The first thing Butler women’s basketball coach Kurt Godlevske thought when he heard UConn was coming back to the Big East was how great it would be to have the Huskies play at storied Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the movie Hoosiers was filmed.

“The second thing was: ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to get better,'” said Godlevske, whose team went 23-10 last year. “I think it will really raise the bar in our league and raise the recruiting level for all of us.”

“And I think attendance will be a huge thing. It will be a great experience for the girls to play in front of a large crowd.”

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UConn will return to the Big East for the 2020-2021 season, after winning six conference tournament championships and going 120-0 in the AAC the last six years. It is very different from the last time the Huskies played in the Big East, without the likes of Notre Dame, Rutgers, Boston College and Louisville. But it was still a strong conference last year, finishing sixth in the RPI rankings after the top five Power 5 conferences, with six teams in the top 100 of the RPI. The AAC ranked ninth in the year-end RPI, with only three teams in the top 100.

Attendance, recruiting and a better strength of schedule were what Big East coaches pointed to as bonuses in UConn’s return to the conference.

“I’m really excited about UConn coming back into the Big East,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. “We’re a strong league. But UConn makes it even stronger.

“Whereas it will be much more difficult to win a Big East championship with UConn in the field, their presence helps the other 10 of us get better against the rest of the NCAA field and that’s what excites me.”

Bruno is a long-time friend of UConn coach Geno Auriemma and his Blue Demons are the only team from the former Big East who have played the Huskies every year since UConn left the conference.

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“I believe the coaches that were in the old Big East, I think they all understand exactly the impact,” Bruno said. “I don’t know if the coaches that have not dealt with UConn on a daily basis really understand.

“What people have to understand you never want to be the program who’s playing for second, but at the same time it must be acknowledged that this is the best program in all of NCAA college basketball, men’s or women’s. If you analyze what UConn did in the old Big East from 1995 ’til the breakup in ’13, nobody really caught them in that period of time, either. They might have been knocked down a couple times but nobody ever knocked them out.”

The UConn women won the Big East Tournament championship 18 times from 1989-2013. From 1994 on, Villanova (2003), Boston College (2004), Rutgers (2007) and Notre Dame (2013) were the only other teams to win the title. Since realignment, DePaul has won the conference tournament championship four of the last six years.

It’s not like UConn hasn’t been seeing these teams. Seton Hall played UConn last year. So did St. John’s, at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Island, losing 65-55.

“To me, it’s like, ‘All right, let’s go, we got to get better players and be ready,'” St. John’s coach Joe Tartemella said. “It’s kind of like going back to the way it was.”

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Tartamella has been at St. John’s for 17 years. He was the associate head coach to Kim Barnes Arico in 2012 when St. John’s beat UConn 57-56 at Gampel Pavilion on a last second three-pointer by Shenneika Smith (now a St. John’s assistant), ending UConn’s 99-game home court win streak.

“As Geno would tell you, he wants everybody in the league to be good,” Tartamella said. “We’ve been fighting every year to show how good our league really is and to showcase the teams that are in it.

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Megan Duffy, recently hired as the Marquette coach, played against UConn when she was at Notre Dame, graduating in 2006.

“We’ve had a lot of calls since the announcement; players are excited about the opportunity,” said Duffy, whose new team went 27-8 and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year. “It’s a mentality of you either want to play there or go somewhere else and try to beat them.”

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The Big East Tournament has been in Chicago six of the last seven years. Coaches expect this will change and the championship will return to Connecticut, either the Mohegan Sun Arena or the XL Center. The AAC Tournament has been held at the Mohegan Sun Arena the last seven years.

“I’m sure the athletic directors are going to have to change the venue of the tournament — bring it back to Hartford, Gampel or Mohegan Sun,” Villanova coach Harry Perretta said. “Obviously, we’re going to draw more people there.”

Villanova hasn’t played UConn since the Huskies left the conference.

“It’ll be fun,” said Perretta, one of Auriemma’s long-time friends. “Even if you get killed, it’s something on the schedule you’re looking forward to.”

This article is written by Lori Riley from The Hartford Courant and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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