We’re halfway home in conference play, and the opening game of the Big East tournament is just five weeks away. It’s time to break out the grade book as we take a look at how all 16 Big East teams have fared thus far:
Pittsburgh (20-2, 8-1): A – It was the preseason pick to win the Big East and it hasn’t disappointed. A recent home loss to Notre Dame aside, the Panthers have worked their way through the first half of the Big East schedule relatively unscathed. Jamie Dixon’s team did come close to stubbing its toe at Rutgers on Saturday night, but Ashton Gibbs’ 3-pointer with seconds left allowed the Panthers to escape. Gibbs is having a solid junior campaign, averaging 15.9 ppg, shooting 89 percent from the charity stripe and 45 percent from long range – all team bests. He will be the key to their success for a strong second half.
Three Games to Watch: @WVU (Feb. 7), @ No. 12 NOVA (Feb. 12), @ No. 13 L’VILLE (Feb. 27)
Notre Dame (17-4, 6-3): B+ – The Fighting Irish have won three in a row after back-to-back blowout losses at Marquette and St. John’s. Some may scratch their heads a bit at the high mark, but Notre Dame is the only team to boast wins over Georgetown, Connecticut and Pittsburgh thus far. Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis have led a resurgent Irish team back to the top of the standings for the first time in years. Mike Brey and company sit alone in second place but will be tested with a very difficult schedule the rest of the way, playing four of their next six on the road.
Three Games to Watch: vs. No. 13 L’VILLE (Feb. 9), vs. No. 12 NOVA (Feb. 28), @ No. 7 UCONN (March 5)
Georgetown (17-5, 6-4): B+ – Possibly the most disappointing team out of the gate in conference play (losing four of its first five), the Hoyas look like they’re back on track. Many will say their five-game win streak could be a bit deceiving though, with three of those wins coming against Rutgers, Seton Hall and St. John’s. Those teams have a combined 11-17 record in Big East play. But with the tail end of their win streak including victories at Villanova and against Louisville, the Hoyas have earned a solid mid-season mark.
Three Games to Watch: @ No. 17 SYR (Feb. 9), @ No. 7 UCONN (Feb. 16), @CIN (March 5)
Connecticut (17-3, 5-3): B+ – Picked to finish 10th in the Big East during the preseason, Jim Calhoun may be doing the best coaching job of his career. Having a National Player of the Year candidate in Kemba Walker doesn’t hurt either. After early conference losses at Pittsburgh and at Notre Dame, the Huskies rebounded by winning six in a row until Saturday’s double overtime loss to Louisville.
Three Games to Watch: vs. No. 17 SYR (Feb. 2), @ No. 13 L’VILLE (Feb. 18), vs. No. 8 ND (March 5)
Villanova (17-4, 5-3): B – The Wildcats jumped out to a 4-0 record in the Big East but benefited from playing three of those games at home. That doesn’t make the double-digit wins over Cincinnati and Louisville any less impressive. However, after dropping three of their last four, with the lone win being over a now-struggling Syracuse, the Wildcats need to prove they can win on the road.
Three Games to Watch: vs. No. 4 PITT (Feb. 12), vs. No. 17 SYR (Feb. 21), @ No. 4 PITT (March 5)
Louisville (17-5, 6-3): B – Rick Pitino, somehow, always seems to have his team in the mix. After leaving people scratching their heads over a five-point loss at Providence, the Cardinals won two straight, including a one-point double-overtime win at Connecticut this past weekend. But as is par for the course in this conference, the Cardinals turned around and fell Monday night at Georgetown. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves the rest of the way and be right in the mix for the Big East crown.
Three Games to Watch: @ No. 8 ND (Feb. 9), vs. No. 7 UCONN (Feb. 18), vs. No. 4 PITT (Feb. 27)
West Virginia (14-6, 5-3): B – It’s hard to get a read on the Mountaineers. They opened Big East play with two straight losses but have won five of six since. Bobby Huggins’ club may have the most difficult schedule down the stretch, with two games against Pittsburgh, trips to Villanova and Syracuse and home match-ups against Notre Dame, Connecticut and Louisville.
Three Games to Watch: @ No. 12 NOVA (Feb. 5), vs. No. 4 PITT (Feb. 7), @ No. 4 PITT (Feb. 24)
Syracuse (18-4, 5-4): B- – When you fall from first to ninth in the conference standings in less than two weeks, something has got to give. Jim Boeheim’s squad brought an 18-0 (5-0) record into Pittsburgh on Jan. 17 and have struggled mightily since. If the loss at home to the Wildcats in front of more than 33,000 wasn’t enough, the team got blown out in the Carrier Dome the following Tuesday by Seton Hall and then lost on the road to Marquette. The Orange has enough talent to contend at the top of the Big East, but it needs to figure things out fast. For a team that was a 8-1 on the road in conference play last year, the Orange will have a chance to prove itself again with games at Connecticut, Louisville, Villanova and Georgetown looming in the distance.
Three Games to Watch: @ No. 7 UCONN (Feb. 2), @ No. 12 NOVA (Feb. 21), @ No. 14 GTOWN (Feb. 26)
Marquette (14-8, 5-4): C+ – Its win over Syracuse might not mean much if the Orange continues its woeful ways. The Golden Eagles have struggled on the road through the early part of conference play, with their lone win coming at Rutgers. Having been unable to get over the hump against Duke, Gonzaga and Wisconsin in the non-conference part of their schedule, the Golden Eagles need a statement win on the road.
Three Games to Watch: @ No. 12 NOVA (Feb. 2), @ No. 14 GTOWN (Feb. 13), @ No. 7 UCONN (Feb. 24)
Cincinnati (18-4, 5-4): C+ – The Bearcats are right in the middle of the pack midway through conference play. But their five wins are against some of the worst teams in the Big East. They’ll need to do more than inflate their conference record by beating up on the likes of DePaul, Seton Hall, USF, St. John’s and Rutgers to have the selection committee take them seriously. The road ahead is a precarious one with games at Pittsburgh, Providence, Georgetown and Marquette. They also host Louisville, Connecticut and Georgetown. Can they weather the storm?
Three Games to Watch: @ No. 4 PITT (Feb. 5), vs. No. 13 L’VILLE (Feb. 16), vs. No. 7 UCONN (Feb. 27)
St. John’s (12-8, 4-5): C+ – Give credit to Steve Lavin for breathing life back into Madison Square Garden again. The Red Storm started Big East play off with wins at West Virginia and Providence and had its signature win (before blowing out Duke) against Georgetown. The trouble is, despite these notable achievements, it’s lost five of its last six in conference.
Three Games to Watch: vs. No 7 UCONN (Feb. 10), vs. No. 4 PITT (Feb. 19), @ No. 12 NOVA (Feb. 26)
Seton Hall (10-12, 4-6): C – Having Jeremy Hazell back in the lineup is certainly making a difference. After winning just two of their first six games in conference, the Pirates have upset Syracuse on the road and cooled off a hot Providence team. Seton Hall will have plenty of chances to prove itself over its next eight games.
Two Games to Watch: vs. No. 7 UCONN, @RUT (Feb. 12), vs. No. 12 NOVA (Feb. 15)
Providence (13-9, 2-7): C- – They’ve won two of their last three, and it included upsets of ranked opponents Louisville and Villanova, but then the Friars went on the road and lost at Seton Hall. Starting conference play at 0-6 may be too deep of a hole to climb out of, and it doesn’t get any easier with games at Georgetown and Connecticut just around the corner.
Three Games to Watch: @ No. 7 UCONN (Feb. 13), vs. No. 8 ND (Feb. 23), @ No. 13 L’VILLE (March 2)
Rutgers (12-9, 3-6): D – When your three wins are against teams that have as many conference wins combined as the Pittsburgh Panthers, you can’t expect a much higher grade.
Three Games to Watch: @SJU (Feb. 2), vs. SHU (Feb. 12), @PROV (March 5)
South Florida (8-14, 2-7): D – Wins over Providence and DePaul aren’t anything to write home about.
Three Games to Watch: vs. MARQ (Feb. 9), vs. No. 14 GTOWN (Feb. 19), vs. No. 4 PITT (March 5)
DePaul (6-14, 0-8): F – When you don’t win a conference game, I’m not sure what other grade you can receive. Ray of hope – its closest game was a two-point loss to West Virginia.
Two Games to Watch: vs. CIN (Feb. 8), @WVU (Feb. 12), vs. USF (Feb. 26)
Micah Tannenbaum is the Football Editor for The Juice Online.
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