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Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Conference Power Rankings: Big East

By Dana O'Neil

Before conference play gets underway, let's take another attempt at ranking all 16 teams in the Big East:

    1. Syracuse: The Orange head in to league play unblemished and barely challenged. Syracuse has won games by an average of 21.7 points in the nonconference season.

    2. Louisville: Russ Smith has provided a much-needed offensive spark for the Cardinals, scoring 23 against Western Kentucky. The Cards still haven’t jelled entirely, but the defense has kept Louisville alive.

    3. Connecticut: The Huskies beat a good Fairfield team to end their nonconference schedule but will have to make do in the first three league games without Jim Calhoun. The coach will begin his suspension from NCAA sanctions this week.

    4. Georgetown: The eye-opening win against Memphis proved how good the Hoyas are getting … and how much the Tigers are struggling. Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson continue to lead Georgetown.

    5. Marquette: The Golden Eagles responded well from the upset against LSU with a win against a decent Milwaukee team. They’ll have one more nonleague game -- against floundering Vanderbilt -- before heading into conference play.

    6. West Virginia: No shame in the Mountaineers’ overtime loss to Baylor in Vegas. If anything, the loss proves how good West Virginia is becoming, thanks largely to the continued great play from Kevin Jones.

    7. Seton Hall: The Pirates own an eight-game win streak and an 11-1 record. They’ll know how good they really are in a hurry. Seton Hall opens Big East play at the Carrier Dome against No. 1 Syracuse.

    8. Cincinnati: Maybe the brawl has refocused the Bearcats. Cincinnati, using a 4-guard offense because of the suspension of Yancy Gates, barely missed becoming the first team in school history to score 100 points in three consecutive games, falling five points short of the record in a blowout of Chicago State.

    9. Pittsburgh: The unthinkable has happened twice now at Pitt, with the Panthers dropping their second home loss of the season, this time to Wagner. It’s the first time the Panthers have lost to a Northeast Conference opponent in 70 games, and hardly the confidence boost Pitt needs as it readies for the Big East.

    10. Providence: The Friars’ improvement is officially evident in the state of Rhode Island. Providence beat URI on the road for the first time in its past five tries. Ed Cooley takes his team to New York for the league opener against St. John’s.

    11. DePaul: The Blue Demons’ improvement continues as Oliver Purnell has DePaul off to its best start (9-3) in 12 years. In Cleveland Melvin, DePaul has a legit Big East talent.

    12. Villanova: The Wildcats know one thing heading in to Big East play -- they need Maalik Wayns. Nova recently led American by just two before Wayns, sidelined with a virus, came into the game. The Cats won by 21.

    13. Notre Dame: The good news: The Irish scored 106 points in a game. The bad news: It was against Sacred Heart. How Notre Dame will do offensively against the likes of Pitt -- the Irish’s first league opponent -- will be a little more telling.

    14. St. John’s: The Red Storm finally got some good news -- Amir Garrett, one of three freshmen who didn’t qualify academically, was cleared and played in his first game last week. St. John’s needs him with Nurideen Lindsey choosing to transfer.

    15. Rutgers: Even in a win, the Scarlet Knights have problems. Rutgers beat NJIT by 24 but trailed early in the second half against the undermanned opponent. That on-and-off-the-gas-pedal attitude won’t fly this week when Rutgers finishes its nonconference slate against Florida.

    16. South Florida: Things continue to look bleak in South Florida, where the Bulls completed their nonconference play with a loss to Southern Miss. Next up: Connecticut.