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Friday, December 21, 2012
Conference Power Rankings: Big East

By Dana O'Neil

It’s been a strange week in the Big East. Basketball finally found its voice in conference realignment but in doing so wrecked what had been college basketball’s best league. The seven Catholic schools announced they would leave the Big East in 2015, all but destroying Dave Gavitt’s original vision to invent their own.

The good news? The product on the court remains terrific. The Big East had won 42 games in a row before Marquette lost to Green Bay.

1. Syracuse. Like their coach, the Orange keep rolling to 10-0, a mere 890 behind Jim Boeheim. A little endgame lack of focus nearly cost them against Detroit, something Syracuse can ill afford against a well-coached Temple team Saturday in the Gotham Classic.

2. Louisville. Papa knew best, with Rick Pitino’s far more talented Cardinals easily dispatching of Florida International and Pitino’s son, first-year coach Richard. Louisville faces Western Kentucky on Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., and then prepares for the circle-the-date game against Kentucky on Dec. 29.

3. Cincinnati. The Bearcats guards get all the credit, but here’s an interesting nugget: Cincinnati has outrebounded six opponents by double digits, including Xavier on Wednesday night. Mix in Cincinnati’s 83 points per game (sixth in the nation) and you’ve got the numbers for a very good team.

4. Georgetown. Easy week for the Hoyas, which easily topped Western Carolina last week and host American before coasting into the New Year and their first Big East game on Jan. 5.

5. Notre Dame. The Irish remain almost impossible to beat at home. With a win against Kennesaw State, Notre Dame has won 44 of its last 46 in South Bend. Jack Cooley is averaging 11 boards per game.

6. Pittsburgh. Note to the rest of the nation: It’s time to start paying attention to the Panthers. Pitt is quietly 11-1, and Talib Zanna has been absolutely terrific all season. The New Year’s Eve game against Cincinnati is looming large.

7. Connecticut. In an emotional week after the shootings in Newtown, Conn., the Huskies won a game after an touching pregame ceremony. More important than any game, the university established a memorial scholarship fund in honor of the victims. UConn hosts Fordham on Friday night.

8. Providence. Ed Cooley finally has a full roster, as Bryce Cotton, Sidiki Johnson and Kris Dunn all played against Colgate. The most important piece might be Dunn, who dished out 13 assists in his collegiate debut. Providence has stemmed the tide well -- 8-2 and ready to face Boston College.

9. Marquette. The Golden Eagles made their first visit to Green Bay. They may not go back anytime soon. Horrific shooting from everyone not named Jamil Wilson turned into a bad loss to the Phoenix, which had lost seven of their last eight.

10. DePaul. The Blue Demons keep rolling, now with six wins in a row after surviving against Northern Illinois. DePaul should extend it to seven against UMBC this weekend.

11. St. John’s. Having unofficially crowned itself the king of New York (the city, not the state) by beating Fordham and St. Francis (N.Y.), the Red Storm host UNC Asheville in their final warm-up before the conference season. Freshman Chris Obekpa, who has 58 blocks in 11 games, is providing a good defensive presence.

12. Villanova. The Wildcats have won three in a row. For a team that needs to build confidence, that’s huge. With winnable games against Monmouth and NJIT left before the New Year, Villanova should head into the Big East season feeling a lot better about itself than it did a month ago. JayVaughn Pinkston, the guy Jay Wright needs to be most productive, appears to be doing that. He is averaging 12.1 points over that stretch.

13. Seton Hall. The Pirates continue to gaudy up their record -- 9-2 to date -- but have beaten no one in the process. None of the teams Seton Hall has beaten has a winning record, and only three -- St. Peter’s, Wake Forest and NJIT -- are at .500.

14. Rutgers. It’s been a rough week for the Scarlet Knights, with coach Mike Rice earning a three-game suspension and $50,000 fine from his university for a violation of athletic department policy. That’s not the sort of tumult an inconsistent team needs. Assistant David Cox led Rutgers to a win against UAB and will serve as the head coach against Howard on Friday.

15. South Florida. The Bulls needed a second-half wake-up call to beat Youngstown State and desperately need to learn how to score. South Florida ranks 233rd in scoring, averaging just 65 points per game.