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Men’s Basketball: A look at the Big East

Chris Hine | Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Big East season is three weeks old and so far, there haven’t been many surprises – it’s tough to win on the road, the teams who are perennial bottom-feeders find themselves in the cellar again and the regular-season champion is harder to predict than guessing what will happen on “Lost.” Here’s a look at the standings:

No. 10 Marquette (16-2, 5-0)

The Golden Eagles have benefited from playing a relatively easy portion of their Big East schedule, but they beat the teams they should beat, which is what you need to do to survive in the Big East. They passed their first test on Saturday, winning on the road against a tough Providence team.

No. 12 Louisville (13-3, 4-0)

Louisville could easily be 1-3 right now. If Villanova could have made a layup in the final seconds, the Cardinals would’ve lost to the Wildcats. If Notre Dame hadn’t forgotten how to score late in the game, they would’ve lost to the Irish. And they were behind Saturday against a Pittsburgh team that was ranked No. 1 in the country. But here they are, undefeated in conference play with a big road game against Syracuse on the horizon Sunday.

No. 3 Connecticut (16-1, 5-1)

After dropping their conference-opener to Georgetown, the Huskies haven’t really faced any tough opponents. Up next, Connecticut plays Villanova before coming to South Bend to try and end Notre Dame’s Joyce Center win streak. On paper, the Huskies should hand Notre Dame its first home loss in three years, but there are no guarantees in the Big East.

No. 4 Pittsburgh (17-1, 5-1)

Pittsburgh rebounded nicely from its close loss at Louisville Saturday with a dominating performance over Syracuse at home on Monday. The Panthers head to the road again for games against Villanova and West Virginia before returning home for an afternoon matchup with Notre Dame on Jan. 31. Pittsburgh boasts possibly the best front line in the conference, with Sam Young and DeJuan Blair leading the way.

No. 8 Syracuse (17-3, 5-2)

Syracuse has struggled on the road, barely beating South Florida and dropping games against Georgetown and Pittsburgh that weren’t close. But the Syracuse’s next big matchup is at home, against Louisville on Sunday. The Orange have five players averaging double figures in scoring.

Providence (12-6, 4-2)

Providence is so close to being a Tournament-bound team. The Friars had Marquette beaten at home before giving the game away. The Friars don’t have a dominant player, but they do have seven players who are frequent contributors and each average more than 8.8 points per game and pose a threat to beat anyone in the conference.

No. 14 Georgetown

(12-4, 3-2)

The Hoyas came through their five-game Big East gauntlet with a winning record in conference play. In that stretch, they defeated Connecticut on the road, and Syracuse and Providence at home, while losing at home to Pittsburgh and losing in the Joyce Center. Georgetown has three winnable games on its schedule next before traveling to Marquette on Jan. 31.

No. 19 Notre Dame

(12-5, 3-3)

Notre Dame is in the middle of a crucial five-game stretch that many felt would show just how good the Irish are this season. So far, they haven’t lived up to expectations, dropping a game they should’ve won at Louisville while coming out flat defensively Saturday against Syracuse. The Irish are off until Saturday when they host Connecticut, and then Monday, they welcome a Marquette team that beat them twice last season.

Villanova (14-3, 2-2)

Villanova dropped a heartbreaker at home against Louisville. All the Wildcats had to do was make a layup and they would’ve won. Instead they’re stuck in the middle of the pack, but Dante Cunningham has emerged as a more consistent threat for Villanova offensively, averaging seven more points per game (17.4) than he did a year ago.

West Virginia (13-4, 2-2)

Bob Huggins has had to rely on some young talent to replace Joe Alexander and the results have been about what you’d expect from a young team with talent – inconsistency. The Mountaineers blew out Ohio State and Seton Hall, then lost to Connecticut while Marquette easily handled them. West Virginia should finish toward the middle of the pack, but it could knock off an upper-echelon team somewhere down the road.

Cincinnati (12-7, 2-4)

The Bearcats have a long way to go to replicate the success in basketball that they had in football. They lost their first three conference games but won the next two, against DePaul and Rutgers, before losing again on Monday to Providence.

St. John’s (10-7, 1-4)

The Red Storm lone conference win came against the Irish. In their other four games, St. John’s has lost by an average of 18.7 points per game. It does, however, have two winnable games coming up against Cincinnati and Rutgers.

South Florida (6-11, 1-4)

Dominique Jones is proving himself to be a quality guard, but past him, there’s not much to talk about here. The Bulls kept it close with West Virginia and Syracuse, but still sit where they usually do – near the bottom of the standings. Good news for South Florida in its game tonight, however, as it plays DePaul, the only team it defeated so far in conference play.

Seton Hall (9-8, 0-5), Rutgers (9-9, 0-5) and DePaul

(8-10, 0-5)

Which of these teams is the worst? Possibly DePaul, which has the most embarrassing loss of the three – a 22-point home loss to South Florida. Ouch.