It’s starting to get very interesting in the Big East; well, at least at the top of the standings. (Disregard spots 12 through 15 unless you like to be miserable).
Six teams are within a game and a half of league leaders (at least by record if not by power ranking) Syracuse and Marquette. Of that group of eight, I’d say five could win it -- the Orange, Golden Eagles, Louisville, Georgetown or Pittsburgh.
1. Louisville. So have the Cardinals put their midseason swoon behind them altogether? That’s really the question now. Louisville thumped what had been a red-hot Marquette team and then sidestepped Rutgers with relative ease to win its third in a row. The Cards look better, but are they? We’ll see on Saturday when they play at Notre Dame with "GameDay" on hand.
2. Syracuse. The panic button is on hold in central New York, at least for now, after the Orange ended a two-game skid by beating Notre Dame. They looked better doing it, especially with freshman Jerami Grant scoring a career-high 14. He’s the exact sort of antidote Syracuse needs right now, a new scoring threat to help ease the loss of James Southerland and DaJuan Coleman.
3. Georgetown. The Hoyas have won six of seven since Greg Whittington’s season ended due to academic ineligibility. Is it merely a matter of Georgetown circling the wagons? Who knows, and more, who among Hoya fans cares? Georgetown is winning, on a four-game streak as it heads to Rutgers this weekend with a Big Monday date against Marquette in the wings.
4. Marquette. I’m not off the Golden Eagles’ bandwagon but that steamrolling at the hands of Louisville was a little bit worrisome, and beating USF doesn’t count as a bounce-back. Nor will beating DePaul on Saturday. We’ll see more what Marquette is about next week with games against Georgetown and Pittsburgh.
5. Pittsburgh. The Panthers just may be the most dangerous team in the league. Why? Because no one is talking about them and they’re playing terrific defense. Pitt-like, if you will. The Panthers rank seventh in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 54.9 points per game. They’ve won six of their last seven and head to Cincinnati this weekend as a very hot team.
6. St. John’s. The Red Storm don’t make it easy, but they make it entertaining. Steve Lavin’s young crew has won six of its past seven, putting it at least in the bubble conversation. This week, though, will be perhaps the most telling of all for St. John’s when it faces a treacherous one-two punch, at Syracuse on Sunday and at Louisville on Thursday.
7. Notre Dame. It’s not just the loss to Syracuse that is troubling for the Irish; it’s how the team is looking. They needed to hold on to beat Villanova, overtime to beat DePaul and then got toppled by the Orange. Notre Dame’s usually reliable 3-point shooting also has been spotty. It needs to get on track quickly with Louisville coming to town.
8. Cincinnati. It really wasn’t a surprise that the Bearcats lost to Providence. They’d been playing with fire for weeks, starting against Rutgers and blowing a 20-point lead against Seton Hall. The problem is Cincinnati’s once-prolific offense has hit the skids. In the last four game, the Bearcats are averaging only 58 points. Points will be tough to come by in their next one, at Pitt.
9. Connecticut. The long road might be catching up with the Huskies. They needed overtime to beat Providence and South Florida and then lost to St. John’s. Now it’s off to Seton Hall, a should-be winnable game, but those are hard to predict right now. It’s understandable. Kevin Ollie did not inherit an easy job or an overstuffed roster. Still, UConn is playing for pride, which means a lot to the proud program.
10. Providence. Have the Friars, a team filled with some legit talent, turned the corner? We’ll see. After spending so much of the season frustratingly close to victory, Providence finally pulled off an upset, beating Cincinnati. The Friars have won two in a row, looking good in the process, but the battle now is for consistency. Let’s see what happens at South Florida this weekend.
11. Villanova. And if Providence needs a reminder to not get caught up in one week’s worth of games, we give you the Wildcats. After the program’s best week in a long time, Villanova lost to Notre Dame and Providence. It was not only a momentum killer but likely the killer of a last-ditch hope of an NCAA tournament bid.
12. Seton Hall. We could easily pull off a four-team tie for last place starting here but instead we’ll split hairs. The Pirates only have lost four in a row, so they are the best of the worst this week.
13. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights' losing streak is now at five games, hence their ranking below the Pirates. The good news -- the two teams play one another on Tuesday so, barring an act of God or meteorological event, someone will have to win.
14. South Florida. I’ve honestly run out of things to say about the Bulls and DePaul -- or at least new things. South Florida has lost five in a row. Why? It ranks 310th in scoring offense.
15. DePaul. The Blue Demons’ push to disaster is now at seven games, with their last win coming more than a month ago. They’ve gotten close -- losing twice in overtime -- but sadly that does not count. But, hey, DePaul is 58th in scoring nationally. Maybe it could share some buckets with South Florida and conjure up a squad?