Power Rankings: Long live the Big East

Villanova is loaded again, but the Wildcats aren't the only strong team in the Big East. Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The "best conference" debate is going to be one that lasts all season -- and the criteria for each person will be different. But through the first week-plus of the season, the league deepest at the top is fairly clear.

The Big East has answered the bell over the past couple of years, sending 70 percent of its teams to the NCAA tournament last season and producing the national champion in 2016. And this season's version is its best at the top.

Villanova has won the Big East each of the past four seasons and is the favorite to do so again, but the Wildcats could face their most difficult race yet. There are three teams with legitimate cases to be ranked in the top 10 at this point, three teams that have what it takes to win at least three or four games in March.

Villanova is a top-five team right now. The Wildcats struggled a bit against Columbia in the season opener before winning by 15, and then scored 217 combined points in blowout wins over Nicholls State and Lafayette. If you're looking for one team to last the longest before losing a game this season, Villanova wouldn't be a bad bet. The Wildcats' most difficult nonconference game is in New York City against Gonzaga, and they don't play Providence, Xavier, Creighton or Seton Hall on the road until Valentine's Day.

What makes this version of the Big East special is Xavier and Seton Hall. Coming off an Elite Eight run last season, the Musketeers are playing with the swagger of a team that knows it can make another deep NCAA tournament run. Trevon Bluiett is an elite scorer, carrying over the momentum from March. He has scored at least 25 points in each of Xavier's first three games. J.P. Macura is looking to stake his claim as the villain of college basketball, drawing the ire of Wisconsin fans after going for 20 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists against the Badgers. Xavier's win at Wisconsin is likely going to look better as the season progresses.

Seton Hall has a starting lineup with four seniors and a roster that could go 10 deep. Angel Delgado has racked up three consecutive double-doubles to start the season, and Desi Rodriguez dropped 23 against Indiana on Wednesday. Khadeen Carrington is adapting to being the team's lead guard quickly, as well. If the Pirates can come out of an upcoming stretch against Rhode Island, either Vanderbilt or Virginia, Texas Tech, Louisville and VCU without a loss, this team is going to be 13-0 heading into Big East play and firmly in the top 10 nationally.

What makes Xavier and Seton Hall noteworthy is their experience and confidence. Both teams are led by multiple veterans and know what it takes to win games -- and that will not only pay off in March but will help them build their résumés in the nonconference portion of the season.

Villanova is still the favorite, but the Wildcats are going to have company from the Big East inside the top 10 for most of the season.

Previous: Preseason rankings

1. Duke Blue Devils
Record: 4-0
Preseason ranking: 1
Coach Mike Krzyzewski had the most talented team in the country before the season, earning the Blue Devils preseason No. 1 honors. Then they went out and beat Michigan State on a neutral court with Marvin Bagley playing only 10 minutes. A healthy Duke team is going to be the hunted all season.

2. Arizona Wildcats
Record: 3-0
Preseason ranking: 2
Grayson Allen's 37-point performance against Michigan State has received more attention, but there might not be a player starting the season hotter than Arizona's Allonzo Trier. Trier is averaging 30.0 points through three games, shooting 70 percent from the field and nearly 59 percent on 3-pointers.

3. Kansas Jayhawks
Record: 3-0
Preseason ranking: 4
The Jayhawks haven't exactly blown the doors off through three games, but they move up a spot because a win over Kentucky in Chicago is still impressive. The key for this team will be whether it can find a go-to guy on the perimeter and get some frontcourt depth. Will Billy Preston help the latter soon?

4. Michigan State Spartans
Record: 2-1
Preseason ranking: 3
It's impossible to knock the Spartans too much for a neutral-court loss to the best team in the country. After Duke stifled them with a zone defense, expect Tom Izzo to add some wrinkles moving forward. Jaren Jackson has been a revelation for NBA scouts through the first week-plus of the season.

5. Villanova Wildcats
Record: 3-0
Preseason ranking: 8
Mikal Bridges had always been a versatile weapon on offense and perhaps the best defensive player in the Big East. But his breakout through three games has come on the offensive end, totaling 47 points in his past two games -- shooting nearly 56 percent from 3-point range after hitting just 67 of 187 on 3s in his first two seasons combined.

6. Wichita State Shockers
Record: 2-0
Preseason ranking: 5
It won't take long to figure out whether the Shockers are for real -- and their 18-point drubbing of Charleston is a hint. But Wichita State faces Baylor, South Dakota State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in a two-week span at the start of December. Will Gregg Marshall have a healthy Markis McDuffie by then?

7. Cincinnati Bearcats
Record: 3-0
Preseason ranking: 9
The biggest question with Cincinnati heading into the season was whether Cane Broome could be a true point guard. He's turning it over too much early, but he's also getting plenty of playmaking help from his teammates. Mick Cronin might have his best team since taking over at Cincinnati.

8. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Record: 4-0
Preseason ranking: 10
It flew under the radar a little bit, but Minnesota's 12-point win at Providence on Monday is one of the most impressive wins of the season so far. Jordan Murphy has opened the season with four straight double-doubles and is averaging 25.3 points and 13.3 rebounds through three games.

9. Xavier Musketeers
Record: 3-0
Preseason ranking: 14
Chris Mack's team was probably ranked a bit too low to start the season, but its win at Wisconsin helps rectify the issue. The Badgers aren't as good as they have been in the past, but Ethan Happ is Ethan Happ and the Kohl Center is the Kohl Center. Trevon Bluiett is as good a scorer as anyone in America.

10. USC Trojans
Record: 2-0
Preseason ranking: 6
USC did nothing to drop after the first 10 days of the season, but the Trojans' preseason ranking was based on De'Anthony Melton being eligible. He hasn't played yet, which knocks USC down a couple of pegs. That said, the win at Vanderbilt on Sunday is a sneaky-good victory and should give the Trojans some confidence.

11. Miami Hurricanes
Record: 3-0
Preseason ranking: 11
The Hurricanes haven't been tested yet, but they're getting quality inside production -- which was their biggest key heading into the season. One potential issue: Bruce Brown's counting numbers look good, but he's shooting 2-for-9 from the free throw line and 2-for-9 from 3-point range through three games.

12. Kentucky Wildcats
Record: 3-1
Preseason ranking: 7
John Calipari is still figuring his team out, but there were positive signs in the loss to Kansas in Chicago. Kevin Knox looks poised to become the Wildcats' go-to guy on the offensive end, and Sacha Killeya-Jones is providing quality production inside. Point guard play is still going to be the key.

13. Florida Gators
Record: 3-0
Preseason ranking: 12
Despite the loss of several key scorers from last season, early returns have Mike White's team playing faster and remaining consistent on the offensive end. We'll find out more over the next five games: Stanford, Florida State, Loyola Chicago, Cincinnati and Clemson. Transfers Egor Koulechov (Rice) and Jalen Hudson (Virginia Tech) have provided a boost.

14. Seton Hall Pirates
Record: 4-0
Preseason ranking: 15
The Pirates should probably be higher than this, but we'll wait until after the NIT Season Tip-Off this week to truly buy into them as a top-10 team. Khadeen Carrington's transition to point guard has gone swimmingly, with totals of 21 assists and seven turnovers through four games.

15. Texas A&M Aggies
Record: 2-0
Preseason ranking: 25
The Aggies are the biggest riser since the preseason, after dominating West Virginia by 23 points on the opening night of the season -- and that was without Robert Williams and J.J. Caldwell. A full-strength A&M team might be the most complete group in the SEC. A road trip to USC on Sunday is a must-watch.

16. North Carolina Tar Heels
Record: 2-0
Preseason ranking: 16
There have been positives: Joel Berry II missed only one game, the Tar Heels' trio of freshman big men has been productive. But there's also been a negative: Cameron Johnson will miss four to six weeks after tearing his meniscus. Who will step up as a perimeter scorer for Roy Williams' group?

17. Saint Mary's Gaels
Record: 4-0
Preseason ranking: 19
Because the Gaels don't play a challenging nonconference schedule, their quest to overtake Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference will be a mystery for several weeks. Calvin Hermanson averaging 19.0 points and shooting 60.0 percent from 3-point range is a good start, though.

18. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Record: 3-0
Preseason ranking: 20
Mike Brey always seems to find replacements to make his offense seamlessly transition from year to year. So far this season, the answer to the departures of V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia has been Temple Gibbs, who has eclipsed the 20-point mark twice in his first three games.

19. Louisville Cardinals
Record: 2-0
Preseason ranking: 17
Not surprisingly, David Padgett is still feeling his way through the opening stretch to the season. Louisville having two seniors and two juniors among its top five players is a big help, but he's also been getting production from a talented group of freshmen. Darius Perry looks like a classic Louisville guard.

20. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Record: 3-0
Preseason ranking: 22
Mark Few had to replace four key members of his rotation, but as usual, he has found sleepers to step up. Returning starters Josh Perkins and Johnathan Williams lead the way, but keep an eye on Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie. The overseas products have been producing through the opening three games -- and NBA guys have had their eyes on them for years.

21. Purdue Boilermakers
Record: 4-0
Preseason ranking: NR
There was a very strong case to include Matt Painter's group in the preseason rankings, and the Boilermakers were the first team left out. A 15-point road win at Marquette last week gets them over the hump. How are they going to replace Caleb Swanigan? More minutes for 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and the arrival of 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms have worked so far.

22. UCLA Bruins
Record: 3-0
Preseason ranking: 21
In the news for all the wrong reasons the past couple of weeks, UCLA has been iffy on the court as well. The Bruins barely got past Georgia Tech in China, and then they needed overtime to beat Central Arkansas at home. Defense has been an issue -- and now the Bruins don't have the elite offense of last season to fall back on.

23. TCU Horned Frogs
Record: 3-0
Preseason ranking: 24
TCU escaped from South Dakota at home last week and should rattle off another handful of wins before playing SMU and Nevada in early December. Right now, the Horned Frogs look like the second-best team in the Big 12: They're experienced, have quality depth and can defend.

24. Alabama Crimson Tide
Record: 3-0
Preseason ranking: NR
With Collin Sexton now eligible, Alabama moves into the top 25 after being one of the last teams left out in the preseason. Moreover, the Crimson Tide are only going to get healthier. Five-star freshman John Petty had one of the top performances of the young season on Friday, hitting 10 of 13 from 3-point range.

25. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Record: 4-0
Preseason ranking: NR
Chris Beard has five seniors among his top six, and the Red Raiders' experience paid off early with a Hall of Fame Tip Off title -- including a 36-point win over Northwestern. Keenan Evans might be the most underrated power-conference star in the country.

Dropped out: Providence, West Virginia