- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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Here's my attempt at ranking the Big East teams:
1. Syracuse: The Orange handled their first true road test of the season with ease, dispatching of NC State by 16 on Saturday. What continues to impress about Syracuse is the bench. The Orange might have the best second five in the country. Dion Waiters, who’s been sensational this season, scored 22 against the Wolfpack, with James Southerland and C.J. Fair chipping in 11 in "reserve" roles.
2. Louisville: It’s time to start believing in the Cardinals. Dogged by injuries all season, Louisville’s worth has been questioned but the Cards ability to keep old rival Memphis at bay Saturday proved Rick Pitino’s squad is for real.
3. Marquette: With or without Darius Johnson-Odom, the Golden Eagles keep rolling. Marquette’s sensational guard spent the game against Northern Colorado on the bench for a violation of team rules. No matter. His sub, Todd Mayo, scored a career-high 22. Johnson-Odom should be back for Marquette’s game at LSU on Monday.
4. Connecticut: The Huskies continued to waltz through their New England competition, dispatching of Holy Cross with ease. Things get a little more interesting when Fairfield, a team better than its 7-4 record, brings its four-game winning streak to town this week.
5. Georgetown: Henry Sims continues to thrive as arguably the league’s most improved -- and most surprising -- player this season, becoming the prototypical point-center for John Thompson III. Sims scored 17 against American but it was the big man’s seven assists that really turned heads as the Hoyas continue to rack up victories.
6. Pittsburgh: Highly touted freshman Khem Birch has left the program and Travon Woodall is still out injured. None of it is affecting the Panthers. Pitt has won eight in a row and doesn’t appear to be in danger of losing until the conference season starts.
7. West Virginia: The young and improving Mountaineers got what will go down as a quality win with their double-overtime victory against Kansas State. Kevin Jones, the best and most experienced player for Bob Huggins, is starting to play that way. He’s combined to score 64 points in his past three games.
8. Seton Hall: The last time the Pirates started so well, P.J. Carlesimo was the head coach. Now 9-1, Seton Hall is continuing to go where Herb Pope goes. The senior has double-doubles in eight of 10 games. The road gets a little scarier before 2012, with a game at tough Dayton this week and a Dec. 28 matchup at top-ranked Syracuse.
9. Cincinnati: The Bearcats caught the nation’s eye last week, just not in a way they’d ever want to. The ugly brawl that came at the end of the Xavier game put Cincinnati in the nation’s headlines for all the wrong reasons. The good news: Cincy faced the music and has accorded itself well without some of its top players. Sans Yancy Gates, the Bearcats manhandled Wright State and Radford.
10. Providence: The Friars continue to pad their record by feasting on unimpressive competition. This week’s flavor of the week, Bryant, has just one win. Providence will face New Hampshire and reeling rival Rhode Island before figuring out just how good it is when Big East play begins.
11. DePaul: Like Providence, DePaul’s record looks good. At 8-3, it's off to its best start since 2004. Then again, the Blue Demons haven’t played anyone. DePaul opens the Big East season against Syracuse and Pittsburgh. That ought to offer a better barometer.
12. Villanova: In disarray seems an apt description of the Wildcats about now. Their first trip to the St. Joe’s campus ended up in a beatdown, with the Hawks throwing down enough thunder dunks to fill a highlight reel. Disjointed on defense, Nova also is a mess on offense. The Cats, who are at their best when they drive to the hoop, instead opted for 27 3-pointers against St. Joe’s and made just five of them.
13. Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish’s offensive woes continue. Against Indiana, Notre Dame went more than 16 minutes without a basket. It’s tough to win that way against anyone.
14. St. John’s: Credit the Red Storm for playing a tough schedule. Unfortunately, the young team has nothing to show for it. St. John’s has lost to the three ranked teams it’s faced but, more damning, lost to Northeastern and Detroit as well. The upside for this team is big once the players mature and Steve Lavin is able to return for the duration.
15. Rutgers: Mike Rice is trying to use the starting rotation as a motivation, bringing Myles Mack off the bench against Stony Brook. It worked well in that game -- Mack scored 22 and the Knights won. It remains to be seen if the coach has found a temporary fix or a more permanent one.
16. South Florida: Bad to worse is the best way to describe the Bulls’ current path. USF lost to Auburn, tough to swallow in and of itself, and scored all of 40 points in the process. South Florida ranks a woeful 301st nationally in scoring, averaging an anemic 61 points per game.