Big East Tournament 2013: Power Ranking Tourney's Title Contenders

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2013

Big East Tournament 2013: Power Ranking Tourney's Title Contenders

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    Say what you will about the success of the Big 10's best teams, the Big East still puts forth a compelling case as college basketball's top conference. 

    The traditional power conference features six teams currently ranked in the Top 25 and should send plenty of teams into the NCAA tournament. Before those teams compete for a national title, they'll all be gunning for the conference title at the Big East tournament. 

    The conference's tournament has given college basketball fans plenty of memorable moments. This year's contest should bring the same great college basketball to Madison Square Garden. 

    Here's how the tournament's most dangerous contenders stack up. 

5. Pittsburgh Panthers (22-7)

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    Pittsburgh slides into the top-five contenders thanks to the epic struggles of No. 12 Syracuse. 

    The once mighty Orange have dropped three of their last five and have plenty of questions to be answered before the conference tourney gets underway. 

    The Panthers aren't the flashiest team, but they boast a balanced attack and are capable of playing at a high level. Back-to-back losses to Marquette and Notre Dame bring down the Panthers stock a little bit, but they've bounced back with wins over Saint Joseph's and South Florida. 

    Those aren't overly impressive wins, but it shows that they'll win the games they are supposed to. They are also one of only three teams that can say they beat Georgetown. The Panthers claimed a 73-45 win over the conference's top-ranked team.

    The Panthers utilize great ball movement and don't rely too heavily on one scorer. That will make them difficult to upset and tough to put away for the tourney's favorites. 

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (22-7)

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    Notre Dame is another team that has suffered from inconsistency this season. 

    One minute the Irish are scoring clutch overtime wins over Louisville and DePaul, and the next they're getting drubbed by the likes of Providence. The Irish were handed a 17-point loss when they played the Friars on the road in February.

    Jack Cooley is an absolute beast on the inside and will undoubtedly make the Irish dangerous for as long as they survive the tournament field. 

    Unfortunately, they aren't nearly the same team when Cooley is off the floor. He was forced off the floor due to illness against Marquette, and the Golden Eagles proceeded to ride a distinct advantage in the post to a 72-64 win. 

    Cooley must be healthy for Notre Dame to have a chance at winning the tournament. 

3. Marquette Golden Eagles (21-7)

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    Marquette's combination of balance and depth makes them downright scary come tournament time. 

    Vander Blue gives them a capable scorer at guard, but the team has shown that they can win when he's not feeling it. 

    Davante Gardner gives them a huge presence on the low block both offensively and defensively, but again, they can win without him putting up huge numbers. 

    The only concern with the Golden Eagles that will affect them come tournament time is that they are an entirely different team playing on the road. They are 16-0 at home and just 5-7 on the road. The Eagles' inability to win on the road may come back to haunt them in New York. 

2. Georgetown Hoyas (22-4)

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    The Hoyas are the top-ranked team in the conference and boast the best overall player in the field in Otto Porter.

    Georgetown continues to rack up the wins and owns the league's longest win streak at 10 games, so there's no doubt the Hoyas deserve to be ranked highly. Porter's NBA-ready game will be difficult for any team to answer, and he's able to win any one game by himself. 

    Where the Hoyas may be a little weak is that they haven't been challenged lately, and that can work against them once the tournament tips off. 

    As the conference's most dominant team currently, the Hoyas will likely enter the tournament as the favorite. But they aren't unbeatable. Connecticut pushed them to double overtime and came up short by a point, while Marquette came within two points on the road. 

    The Hoyas deserve their high ranking, and Porter will light up Madison Square Garden. As the only team that will still have an outside shot at a No. 1 seed, Georgetown may have the most on the line at the tournament. 

1. Louisville Cardinals (24-5)

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    The Cardinals' resume might not put them at No. 1 in these power rankings, but they're still the team no one wants to play. 

    A game against Louisville means you'll be earning everything you get. The Cardinals apply relentless pressure for 40 minutes and make life difficult for opposing offenses. 

    It isn't always pretty, but Louisville gets results. After dropping three straight games in late January, the Cardinals have found their rhythm. They are now 8-1 in their last nine games, and the loss was a five-overtime thriller against Notre Dame in South Bend. 

    The three-pronged attack of Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva is as good a trio as any in the conference, and they all embody Louisville's aggressive philosophy. As the defending Big East conference tournament champions, Louisville has a great chance to repeat this season.