The college basketball season has well reached it's halfway point and there's no question I'm lucky because I get to cover the best conference in the nation. The race isn't even close -- sorry Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC. According to the latest rankings, released Monday, the Big East Conference still has four teams in the Top 10, a trend that started in Week 5 and hasn't stopped. In fact, six teams (Pittsburgh, Villanova, Connecticut, Syracuse, Georgetown, Notre Dame) have earned Top-10 rankings at one time or another; and three (Pitt, SU and UConn) have been ranked in the Top 5.
Every time I put together a Big East Bracketology article, the league has at least 10 teams in the tournament including one or two No. 1 seeds and two or three No. 2 seeds. Currently, the conference has America's best player (UConn junior guard Kemba Walker), second (Walker -- 25 points-per game) and third (Providence's senior guard Marshon Brooks -- 23.6 ppg) top-scorers, fourth-best rebounder and double-double machine (Syracuse forward Rick Jackson); the second-best free-throw shooter (Villanova senior guard Corey Stokes -- .944 percent); the second-best shot blocking team (UConn); the second-best shooting team (Georgetown); fourth-best scoring defense (Cincinnati); top-rated assist and rebounding team (Pittsburgh).
I just listed four different players and four different teams that are elite in a different aspect of basketball. Not many conference -- actually none, I checked -- have that diverse of a resume. However, there's one team that's standing out above all these really good Big East teams. That's the Pittsburgh Panthers, who are currently ranked No. 2 in the country, No. 1 in the conference standings and, if you ask me, are the best all-around squad in the country.
The latest SB Nation Big East Power Rankings, posted Monday, had the Panthers as a unanimous No. 1. You know why? Because it feels like Pitt has beaten every Big East team! -- of course this isn't true but it feels like they will. Last Monday, in a 74-66 victory over Syracuse, the Panthers, who have trailed for only four minutes in all of Big East play, started the game with an amazing 19-0 lead then used veteran leadership to hold on. Yes, SU didn't have it's best player, junior forward Kris Joseph, and could have won the game but Pitt was just too strong, too solid and too good. They impressed the heck out of me and when you've started the best conference in the country 9-0, you're a really good team. Baring any serious injury, the Pitt fans should be buying tickets to Houston, TX to witness the school's second Final Four appearance and possibly first NCAA title.
Big East Conference Standings
(updated 1.24.2011 at 1:50 AM EST)
|West Virginia Mountaineers||4||2||13||5|
|Notre Dame Fighting Irish||5||3||16||4|
|Marquette Golden Eagles||4||3||13||7|
|St. John's Red Storm||4||4||11||7|
|Rutgers Scarlet Knights||3||4||12||7|
|Seton Hall Pirates||2||6||8||12|
|South Florida Bulls||1||7||7||14|
|DePaul Blue Demons||0||7||6||13|
SB Nation New York's Watch List
"Big Monday": *No. 15/14 Notre Dame at No. 2 Pittsburgh (7 p.m. on ESPN).
Notre Dame's senior guard Ben Hansbrough, who earned a Big East Honor Roll mention this week, netted 28 points in Saturday's victory over Marquette, 80-75. The Fighting Irish are 13-0 at home this season.
After beating No. 9/10 Syracuse and DePaul last week, the Panthers are now ranked No. 2 in the nation. Pittsburgh has never started Big East Conference play 8-0.
Also playing on Tuesday: The Syracuse basketball schedule has the Orange hosting the Seton Hall Pirates.
Tuesday: No. 5 Connecticut at Marquette (9 p.m.).
The Huskies are riding a five-game winning streak, which features wins over No. 7/8 Texas and No. 8/7 Villanova.
The Golden Eagles are 2-3 in their last five games. Junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom is averaging 20.6 points to lead the team in scoring.
|2010 - Darius Johnson-Odom||20||29.2||5.2||12.0||43.3||2.0||5.3||36.8||4.1||5.5||73.6||0.5||2.9||3.4||2.9||1.7||0.6||0.3||2.4||16.4|
Wednesday: No. 8/7 Villanova at Providence (7 p.m.).
The Wildcats, who is coming off an impressive win at No. 9/10 Syracuse, has won the last eight games against the Friars.
Senior guard Marshon Brooks netted a game-best 27 points to help Providence beat Louisville for it's first Big East victory. Freshman guard Gerard Coleman earned Big East Rookie Of The Week honors by scoring a collegiate-best 19 points against the Cardinals.
|2010 - Gerard Coleman||19||28.9||4.1||9.5||43.1||0.4||2.0||21.1||1.6||2.8||57.4||0.9||1.8||2.8||1.7||1.9||0.8||0.1||1.7||10.3|
Also playing Wednesday: St. John's at Georgetown (7 p.m.); Rutgers at Cincinnati (9 p.m.) and West Virginia at No. 23/19 Louisville (7 p.m.)
Thursday: DePaul at South Florida (9 p.m. on ESPN).
Currently, DePaul is the only Big East team to not have a league victory. However, there's one bright spot as freshman forward Cleveland Melvin leads all conference rookies in scoring average (14.3). Melvin is averaging 21 points during league play.
Thirteen of USF"s losses are by 10 points or less. Forward Augustus Gilchrist leads the team in scoring average (13.2). The Bulls, who are 15th in the 16-team league, have won four straight against DePaul.
|2010 - Augustus Gilchrist||18||28.3||4.8||10.3||47.0||0.2||0.9||25.0||3.3||5.1||64.1||2.2||4.4||6.6||0.9||2.7||0.4||0.8||2.7||13.2|
P.S., it was the ONLY game on Thursday. Sorry.
Saturday: Syracuse at Marquette (3 p.m. on ESPNU).
The Orange, who was ranked No. 3 last week, dropped in the national rankings Monday and are No. 9/10. Junior forward Kris Joseph, who missed last Monday's game against Pittsburgh, returned Saturday and netted a game-best 23 points in a 83-72 loss to Villanova.
The Golden Eagles will be coming off a tough game against No. 5 UConn. Last season, Marquette lost to SU, 76-71.
Also playing Saturday: No. 23/19 Louisville at No. 5 Connecticut (noon); No. 21/20 Georgetown at No. 8/7 Villanova (noon); No. 2 Pittsburgh at Rutgers (8 p.m. on ESPN2); West Virginia at Cincinnati (8 p.m.).
Sunday: No. 3 Duke at St. John's (1 p.m. on CBS).
The Blue Devils started the season as preseason No. 1. Duke carried that title for 10 weeks before losing to unranked Florida State, Jan. 21, 66-61.
The Johnnies will playing in it's eighth straight contest against a ranked opponent -- currently, St. John's is 2-4 in that span. Last week, the Red Storm lost to both Louisville and Cincinnati.
Next "Big Monday": No. 23/19 Louisville at No. 21/20 Georgetown (7 p.m. on ESPN).
*AP poll/USA Today-ESPN's Coaches poll.
SB Nation NY's Player Of The Week: 'Nova's sophomore guard Maalik "Freakin" Wayns.
Wayns netted 17 of his team-best 21 points in the first half of Villanova's win against Syracuse. The 6-foot-2 shoot made three 3-pointers in the first half to help the Wildcats, who shot eight of 13 from behind the 3-point arc in the first 20 minutes, take a 40-29 halftime lead.
|2010 - Maalik Wayns||18||28.9||4.3||10.6||40.3||0.7||3.3||20.0||4.3||5.2||81.9||0.6||2.5||3.1||5.3||3.0||1.2||0.1||2.4||13.5|
Bold Prediction: DePaul earns first league win against USF.
The Blue Demons can't run the table like the 2008 Detroit Lions, right? If they don't win on Thursday night it's very possible that DePaul may not win a single conference game and go 0-17. Fortunately for the DePaul faithful, they do play USF again, Feb. 26, and Rutgers, March 2, still on the schedule.
SB Nation's Big East Blog Post Of The Week: The Casual Hoya -- For Georgetown Hoya Fans
There's still two weeks before Syracuse visits Georgetown, Feb 9., but the Casual Hoya is already laying the groundwork for pregame hype.
"The internet has been abuzz lately because of some perceived conspiracy by the Georgetown Ticket Office against Syracuse fans to sell tickets for the Syracuse-Georgetown game at the Verizon Center to Hoya fans and donors," wrote Hire Esherick. "That's right folks, Syracuse fans are crying because Georgetown is selling Georgetown tickets to Georgetown supporters. How about that for taking the entitled and privileged slander Cuse delinquents hurl at Georgetown students and alumni and turning it on its head. For some reason, fans of our prison-orange clad rivals from the North feel deserving of limitless tickets to an opposing team's arena and are littering the internet with nonsensical babble and whines because they can't get what they want."
All I know is, those are fighting words!