It's the last season of Big East basketball before more major defections. Let's see where all our teams stand (IMH and biased O) before we head into conference play!
#8 Cincinnati: The last undefeated Big East team and one of the last five undefeated teams. Cincinnati looks pretty good and should compete for the conference title, right? Well, before conference play starts they have one more tough test against a pretty good New Mexico squad. Cincinnati hasn't played any ranked teams yet, although that's hardly their fault. They won the Global Sports Classic in November by defeating Oregon and Alabama. Cincinnati is still a bit of an enigma, however. There's no telling how they will play against tougher competition, although one must certainly expect them to rise to the occasion. They open conference play Dec. 31 at Pitt.
#21 Notre Dame: These guys are good, especially at home. They knocked off Kentucky (yay!) but lost to St. Joe's early in the season. Still, Mike Brey is obviously an excellent coach and Jack Cooley should be a BE POY candidate. They open conference play Jan. 5 vs. Seton Hall. They have yet to play a true road game, however, and will face a stiff challenge at Cincinnati a mere two days after ballin' with the Hall.
#24 Pittsburgh: So severely underrated it's not even funny. The 2012 NIT champions are playing like they could be 2013 Big East champions. Jamie Dixon's team took Michigan to the brink and came this close to winning. Otherwise, they haven't faced much tough competition and have yet to play any true road games. They open conference play Dec. 31 vs. undefeated Cincinnati and could very well knock them off. They will certainly be back in the NCAA tournament this season.
#4 Louisville: To say Rick Pitino's team is pretty good would be an understatement. Their only loss came to Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game, and even then it was close and contested. Once they get Dieng back, heck, they could be unstoppable in Big East play. The sky's the limit for these guys. Louisville begins Big East play Jan. 2 vs. Providence, but not before a huge game against Kentucky. Expect Calipari's squad to receive a drubbing.
#15 Georgetown: Very close to being undefeated, their only loss came against #1 Indiana in overtime in the Legends Classic. This team has proven it can win low-scoring games (37-36 vs. Tennessee, anyone?) and can keep up with anyone, although they might have lost to Florida to open the season, had the game not been called at halftime. Georgetown starts Big East play Jan. 5 at Marquette, their first true road game of the season.
#9 Syracuse: Just lost to a surprisingly good Temple team at MSG in the Gotham Classic, which is Batman's new non-conference tournament. Syracuse has all the pieces for a national championship run but has played a lot of cupcakes. On the flip side, SU went to Arkansas and won a hard-fought game, and beat a great San Diego St. team on a friggin' aircraft carrier to open the season. Syracuse starts conference play Jan. 2 vs. Rutgers.
Seton Hall: They won most and lost a couple, to Washington and LSU. It's hard to gauge how good Seton Hall really could be, but don't expect them to finish at 6th in the Big East standings. A decent team, to be certain. But let's not fool anyone, this is a team which will struggle in Big East play, which for Seton Hall begins Jan. 2 at DePaul in what will be a hard-fought game.
Connecticut: Credit Kevin Ollie for doing so much with so little. Connecticut is ineligible for post-season play, and as such are a darkhorse candidate to win the Big East regular season - they have the talent to do it. At the same time, they tend to play teams pretty close. How they close out games will be crucial. Big East play begins Jan. 1 at Marquette for UConn.
Rutgers: They haven't defeated anyone good and sadly seem to be destined for the Big East basement this season. Conference play opens Jan. 2 at Syracuse. Rutgers will need a few miracles to even sniff the NCAA tournament this season. Losses to St. Peter's and at Ole Miss won't help anyone's perception of Rutgers.
DePaul: Other than taking down an undefeated Auburn, the Blue Demons haven't done a whole lot else and is there any reason to believe this season will be any different from the last few? Hopefully they can manage an NIT berth, and that is certainly attainable. They open Big East play Jan. 2 vs. Seton Hall, a team which is kind of their equal and will give them a great battle.
Marquette: Never underestimate Buzz Williams, but this is a depleted Marquette team which has struggled this season. They did beat Wisconsin, at Wisconsin, which is no small feat. Marquette should finish middle-of-the-pack in the Big East, and they start conference play Jan. 1 vs. UConn.
Providence: A young but dangerous team on the rise. Next season they could be superb and mark my words, they will upset at least one top 25 Big East team this year. A NCAA berth is possible but an NIT berth and a high seeding seem more likely. Providence starts Big East play Jan. 2 at Louisville (gulp).
South Florida: Oh, USF, how you confuse and astound us all. This team is talented, certainly. Not elite but a tough out. Another NCAA run is unlikely this season, but wasn't it surprising last year too? USF opens Big East play Jan. 6 vs. Syracuse, but not before getting one more shot at rival and future Big East team UCF, who beat the Bulls earlier in the season.
St. John's: Steve Lavin's first year may have been a fluke, as he inherited a wicked talented team from his predecessor. Once again, the Johnnies are under-performing and have lost 1/3 of their games. Even an NIT appearance will be a long shot. St. John's starts Big East play Jan. 2 at Villanova.
Villanova: What's going on in Philly? For the second year in a row, Jay Wright's team does not seem up to the challenge of winning tough games. They did win at Vanderbilt, so give credit where it is due, but this batch of players Wright has now reminds me very much of the Syracuse teams of 2006-07 and 2007-08 that had potential but failed and wound up in the NIT. Villanova's first Big East game this season will be at home against St. John's. Villanova best win if they have any shot at salvaging their season, because it only gets more difficult.
Anyone disagree with these assessments? I ain't no expert, mind you.