Big East season is finally underway, and just five teams remain unbeaten through the first week of play. The two clear frontrunners — Louisville and Syracuse — are off and running, but a group of teams are ready to make runs and the second half of the conference is proving there’s parity everywhere.
1. Louisville (13-1, 1-0) | Last week: 1 : The Cardinals, who top the rankings for the fifth straight week, opened Big East play with an 80-62 win over Providence. The road gets tough in a few weeks, but for now Russ Smith and company are rolling along as a top-5 team in the country.
2. Syracuse (14-1, 2-0) | Last week: 4 : One of two teams to win twice in the conference’s opening week, the Orange won convincingly over Rutgers and pulled away late from South Florida. Michael Carter-Williams continues to impress, averaging 9.8 assists and 3.1 steals per game through 15 games.
3. Notre Dame (13-1, 1-0) | Last week: 5 : Make that 11 in a row for the Fighting Irish, who opened conference play with a commanding win over Seton Hall. In what should be the Big East’s game of the week, the Domers travel to Cincinnati tonight for a defensive battle. This could wind up being a game with top-of-the-standings consequences.
4. Cincinnati (13-2, 1-1) | Last week: 2 : Two losses in the last three games drop the Bearcats, but they played well in a road win against Pittsburgh. The defense is still as good as any in the conference, but 52 points in a loss to St. John’s simply won’t get it done. A win over Notre Dame would ease concerns.
5. Marquette (11-3, 2-0) | Last week: 10 : Marquette took care of business at home this week, picking up close wins over Connecticut and Georgetown. It was a solid start, and Marquette’s depth is proving to be a valuable asset for Buzz Williams’ group. A road contest against Pittsburgh should be a good barometer for just how good this team can be.
6. Georgetown (10-2, 0-1) | Last week: 6 : The Hoyas receive a pardon this week, having not played since Dec. 22 and facing Marquette on its first road contest. They nearly pulled off the upset, but the offense is still too stagnant at times, and the frontcourt isn’t rebounding well.
7. Pittsburgh (12-3, 0-2) | Last week: 3 : A soft non-conference schedule may have hid some of the Panthers’ weaknesses, but they were exposed in the opening week with two losses, to Cincinnati and Rutgers. Their numbers are still impressive, and a big week coming against Georgetown and Marquette could get the Panthers back on track.
8. Connecticut (10-3, 0-1) | Last week: 7 : Shabazz Napier won’t make anyone forget about Kemba Walker, but he’s turning into a tremendous backcourt option for Kevin Ollie’s group. His 29 points were nearly enough in a loss at Marquette, but even still, he’s carrying the Huskies and keeping a team ineligible for postseason play motivated.
9. Rutgers (10-3, 1-1) | Last week: 9 : An acceptable loss to Syracuse was backed by a win over Pittsburgh at home. We’ll continue to tout the Scarlet Knights as a sneaky team who could make a run at the NCAA Tournament, and Eli Carter’s continued success has done nothing to dispel that: he went for 23 points in the win over Pittsburgh.
10. Villanova (10-4, 1-0) | Last week: 14 : Perhaps we underrated the Wildcats, but a 98-86 overtime win against St. John’s was a nice way to begin the season. Freshman Ryan Arcidiacono is a (very) early favorite for freshman of the year, as his 32-point effort against the Johnnies led the way. The verdict’s still out on the Wildcats, but a 1-0 start warrants a bump.
11. Seton Hall (12-3, 1-1) | Last week: 8 : A one-point win over DePaul blowout loss at Notre Dame isn’t a great way to start things off, but it’s worth noting Southern Illinois transfer Eugene Teague has been one the pleasant surprises this season. He had 15 rebounds against DePaul and 17 points against Notre Dame. Fuquan Edwin needs help, and Teague may be the one to give it.
12. DePaul (10-5, 1-1) | Last week: 12 : Any time the Blue Demons pick up a win in conference play, it’s worth noting. A solid win at Providence could have made for a 2-0 start, but they were barely edged out by Seton Hall in their opener. Cleveland Melvin hasn’t been the same since he suffered a head injury against Loyola, but Oliver Purnell needs him back to the way he was soon.
13. South Florida (9-4, 0-1) | Last week: 13 : There was nothing better this week than seeing point guard Anthony Collins return to the lineup after a nasty tumble in a win over George Mason on Dec. 29. The Bulls had one five in a row before falling to Syracuse in their opener, but that’s not enough to drop them.
14. St. John’s (9-5, 1-1) | Last week: 15 : The roller coaster continues, as back-to-back losses to UNC-Asheville and Villanova were all but forgotten after a road win against Cincinnati. Freshman Jakarr Sampson had 16 points and eight rebounds in the victory, continuing his stellar play early on.
15. Providence (8-6, 0-2) | Last week: 11 : Ouch. Injuries to Bryce Cotton and Vincent Council have plagued the Friars, but losses to Louisville (fine) and DePaul (not fine) have made for a rough start to Big East play. The talent is there, but it hasn’t all come together for Ed Cooley’s bunch yet.