Conference Power Rankings: Big East

It was a noisy quiet week for the Big East. With plenty of teams enjoying some holiday downtime, two of the best played -- and lost their first games of the season.

Both Syracuse and Cincinnati dropped from the ranks of the unbeatens, but neither is going to get punished too heavily here because both lost to good teams and are clearly, along with Louisville, the cream of this conference’s crop as league play opens.

1. Louisville. The Cards put the defensive clamps on one state rival, easily topping Western Kentucky before Christmas. Now it gets a little trickier, with the ultimate rival coming to town in the form of Kentucky. Maybe toughest of all: Louisville will have to regroup quickly, win or lose, with the league opener against Providence only four days later.

2. Cincinnati. The Bearcats were taken out of their rhythm and off their game with a good defensive effort from New Mexico, which handed Cincinnati its first loss of the season, 55-54 on Thursday. Life doesn’t get much easier for Cincinnati, which rings in the new year against always defensive-minded Pittsburgh.

3. Syracuse. The Orange’s biggest Achilles' heel showed itself in glaring fashion against Temple on Saturday, when a poor free-throw-shooting team missed 15 from the charity stripe. That added up to Syracuse’s first loss of the season, 83-79. The Orange remain among the best in the league, but have areas that need to be addressed.

4. Georgetown. The Hoyas haven’t played since an easy win against American on Dec. 22 and won’t until they open Big East play against Marquette. The big question: Will Georgetown be rested or rusty?

5. Notre Dame. The Irish are enjoying a nice, leisurely holiday break. After easily topping Niagara on Dec. 21, Notre Dame put the brakes on the season until Jan. 5, when it hosts Seton Hall.

6. Pittsburgh. The Panthers will close out 2012 knowing exactly how good they really are -- or aren’t when they host Cincinnati 12 hours before 2013 dawns. Only three teams have sneaked above 60 points against Pitt this season -- and Oakland needed overtime to get to 62. That’s the sort of defense the Panthers will need to impress against Cincinnati.

7. Connecticut. The Huskies get a decent nonconference test this weekend, against the other Huskies, the ones from Washington. The Pacific Northwest version isn’t as good as the East Coast version, but after feasting on easier competition, this will be a good conference launch pad for UConn.

8. Marquette. The Golden Eagles won their last game, but it didn’t do much to settle any unease after Marquette’s shaky month. Barely skating past an OK LSU team isn’t exactly cause for trumpet blaring.

9. DePaul. The Blue Demons have won seven in a row, their longest streak since the 1993-94 season, but just how good is DePaul? That’s the big question. Seton Hall and Providence are the first two league opponents, and if the Blue Demons are legit, they ought to at the very least split those two.

10. Villanova. The Wildcats are winning games, but they also are playing better in their past four games. To prove that is not merely a byproduct of the competition, Villanova needs to play well against St. John’s in the league opener on Jan. 2.

11. Seton Hall. Like Villanova, the Pirates look a whole lot better lately. They’ve won five in a row, but the question is: Is this merely smoke and mirrors? The competition has been average at best. DePaul and Notre Dame to open the Big East ought to answer some questions.

12. Providence. No other way to say it -- the Friars’ loss to rival Boston College was a disappointment. Finally with all the pieces and players in place, Providence couldn’t top a below-average BC team. The Friars need to regroup quickly -- after a game against Brown, they head to Louisville.

13. Rutgers. Associate head coach David Cox is now 2-0, filling in for the suspended Mike Rice, and observers have said the Scarlet Knights look more relaxed lately. Rice will be back for the league opener against Syracuse on Jan. 2.

14. St. John’s. The Red Storm blew a 17-point lead and the Big East’s undefeated mark against UNC-Asheville, succumbing to a 23-4 run that led the Bulldogs to their first win against the conference in 16 tries. St. John’s is young, so laying off the gas pedal is not surprising, but it’s also not forgivable with league play around the corner.

15. South Florida. The Bulls needed triple overtime to beat Bowling Green -- a 5-6 Bowling Green team. Now they face a difficult George Mason team before rival Central Florida.