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Monday, January 9, 2012
Conference power rankings: Big East

By Dana O'Neil

After No. 1, good luck figuring out the rest of the Big East. But I'll give it a shot ...
  1. Syracuse: Instead of giving pause to how good the Orange is, Syracuse’s survival win against Marquette only enforced just why Jim Boeheim’s team is the best in the country. The Orange needed to be tested and was, giving up most of a 23-point lead. Yet Cuse dug in to gut out the win.
  2. Georgetown: West Virginia put the breaks on the Hoyas’ 11-game winning streak, exposing Georgetown’s defensive flaws with its inside-outside power. To be determined: Was it just a bad night in a tough environment for the Hoyas? Upcoming games against Cincinnati and at St. John’s will at least partially answer that.
  3. West Virginia: In Kevin Jones, Bob Huggins has the current frontrunner for conference player of the year honors. Mix in Truck Bryant, who's playing the best basketball of his career, and you have a good recipe for success for a young WVU team that is finding its stride at just the right time.
  4. Seton Hall: Do the Pirates belong in the top tier of the league? Hard to say, but they're playing like it. Embarrassed by the pounding they took from Syracuse, the Pirates have been relentless since, winning their last three by an average of 13 points per game.
  5. Marquette: The Golden Eagles are the kings of almost. They almost beat Georgetown on the road and almost dethroned Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Except almost doesn’t count. Marquette is tricky to rank. This is clearly a good team, and one that will be a tough out in the tournament, but it needs to get the wins to prove it.
  6. Cincinnati: The Bearcats’ seven-game win streak came to an end on a buzzer-beating putback from Moe Harkless and St. John’s. Cincinnati is a good team but with that home loss to Presbyterian still on its resume, it doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room for bad losses. A big game against Georgetown is upcoming.
  7. Connecticut: With or without their coach, the Huskies aren’t particularly fond of New Jersey. UConn lost to Seton Hall while Jim Calhoun finished out his NCAA suspension and fell to Rutgers with him back on the bench. Turnovers are becoming a problem for the Huskies -- Shabazz Napier had five against the Hall and UConn had 20 against Rutgers. They have a critical game against West Virginia on Monday.
  8. Notre Dame: No one is better at adjusting on the fly and squeezing everything out of reconstructed rosters than Mike Brey. When Tim Abromaitis’ season ended with a torn ACL, it seemed the Irish’s season was lost as well. Instead, Brey has conjured up a team that is in the mix in the Big East, especially with its double overtime win at Louisville.
  9. Louisville: The Cardinals are hard to figure. Solid defensively with gritty players, they are abysmal offensively. Those struggles have led to a mini-skid, with Louisville losing three of its last four.
  10. St. John’s: Moe Harkless and D’Angelo Harrison give the Red Storm a bright future. The immediate present will be harder to predict for a young team still trying to make do without its head coach.
  11. South Florida: Progress comes in increments in Tampa and the Bulls' win at Villanova, only their seventh league road win in seven seasons, is progress. The catch: continuing it. USF has to become a consistently tough team on the road to really show improvement.
  12. DePaul: Reality is starting to seep in for the Blue Demons. After winning five in a row, they’ve lost two of their last three. Shoddy defense -- Villanova shot 63 percent -- negated what could have been another win after DePaul forced 28 turnovers.
  13. Rutgers: Maybe the Scarlet Knights should play top-10 teams all the time. The young Knights pulled off another stunner by toppling Connecticut, a game that showed (again) the promise of Mike Rice’s young team. Now Rutgers needs to exhibit that promise more often.
  14. Villanova: That a win over DePaul provided a sigh of relief tells you how desperate the Wildcats were to taste victory. Villanova put an end to a three-game conference slide by beating the Blue Demons. Whether it was a win over an easy opponent or signs of legitimate improvement will be determined quickly. The Cats host No. 1 Syracuse on Wednesday.
  15. Pittsburgh: Just when you thought a bizarre season couldn’t get weirder, the Panthers lost at DePaul. Pitt is reeling through an inexplicable four-game losing streak in what is quickly becoming a lost season.
  16. Providence: The hurts are likely to keep coming for Ed Cooley in his rebuilding process. The Friars' next three opponents: Louisville, Syracuse and Marquette.