Rob Dauster of Ballin’ is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East.
Team of the Week: Syracuse Orange: The Orange reached a critical point in their season on Wednesday. They had lost four consecutive games, there were all kinds of rumors involving turmoil within the locker room, and the team was heading to Hartford to take on then-No. 7 Connecticut. But the Orange were able to slow down Kemba Walker and knock off the Huskies, regaining some confidence along the way, before going into Tampa and whooping up on South Florida. James Southerland has seen his minutes cut, playing just two minutes in the past three games, while CJ Fair and Baye Moussa Keita — who are more active on the glass and better defenders than Southerland — have taken those minutes. Dion Waiters has also played better since he was benched at Marquette, scoring 19 points the past two games. Syracuse has a big week coming up, as they play Georgetown, Louisville, and West Virginia in the span of six days.
Player of the Week: Corey Fisher, Villanova: Villanova head coach Jay Wright switched around Villanova’s starting lineup, sliding Maalik Wayns to the bench, Corey Fisher over to the point, and moving Dominic Cheek and Isaiah Armwood into the starting lineup at different times. Wright did it for two reasons — he wanted to make Villanova a better defensive team, and he wanted a bigger team on the glass. More importantly, however, he wanted one more player on the floor willing to get the ball into the big guys inside. And believe it or not, this Villanova team is actually at their best when they run from the inside-out. How did Fisher respond? By averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 assists, and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 55% from the floor in wins over Marquette and West Virginia.
Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Pittsburgh (21-2, 9-1) (1)
Last Week: 2/5 vs. Cincinnati 71-59, 2/7 @ West Virginia 71-66
Next Week: 2/12 @ Villanova
The Panthers win at West Virginia on Monday proved just how good the program is that Jamie Dixon runs. Pitt won at West Virginia, a rivalry game on the road, without their most dangerous offensive weapon (Ashton Gibbs is out for two weeks with a strained MCL) against a team that was tied for second in the league standings. Nothing in the Panthers’ game plan changed. They still ran their same offense and they still crashed the glass, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds. Saturday’s matchup with Villanova should be quite a bit of fun, even if Gibbs is out.
2. Villanova (19-4, 7-3) (3)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Marquette 75-70, 2/5 vs. West Virginia 66-50
Next Week: 2/9 @ Rutgers, 2/12 vs. Pitt
See the “Player of the Week” section for a breakdown on Jay Wright’s tinkering with the starting lineup, and how Corey Fisher in particular has benefited.
3. Notre Dame (19-4, 8-3) (5)
Last Week: 2/3 @ DePaul 83-58, 2/6 vs. Rutgers 76-69
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Louisville, 2/12 @ South Florida
I’m still not sold on Notre Dame being the third-best team in the conference, but they continue to win and own the single most impressive victory in the league, a win at Pitt. Ben Hansbrough was once again sensational this week, averaging 24.5 points per game in two wins that, frankly, didn’t tell us much. The Irish blew out DePaul like they are supposed too before winning a tougher-than-expected game against Rutgers.
4. Syracuse (20-4, 7-4) (4)
Last Week: 2/2 @ UConn 66-58, 2/5 @ South Florida 72-49
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Georgetown, 2/12 @ Louisville
See the “Team of the Week section” for analysis on Syracuse getting back on the right track despite undue stress.
5. Georgetown (18-5, 7-4) (9)
Last Week: 1/31 vs. Louisville 62-59, 2/5 vs. Providence 83-81
Next Week: 1/9 @ Syracuse, 1/13 vs. Marquette
The Hoyas are arguably the hottest team in the Big East right now. With wins over Louisville and Providence, they Hoyas have won six in a row after starting off Big East play 1-4. That winning streak becomes all the more important with a trip to the Carrier Dome coming on Wednesday. Julian Vaughn has played very well of late despite having a bad ankle. He had ten points, including a number of important buckets, and four blocks against Louisville and followed that up with a 14-point, 11-rebound performance against Providence.
6. Louisville (18-5, 7-3) (6)
Last Week: 1/31 @ Georgetown 59-62, 2/5 vs. DePaul 61-57
Next Week: 2/9 @ Notre Dame, 2/12 vs. Syracuse
Right now, Louisville is simply surviving, as Rick Pitino put it after the Cardinal’s four-point win against DePaul. The issue for the Cardinals isn’t their talent level (which is low, given their ranking) or Pitino’s coaching (which has been as impressive as anyone in the country), it’s simply that they cannot get healthy. The latest injury has come to leading scorer Preston Knowles, who sat out the win over the Blue Demons with a hamstring injury.
7. Connecticut (18-4, 6-4) (2)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Syracuse 58-66, 2/5 @ Seton Hall 61-59
Next Week: 2/10 @ Providence, 2/13 vs. St. John’s
The Kemba Walker riddle has been solved — play UConn in a zone. Syracuse did it. So did Seton Hall. It makes it easy to help onto Walker and prevent him from getting one-on-one opportunities, and with the youth and inexperience on the UConn roster, it is very easy to get this team out of an offensive rhythm. Zones are difficult to beat when you don’t have great passing big men, and if you have seen Charles Okwandu or Alex Oriakhi play this season, you know they are not exactly Greg Monroe.
8. Marquette (14-9, 5-5) (7)
Last Week: 2/2 @ Villanova 70-75
Next Week: 2/9 @ South Florida, 2/13 @ Georgetown
Once again, the Golden Eagles suffered a tough loss against a quality opponent. But that doesn’t mean that this team is in any danger whatsoever of missing the NCAA Tournament. They’ve lost five of their last eight games, although in that eight game stretch, Marquette played seven teams (seven!) currently ranked in the top 15 in the country. All five of those losses were to top 15 teams, while the Golden Eagles also boast wins over the likes of Syracuse and Notre Dame. Only two of their last eight games are against ranked teams.
9. West Virginia (15-7, 6-4) (8)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Seton Hall 56-44, 2/5 @ Villanova 50-66, 2/7 vs. Pitt 66-71
Next Week: 2/12 vs. DePaul, 2/14 @ Syracuse
This is not a typical Bob Huggins team. There’s no toughness on this squad, mentally or physically. They are an atrocious 310th in the country on the defensive glass after Monday night’s debacle against Pitt. Kevin Jones and John Flowers are inconsistent and get pushed around inside too easily when they aren’t in foul trouble. Deniz Kilicli can score on the block, but he can’t defend anyone and doesn’t appear to know what a box out is. Cam Thoroughman is a blue-collar player that is tough and physical, but he just doesn’t have the talent to be an impact player. This team, believe it or not, is soft.
10. St. John’s (13-9, 5-5) (11)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Rutgers 58-56, 2/5 @ UCLA 59-66
Next Week: 2/10 vs. UConn, 2/13 @ Cincinnati
Dwight Hardy went for 32 against UCLA, which was impressive, but the rest of the Red Storm decided to not make the trip to LA. It’s a shame, because the Johnnies really could have used that win. Thanks to their blowout of Duke, all this team needs to do is finish above .500 in the Big East to make the dance.
11. Cincinnati (18-5, 5-5) (10)
Last Week: 2/5 @ Pitt 59-71
Next Week: 2/8 @ DePaul, 2/13 vs. St. John’s
The bubble may be obscenely weak this season, but the Bearcats still look like they could end up being a longshot to make it. They played the 284th-best non-conference schedule, and while their win over Xavier looks better every day, they need to notch a victory over one of the top teams in the Big East. That will be tough if Yancy Gates, who didn’t make the trip to Pittsburgh on Saturday, remains suspended.
12. Seton Hall (10-14, 4-8) (14)
Last Week: 2/2 @ West Virginia 44-56, 2/5 vs. UConn 59-61
Next Week: 2/12 vs. Rutgers
Seeton Hall is playing well, but they cannot close out games. Unfortunately, after digging themselves a hole early in the season, the Pirates cannot afford losing close games.
13. Rutgers (12-11, 3-8) (12)
Last Week: 2/2 @ St. John’s 56-58, 2/6 @ Notre Dame 69-76
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Villanova, 2/12 vs. Seton Hall
The Scarlet Knights have now played three straight tournament teams down to the wire. Mike Rice has this team playing the right way. Once he gets some better talent into the program, Rutgers will be alright.
14. Providence (14-10, 3-8) (13)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. South Florida 68-63, 2/5 @ Georgetown 81-83
Next Week: 2/13 @ UConn
Marshon Brooks is now the leading scorer in the Big East at 24.1 points per game after dropping 43 on Georgetown in a losing effort.
15. South Florida (8-16, 2-9) (15)
Last Week: 2/2 @ Providence 63-68, 2/5 vs. Syracuse 49-72
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Marquette. 2/12 vs. Notre Dame
On Saturday, South Florida was outnumbered by Syracuse fans 3:1 in their own arena. Shameful.
16. DePaul (6-16, 0-10) (16)
Last Week: 2/3 vs. Notre 58-83, 2/5 @ Louisville 57-61
Next Week: 2/8 vs. Cincinnati, 2/12 @ WVU
The Blue Demons nearly got one against injury-depleted Louisville.
We have four terrific Big East matchups this week. On Wednesday, Georgetown heads to Syracuse in the first of their two games this season, while Louisville makes the trip to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. On Saturday, Syracuse and Louisville do battle while arguably the two best teams in the conference tip off in ESPN’s Gameday game as Pitt travels to Villanova.