both placed themselves beside the UConn greats recently.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a look at how the notable teams outside the Power 5 have been doing:

No. 3 UConn Huskies (3-0, 0-0 Big East)

With Paige Bueckers out for the season, we all knew Azzi Fudd was going to shoulder a huge amount of responsibility for UConn this year. She is the No. 1 Hoop Gurlz recruit from the class after Bueckers (who is also a No. 1 recruit) and needed to take a big leap as a sophomore.

Well, so far, she’s done just that.

On Nov. 14, the same night Swin Cash’s No. 32 was revealed in the rafters at Gampel Pavilion, Fudd dropped 32 points, giving her 58 points through the first two games of the season, which set a program record.

Those 32 points came against then-No. 3, now-No. 19 Texas and she followed it up with 32 points this past Sunday against then-No. 10, now-No. 13 NC State. The 64 points against consecutive Top 10 opponents was also a noteworthy accomplishment:

Fudd wasn’t the only Husky doing something historic this past Sunday as Nika Mühl dished out 15 assists. The program single-game assists record is now held by, not Sue Bird, not Paige Bueckers, but Mühl.

Much has been made of UConn’s inability to be its usual intimidating selves since its last national championship in 2016. Gradually, many of its dominant streaks have come to a close in recent years. One that remains intact that could have been seen as in jeopardy coming into the first three games of this season is its 29-year streak of not losing back-to-back games. With all the hits its intimidation factor has taken and without Bueckers, it seemed like there was a good possibility it would lose to both the No. 3 and No. 10 teams in the country. Instead, it beat Texas 83-76 and then dominated NC State 91-69 in a rematch of last year’s epic Elite Eight game.

So it’s been a thrilling and promising start to the season for the Huskies, who have moved up from No. 6 to No. 5 to No. 3. As former Swish Appeal editor-in-chief Sabreena Merchant put it in her power rankings for The Athletic, “For those expecting a down year from the Huskies, it doesn’t look like it yet.” UConn was behind only mighty South Carolina in her rankings, which came out on Monday.

The Huskies are getting the bulk of their scoring from five key players, who are all averaging double figures: Fudd (30), Lou Lopez Sénéchal (16.3), Aaliyah Edwards (15), Aubrey Griffin (14.3) and Dorka Juhász (10). Edwards and Juhasz are also averaging double-figure rebounds with 10.7 and 10 per game, respectively, while Mühl is averaging 10.3 assists and 3.7 steals.

All of those numbers except for Juhász’s come from three games of action. Juhász has played in two contests, having missed the NC State game with a broken thumb. She is expected to be out for at least two more games.

No. 16 Creighton Bluejays (5-0, 0-0 Big East)

Creighton has two ranked wins so far and was actually the first team in the country to get two ranked wins. The Bluejays opened their season with a 78-69 win over then-No. 23 and now receiving votes South Dakota State. They struggled at times during that game, but head coach Jim Flanery said on Halloween (see video below) that he wanted his team to face adversity early on and to respond to it “in a way that pushes us to become a better team.”

Well, Creighton bounced back from adversity in that game and won its next four games by 19-plus each, including a 77-51 win over then-No. 22 and now receiving votes Nebraska. It has moved up from No. 21 to No. 20 to No. 16 — not a disappointing way to follow up an Elite Eight appearance. A lot of teams that were ranked ahead of Creighton in the preseason have stumbled and succumbed to the pressure of early-season challenges, but things have been mostly smooth sailing for the Bluejays.

On Nov. 15, Creighton hosted its first-ever women’s basketball sellout at its home arena, D.J. Sokol Arena. Two thousand, three hundred and six fans were in attendance to see it beat Nebraska. The Bluejays hadn’t beaten the Huskers by that much since 1993 and had never beaten a ranked team by that much. The two Nebraska schools had never faced each other while both were ranked.

Creighton is 4-1 over its most recent five against ranked teams with the one loss coming to eventual champion South Carolina in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

No. 23 Villanova Wildcats (4-0, 0-0 Big East)

Villanova spoiled the first-ever Ivy League preseason Top 25 nod by winning at then-No. 24 and now receiving votes Princeton 69-59 on Nov. 11. That win got the Wildcats into the rankings at No. 24 and they are now tied with Tennessee at No. 23. They also have comfortable wins over Marist and Penn, but endured a scare against a Temple team not receiving votes, winning by just three in their most recent contest this past Sunday. Temple is 1-3 with its losses coming to Princeton (by 18) and St. John’s (by 12). So that was a bit concerning for Villanova, but a win is a win when it comes to voting for the rankings. It took a monster effort from superstar Maddy Siegrist to pull out the Temple win. She registered season highs in points (41), rebounds (16) and minutes (39).

Lucy Olsen is off to a solid start as she tries to lead Villanova’s supporting cast. She’s averaging 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Siegrist’s other expected co-star, Penn State transfer Maddie Burke, is averaging six points and not much else across the stat sheet. Burke does appear to be the team’s go-to sharpshooter, as she leads the team with 22 attempts from beyond the arc. She’s shooting a solid 36.4 percent. But the player who has really been the team’s third star is sophomore Christina Dalce, who didn’t contribute much as a freshman. She’s averaging 8.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. Siegrist is off the charts as usual with 29 points and 13.3 rebounds per game.

RV (65 points) Marquette Golden Eagles (5-1, 0-0 Big East)

Marquette was picked to finish sixth in the Big East this year, but appears fourth on this list, ahead of DePaul and Seton Hall, who were tied for fourth in the preseason coaches’ poll.

The highlight for the Golden Eagles so far is their takedown of then-No. 3, now-No. 19 Texas. it was the highest-ranked win in Marquette history and allowed the Golden Eagles to advance to the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, where they just edged Gonzaga (receiving votes) 70-66.

They couldn’t finish off the Bahamas tournament with the title, but put up a valiant effort in a 66-58 overtime loss to No. 20 UCLA.

Before the Battle 4 Atlantis, Marquette cruised past Fairleigh Dickinson, Holy Cross and Milwaukee. It is sort of in Creighton’s shoes right now, with a lot of momentum, because that UCLA loss doesn’t take away from the high of beating Texas.

Chloe Marotta leads the Golden Eagles in scoring and rebounding with 13.8 points and 7.7 boards per game. Liza Karlen is right behind Marotta, averaging 13.5 and 7.5. Jordan King, who scored a career-high 25 points against the Longhorns, is averaging 13.2 points and a team-best 4.3 assists.

RV (33 points) Gonzaga Bulldogs (5-1, 0-0 WCC)

Gonzaga also picked up the highest-ranked win in its program history, defeating then-No. 6, now-No. 10 Louisville in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Kaylynne Truong was huge in the fourth quarter.

The Bulldogs also beat No. 23 Tennessee in a one-point thriller on Monday afternoon to earn third place in the tournament. In between was the loss to Maquette.

Gonzaga’s 91-38 victory over Southern Utah on Nov. 12 marked its second-largest margin of victory under Lisa Fortier. However the team has endured a scare as well, beating Wyoming by just two on Nov. 15.

Yvonne Ejim leads the team with 18 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Truong (12.3 points per game) leads the team with 4.8 assists per game.

RV (eight points) Drake Bulldogs (2-1, 0-0 MVC)

Drake has taken No. 9 Iowa to overtime and beaten Nebraska (receiving votes) by 18. Katie Dinnebier starred in those two high-profile games, scoring 24 points against the Hawkeyes and 18 points against the Cornhuskers. But she hasn’t been by far and away the team’s best scorer, as Maggie Bair (15.7), Grace Berg (14.7) and Sarah Beth Gueldner (12.7) are not far behind her 16 points per game. Bair and Berg are averaging 7.7 and 6.3 rebounds, respectively, while Dinnebier leads the team with 4.3 assists per game.

RV (five points) South Florida Bulls (6-0, 0-0 AAC)

The Bulls have Power 5 wins over Alabama and TCU and have 40-plus-point wins over Morehead State and Florida A&M. In the Gulf Coast Showcase over Thanksgiving weekend they could potentially face their first big challenge in No. 21 Baylor, No. 22 Michigan or No. 23 Villanova.

Florida State transfer Sammie Puisis leads the team in scoring with 16.5 points per game; her career best before this season was 6.9. Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu is nearly averaging a double-double with 16 points and 9.3 rebounds. The team’s leading scorer in each of the last three seasons, Elena Tsineke, is posting 15.8 points per game and freshman wing from Spain Carla Brito is good for 12.2 points and 8.2 rebounds.

RV (four points) South Dakota State Jackrabbits (4-2, 0-0 Summit)

The Jackrabbits are coming off a 65-55 Monday win over No. 10 Louisville. That could be a turning point in their season and erase the bad memory of the season-opening loss to Creighton, which came on their home floor. The team walked away with two wins at the Battle 4 Atlantis, as it beat Rutgers in addition to Louisville. Its only loss in the tournament was in the first round to eventual champion UCLA and that was only by seven points. So it was a strong showing in the Bahamas after the team barely snuck past Mississippi State in their last game before the tournament.

Former Summit League Player of the Year Myah Selland leads the Jackrabbits in points (16.7), rebounds (seven) and assists (3.7) per game. She posted season highs of 25 points and 11 boards against Louisville, to go along with four helpers, two steals and two blocks.

RV (three points) Princeton Tigers (3-1, 0-0 Ivy)

Princeton has had to sweat in all of its games since a 67-49 season-opening win over Temple. It lost to Villanova in its second game of the season and then beat Seton Hall by just four and Fordham by just three. In the Tigers’ defense, Seton Hall was picked to do well in the Big East this year and Fordham came within seven points of No. 14 Maryland.

The team’s leading rebounder from a year ago, Ellie Mitchell, is averaging 16.3 boards per game, while Julia Cunningham (14 points, 6.5 rebounds, three assists, two steals, 1.8 blocks) and Caitlyn Chen (14.5 points, five rebounds, 4.3 assists) have been solid across the board.