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Big East Basketball Notes: Connecticut, Pittsburgh Tip Off League Play

The Big East Conference tipped off league play Monday night as the No. 6 Pittsburgh Panthers defeated No. 4 UConn, 78-63.

Here's a quick recap of how the league has done so far and what the expectations of the SB Nation New York teams are as they head into league play.

Non-Conference Recap

The 2010 non-conference schedule was kind to most of the Big East squads. Three teams (UConn, Syracuse Orange and Cincinnati Bearcats) finished without a loss. Five other teams (Pittsburgh, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Georgetown Hoyas, Louisville Cardinals and Villanova Wildcats) dropped just one game.

Big East Conference Standings

(updated 12.26.2010 at 9:13 PM EST)

Currently, almost every national publication has at least five Big East squads in its Top-10 rankings: AP Poll, USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll,,, and

According to, the conference has combined for an 151-36 overall record (110-9 at home).

UConn junior guard and Bronx, NY native, Kemba Walker leads the nation in scoring and is the front runner for Naismith Award

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Kemba Walker 10 33.9 8.7 16.9 51.5 2.4 5.7 42.1 6.7 7.8 85.9 1.6 3.2 4.8 4.0 2.0 2.1 0.3 1.1 26.5

Other notable starts by Big East players:

Syracuse forward Rick Jackson has been a double-double machine (he has a total of nine) and ranks fifth in the nation in rebounds-per game.

"[Rick] Jackson has completely changed his body," an opposing (anonymous) assistant told SI.Com's Luke Winn. "He's in great shape now, and he chases everything on the backboard and around the basket. He's just relentless. His motor has improved."

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Rick Jackson 13 33.1 6.2 10.7 57.6 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.6 3.3 48.8 4.0 7.8 11.8 2.4 1.6 1.2 2.0 1.5 13.9

Notre Dame senior guard Ben Hansbrough has been lights out from behind the 3-point arch (seventh-best percentage in the nation) and has helped the Fighting Irish claw their way into the Top 15.

"Notre Dame ranks right alongside Connecticut as the Big East's biggest early surprise," wrote's Dana O'Neil on Monday. "Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis have filled in Harangody's scoring gap, with Hansbrough torching opponents from the arc at a nearly 50 percent clip."

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Ben Hansbrough 12 32.4 4.7 10.2 45.9 2.7 5.5 48.5 3.3 4.4 75.5 0.8 2.6 3.4 4.0 2.3 0.9 0.0 2.5 15.3

Providence senior Marshon Brooks is tenth in the nation in scoring and has collected six double-doubles to lead the Friars to an unpredicted 11-2 start.

Brooks just recently posted a 25-point, five-assists, four-steal performance against Sacred Heart, a 84-76 victory.

Brooks and the Friars open league play against Syracuse (9 p.m. on ESPNU), which won both contests against Providence last

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Marshon Brooks 13 33.3 8.2 16.1 51.2 2.1 5.8 35.5 4.5 5.8 77.6 2.7 6.2 8.9 2.5 3.1 2.0 1.5 1.6 23.1

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

First-year head coach Mike Rice has Rutgers ahead of the Big-East learning curve.

His team that wasn't suppose to be even competitive but  they are currently are on a six-game winning streak. The Scarlet Knights (9-2) will end their non-conference Tuesday at Madison Square Garden against the North Carolina Tarheels (9 p.m. on ESPN2). On Sunday, Rutgers will its first league game against host Villanova (1 p.m. on ESPNU).

In all of Rutgers' nine victories, the Scarlet Knights have held opponents to 65 points or less. The Scarlet Knights currently rank second in the conference in scoring defense (58.2 points-per-game).

Freshman Mike Poole has been very impressive for Rutgers (9-2), which beat Miami Hurricanes and Aubrun Tigers during non-conference play.

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Mike Poole 11 18.7 3.2 5.9 53.8 0.2 0.9 20.0 1.3 1.5 82.4 1.2 2.4 3.5 1.3 1.5 1.4 0.5 2.3 7.8

Senior forward Johnathon Mitchell and guard Mike Coburn will need to continue to provide leadership for this young squad, which was picked to finish 15th out of the 16-team league.

Rutgers' non-conference play gives experts the idea that they are better than South Florida Bulls, DePaul Blue Demons, Seton Hall Pirates. However, head-to-head match ups during conference play, will determine if the preseason polls were right or wrong.

Even if Rutgers falters during league play, Rice will at least provide a lot of entertainment on the sidelines. The coach is a lot of fun to watch with all of his pacing, yelling and reacting to everything his team is doing.

St. John's Red Storm

In the matter of a three week span, the Red Storm (7-3) went from the Big East sleeper squad, to overrated, to back on track.

The Johnnies began the season 6-1, which included beating the Ball State Cardinals (7-5), Drake Bulldogs (5-6) and Arizona St. Sun Devils (7-4) to earn the Great Alaska Shootout title.

However, just two week later, St. John's dropped games to New York State rivals the St. Bonaventure Bonnies  (6-4) and Fordham Rams (6-4). Ouch!

But despite the stunning losses, the Red Storm rebounded by winning the MSG Holiday Festival, which included a championship victory against former unbeaten Northwestern Wildcats (9-1).

Red Storm Basketball Schedule

Next 5 Games

@ West Virginia Wed 12/29 7:00 PM EST
@ Providence Sat 01/01 7:00 PM EST
Georgetown Mon 01/03 7:00 PM EST
@ Notre Dame Sat 01/08 8:00 PM EST
Syracuse Wed 01/12 7:00 PM EST

Last 5 Games

Northwestern Tue 12/21 W 85 - 69
Davidson Mon 12/20 W 62 - 57
@ Fordham Sat 12/11 L 81 - 84
St. Bonaventure Tue 12/07 L 66 - 67
Wagner Wed 12/01 W 69 - 61

So what kind of squad does first-year head coach Steve Lavin have as they begin conference games Wednesday at West Virginia (7 p.m. on ESPN3)?

Well, no one really can tell.

What I know is this team is very fast and athletic. Those two abilities, which allowed them to manhandle Northwestern in the second half, allows them steal any game at any time.

The kicker is that sometimes this squad, which has 10 seniors, plays like a bunch of freshmen. Too many turnovers and  too many defensive misplays.

This team, led by a trio of seniors -- Justin Brownlee, Justin Burrell and Dwight Hardy -- could be a potential threat to a higher-seeded team in the Big East Tournament but I can't see them making a run for a NCAA Tournament invite.

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Justin Brownlee 10 25.7 5.4 9.4 57.4 0.6 1.4 42.9 2.7 3.8 71.1 1.9 2.5 4.4 1.4 1.5 1.0 1.3 2.7 14.1

Syracuse Orange

It took 13 wins and back-to-back seasons of going undefeated through a decent non-conference schedule, but I think, finally, I am ready to buy into the 2010-'11 Orange (13-0).

With no real go-to guy -- Kris Joseph's collegiate-high 25 points against Drexel on Wednesday put him back into the race as SU's star -- Syracuse is somehow playing outstanding basketball just in time for conference play, which begins on Tuesday versus Providence (9 p.m. on ESPNU).

Early in the season, Syracuse looked sloppy and uninterested during its victories. Head coach Jim Boeheim even called his squad the most overrated bunch he has ever coached.

Fast forward a couple more weeks and Syracuse is ranked fifth in the country for a third straight week. And no, it's not a fluke.

"The Orange have had their share of near-misses and the best win -- over Michigan State in Madison Square Garden -- has lost some luster thanks to the way the Spartans have played of late," wrote's And Katz on Monday. "But the Orange (13-0) are still finding ways to win and have some solid victories against mid-major programs that have performed well (Northern Iowa and Drexel)."

Freshmen James Sutherland and Dion Waiters have slowly been able to improve and contribute. And even though SU may not have a star like Wesley Johnson, Jonny Flynn or Carmelo Anthony, they have a solid "Big Three" in Jackson, Joseph and Scoop Jardine.

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Scoop Jardine 13 29.4 4.6 10.7 43.2 1.4 4.5 31.0 2.7 3.9 68.6 0.3 1.8 2.2 5.9 2.2 2.0 0.3 1.0 13.3

If everyone continue their high-level of play, Syracuse could be looking at a top-three finish in the Big East standings and possibly another No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.