- Jason King
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With a 20-0 record and a No. 1 national ranking, the Syracuse Orange have established themselves as the class of the Big East.
But which team is the second-best?
Georgetown, which won 11 straight games earlier this season, is certainly in the mix. So are Marquette and surging West Virginia. More and more these days, however, Connecticut appears to be the squad best-equipped to challenge Syracuse for the league title before embarking on a significant run in the NCAA tournament.
Not that we should be surprised.
The Huskies, who return every key piece of last season’s NCAA championship team other than Kemba Walker, entered the season ranked No. 4 before a shocking Nov. 25 loss to Central Florida took them out of the spotlight. Rutgers and Seton Hall have upset Connecticut, too. But that hasn’t squelched coach Jim Calhoun’s enthusiasm about the potential of this team.
Jeremy Lamb is a Wooden Award candidate and point guard Shabazz Napier averages 6.3 assists per game. The reason the Huskies’ ceiling is so high, however, is freshman Andre Drummond, a forward who is projected as a top-five pick in the 2012 NBA draft.
After a somewhat slow start, Drummond has been dominant at times in recent weeks. He’s posted a double-double in four of his past five games and will be a huge factor tonight when the Huskies host Cincinnati (ESPN2, 7 ET). At 4-1, the Bearcats are a half-game ahead of the 4-2 Huskies in the Big East standings.
Cincinnati, which is 14-4 overall, has done a nice job of holding itself together following the ugly aftermath of its Dec. 10 brawl with Xavier. But coach Mick Cronin’s team -- along with every other school in the Big East -- will have a tough time beating a UConn team with limitless potential, especially in Storrs.
Prediction: Connecticut 75, Cincinnati 60
Here are my predictions for Wednesday’s other top games:
Texas at Kansas State
Six of the Longhorns' top eight players are freshmen, which could be a problem in the Big 12’s second-toughest road environment behind Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse. At 1-3, Kansas State is in desperate need of a win to get back into the conference title race.
Prediction: Kansas State 73, Texas 64
Memphis at Central Florida
Central Florida is the most talented team in Conference USA behind Memphis, so this could end up being the game of the year in the league. Knights forward Keith Clanton (15.3 points, 9.5 rebounds) is one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Memphis has won six straight games and is 3-0 in conference play. UCF is 13-4 and 3-1.
Prediction: Central Florida 68, Memphis 66
Marshall vs. West Virginia (Charleston, W.Va.)
The Mountaineers will be looking to avenge last season’s loss to the Thundering Herd. West Virginia is hot, with wins in three of its past four games. Double-double machine Kevin Jones is a first-team All-America candidate.
Prediction: West Virginia 71, Marshall 64
Seton Hall at Villanova
Villanova may be the worst team in the Big East. But Seton Hall, despite its recent turnaround, is hardly unbeatable. Just ask South Florida, which held the Pirates to 55 points in an upset in Tampa last week.
Prediction: Seton Hall 66, Villanova 64
Indiana at Nebraska
Coach Doc Sadler’s Cornhuskers got their first Big Ten win last week, defeating Penn State before almost upsetting Wisconsin in Madison a few days later. The Devaney Center can be difficult on opposing teams when it's full, and you can bet it will be tonight. Indiana is looking to snap a two-game losing streak.
Prediction: Indiana 60, Nebraska 54
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
The No. 15 Bulldogs will lose a lot of credibility if they get upset by struggling Ole Miss in Oxford, where coach Andy Kennedy is on the hot seat after losing five of his past seven games.
Prediction: Mississippi State 82, Ole Miss 68
San Diego State at New Mexico
The Aztecs upset UNLV on Saturday in their biggest game of the season to date. Winning on the road -- especially in The Pit -- will be an even tougher task. This game could go a long way toward deciding the Mountain West Conference title.
Prediction: New Mexico 65, San Diego State 61
Creighton at Missouri State
The Bluejays lost to Missouri State in Omaha last month but haven't dropped a game since. Creighton’s Doug McDermott is a first-team All-America candidate who averages 24.3 points. Creighton is 16-2 overall and 6-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference. Missouri State is 11-8 and 4-3.
Prediction: Creighton 74, Missouri State 65
With a 20-0 record and a No. 1 national ranking, the Syracuse Orange have established themselves as the class of the Big East.But which team is the second-best?