Last year, the Big East made history by sending 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament. The depth of the conference was clear and obvious when a UConn team that finished with a 9-9 mark in Big East play cut down the nets. With the league possibly entering the final year before Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia selfishly bolt for greener pastures (screw you, college football), the conference as a whole is down compared to what it has been in previous years. Here are my inaugural 2011-2012 Big East Basketball Power Rankings.
1. Syracuse: 14-0 overall, 1-0 in Big East
The depth of this team, development of Fab Melo, and super sophomore campaign from Dion Waiters has thrust the Orange to the number one ranking in the country and just one of four unbeatens. ‘Cuse has a challenging home schedule but assuming they take care of business at the Carrier Dome, their first six road games are very winnable; at DePaul, Providence, Villanova, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, and St. John’s. Theoretically, that means their toughest road test comes at Louisville in mid-February.
Up Next: at DePaul (Sun), at Providence (Wed)
2. UConn: 11-1, 1-0
It wasn’t a pretty performance in their conference opener at South Florida as the Huskies are a much more talented player than what they displayed on Wednesday. Jeremy Lamb has replaced Kemba Walker as the team’s go-to player as Jim Calhoun has often used a three-guard line-up with Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Ryan Boatright. UConn’s ultimate success though may depend on how quickly Andre Drummond can acclimate himself to Big East play and become a dominant big man. If that happens sooner than later, the Huskies are a championship caliber team.
Up Next: vs. St. John’s (Sat), at Seton Hall (Tues)
3. Georgetown: 11-1, 1-0
A road win at Louisville cements the Hoyas as one of the surprise teams in the country after being selected a middle of the pack Big East team in the pre-season predictions. JT3 has used a Baylor-type approach on the defensive end playing a 2-3 zone to utilize Georgetown’s length and athleticism in the frontcourt. It also helps that Henry Sims has finally tapped into his potential and Otto Porter has been an impact freshman on both ends.
Up Next: vs. Providence (Sat), vs. Marquette (Wed)
4. Louisville: 12-1, 0-1
This is easy to say now, but I seriously was not buying the Cards being as good as their 12-0 record sand and was actually kind of happy they lost to Georgetown. Louisville doesn’t do any one thing particularly well but they have quality depth and will get in your face defensively for 40 minutes. I sort of think they get it handed to them by Kentucky Saturday, but regardless, will be a factor in the Big East race.
Up Next: at Kentucky (Sat), at St. John’s (Tue)
5. Marquette: 11-2, 0-0
After starting the season 10-0 including an impressive win at Wisconsin, Marquette has lost at LSU, looked extremely sluggish in a win against Milwaukee, and then was utterly embarrassed at home by Vanderbilt. Chris Otule is still out with an ACL injury meaning the Golden Eagles are small and thin inside. To counter that, they have not shot the ball well at all in their past three games. Their in-your-face defense will have to be aggressive as can be until they get their offensive game back or good Big East teams will exploit their weaknesses.
Up Next: vs. Villanova (Sun), at Georgetown (Wed)
6. West Virginia: 10-3, 1-0
Bob Huggins has this young Mountaineer team playing hard which has always been a staple of a Huggy Bear coached team and as a result, a team that knows how to win games and will be a factor in the Big East race. Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant have emerged in their senior seasons. Despite not shooting the ball well from deep, Jones is still averaging 20.4 points and grabbing 11.5 rebounds per game.
Up Next: at Seton Hall (Fri), at Rutgers (Wed)
7. Pittsburgh: 11-3, 0-1
The Panthers suffered a rare home defeat to a very good Long Beach State team early in the season, rattled off nine straight wins, and have now lost back-to-back games to Wagner and at Notre Dame. Hmmm… Trevon Woodall is back after missing six games due to injury but Jamie Dixon lost McDonald’s All-American Khem Birch who decided to transfer. This Pitt team is too talented to have these uncharacteristic struggles but they need to right the ship quickly.
Up Next: vs. Cincinnati (Sun), at DePaul (Thur)
8. Cincinnati: 10-3, 0-0
Minus being upset at home by Presbyterian and Marshall, and that little embarrassing brawl against Xavier, it has been a fairly uneventful start to the season for Cincy. (I hope people understand the use of sarcasm in that first sentence.) After the fight, the Bearcats have won five straight including a dramatic win against Oklahoma Thursday night in which Cincy erased a double-digit halftime deficit. Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj return from suspension after the Pitt game so that is when we will get a real idea of whether this team can compete for an at-large bid.
Up Next: at Pitt (Sun), vs. Notre Dame (Wed)
9. Seton Hall: 11-2, 0-1
Though they didn’t play an especially challenging non-conference schedule, the Hall still won eleven or their twelve games. However, reality set in as Syracuse blew them out by 26 in their Big East opener. The Pirates aren’t a very deep team and will find rough sledding ahead if they want to remain a NCAA Tournament caliber club.
Up Next: vs. West Virginia (Fri), vs. UConn (Tues)
10. Notre Dame: 9-5, 1-0
It appeared as if the season-ending injury to Tim Abromaitis marked the beginning of the end for the Irish especially considering they were whipped by Missouri and lost to Georgia with Abro in the line-up. Then out of nowhere, Notre Dame beats Pitt by 13 in their conference opener. Mike Brey got the best out of his team two years ago when Luke Harangody went down with an injury. Maybe he can work his magic again sans-Abro?
Up Next: at Cincinnati (Wed)
11. Rutgers: 8-5, 0-0
What a gutty double overtime win against Florida. Now the question is whether or not it can serve as a jump-off into conference play. The Scarlet Knights have some talented freshmen especially in their backcourt and could cause headaches for some teams due to their gritty play. Getting Kadeem Jack back will certainly help their cause. The talented power forward has been sidelined all season with a foot injury but is expected back any game now.
Up Next: at South Florida (Sun), vs. West Virginia (Wed)
12. Villanova: 7-6, 0-1
After the past two seasons, I’ve become used to Jay Wright’s team crapping the bed at the end of the year, but playing this bad to start the season is rather new. This is a young Wildcat team though with no scholarship seniors on the roster so maybe they will actually improve as the season progresses. They will need an incredible run in the Big East if they have any hope of making the tourney since ‘Nova has zero marquee out of conference victories.
Up Next: at Marquette (Sun), vs. South Florida (Thur)
13. DePaul: 9-3, 0-0
Like Seton Hall, the Blue Demons’ record is misleading since they haven’t beaten any quality opponents (nope, I’m not counting Arizona State or Texas Tech as quality opponents.) Glass half-full though: DePaul is showing signs of no longer being the laughing stock of the Big East and should top their conference win total of the last three years combined, a whopping 2!
Up Next: vs. Syracuse (Sun), vs. Pitt (Thur)
14. St. John’s 7-5, 1-0
Not going to lie: I was close to putting the Red Storm dead last until they whooped Providence by 24 in their conference opener. This team has gone through a ton early this season; Steve Lavin’s recovery from cancer, having three freshmen ruled ineligible, and the departure of talented combo guard Nurideen Lindsey. Getting Amir Garrett academically eligible will be a major boost as it now gives the Johnnies all of seven scholarship players. I will say Moe Harkless is absolutely legit.
Up Next: at UConn (Sat), vs. Louisville (Tue)
15. Providence: 11-3, 0-1
Their 11-2 out of conference record was skewed since their only win against a major conference team came versus a bad Boston College squad. They then suffered a rude awakening when they were blown out by St. John’s Tuesday evening. I will give first year head coach Ed Cooley credit though, he actually has this Providence team playing defense; something Keno Davis was inept at accomplishing.
Up Next: at Georgetown (Sat), vs. Syracuse (Wed)
16. South Florida: 7-7, 0-0
Doing the write-up on USF has become my favorite part of the Big East Power Rankings because I get to come up with different ways to express the inevitable; that Stan Heath needs to be fired. I know South Florida is not an easy place to build a winning program, but Heath has a 16-38 conference record in his four years with the Bulls. With another disaster season waiting in the wings, let’s hope Heath has his resume updated.
Up Next: vs. Rutgers (Sun), at Villanova (Thur)
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft on the web.
You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.
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