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Friday, January 25, 2013
Conference Power Rankings: Big East

By Dana O'Neil

For the first month of the season, one thing was certain in the Big East -- Louisville and Syracuse were the best teams in the conference.

Funny how quickly things can change. Louisville had a bad week, knocking it from the top of the standings. The Cardinals are still an elite team but also need to regroup to prove it.

1. Syracuse. As impressive as the Orange’s victory at Louisville was, I was almost more impressed with Syracuse’s win over Cincinnati two days later. That’s a lethal back-to-back, and the fact that the Orange pulled out the victory says as much about this team’s intestinal fortitude as it does its talent.

2. Cincinnati. The Bearcats had a brutal back-to-back -- against Marquette and at Syracuse -- and emerged with a more than respectable split. Most important, Cashmere Wright returned to the lineup against Syracuse.

3. Marquette. After winning plenty of close ones, the Golden Eagles were due for a heartbreaking loss. It came at Cincinnati -- in overtime. There’s no real shame in losing that game, not on the road and in OT -- and it is only Marquette’s second defeat in a month.

4. Louisville. I honestly still believe the Cardinals are the second-best (if not ultimately the best) team in the Big East, but when you lose two, you gotta pay for it. The hard loss to Syracuse was forgivable (even if Peyton Siva's errant pass was not); the lackluster performance against Villanova entirely less so.

5. Georgetown. Enigma, thy name is Hoya. Someone please explain Georgetown to me -- how can the same team lose to South Florida and then coast past Notre Dame? This is a good team, but go all-in at your own risk.

6. Notre Dame. This isn’t exactly wheels-flying-off-the-bus time for the Irish, but the lug nuts are loosened. Notre Dame has lost three of its past four -- the lone win a squeaker against Rutgers -- and until the Irish shore up their defense, that isn’t going to get much better.

7. Pittsburgh. The Panthers have quietly won three in a row (games they should have won) to redirect toward respectable, but the team that once was unbeatable at home, is now 3-1 on the road in conference play and just 1-2 at home. They’ve got DePaul home this weekend.

8. Villanova. The question is simple: Will the upset of Louisville, which ended a three-game skid, reignite the Wildcats and head them back toward relevance, or is it merely a flash in a pan? We’ll know after this week when Villanova hosts Syracuse on Saturday and is at Notre Dame on Wednesday.

9. St. John’s. All of a sudden, the Red Storm are figuring things out. St. John’s has won three in a row, including two games on the road to push into the top half of the league. What does it need? Staying power. It should win both games this week -- against Seton Hall and DePaul -- but "should" is a big word.

10. Connecticut. The Huskies are simply a team trying to figure out who they are and what they will be after back-to-back losses to Louisville and Pittsburgh. Now 2-3 in its past five games, UConn still has talent; it just needs to find consistency.

11. Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have lost three of four, struggling to score in each loss. The road doesn’t get any easier this week, with games at Connecticut and Cincinnati.

12. Seton Hall. The Pirates stopped the bleeding with a win against South Florida, halting their four-game skid. More important, both Brandon Mobley and Brian Oliver returned to the lineup in that game, critical needs for coach Kevin Willard.

13. South Florida. Count the Bulls among the weird teams in this league that are good enough to beat better teams (such as Georgetown) and bad enough to lack the ability to string anything together. USF failed to capitalize on the win against the Hoyas, losing at Seton Hall four nights later.

14. Providence. The Friars have the league’s leading scorer and very little to show for it. Bryce Cotton is averaging 21.9 points per game and yet Providence is mired near the bottom of the standings.

15. DePaul. Until the Blue Demons can stop people -- they rank last in the conference in scoring defense -- it’s going to be uphill sledding.