1.Georgetown (18-4)- The team that’s been flying under the radar in the Big East has quietly put together the most impressive resume of any team in the conference. The Hoyas dominated their nonconference schedule to kickoff the season, going 10-1, with their only loss being an overtime thriller against college basketball’s No. 1 ranked Indiana. After initially stumbling in Big East play, dropping their first two games to Marquette and Pittsburgh, coach John Thompson III has clearly righted the ship. Since those two losses, they have gone 8-1, and taken down Louisville, Notre Dame, and Marquette in the process. Sophomore Otto Porter, Jr. has been the key to the Hoyas’ success down the stretch, leading the team in both points (15.3) and rebounds (7.9). He is a stoically patient offensive player who allows the game to come to him—an ideal fit for coach Thompson’s Princeton style offense. We will have a chance to see what Georgetown is truly made of during the final few weeks of Big East play (sad face), when they face off against Cincinnati, and twice against Syracuse. But as it stands right now, Georgetown stands alone as the best team in the Big East.
2.Louisville (19-5)- The Cardinals are the cause of persistent head scratching. After starting the year 16-1, they dropped three straight games. Their latest loss to No. 25th ranked Notre Dame was a five-OT epic that was reminiscent of the famed Syracuse Vs. UConn six-OT game in 2009. While Louisville hasn’t put themselves in great position to win the Big East with a 7-4 conference record, they are still nearly a lock to capture a one or two seed come tournament time. Stumbles aside, this is a top tier team that is capable of reaching the final four for the second consecutive year. The guard tandem of Russ Smith and Peyton Siva is as good as any in the NCAA, and with Gorgui Dieng, the 6-11 center, grabbing 9.9 rebounds per game, the Cards have what it takes to ascend to the very top this year. The one fatal flaw of this team is consistency. If they finish out the season like they started it, then Louisville will be the best chance for the Big East to win the tournament this season.
3.Pittsburgh (20-5)- If Georgetown has been under the radar, then Pittsburgh has been underground hiding in a bunker. They started off their season as strong as any team, with a 12-1 nonconference record—their only loss being to Michigan. Like Georgetown, Pitt also dropped their first two Big East games and has been on a tear ever since. They have beat ‘Cuse by 10; Georgetown by 28(!); and most recently Cincinnati by 10. So at 20-5 (8-4 Big East), why isn’t anyone talking about the Panthers? Senior guard Tray Woodall has been everything you look for in a senior guard this season, averaging 10.9 points and 5.4 assists per game. Head coach Jamie Dixon has to be pleased with Pitt’s resume thus far, and as far as getting attention goes, flying under the radar is often a blessing in disguise.
4.Syracuse (20-4)- Orange Nation was able to breath a sigh of relief when James Southerland won his appeal with the NCAA, and was allowed to return to action. However, last night they fell to Big East rival UConn in a game that should give ‘Cuse fans much pause. UConn, who ranks 14th out of 15 in the Big East in rebounding, beat the Orange on the boards during the game (albeit only by one rebound). But it highlights what will prove to be Syracuse’s most obvious flaw come March, they just aren’t built well inside. C.J. Fair is often used as the anchor of Boeheim’s revered 2-3 defense, but he’s only 6-8 and doesn’t have the girth to outmuscle opposing centers for rebounds. I just can’t see the Orange being able to get past any team that has a bruiser in the low post, however, the return of Southerland will certainly provide a much needed boost to a ‘Cuse squad that went 4-2 in his absence.
5.Marquette (17-6)- The Golden Eagles have been pretty touch-and-go this season. With some signature wins (Georgetown and Pitt), but have been coming up short in big games. They lost in overtime to Cincinnati, got blown out by Louisville, and most recently dropped their rematch against Georgetown. Led by the fiercely quick Vander Blue on offense (14.6 ppg), Marquette relies on a fast paced attack. Teams that like to slow the pace down like Georgetown figure to give the Golden Eagles problems. Size might also be a problem for Marquette in the future, they only have one player taller than 6-8, and it’s Chris Otule, who only averages three rebounds per game. I’m a big fan of head coach Buzz Williams, but he’ll have to figure out the kinks of Marquette’s offense soon, since the final seven games of their schedule offer them few breaks with games against ‘Cuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh.
6.Cincinnati (19-6)- Junior Sean Kilpatrick is one of the best players in all of college basketball, and he’s leading a Bearcats team that has a chance to make some noise in March. The biggest blemish on their resume is a loss to Providence, but outside of that, all of their losses have been to solid teams. They even gave Syracuse a scare at home with a 57-55 loss that went down to the final possession. I believe Cincinnati has a serious chance to succeed moving forward because of their physicality inside. It’s no secret that the most dangerous conference in college basketball this season is the Big Ten, which is infamous for rough and physical play. The Bearcats embrace this attitude as a team and look prepared to compete with bigger teams. A February 15th matchup against Georgetown should give us a good look at whether or not Cincinnati is the real deal.
7.Connecticut (17-6)- UConn fans will always talk about what could have been this season. They captured their biggest win of the season last night with a victory over No. 6 Syracuse, but their ineligibility to compete in the tournament due to NCAA violations relegated them to the role of spoiler this season. It has been interesting to watch the play of guard Shabazz Napier this season, whose style of play is eerily similar to that of ex-Husky Kemba Walker. Napier is never shy when it comes to pulling the trigger and has the Walker-esque ability to take over a game by himself. I have to wonder just how far UConn may have been able to advance in the tournament this year, especially if high-flyer Alex Oriakhi hadn’t transferred in the wake of the NCAA sanctions.
8.Notre Dame (20-5)- The Irish are quietly rolling. They pass the ball as well as any team in the country. They’re second in the nation with 18 assists per game, and 13th in field goal percentage. These two stats are indicative of a team that plays smart basketball and waits for their opportunities. Even if those opportunities take five overtimes to transpire—as was the case in their victory over Louisville. Notre Dame deserves a great deal of credit for winning games that they should. Their only Big East losses have been to UConn, St. Johns, Georgetown, and Syracuse—all impressive teams. At this point, I would say that it’s safe to pencil the Irish into the tournament, but where they’re seeded will depend heavily on how they fare for the remainder of their schedule, which is highlighted by road games against Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Marquette.
9.St. John’s (15-9)- The Johnnies have already exceeded the expectations of most this season. Their 7-5 Big East record is good enough to be in the thick of things as the season winds to a close, but missing from their resume is a signature win. They will be looking for that win tonight, on the road against Louisville (9 P.M.), sans coach Steve Lavin whose father recently passed away. It seemed like St John’s season was on the brink going into a January 23rd game against Rutgers, who beat them earlier this season in a tight game. The Johnnies ended up beating the Knights with ease and have been cruising ever since. However, the nature of their losses to Georgetown and Syracuse won’t do them any favors to the selection committee. Neither game was close, and St. John’s needs to at least look like they can contend with the top teams in their conference to have any hope of dancing in March.
10.Villanova (15-10)- How did Villanova celebrate taking down the two top teams in the Big East? They decided to take a two game vacation. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they had games on both of those days. No Big East team has had more of a roller coaster ride than ‘Nova this season. Stumbling hardly encompasses just how poorly they did in their nonconference schedule to start the season. But then, on the heels of a three-game losing streak, the Wildcats took down #5 Louisville and #3 Syracuse. Since then, they’ve gone 2-3, and those huge wins are looking more and more fluky. Head coach Jay Wright needs to convince his team that they’re capable of performing at a high level consistency—and soon. The final six games of their schedule are incredibly difficult with games against Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Marquette, and Connecticut.
11.Providence (13-11)- I’m still in shock that the friars managed to beat Cincinnati in their February 6th meeting. However, now they square off against Notre Dame and Syracuse back-to-back, a likely 0-2 scenario lies ahead for Providence. Their leading scorer is Arizona native Bryce Cotton whose shots manage to hit nothing but cotton on a regular basis. He is netting 20.5 points per game this season, while posting a 45% field goal percentage. He is presently the leading scorer in the Big East—an impressive stat to hold, but somewhat diluted by his team’s 13-11 record.
12.Rutgers (13-10)- Oh Rutgers, how far you’ve fallen. The good news for RU? They just snapped a six-game losing streak with a win over Seton Hall. The bad news? Seton hall was on a five-game losing streak coming into the game—not exactly a victory to write home about. There is really nothing pretty about the Knights this season. It was bad enough when head coach Mike Rice got suspended for allegedly throwing basketballs at the heads of his players during practice (clearly he went to Bob Knight’s school of coaching), but now the Scarlet Knights don’t even look like a team that could advance in the NIT tournament. It’s pretty clear that for Rutgers to succeed in the future, they’re just going to have to blow the program up and start anew. That includes the removal of coach Rice, who just hasn’t brought enough talent to the program. And poor Eli Carter, an offensive stud that would make an excellent fit for another team as a gunner, but has been relegated to run Rutgers sluggish offense—a truly unenviable task.
13.Seton Hall (13-12)- I guess another bright spot for Rutgers is that they’re still better than Seton Hall! The Pirates, losers of six straight games, are lost at sea. Which is a shame, because junior forward Fuquan Edwin is quite a player to watch. He leads his team in points (17) and is second in rebounding (5.8). Edwin is a vocal leader of the team, and according to Star-Leger reporter Brendon Prunty, Edwin was one of the players that orchestrated a players only meeting to discuss how they can salvage what’s left of a season in shambles.
14.DePaul (10-14)- Losers of nine in a row. What’s wrong with this team you ask? I could sooner explain the meaning of life before I could fit the problems of the Blue Demons on this page.
15.South Florida (10-14)- 1-11 over their last 12 games. Which team was bad enough to lose to my last ranked USF team? My number one ranked Georgetown of course. God I will miss the Big East.Happy hoops everyone. The tournament will be here soon—hold on tight.