DePaul looking at the bottom rung of the Big East again

There are no games for a few days as teams take off for the holidays. Happy holidays to everyone. This is the first in a series of conference previews for each of the 4 conferences that the 5 Chicago College Basketball teams play in. Check back Saturday for the Big Ten, Sunday for the Horizon League and Monday for the Great West.

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The Big East is sure to be one of the toughest conference in the nation once again. Syracuse and West Virginia are both undefeated and carrying the banner for the league. Besides the Orange and Mountaineers there are probably four or five other teams that will end up deserving bids to the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season. The trick is finding those teams.

Five teams in the Big East have more than 2 losses in non-conference play. Those teams are Marquette (8-3), Louisville (8-3), Cincinnati (8-3), Providence (8-4) and DePaul (7-5). The Bearcats and Cardinals have underperformed, but the other three should make up the bottom quarter of the league along with Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are 9-2 but their best win is over Princeton. (Talk about soft scheduling.)

Power rankings and predictions for the entire conference after the break.
1. Syracuse - The Orange have defeated California, North Carolina and Florida during the non-conference season. The 2-3 zone has been devastating, but the offense has been even better. Wesley Johnson has been a revelation for Syracuse. People expected the junior to play well, but he's far exceeded even the most optimistic predictions. Still, the Orange will probably stumble sometime during a difficult conference schedule.

2. West Virginia - Da'Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and the rest of the Mountaineers have been cruising through their non-conference schedule. Good victories include Texas A&M and Mississippi. West Virginia has struggled at times against lower level competition. There might be one chink in the armor. The only true road game the Mountaineers played they won by just two points at Cleveland State.

3. Villanova - One strange loss to Temple is all that separates the Wildcats from joining the top two teams in the ranks of the undefeated. The offense is great, but the defense is quite average for a team that's supposed to be amongst the elite in college basketball. Other good wins include Dayton, Mississippi and Maryland. Guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher drive the show, but the return of Reggie Redding gives 'Nova another great guard. Will there be enough in the front court? That's the big question facing the Wildcats.

4. Pittsburgh - What? The Panthers lost most of their important players and then sprinted to a 10-2 start. Jamie Dixon has his team playing at a very high level. All of this comes with one caveat, the schedule has been extremely light. The Panthers have a bad loss to Indiana and a good one to Texas. The problem is the best victory is probably a neutral site one over Wichita State. The Panthers might come back to earth quickly in the Big East, but right now they're the beginning of a questionable second tier in the conference.

5. Connecticut - Count me as one of the people not completely convinced that the Huskies are for real. Sure, they are a great defensive team, but can they score enough points to be great? UConn lost to its only real challenges on the scheduel - against Duke and Kentucky on neutral courts. Still, the Huskies just got Ater Majok eligible and Jim Calhoun always seems to be able to maximize his teams strengths.

6. Georgetown - The Hoyas only loss was to Old Dominion and the Monarchs are a deceptively good team. Victories over Butler, Washington and Temple all look like good wins at this point in the season. Center Greg Monroe could use to take over more games, but he's shown even more potential this season. He'll help Georgetown hold up during conference play. The Hoyas still have one more non-conference game, against Duke on January 30th.
 
7. Cincinnati - Pollsters have soured on the Bearcats, but Cincinnati still has a ton of potential. All of the losses are respectable and the defense has been top-notch. Now, about the offense. Super-frosh Lance Stephenson is leading the way, but he's scoring just 12.5 points per game and isn't being very efficient while doing it. Cincinnati needs Deonta Vaughn to step up his game and be a senior leader.

8. St. John's - The Red Storm were a team that many thought could be a sleeper in the Big East because of all of their returning minutes. They've lived up to the hype with a 10-2 start to the season. St. John's has two losses, to Duke and Cornell, and victories over Temple and Siena. This season is one more step in a building process that should lead to an incredible 2010-11 season, but don't sleep on the Red Storm this season either.

9. Seton Hall - Temple has played most of the Big East it appears and the Owls have gotten some nice wins out of the deal. A loss to Fran Dunphy's squad is the Pirates' only defeat against 9 wins. Most of those wins are pretty unimpressive. It would've been nice if Seton Hall had challenged itself a bit more during the non-conference season. There is a lot of experience in the starting lineup so the Pirates might over perform a bit.

10. Louisville - Like the Pittsburgh prediction, this is a bet on early season results continuing. The Cardinals have struggled against the decent teams they have played in their non-conference season including UNLV, Charlotte and Western Carolina. None of the teams Louisville has beat are the caliber of the Big East.
 
11. South Florida - Don't ask me to explain a bad loss to Central Michigan at home. Still, other than that the Bulls have played very well. Dominique Jones was the preseason All-Conference pick, but Augustus Gilchrist is a name to watch in the Big East this season because South Florida might be good enough for their play to actually matter. Like almost every team in the conference though, the Bulls make their team go with solid defense. There are a lot of close victories in the 10-2 schedule, but South Florida is a post-season team this season.

12. Notre Dame - Remember that thing I just said about defense? Forget it when it comes to the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame wouldn't know what defense was if it smacked it upside the head. Irish games routinely go into the 80's and 90's and it's not because they play super fast. Notre Dame has the 4th ranked offense in the country according to Pomeroy and the 254th ranked defense. They are an extreme enigma in this league. How it'll translate during conference play is anyone's guess. My guess is obviously that it won't be so good.

13. Marquette - At the beginning of the season victories over Xavier and Michigan looked like great building blocks for a young Golden Eagles team. Losses to Florida State, North Carolina State (at home) and Wisconsin have made things a little dicier. Pomeroy still loves the Golden Eagles, Basketball State thinks they are nothing special. The Golden Eagles have struggled with injuries, but Jimmy Butler and Lazar Hayward have been outstanding. Even playing a pretty average non-conference season Marquette ranked 312th in effective height thus far this season, how will that affect the Golden Eagles' shooters come conference play in the very tall Big East?

14. Providence - The Friars are like Notre Dame without the experience, a little bit worse of an offense and a somewhat worse defense. Providence has one victory over a Top 100 team and that was George Washington. The Friars have lost to Iona, Rhode Island, Alabama and Boston College. It is going to be a long rebuilding season during conference play.
 
15. Rutgers - Yes, Rutgers is 9-2. No, it really doesn't matter. Like I said in the introduction, the Scarlet Knights have beaten absolutely no one. Heck, Rutgers might not even have a win if it had played the schedule Syracuse did during non-conference play. The Scarlet Knights haven't played a true road game all season. On Monday, December 28th Rutgers will get an intense reality check as the Scarlet Knights finish their non-conference season with North Carolina. About that...

16. DePaul - I know Mac Koshwal was hurt. (Trust me, I got the message.) Still, finishing 7-5 against a non-conference schedule that includes 8 teams in the bottom half of the Pomeroy rankings is ridiculous. The team has regressed over the past month and capped it off with a terrible loss at a terrible Florida Gulf Coast team. Of course, Jerry Wainwright has succeeding in doing one thing, lower expectations. Some preseason predictions had the Blue Demons getting out of the cellar after finishing 0-18 in conference a season ago. Right now Pomeroy gives it a 4.35% chance of happening again. That's very sad.

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