Together they have won four of the past six Big East regular-season crowns and 11 overall, so no surprise first place is on the line when Syracuse and Georgetown meet for the final time as league members at the Carrier Dome. Marquette and Louisville might have something to say about who is the conference’s best, but for now, the Orange and the Hoyas, like they so often do, stand at the top of the Big East. Let’s enjoy it while we can.
1. Georgetown. John Thompson III was understandably worried that his Hoyas might look past basement-dwelling DePaul, what with the last game at the Carrier Dome next on the docket. He didn't need to be. His Georgetown team is clicking and now rides an eight-game win streak following a walkover of the Blue Demons.
2. Syracuse. The Orange already stopped one hot Big East team cold. Can they do it again? The task against Georgetown on Saturday will be a lot tougher. Still, what Syracuse did to Providence -- which had won four in a row including victories against Cincinnati and Notre Dame -- was impressive. It was an impolite beatdown, with the Orange leading 43-16 at the half.
3. Marquette. The Golden Eagles overcame a sluggish start to beat free-falling Seton Hall and remain tied atop the league standings. That’s probably a surprise to a lot of folks, but Marquette always is in the mix. Tough game Saturday at a hungry Villanova team.
4. Louisville. The game against South Florida wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty, but Russ Smith's game was a lot more palatable. That’s huge for the Cardinals. The mercurial guard is really the key to Louisville’s success. He has to find a way to remain electric but in control if the Cards are going to own March. He did it against USF, scoring as always but complementing his game with four assists, six rebounds and a more attentive focus on defense.
5. Notre Dame. The Irish remain a good, if unreliable team. They managed to score all of three points in the first 14 minutes against Pittsburgh and win the game anyway. So that’s something. And so is winning three of their past four, even if by just the slimmest of margins. A tough finish -- Cincinnati, at Marquette, St. John’s and at Louisville -- will determine a lot for Notre Dame.
6. Villanova. And they’re back. On the bubble, that is. The Wildcats went from in the tourney to out to back in again, courtesy of a good win at Connecticut and a survival victory against Rutgers. This Saturday’s game against Marquette isn’t a must-win, but a home game against a top-25 RPI team is the kind you want to get to solidify your spot.
7. Pittsburgh. Just when the Panthers got everyone’s attention. ... Back-to-back losses to Marquette and Notre Dame aren’t the end of the world, but Pitt remains something of a show-me team, needing to prove it belongs in the NCAA tournament and has found a consistent stride. Sunday's game against St. John’s is a pretty big one.
8. Connecticut. When Ryan Boatright couldn’t score against Villanova, the Huskies lost. When he couldn’t score against Cincinnati, UConn won. The difference? Shabazz Napier. He scored 27 against the Bearcats, helping a feisty UConn team stay competitive even when there’s little to compete for.
9. Cincinnati. A once promising season is slipping away for the Bearcats, who have lost four of their past five and are a very precarious .500 in the league. With a tough sprint to the finish -- at Notre Dame, Connecticut and at Louisville among the remaining four games -- Cincinnati is going to have to work to finish on the winning side of the league slate.
10. St. John’s. The Red Storm are good enough to beat the teams they are supposed to beat, such as South Florida this week. Now they have to figure out how to get over the hump and beat the top teams. Pitt is sort of a tweener game for St. John’s, tough because of the way the Panthers defend, but not completely unbeatable. It will be interesting to see how Steve Lavin’s group handles them.
11. Providence. Don’t jump off the Friars’ bandwagon altogether. Yes, the 25-point loss to Syracuse showed just how far Providence has to go, but remember how deep the hole was for the Friars. With a favorable schedule to finish the regular season -- at Rutgers, Seton Hall, St. John’s and at Connecticut -- there’s still plenty Providence can do in what should be a pivotal, turnaround season for the Friars.
12. DePaul. The Blue Demons won for the first time since Jan. 5, beating Rutgers in a game in which they led, trailed and then led again. DePaul followed it up with a blowout loss to Georgetown. So much for that.
13. Rutgers. From the "things can always get worse" file, the Scarlet Knights will finish the season without their leading scorer. Eli Carter has a fractured fibula. Give his remaining teammates credit for putting up a fight against Villanova in the first game without him, but with four games left, including Marquette and at Georgetown, uphill just got a lot steeper in Piscataway.
14. Seton Hall. The Pirates have been done in by injuries all season, and the record shows it. At 2-12, Seton Hall has its worst Big East record in 29 years. Seton Hall has tried a team meeting. Kevin Willard closed the locker room after the most recent loss. It’s probably time to ask those priests at the end of the bench to get to work.
15. South Florida. How low can they go? The Bulls in scoring, that is. USF is now 329th, averaging 59.2 points per game. There are only 16 teams beneath the Bulls and only two -- Vanderbilt and Nebraska -- from power conferences. And again we just have to ask ... how did the Bulls beat Georgetown?