What to know as Chicago plays host to women's Big East tournament
It's tournament time in women's college basketball, and the Chicago area will be busy for the next few weeks.
The Big East Conference tournament tips off Saturday at Wintrust Arena in the South Loop, setting the stage for an NCAA regional on the same floor about a week or so later.
DePaul will host both events and could be a major player in both as well.
The Blue Demons placed second in the Big East Conference this season behind champion Marquette. DePaul (23-7, 14-4 Big East) lost twice to Marquette but ranks as one of the top 25 teams in the country. Marquette (24-6, 15-3) sits at No. 17 in the national polls after clinching its second straight Big East regular season league title.
Marquette earned the top seed in the Big East tournament while DePaul is No. 2. Both teams received a bye into Sunday's quarterfinals and will face the winners of Saturday's first round games between the bottom four seeds.
At noon on Sunday, Marquette will take on either No. 8 Seton Hall or No. 9 St. John's, which tips at 2 p.m Saturday. And at 6 p.m on Sunday, DePaul will face either No. 7 Providence or No. 10 Xavier (4:30 p.m., Saturday).
Natisha Hiedeman and Mart'e Grays represent Marquette and DePaul respectively on the all-Big East first team.
DePaul freshman guard Lexi Held was named to the league's all-freshman team.
Here are some other things you need to know about the Big East heading into this weekend's tournament:
More Marquette I:
For the second year in a row, Marquette pulled in the Big East's top individual award as senior guard Natisha Hiedeman was named the league's player of the year. Hiedeman follows in the footsteps of teammate Allazia Blockton, who earned Big East player of the year honors last season.
Interestingly, Blockton was in the midst of making a good case for winning back-to-back player of the year honors when she went down with an injury in the first Big East game of the season against Providence on Dec. 29. At the time, she was averaging 17.4 points through 12 games.
But Blockton was forced to sit out five games and that's when Hiedeman heated up. Hiedeman, a super-quick, 3-point shooting machine, upped her production from 15.4 points per game prior to Blockton's injury to 24.2 points per game. She is currently averaging a team-best 17.5 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Hiedeman also leads the Golden Eagles in assists (4.7 apg), steals (2.2 spg) and 3-pointers (79). On the season, she has logged 13 20-point games. She scored a season-high 34 points against Seton Hall.
More Marquette II:
Meanwhile, Allazia Blockton didn't fade into the sunset because of her injury.
When she was cleared in mid-January, she spent the next eight games coming off the bench and is now averaging 14.1 points per game. She is back in Marquette's starting lineup, but her solid production off the bench earned her the Big East's Sixth Woman of the Year award. She is also the league's Scholar-Athlete of the Year, carrying a 3.587 grade point average while majoring in advertising and minoring in biological sciences.
Doing for others at DePaul:
Between school and basketball, it's a wonder DePaul senior guard Ashton Millender has any time left in the day. But apparently she has enough to have a true impact in the neighborhoods around Lincoln Park.
Millender was named the Big East's Sportsmanship Award winner, shared with Jannah Tucker of Villanova.
Millender, a fifth-year senior for the Blue Demons who averages 13.1 points per game and is best known for her 3-point shooting, takes part in DePaul's Demon-THON, a charity dance marathon while also volunteering at the Seton Soup Kitchen and with Special Olympics.
Butler was the surprise of the Big East this season.
And head coach Kurt Godlevske was justly rewarded with Big East Coach of the Year honors.
Predicted to finish seventh in the Big East preseason coaches poll, the Bulldogs significantly exceeded expectations by finishing third, their highest finish since joining the league in 2013-14.
At 21-8, Butler has already tallied its most wins since the 2009-10 season (23-10) and its 11-7 Big East record is its best since joining the league.
The Bulldogs relied heavily on stingy defense this season, allowing a league-low 57.8 points per game while ranking in the top 20 nationally with 11 steals per game.
Senior guard Michelle Weaver was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
The first round might feature the bottom four teams in the Big East, but that doesn't mean these teams lack talent or story lines.
No. 7 Providence features the Big East Freshman of the Year in Mary Baskerville. The 6-foot-3 forward led all freshmen in the league in scoring (9.4 ppg), rebounding (7.3 rpg) and field goal percentage (.602). Her shooting mark ranked second among all Big East players.
Meanwhile, Seton Hall junior forward Shadeen Samuels was named first-team all-Big East. Samuels finished the Big East season leading the league in scoring at 20.2 points per game in conference games.
She played much of the final stretch of the season hurt with a shoulder injury.
Game days: Here is the schedule for the weekend at Wintrust Arena:
Saturday: Seton Hall vs. St. John's at 2 p.m and Providence vs. Xavier at 4:30 p.m.
Sunday: Marquette vs. Seton Hall/St. John's at noon; Georgetown vs. Villanova at 2:30; DePaul vs. Providence/Xavier at 6 p.m and Butler vs. Creighton at 8:30 p.m.
Monday: semifinals at 3 p.m and 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday: championship at 7 p.m.
Big East tickets:
Visit depaulbluedemons.com or call (773) 325-SLAM.
The winner of the Big East tournament gets the league's automatic berth into the NCAA tournament, which will be announced in its entirety on Monday, March 18 on ESPN.
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw