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Big East Basketball Notes: No. 4 Syracuse Finds Winning Formula

I have a feeling that before the Big East season is over, fans and experts won't really have a feel for what teams are good, really good or the best.

It's going to be a season-long crap shoot.

Big East Conference Standings

(updated 1.3.2011 at 2:25 AM EST)

For the second straight week the conference has seven teams in the Top 25 of the AP and USA Today/ESPN Coaches polls.

"...The Big East tends to be overrated because it has so many more teams than every other league," wrote's college basketball insider Seth Davis in his midseason review on Dec. 28. "But with four teams ranked in the top 10, the Big East is clearly head-and-shoulders above the rest."

On Monday,'s Andy Glockner seconded Davis' opinion with his recent Bracketology results that had 11 Big East teams earning bids to the 68-team NCAA Tournament.

"The Big East isn't going to get 11 bids in March," wrote Glockner in his recap. Frankly, I had no idea that's what the total was until I started bracketing the teams and ran into all sorts of conflicts. When I realized what had happened, I paused and considered changing something. On the surface, it pretty much looks ridiculous to have that many teams in from one league."

"That said, as we sit today, with the Big East handily at No. 1 in the conference RPI rankings and with a gaudy 24-15 record against other BCS leagues, it's not unthinkable that so many teams in the league have viable profiles at this point."

Currently, the No. 4 Syracuse Orange have been, arguably, the best team in the league. Each week it seems that the Orange get better and better.

In previous years, an Orange squad would have already coughed away a win or three. However, this 'Cuse team seems to be immune to any Rhino-like virus that may produce a cold streak.

Sure, this team struggles at the beginning of games but by the second half, SU finds holes in the opponents defense and turns up the intensity on the 2-3 zone.

Saturday's 70-58 victory over No. 14 Notre Dame, which is the type of 3-point shooting team that always gives SU fits, was the perfect example of that plot.

Syracuse, which only led 34-33 at the half, seemed to be on it's way to dropping its first game. All Notre Dame needed to do was stay close, keep hitting from the outside and play smart.

The Fighting Irish couldn't because SU pushed the tempo in the second half.

Senior guard Scoop Jardine did his usual thing -- after chucking up some ugly 3-point shots, he decided that taking it the rim and creating for others was the better idea -- finishing with 15 points and nine assists. 

But it was the sophomore James Southerland and freshman Dion Waiters, who sparked the victory by just doing what they were asked to do.

Southerland -- who I am loving more and more -- made his open shots (five of seven shooting from the floor) and netted seven points during a crucial 15-3 run midway through the second half.

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 - James Southerland 12 16.0 2.5 5.7 44.1 1.3 3.4 36.6 0.1 0.2 50.0 0.7 2.3 3.0 0.4 0.3 0.7 0.8 1.6 6.3

Waiters, who just oozes confidence but is finding a way to control it, didn't do anything spectacular but just enough to get mentioned by head coach Jim Boeheim in his post-game press conference.

Question: Dion Waiters didn’t have huge numbers, yet why did you mention him?

"He had some good secondary passes. He didn’t necessarily get assists, but he made some important plays to people. He didn’t shoot very well, but he still made some good plays. He made a couple good defensive plays and had a really good first half."

Syracuse is two months into the 2010-11 season and it's already clear how the Orange are going to win games this season: A shutdown 2-3 zone, the "Big Three" (Jardine -- the creator; Rick Jackson -- the rebounder; and Kris Joseph -- the scorer) doing what they're suppose to do and the freshmen providing a spark off the bench.

That's a simple, but so far, a very effective formula. Let's see how it plays out during the rest of the year.

St. John's Red Storm

Last week, senior guard Dwight Hardy netted 20 points at West Virginia (81-71 victory) and 21 at Providence (67-65 victory) earning him Big East Player Of The Week honors and helping the Johnnies go 2-0 in the conference.

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 - Dwight Hardy 12 33.1 4.9 11.3 43.4 1.8 6.1 28.8 4.8 5.3 90.5 0.5 2.8 3.3 2.5 2.2 1.4 0.1 2.0 16.3

In his last six games, Hardy has netted at least 20 points in five of them.

However, it's not just Hardy who is playing well and has helped the Red Storm produce a four-game winning streak.

Hardy has been helped by senior forwards Justin Brownlee and Justin Burrell, who help lead a fast-athletic squad that has dominated the second-half of games:

"Over the past four games, St. John's has dominated the second half, combining to shoot 65.1 percent (56-of-86) from the field and 77.6 percent (52-of-67) from the free throw line. In that stretch, the Red Storm has averaged 43.0 points after halftime while limiting opponents to just 35.8 points"

Look for St. John's to sneak in to the Top 25 only if they can beat No. 13 Georgetown on Monday (7 p.m. on ESPN2) and No. 14 Notre Dame on Saturday (8 p.m. on ESPNU).

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Rutgers had a four-point halftime lead in its conference opener against the No. 7 Villanova Wildcats on Saturday.

But Wildcat guard Corey Strokes dropped 21 of his 23 points in the second half to propel 'Nova to the 81-65 victory.

As the Big East season goes along, get used to hearing names like Mike Coburn or Jonathan Mitchell, who scored a team-best 17 points against Villanova.

But keep an eye on freshmen forward Gilvydas Biruta, who leads all Big East freshmen in field-goal percentage (.526) and has scored in double figures in eight of Rutgers' last 10 games.

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 - Gilvydas Biruta 13 20.6 3.2 6.0 52.6 0.2 0.8 27.3 2.5 3.5 71.7 2.1 3.2 5.3 0.5 1.0 0.7 1.0 3.2 9.1

Rutgers hosts its first conference game Wednesday as Marquette visits the RAC.

SB Nation New York's Watch List

Monday: No. 13 Georgetown at  St. John's (7 p.m. on ESPN2).

This will be the Johnnies' first Big East home game of the season. However, Georgetown has been a road warrior so far this season, playing eight its first 14 games away from home.

Tuesday: No. 8 Connecticut at No. 14 Notre Dame (7 p.m. on Big East Network).

UConn has won four of the last five meetings with Notre Dame, which had a four-game winning streak snapped by the Orange on Saturday.

Wednesday: Marquette at Rutgers (7:30 p.m. on Big East Network and SNY).

Marquette has won four straight games against Rutgers, which is 1-1 against Marquette at the RAC.

Saturday: No. 4 Syracuse at Seton Hall (Noon on Big East Network).

SU is off to its best start since '99-'00. Jeff Robinson (12.1 points-per-game) is the leading scorer for the Pirates, which is 2-3 in their last five games

Also playing Saturday: St. John's at Notre Dame (8 p.m. on ESPNU) and Providence at Rutgers (8 p.m. on Big East Network).

Sunday: No. 24/25 Cincinnati at No. 7 Villanova (noon).

As of Monday, the Bearcats were off to their best start to a season since '98-'99. The Wildcats have won 44 straight games at The Pavilion.

SB Nation New York's Bold Prediction: The Johnnies take down Georgetown and give the Fighting Irish a tough contest. Thus allowing them to receiving some votes in the next top 25 rankings.

Player Of The Week: St. John's guard Dwight Hardy. The non-Steve Lavin recruit is making the first-year head coach look good.

Didn't See This Coming: Not basketball related but Big East conference related. Former UConn football head coach Randy Edsall taking the University of Maryland job. Well, I could see Edsall leaving but for Maryland? Interesting.

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