- Dana O'Neil, College Basketball Reporter
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Four teams -- DePaul, Rutgers, Seton Hall and South Florida -- have guaranteed themselves Tuesday games in the Big East tournament. Nothing else is quite settled, though Georgetown is making a good case to think about closing the books. One case that has been closed -- Otto Porter Jr. is the league player of the year. There is no other candidate. He had 33 in the Hoyas’ win at Syracuse, 22 and the game winner at Connecticut and is, quite literally, in a league of his own.
1. Georgetown. While the rest of the top 25 spent the week losing on the road, the Hoyas kept winning. Georgetown did not close the Carrier Dome, but it walked out for the last time against its Big East rival with a victory and then followed it up with an impressive double-OT victory at Connecticut. Heading into the home stretch, the Hoyas have won 10 in a row and are the team to beat.
2. Louisville. No one is talking much about the Cardinals these days. That might change after this weekend, when Louisville heads to the Carrier Dome to face Syracuse. The Cards have won seven of their past eight -- the lone loss to Notre Dame in five overtimes -- but also have feasted on teams they should frankly beat. The stakes are higher from here out, with the Orange followed by a desperate Cincinnati team and the Irish once more.
3. Marquette. Buzz Williams is tired of hearing that his team works hard. Fine. It plays really hard, too. It is neither an insult to the Golden Eagles' talent nor a slap to their methods to say they are a blue-collar team. It's a fact. Williams doesn’t often get the stud recruits, but he builds top players, and that is what’s happening with this team. Marquette has won three of four and remains very much in play for the Big East regular-season title.
4. Syracuse. If Jim Boeheim is lashing out at the media (again) you can bet the Orange are having some troubles. Whether it’s a masterful distraction tactic or mere frustration, it’s also telling when Boeheim goes on a postgame rant. He did it again this week after Syracuse lost to Marquette on the heels of its loss to Georgetown in front of 35,012 Orange fans. Syracuse can still win this thing but the road isn’t easy -- with DePaul sandwiched between a home game against Louisville and a road game at Georgetown.
5. Notre Dame. The Irish’s defense continues to work its mastery, limiting Cincinnati to just 41 points after holding Pittsburgh to 42. Notre Dame’s methods may not be aesthetically pleasing, but they're working, as the Irish have won four of their past five and seven of their past nine heading into what should be an interesting game at Marquette.
6. Pittsburgh. Don’t count the Panthers out just yet. After backsliding against Marquette and Notre Dame, Pitt regrouped nicely to beat St. John’s and South Florida this week. The Panthers got their defense back in order in both games and Jamie Dixon eased the offensive reins just enough to allow the Panthers to breathe.
7. Villanova. The Wildcats simply need to decide what tournament they’d like to play in for the postseason and stick to it. Villanova put itself on the right side of the bubble with a gutsy win against Marquette and then found itself teetering a game later, after losing to feckless Seton Hall. The Wildcats have two games left to prove their worth before the Big East tournament and both have some oomph -- at Pittsburgh and home against Georgetown.
8. Connecticut. As the Huskies’ season heads toward its conclusion -- with no Big East tournament in sight -- they continue to impress with their effort. UConn lost in double overtime to Georgetown but will finish above .500 in the league. Considering how limited the lineup is, that’s a big plus for the Huskies.
9. St. John’s. The roller-coaster Red Storm appear destined to finish on the same up-and-down swing they've been on all year. St. John’s is a good team, but not quite yet an upper-echelon team. That said, this young lineup could pull off an upset of sorts in the Big East tournament.
10. Providence. The league’s best turnaround goes to the Friars and Ed Cooley, who have won five of their past six and could, with games against St. John’s, Seton Hall and Connecticut, finish above .500 in the league. That’s a huge step for a rebuilding team.
11. Cincinnati. And there’s the opposite of Providence, the Cincinnati Bearcats. They don’t look like an NCAA tournament team and they aren’t playing like one either, having lost five of their past six. This is a tailspin without rhyme or reason and one that may not end anytime soon, with Connecticut and Louisville on the schedule next.
12. Seton Hall. Give the Pirates their due. Mired in a nine-game losing streak, with a roster decimated by injuries and nothing much to fight for, Seton Hall still managed to play with gumption and oust Villanova. Fuquan Edwin especially ought to be lauded; he has carried the Pirates on his back all season.
13. DePaul. The Blue Demons aren’t really 13th in the league. They are essentially tied for last but, since we have to rank even the bottom, at least give credit to DePaul for trying. The Blue Demons put up a decent first-half fight against Louisville and actually led UConn at the break.
14. Rutgers. The good news for the Scarlet Knights -- the season is almost over. The bad news -- they still have to play Georgetown, Marquette and rival Seton Hall, all without leading scorer Eli Carter. That’s almost cruel.
15. South Florida. Last week the Bulls were 329th in scoring offense; this week they're 332nd and sadly for USF, this game is predicated on scoring more points than your opponent (just a tip). The good news -- the Bulls play DePaul next so someone actually has to win.
Four teams -- DePaul, Rutgers, Seton Hall and South Florida -- have guaranteed themselves Tuesday games in the Big East tournament. Nothing else is quite settled, though Georgetown is making a good case to think about closing the books.