We’ve got a new team back in the top spot this week. Away we go.
1. Louisville (18-4, 6-3) | Last week: 3
Now that’s more like it. After three straight losses, the Cardinals rebounded with home wins over Pittsburgh and Marquette. Gorgui Dieng is making a strong case for Big East Player of the Year, and his 11.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 3.5 blocks the last two games helped his cause. The Cards are back.
2. Syracuse (19-3, 7-2) | Last week: 1
Things are getting rough without James Southerland. True, the Orange managed a win over Notre Dame last night, but it came on the heels of losses at Villanova and Pittsburgh. Until the Southerland academics issue is resolved it’s hard to justify them in the top spot. C.J. Fair is coming up big lately, averaging 16.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in 125 of 125 possible minutes the last three games.
3. Cincinnati (18-4, 6-3) | Last week: 2
Mick Cronin’s group battled through two close calls over Rutgers and Seton Hall last week thanks to some Sean Kilpatrick heroics. Had they not melted down at Syracuse two weeks ago they’d be alone atop the Big East, but this is still a legitimate contender. And congrats to Mick Cronin for picking up career win No. 200. One of the more underrated coaches in the country.
4. Marquette (15-5, 6-2) | Last week: 4
Mixed bag for the Golden Eagles, who received 30 points from Vander Blue in a win over South Florida before being blown out at Louisville on Sunday. An easy schedule has helped Marquette’s record, and it will play six of its last 10 games on the road. The Golden Eagles can’t afford a letdown at South Florida.
5. Georgetown (16-4, 6-3) | Last week: 6
The Hoyas have won four straight, made more impressive by the fact that they’ve done it all without Greg Whittington. Otto Porter is picking up the pace for Georgetown, which now sits just one game out of first place. With two games left against Syracuse, they are dark horses to compete for a B.E. championship.
6. Pittsburgh (19-5, 7-4) | Last week: 5
Here come the Pirates. If there were any questions as to whether Pittsburgh was for real — the numbers said they were, but the record didn’t — they were all washed away with a Saturday win over No. 6 Syracuse. They play three ranked teams in a row, two on the road, coming up, which should give a better indication of how good they really are. They close with St. John’s, South Florida, Villanova and DePaul. Get through the first three at 2-1 and the Pirates could win the Big East. It’s not out of the question.
7. Notre Dame (18-5, 6-4) | Last week: 7
The Irish didn’t look so hot at Syracuse last night, but we’ll forgive them for losing to the top-ranked team in the standings. They gutted out an overtime win at DePaul and took down Villanova, and quietly have moved back within 1.5 games of first place. Perhaps the matchup of the week will take place Saturday when Louisville comes to South Bend.
8. Connecticut (15-5, 5-3) | Last week: 9
They weren’t impressive wins (overtime at Providence, overtime vs. South Florida) but Kevin Ollie has the Huskies winning without any reward. He’s right up there with Buzz Williams for Big East Coach of the Year honors, and with games against St. John’s and Seton Hall next week they could be 7-3 when they take on Syracuse Feb. 13.
9. Villanova (13-9, 4-5) | Last week: 8
Try and figure this team out for too long and your head may explode. The Wildcats have lose five of their last seven, including two losses to Providence. Those two wins? Over No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Syracuse. Yeah. It doesn’t make much sense. Moving on.
10. St. John’s (14-8, 6-4) | Last week: 10
The second easiest Big East schedule, as of last week, helped the Red Storm to a 5-3 start, but this week they needed overtime to beat DePaul and lost at Georgetown. No one really though the Johnnies were contenders, but five of eight remaining games are against current ranked opponents.
11. Providence (11-11, 3-7) | Last week: 12
Ricky Ledo’s eligibility issues are concerning for the future of the Friars, but they kept it together this week by taking down red-hot Villanova on the road on Sunday. Bryce Cotton continues to be one of the bigger surprises in conference, scoring 18 points in the win over the Wildcats. Vincent Council, on the other hand? Continues to struggle and hurt the Friars.
12. Rutgers (12-8, 3-6) | Last week: 11
A 3-2 start has been negated by four straight losses, though the competition has been steep. Things likely won’t get better any time soon, as Louisville and Georgetown are coming up this week. The Scarlet Knights haven’t topped 70 points in Big East play and it appears my NCAA sleeper prediction may have been a stretch. We shall see.
13. Seton Hall (13-10, 2-8) | Last week: 13
You really have to feel for Fuquan Edwin, who is putting together a solid year for the Pirates and almost single-handedly took down Pittsburgh on Monday. He had 23 of Seton Hall’s 46 points in the loss, marking the Pirates the fourth straight defeat. Edwin doesn’t have much help and an injury-depleted roster is having real problems keeping up for 40 minutes.
14. South Florida (10-11, 1-8) | Last week: 14
Four of South Florida’s last five losses have been by less than 10 points, so it’s not as if the Bulls haven’t been competitive. When your top-two leading scorers are shooting less than 40 percent from the field, there are issues. A home contest against Marquette Wednesday could be ripe for an upset.
15. DePaul (10-11, 1-7) | Last week: 15
Major props to the Blue Demons for taking both St. John’s and Notre Dame to overtime, but the fact remains that they have now lost eight of nine, and the last seven in Big East play. Things are getting better, but they still aren’t out of the cellar and likely won’t be this year. Reeling Villanova may be the perfect bet to pick up a win, otherwise it could be 1-10 when Rutgers comes to town Feb. 16.