Welcome to the first edition of the Big East power rankings, sponsored by America. Cardscott5 came up with the idea of doing a rankings post, but I carried most of the weight in pretty much every other aspect. We ranked the teams 1-16 and Scott, who is the owner/author of the slightly above average Bearcats Blog, didn't want to average out the rankings so he used mine. See what I mean? We haven't exactly ironed out all the kinks, this was the first rankings list after all. It'll get better. Or one of us will die trying.
The rankings took place on Wednesday morning. None of Wednesday's results would have changed anything. After the rankings, our thoughts on the league:
HH: South Florida started the season with a lot of promise (for USF) after adding transfers Victor Rudd & Blake Nash to a roster that returned 69% of its returning minutes, 77% points and 74% rebounds from last season, all top three marks in the Big East. Unfortunately, the Bulls took a couple NCAAT resume-killing losses to Auburn & Penn State. USF has only defeated one OOC team in kenpom's Top 100, Cleveland State (#90) by 15 points at home. Therefore, to make a run at this year's weak bubble, the fightin' Stan Heaths have to win their home games, upset a team like Marquette or Louisville on the road and cannot lose to teams ranked below them like St. John's and DePaul. USF is 2-2 in the Big East and their opening conference schedule is favorable, but they'll host a surprisingly dangerous Seton Hall team this Friday, which may represent the Bulls' best chance for a momentum-building upset win.
HotHot: DePaul brought back most of their scoring and rebounding from last season, including sophomores Cleveland Melvin, the 2010-11 Big East Rookie of the Year, and Brandon Young, but suffered a few preseason injuries and transfers that set an all-too-familiar ominous tone for the Blue Demons. Went 9-3 through a very weak OOC schedule but looked much better than the DePaul of old. Oliver Purnell's team "upset" Pittsburgh 84-81 at home and hasn't lost a Big East game they should've won yet, so their 1-3 conference record is much better (by DePaul standards) than it appears. They'll face UofL on the road Saturday where Melvin--who has just one assist in his last five games--has to toughen up on the glass, stop jacking up threes and involve his teammates more for the Blue Demons to upset a reeling Cards team in the KFC Yum! Center.
Scott: Have to admit, even though the margin ended up being very wide, I liked most of what I saw of DePaul Tuesday. They got down big, but went on something like a 17-2 run to make it interesting for a minute. I don't think DePaul teams of the past do that. They could not win a road game this year, but I think they'll make things tough on people who slack off for 40 minutes. But they aren't going to win much when Young and Melvin combine for 10-30 from the field.
S: The Bulls are an interesting team. They don't have anything non-conference, as you pointed out. They've stepped up their game in conference play, but their talent level is still behind everyone else. Gus Gilchrist has 4 games over 8 rebounds this season, 1 double double. It's not totally unreasonable to think they could win 3 in a row, but it's also not very likely. The ND game Tuesday really took some of the luster off for me.
S: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are a surprising 3-1. They play the typical Irish basketball. Jack Cooley is a legit big man in this league. He is their best player. When the offense goes through him, it seems to run smoother. It's hard to get excited about this team just yet. The Irish get throw into the Big East grinder big time. But for now, they are playing very well after getting destroyed defensively against Cincinnati.
HH: It's amazing how Cooley transformed his game in December this season after being a non-factor for most of November. The Irish are playing much better as a result, but as you implied, they still don't look like a 9+ conference win team without Abro. Guard Jerian Grant has done a little bit of everything, and whatever Mike Brey's been telling 6'8 "guard" Scott Martin--who was injured preseason and really struggled his first week of Big East play--is working this past week as he's finally started playing the type of ball he has to play in order for the Irish to make the NCAAT this season.
HH: Aside from Pitt being a dumpster fire, Seton Hall is the biggest surprise in the conference this year and one of the most overachieving teams in college basketball. Jordan Theodore has played himself into the NBA Draft and is amazingly a legitimate front-runner for Big East POY. His teammate, Herb Pope was IMO the non-conference BE POY this season but his scoring, FG%, FT % and assist totals have tapered off in conference play as guards Theodore and Fuquan Edwin have taken over for the Pirates. It's hard to find anything negative about this team, their two losses are to Northwestern on a neutral court and Syracuse on the road. But, if we were buying/selling Big East stock, would you be selling Seton Hall right now?
S: I'm a hold on Seton Hall. They've posted some very impressive wins, especially margin wise, but all at home. The Syracuse game could have been an off night, but it bothers me a little bit about them. They had trouble at Providence before closing that one late. But still, Pope, Theodore and Edwin are right up there with big 3s in the league. They are a fascinating team. 4 of their next 6 are on the road, so we'll get an answer.
S: Let's cover the biggest surprise in the league, the terrible Pittsburgh Panthers. I don't know what in the hell happened to them. It's more than Tray Woodall being injured. You watch the Rutgers game and they didn't show up. Rutgers stole their will. I think Ashton Gibbs is really feeling the pressure to score every basket. He's been horrible, for him, at 34% on his 3s. His overall shooting percentage is awful. I don't know what that team does to recover. They play Marquette, Syracuse and Louisville next. It's nut up time.
HH: Pitt's problem starts with Woodall but one player doesn't fully excuse five straight losses, much less a 39-62 loss to Rutgers at home. It's obvious Woodall's injury hampered Pitt's offense and as a result, Gibbs isn't getting the catch-and-shoot opportunities he thrived on last season. That helps explain why the senior shooting guard's FG% and 3PT% are at career lows while manning the point, including the last 5 games where Gibbs has made just 5 of his 28 3PT field goal attempts (17.8%). Just as concerning as Woodall's absence is the Panthers' recent rebounding woes. Pittsburgh, currently the #1 offensive rebounding % team in the country, were out-rebounded 44-26 by Rutgers. Gross. Gibbs and Woodall, AKA Ash-Tray, should make the second half of their conference slate respectable when Tray returns, but their NCAAT resume may be so DePaulful by then, they'll need to win the Big East tourney to go dancing. Unreal.
HH: Speaking of dumpster fires, let's talk Louisville. If I were buying/selling Big East stock, I think I'd be tempted to buy Card stock due to Pitino's conference record in February and the amount of talent on this team. Something's going on behind the scenes here and if they can figure it out soon, this could be a scary team when players like Siva and Wayne Blackshear are fully healthy. Lots of ifs here. Maybe the most "if" team in the league right now. The 31 point loss to Providence Tuesday night was surely rock bottom; only a loss at home to DePaul could make things worse. That said, Saturday's DePaul Day is arguably the most (only?) important one yet for UofL. Are you buying or selling the Cards today?
S: I'm probably buying because the talent is there. I've kind of given up on Blackshear because Rick Pitino says he's a big fat fatty. To me, it starts with Siva. When he's good, the team is good. When he's not involved, the rest of the team is not great. Gorgui Dieng needs to be on the floor more. He may get phantom whistles, but he also picks up silly fouls. The team needs to come together and play hard. Easier said than done.
S: Keeping the fall from grace theme going, Villanova. I don't even know what to say about them. They were picked to be middle of the league, but good lord. They can't shoot very well. They have 3 guys that are scoring threats. They have 1 above average rebound and turn the ball over as many times as they get assists. They have a tough couple of games up next. Lose those and it doesn't even look like they are an NIT team.
HH: I know less about Villanova than any other Big East team. I sometimes forget about them being in the Big East, which is more a reflection on me than them. They did make a Final Four three years ago, right? Jay Wright is still a good coach and an even better dresser, but man is his team lost right now. The only shots they're hitting are the unguarded ones at the free throw stripe, where they are a very elite 75.9% this season, good for 10th in the nation. Problem is, their nine losses have been by an average margin of 11 points and their free throw rate isn't high enough to have made a big difference. So, either the Cats re-learn how to pass and shoot and figure out how to get to the line 45 times a night or else they're in danger of suffering Wright's worst season in Philly.
HH: Let's talk about a team that's playing well, Mick Cronin's Bearcats. Cincinnati went 8-1 since the infamous brawl with Xavier, mostly without the services of centers Gates and Mbodj, and are serious contenders for a double bye in the Big East tournament. After hosting Villanova Saturday, they travel to UConn and WVU and then play Syracuse at home in the span of six days. That's about as tough a 3-game stretch as there is in conference play. How do you see UC faring over the next two weeks?
S: Like just about everyone else in the league, it's hard to get a good read on the Bearcats. Mainly it's because they have some absolutely horrible home losses. They almost seem better on the road. Unlike some other teams in the league, the Bearcats have 3 guys who have made big shots late in games this year. They have to play better defense if they are going to be a threat. Shot selection is also important, because they can get too 3 happy. If they have the right blend going, the offense is hard to stop. They are in the grind right now. It'll be interesting to see how they come out.
S: St John's handed Cincinnati one of the horrible losses. This team is very short depth-wise. Harrison, Harkless and God'sGift are a good trio, but they can't do it all. They have run out of gas when the pace picks up. All 3 of their Big East losses have been blowouts. Like they did against Cincinnati, they could catch someone on an off night.
HH: St. John's best hope is to win the Big East tournament, but I think they are the least likely team to do so, given their lack of depth. With Coach Lavin's absence, Nuri Lindsey's bizarre mid-season transfer and the preseason eligibility issues with three talented recruits, it will shock me if they win more than 3 of their 15 remaining games this season. The Johnnies play one of the tougher conference schedules plus travel to Cameron Indoor to take on Duke later this month and will face UCLA at home in February.They'll be lucky to reach the NITs this year.
HH: West Virginia is a team most were bearish on after losing to D-II Northern Kentucky in the preseason and Kent State in their second game, both at home. Count me as one of their crow-eating haters. I thought Truck Bryant would be too selfish on offense, that we'd already seen Kevin Jones' ceiling last season and that Deniz Kilicli would be more crutch than reliable big man. I was wrong, they're 12-5 and none of their losses are to teams outside of kenpom's Top 100. Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne have added passing and on-ball defense dimensions to the Mountaineers and I can see them battling teams like Seton Hall and Georgetown for a double bye in the conference tournament.
S: West Virginia has exceeded my expectations as well. They have only lost to top 100 teams as you pointed out, but there is something about them I don't completely trust. That's what happens when you have a poor shooting team. This reminds me of some of the Huggins UC teams that could beat you up inside, but they didn't have anyone to stretch the floor. Kevin Jones has played like one of the best players in the league and Truck Bryant is a very good point guard. They have an interesting little homestand coming up.
HH: Syracuse may go undefeated through their Big East schedule, which would be pretty sad. They've dismantled most of their opponents and at this point it would be a disappointment if the Orange didn't make the Final Four. What more could you want from your team in January? Everything's going right for Jim Boeheim and Syracuse. Makes one forget about the "Do they have to fire Boeheim?" firestorm they went through just a couple months ago.
S: The Orange are playing so far above the rest of the league right now that it's ridiculous. The starts are great. The bench has been fantastic. Dion Waiters is the 6th man of the year and right now probably the Big East player of the year. They've been up at least 16 in every Big East game this season. That's domination.
S: The Georgetown Hoyas are a tough team to figure out right now. They are very solid offensively, yet you can take their star players out of the game. They play solid defense, but you can go small and burn them. They haven't really played a great game in Big East action. They got by Louisville close, struggled with Providence, needed an epic rally against Marquette, were simply beaten by West Virginia and pretty much blew the Cincinnati game. The blue print is out on the Hoyas. Can they adjust is the huge question.
HH: Agree with your assessment of the Hoyas. Returning less than half their points from last season, Georgetown's playing much better than most predicted and they have a great NCAAT resume right now, but Cincy and WVU exposed some weaknesses and they're not going to hit 7 of 11 threes every night as they did at Louisville. Like Kyle Kuric, the book is out on Hollis Thompson's perimeter game, and if you pressure their jump shooters and play aggressive defense, Georgetown will have a tough time scoring. They've turned the ball over 15 times in each of their last three games and lost two of them. They're in a mini funk, but I still think they'll finish in the top five of the conference. They'll need more consistent minutes from freshmen Otto Porter and Jabril Trawick off the bench to get there.
S: I don't particularly like this Rutgers team, but you can't help but be impressed with their efforts lately. Taking down UConn and beating the brakes off Pittsburgh is impressive. If they didn't sandwich losses to USF and a beat down from West Virginia around those games and the Florida win, I would give them more props. Eli Carter is the truth, even though he's a little high volume. Half of their games are at home, so maybe winning 7 or 8 conference games isn't a huge stretch.
HH: I haven't seen enough of Rutgers this season to get a good feel for them. I've only witnessed them at their best, i.e. their wins vs. Florida, UConn and at Pitt. They seem like the classic streaky team that plays way above average at home and garbage on the road. The 21 point loss to WVU at home was a red flag and I think the fightin' Gil Birutas are too inconsistent to post a winning conference record this season. I do envy how young this team is however, they could be sneaky good the next couple years. If they scrap their way to 8 Big East wins and make a splash in the BET, the Scarlet Knights can make the NCAAT and be a scary matchup for somebody in the first/second round.
S: Connecticut is a team I am buying. I don't really know why since they don't have any great wins, but they have a lot of a great pieces. At some point, they are going to put it all together, I think. There is too much there for that team to be averaging 14 assists a game. Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier carry the Huskies, but they turn the ball over a ton. What's got to be scary for the rest of the league is the development by Andre Drummond. He's got 3 of his 5 double doubles in Big East play.
HH: I concur with your purchase of Connecticut. The resume isn't as good as a Syracuse or a Georgetown right now, but this is a team with vast talent and NCAAT experience. Can easily see the Huskies make a deep run in the conference tournament and make hell for other teams in the NCAAT with their athleticism and gelling frontcourt of Oriakhi and Drummond. Speaking of whom, Drummond was the odds-on favorite to win Big East ROY before the season but let others like PC's LaDontae Henton catch up to him during OOC play. If he continues to post double-doubles and UConn finishes near the top of the league as expected, I can't see him not winning the ROY award.
S: Marquette hadn't been the same since taking their first loss at LSU. They were 2-4 before putting a good old fashion ass whopping on St John's in the second half last night. Fortunately, unfortunately?, for them, the Eagles are the gut check opponent for falling Pittsburgh and Louisville. They host both. Whatever got into Devante Gardner last night was impressive, 22-15. Gardner, Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom are a highly efficient trio. When they get solid efforts from Todd Mayo and Vander Blue, the Eagles normally turn out on the happy side of the scoreboard. In the 4 losses, 1 or both have had rocky games.
HH: At the beginning of the year, I felt Marquette was a lock to finish in the top four of the Big East. They went on the road and beat Wisconsin and Washington in consecutive games and looked to be in the same class of Syracuse at the time. Unfortunately, Wiscy's not as good as most thought and Marquette fell back to earth after a lopsided loss to Vandy at home and losses to LSU, Georgetown and Syracuse on the road. I'm still buying Marquette though. DJO is a stud but as you mentioned, Gardner has really put on for Buzz this season, and adds a much-needed scoring big man dimension to their halfcourt offense after Chris Otule was lost for the year with an ACL injury.
S: Providence is going to finish in the bottom of half of the Big East, but damn they play hard. It's like the St John's game was a kick in the ass to motivate them. They played Georgetown, Syracuse and Seton Hall tough before romping Louisville. The effort is there, but I don't see the wins being there. After catching a second loss from the Orange, they have tough sledding. The Friars do have Vincent Council, who put up 23-9 assists-6 rebounds and 15-14 assists-8 rebounds with 4 combined turnovers the past 2 games.
HH: Providence reminds me a lot of Rutgers. They are opposites offensively and defensively, but you look at their young talent and there's no reason they can't finish near the top of the league the next couple years, especially after Pitt, Syracuse and WVU leave for the ACC and Big XII. Not to mention coach Ed Cooley's incoming 2012 recruiting class featuring 4-star guards Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo. They crushed Louisville at the Dunk this week but I agree the Friars will finish towards the bottom of the league this year. They have four players in the top 150 in percentage of minutes played, which will make for some ragged players come March. I will however add Providence to my long term investment portfolio while they're still a penny stock. Their ungagged Talent Agent (Cooley) combined with outperforming new products like Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Henton make PC a safe buy for the future.
Also posted on Bearcats Blog