The Big East is the definition of a power conference. Arguably the best conference in college basketball, they have the record to back up those claims to begin the season. As of today, Big East teams have gone 82-12 and have 7 teams in the top 25, including 3 in the top 10. With the exception of 1 or 2 teams at the bottom of the conference, the Big East is the most balanced conference top to bottom, which should produce some excellent match-ups when conference play begins in January.
At the top of the league is #3 Villanova. They have not had a serious challenge to this point in the season (although George Mason played them tough), but are extremely balanced offensively with 5 players averaging in double-figures. Like any contender, Nova has senior leadership at the guard position, Scottie Reynolds, and a strong inside game behind junior forward Antonio Pena, who is averaging a double-double (12.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game). Even more impressive for the Wildcats is their depth. They have 9 guys who are averaging significant minutes per game (16+) and in his 9th year at the helm, Jay Wright knows when to call each player’s number to be most effective. Of all the Big East powers, Villanova may be the most poised to make a national title run.
A very close second in terms of strength and potential is #7 West Virginia. They were highly rated in the preseason and have yet to dispel the belief that they are among the country’s elite teams. They are led by senior forward Da’Sean Butler who is averaging 18.2 points per game and have one of the country’s best coaches is Bob Huggins. Similar to #3 Nova, this Mountaineer club has depth, with 10 players averaging 10+ minutes per game. In terms of scheduling, #7 WVU has a bit of an advantage, because they begin the Big East season by playing several of the weaker teams before they have to face off with #8 Syracuse on January 16th.
Speaking of #8 Syracuse, they have had an interesting start to the ’09-’10 season. The team lost to LeMoyne in an exhibition game, embarrassing the team and Coach Jimmy Boeheim. Since then, Syracuse has gone undefeated, beating California and UNC in successive days, who were ranked #12 and #4 respectively at the time of the game. As usual, Syracuse has strong guard play from senior Andy Rautins and a group of big bashers in the paint (Arinke Onuaku and Wesley Johnson) to not only alter shots, but also put plenty of points on the board. If Syracuse can remain consistent on defense and continue to put up 88.9 points per game, they will still be playing late into March.
#13 UConn has had an interesting year thus far. They have struggled mightily in their front court and have barely slipped by teams they should have blown out (Colgate and Hofstra). Their lack of a pure shooter was exploited in their only loss this season to #5 Duke over the Thanksgiving week and will probably be their Achilles heal all season. The team got down towards the end of the first half and despite a late surge, could not get close enough. G Jerome Dyson and G Stanley Robinson are athletic cut-to-the-basket scorers, but are not ones to hit 15-17 foot jump shots when the opposition defense is strong inside. In terms of their front court, C Gavin Edwards is the only person with experience leaving their young big guy, PF Alex Oriakhi to learn on the fly. Unless their bench can improve and their young 7-1 C Charles Okwandu can earn some playing time, #13 UConn will not be a contender late in the season.
The sleeper in the Big East is Marquette. They they surprised some people this past week with their upset of #15 Michigan, but then turned around and lost to Florida State in the Old Spice Classic Tourney final (by one point). As per the usual, they have sharp shooting jump shooters who put pressure on the opponents defense every time down the floor. Their front court is anchored by senior F Lazar Hayward who has been tearing apart defenses with almost 20 points per game. If the team can continue to build chemistry and consistency, they will be a difficult match-up for anyone in the country.
Perennially, there are very few easy games in Big East play, and this year is no exception. With teams like Georgetown, Louisville, and Cincinnati all in the top 25 (in addition to the teams mentioned above), this may even be the strongest year for the conference in the past decade, which is saying a lot. The only truly weak teams are DePaul and Rutgers, who will struggle mightily with their strenuous conference schedule. Teams that are in the lower portion of the conference like Providence, will not contend for a title, but always play well against the top conference teams and give them a run for their money. As has become a trend over the last few years, the Big East will once again contribute 7 or even 8 teams to the field of 65 in March.
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