I hate preseason media polls and rankings. I think it's such a terrible idea to base a men's basketball program on, well, no data besides a height-weight roster listed on a piece of paper. The way I like to gauge college basketball teams is to watch them play -- I know, shocking -- and wait until there's a large enough sample size that provides sufficient data to place teams in categories that will anger fans.
With that said, a large chunk of the schools in the 16-team Big East Conference have completed at least seven or more games, and I think that's enough time to place schools into generalized categories. So, without further delay lets take a gander at which Big East squads fit into which category.
National Title Contenders
No. 3 Syracuse Orange (9-0): SU has earned victories over Stanford, Virginia Tech, No. 12 Florida and the Marshall Thundering Herd, respectively. When the regular season is finished, each of those programs should be headed to the NCAA Tournament. The Orange won their first seven games by an average of 26 points and have a very talented 10-man rotation that should progress nicely as the season moves along.
No. 5 Louisville Cardinals (7-0): Louisville is coming off consecutive victories over the Long Beach St. 49ers and Vanderbilt Commodores, which will both be in the NCAA Tournament. As of Tuesday, the Cardinals led the Big East in scoring defense (50.9 points per game) and defensive field-goal percentage (34.2-percent). Not to mention, Louisville is doing all of this with five injured players who were expected to be starters or key reserves off the bench.
No. 11 Marquette Golden Eagles (8-0): The dynamic duo of senior forwards Darius Johnson-Odom (19.9 ppg) and Jae Crowder (17.0 ppg) has quickly vaulted the Golden Eagles into contenders for a Final Four. Marquette has knocked off the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers, Dec. 3, and knocked out the Washington Huskies Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic. Junior point guard Junior Cadougan has a league-best assists/turnover ratio (5.5-1.75), while head coach Buzz Williams is an up-and-coming star.
Could Be Overrated Or Possibly Underrated
No. 9 Connecticut Huskies (7-1): After their slip up against the Central Florida Knights, Nov. 25, one of the preseason favorites to earn the Big East title lost some credibility among the college basketball experts. However, there's no doubting the talent of sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb (21 ppg) and the potential of freshmen guard Ryan Boatright and center Andre Drummond (league-leading 3.0 blocks per game).
No. 15 Pittsburgh Panthers (8-1): As the regular season moves along, the Panthers loss to the 49ers, Nov. 16, will not look so bad. Senior guard Ashton Gibbs, who tallied 16 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals Saturday in Pitts' 61-56 victory over Tennessee Volunteers, is probably the league's best playmaker. It will be interesting how well the Panthers do in the next month, as their second-leading scorer and the league's leading assists getter, guard Tray Woodall (14.1 ppg and 8.29 assists per game), doesn't play because of an injury.
No. 18 Georgetown Hoyas (7-1): Picked to finish 10th out of the 16-team league, the Hoyas are proving doubters wrong. So far, Georgetown is 2-1 against top 25 opponents, including a solid 91-88 overtime victory against No. 21 Memphis Tigers, Nov. 8. Senior guard Jason Clark is averaging a team-best 16.8 ppg, but it has been the play of junior forward Hollis Thompson (15.0 ppg and 6.1 rpg) that has raised the expectations for this Hoya squad.
Cincinnati Bearcats (5-2): There's no doubting the talent on this squad, but with losses to Presbyterian Blue Hose, 56-54, Nov. 19, and Marshall, 73-69, Nov. 25, a lot of questions surround the Bearcats. A lot should be discovered Saturday, Dec. 10, when Cincinnati travels to No. 8 Xavier.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-4): Losers of four of their last five games, the Fighting Irish are reeling already. Notre Dame has won all five of its games at its home floor, Purcell Pavilion, but has dropped all four of its road contests. Luckily, the Fighting Irish play their next five games in the state of Indiana.
Villanova Wildcats (5-3): 'Nova opened its season by beating four cream puffs and proceeded to lose three of its last four games, including a 81-71 loss Tuesday to No. 10 Missouri. Of course, a slow start should have been expected from a squad that lost their top-two leading scorers from last season -- Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher.
From Staying Home In March, To Playing In March
Seton Hall Pirates (7-1): For a team that was slotted to finish 13th in the 16-team league in the preseason media polls, the Pirates have been outstanding. Now, Seton Hall's competition hasn't been the greatest, but it's still winning games that it wouldn't have last season. Senior forward Herp Pope is third in the Big East in scoring (20.9 ppg) and second in rebound (11.7 rpg) and is currently the front runner Player Of The Year.
DePaul Blue Demons (4-3): Really, don't laugh. The Blue Demons may not make the NCAA Tournament, but if sophomores Cleveland Melvin (19.4 ppg) and Brandon Young (18.4 ppg), continue to progress they may earn an NIT invite. DePaul, which needs to learn to play some defense, is allowing a league-high 74.1 ppg,, has beaten Texas Tech, 76-70, and Arizona State, 68-64. DePaul was also edged by Minnesota (9-1), 86-85, Nov. 24.
From To Playing In March, To Staying Home In March
St. John's Red Storm (4-5): Currently, the Red Storm are 1-4 in their last five games, including losses to Detroit, Dec. 5, and Northeastern, Nov. 26. But, expect St. John's to pick up the pace a bit when head coach Steve Lavin returns to the sidelines full time.
West Virginia Mountaineers (4-2): It's very tough to say that head coach Bob Huggins will not make the postseason, but right now WVU hasn't shown anything to believe otherwise. Senior forward Kevin Jones has been stellar -- 19.9 ppg (third in the Big East), 11.7 rpg (2nd) -- but the Mountaineers, so far, haven't beaten anybody, and lost to Kent State, 70-60, Nov. 15, and Mississippi State, 75-62, Dec. 3.
Staying Home, Again, In March
South Florida Bulls (5-4): USF's last two games, a 70-42 loss to No. 13 Kansas, Dec. 3, and 69-46 loss to Virginia Commonwealth, Nov. 30, were not even competitive. The Bulls average a league-low 61.3 ppg, but things could get a bit better as star player, forward Augustus Gilchrist, who missed three games because of a shoulder injury, gets healthier.
Providence Friars (7-2): The Friars, who were predicted to finish last in the league, are off to a quick and unexpected start. But, let's see how long that lasts.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-4): This was supposed to be a season that showed progress for the Scarlet Knights, who have lost three of their last four games. Second-year head coach Mike Rice just doesn't have a team with the talent to compete in the Big East.