On the eve of Big East play, parity reigns: an overview

USA TODAY Sports

Big East conference play is set to begin. Time for a quick preview at what's happening with the Big East schools on the court (no realignment talk here).

It might not be the Big East for much longer, but for the time being let's enjoy the upcoming conference play with a overview of non-conference standouts around the league.

Six ranked teams

Six teams enter conference play with a national ranking in the AP poll: Louisville (3), Syracuse (7), Cincinnati (8), Georgetown (18), Notre Dame (20) and Pittsburgh (24) are all in the Top 25.

Standout players

Bryce Cotton (Providence) and D`Angelo Harrison (St. John's) are the 1 and 2 leading scores in the conference, with Cotton averaging 22.0 points per game and Harrison averaging 20.9 points per game.

Jack Cooley (Notre Dame) leads the rebounding category with 11.3 rebounds per game and LaDontae Henton (Providence) is second with 8.3 rebounds per game.

Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse) averages 10.3 assists per game while Kris Dunn (Providence) is a close second with 9.5 assists.

Providence has guys who are second in two major statistical categories in the Big East; it helps that the Friars (8-3) had only five scholarship players available at times.

Early positives

A bright spot: all the Big East teams is that they are all currently 3+ games above .500, which makes for a very interesting conference season to come. There are no more easy outs, it would seem.

Syracuse (10-1) and Louisville (11-1) continue their strong play, ranking near the top of the polls.

Jim Boeheim won his 900th career NCAA game - and then took an upset L to Temple at the Carrier Dome.

Louisville's sole loss came against then No. 5 Duke, who currently are ranked No. 1. Russ Smith and Peyton Siva lead the Cardinals in scoring, averaging 19.7 and 11.4 points per game, respectively. Siva is also averaging 6 assists per game, both career-highs.

DePaul has rattled off 7-straight wins with one more non-conference game to go. Cleveland Melvin has been their catalyst, sort-of-like Andrew Nicholson was for St. Bonaventure, averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds.

John Thompson III and his Georgetown Hoyas (10-1) have been strong in their first 11 games. The Hoyas got a good win over UCLA and took Indiana in to overtime and then, like DePaul, went on to win 7-straight games. Otto Potter leads the team in scoring, rebounding and assists, 13.2, 7.7, and 3.2, respectively.

The Friars have one more non-conference game to play against Brown University before the start of conference play. Ed Cooley has done a great job with recruitment adding Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo to the team. Ledo, unfortunately, is ineligible this season but will still have 4 years of eligibility when he suits up next year.

Teams in transition?

Marquette (8-3) are about to get either a helpful hand or a distracting hand from sophomore guard Todd Mayo, who was ruled ineligible for the first 10 games of the season due to academics. Buzz Williams wanted his young guard to figure out if he wanted to be a part of the team.

Mayo returned to the lineup against LSU, scoring 2 points along with an assist and 2 rebounds. Vander Blue and Davante Gardner have been the go-to-guys for the Golden Eagles. Blue is averaging a team-best 13 points while Gardner is averaging 12 points and a team-best 5 rebounds.

The Golden Eagles do have a bad loss to tall Wisconsin-Green Bay, and a severe beating from Florida on their record, but otherwise have handled themselves well. They will face North Carolina Central before their first conference game against UConn.

South Florida (7-3) have enjoyed early season success, but needed 3 overtimes to beat Bowling Green and were handed a loss by Western Michigan.

Victor Rudd has been their main key to success scoring 11 points while grabbing 8 rebounds - leading the team in both stats - and Anthony Collins leads the attack from the point, averaging 10 points and 8 assists a game. South Florida is projected to finish near the bottom of the Big East but they have a squad that can be pesky.

The back court of Myles Mack and Eli Carter for Rutgers (8-2) has been one of the strongest in the Big East. That dynamic duo will be a big part of the Scarlet Knights success if they do well when conference play starts. 6-9 Wally Judge has been impressive in his first season with Rutgers after transferring from Kansas State. The big man is averaging 8 points and 7 rebounds on the season.

The biggest question for Rutgers will be the behavior of Mike Rice. Rice, who has jumped up the talent level in the program since taking over, was suspended 3 games for inappropriate behavior and language. He will be back with the team for their game against the Syracuse Orange, but it will be curious to see how his players react to him after three games with more mellow assistant David Cox.

Two teams that have disappointed their fanbases somewhat are are St. John's and Villanova. Both teams have a couple of bad losses - St. John's lost to UNC-Asheville and San Francisco during their West Coast trip, while 'Nova took defeats against La Salle and Columbia.

Villanova has one more non-conference game to play against NJIT before facing St. John's to start conference play. With a loss, either team would begin the new year with five losses.

Real contenders?

Cincinnati

Cincinnati is off to a great start this season under head coach Mick Cronin who has made the program one of the top-tier teams in the NCAA, not just the Big East. Sean Kilpatrick has been a big reason for that averaging 18.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists.

Can the Cincinnati Bearcats sustain this type of play all season long? How will they react to their loss against New Mexico?

The biggest thing about non-conference schedule is it can make some teams look like contenders. Bearcats didn't face an opponent they should have lost to during their stretch. Can Cronin make them a perennial contender or will they fall flat in Big East play?

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh has made a complete 180 from last year's dreadful season winning all but one game (12-1) and that was to No. 4 Michigan early in the season. Talib Zanna, the junior forward from Nigeria, is averaging 13 points and 6 rebounds for the Panthers.

Has Pittsburgh actually bounded back or, like Cincinnati, have they had a favorable non-conference schedule that has them looking like recent Big East-dominating squads? The game against Michigan does speak volumes since they were able to keep up with then No. 4 Michigan, now No. 2, only losing by 5 points, 67-62.

Possible surprise teams

Connecticut and Seton Hall are two teams that come to mind .as surprise teams.

Head coach Kevin Ollie started the season off with an impressive win over Tom Izzo and nationally ranked Michigan State. His UConn squad (9-2) went head-to-head against NC State, who are 1st in the nation in field goal percentage.

Seton Hall (10-2) has played well so far, too, and carry a solid set of players. Fuquan Edwin is shooting the 3-ball at an astounding 56% while Eugene Teague is grabbing out 8 rebounds per game.

The Pirates first big test of the season, should at least, come against Notre Dame in their 2nd game of conference play. If the Pirates can beat or even compete against the Irish, it will give a positive feel for the rest of the season.

Quick Predictions

Louisville will finish No. 1 in the Big East, as they have been predicted to. The team is very complete with no areas that need substantial addressing. They do face Kentucky before Big East play but the way Kentucky has been playing this season (8-3, no national ranking) a loss would be a disappointment for the Cardinals.

Syracuse will finish No. 2 with Cincinnati, Georgetown and Notre Dame rounding out the Top 5.

Most Likely to Make a Run in the March: Louisville. How can it not be? Rick Patino has a super-squad with players who know their roles and do that they are expected to do.

Big East POY: Sean Kilpatrick
Big East ROY: JaKarr Sampson
Big East COY: Rick Pitino

The season's right around the corner. Let's ring the New Year in with some Big East joy, for the time remaining at least. Agree with the picks? Disagree? Add your own in the comments.

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