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Big East Teams 5 To 12: Evaluating The Middle Teams' Performance To Date

Erik SchultzCorrespondent IAugust 28, 2016

Big East Teams 5 To 12: Evaluating The Middle Teams' Performance To Date

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    With  sixteen teams, eight of whom have been ranked in the nation's Top 25 at the same time, the Big East is as deep and challenging of a league as any in the country.  With so many quality teams, the conference schedule becomes very dynamic, with teams constantly moving up and down the conference standings.

    The focus here is on the teams who currently make up the middle half of the Big East, teams currently between fifth and twelfth in the standings.

    Each of the eight teams is rated based on their 1) Non-conference performance; 2) Performance in Big East games to date; 3) Upcoming schedule — games within the next two weeks. 

    Teams are presented in order of highest to lowest rating (not exclusively based on current order in standings).

    Excluded from this are the top four teams, currently:  Pittsburgh, Villanova, Connecticut, and Syracuse.  Also excluded are the bottom four teams:  Seton Hall, South Florida, Providence, and DePaul.

    Inclusion in this evaluation will depend on changes in the standings going forward, which seems all but certain to take place.

WEST VIRGINIA

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    13 -5 Overall; 4 – 2 Big East (T-5th)

    Non-Conference performance:  B +

    West Virginia gave themselves a good test very early, playing in the Puerto Rico tip-off.  They scored a solid win over Vanderbilt, before falling to a previously underrated Minnesota team in the Final. 

    The Mountaineers played a couple more sneaky-tough road games in December, losing to Miami and beating Duquesne, who is currently tied for first place in the Atlantic 10.  The Mountaineers then beat a very good Cleveland State team , who had been undefeated at the time. 

    West Virginia played an unusual back-to-back against teams outside the Big East this past week.  They earned a hard-fought win over Purdue in Morgantown, before going across the state to Charleston and losing to Marshall last Wednesday.  That loss will certainly sting a bit, but it’s a game that Marshall always gets excited for.  For the Mountaineers, it’s a breather from the brutal Big East.

    Overall, Bob Huggins’ team should get a lot of credit for playing some tough teams away from home, and for not scheduling too many lightweights in November and December. 

    Big East performance:  B

    It’s been over two weeks since West Virginia has played a challenging game (or a true road game) in the Big East.  The last two league games were home wins over Providence and South Florida, respectively.  Those two teams have one win apiece in conference play.

    West Virginia lost their first two to open Big East play, to St. John’s at home, and then at Marquette.  Each of those teams has been up-and-down throughout the season, but neither should be considered a bad loss.  They followed their 0 – 2 start with a two-point at DePaul, narrowly avoiding a disastrous start that may have been too big a hole to recover from.

    The biggest conference win for the Mountaineers was at Georgetown on Jan. 8, a game in which Huggins’ team played with a real sense of urgency.  That win should look even better as the season rolls along.

    Upcoming Schedule:  A –

    West Virginia hits the road for two quality tests this week – Louisville, followed by Cincinnati.  The Mountaineers need a split in order to avoid falling into the lower half of the Big East standings, where a team’s NCAA At-Large standing may be called into question a bit.     

    The following week, the Mountaineers return home to face Seton Hall, before a big game at Villanova.  After a two-week hiatus away from the rigorous Big East schedule, they will begin to find out where they truly stand.

NOTRE DAME

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    16 – 4 Overall; 5 – 3 Big East (7th)

    Non-Conference:  B

    Notre Dame got off to a very strong start by winning the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving weekend.  They defeated Georgia, California, and Wisconsin to win the title.  That ended up being the bulk of their non-conference strength.  They also have a home win over Gonzaga, who has been very inconsistent.

     The only loss Notre Dame suffered outside the Big East was to Kentucky, part of the Big East-SEC Challenge event in Louisville.  The Irish led much of the first half, before giving way to Terrence Jones and company in the second half.

    The Irish did not play a true road game, but their success in Orlando should help them come Big East and NCAA Tournament time.

    Big East to date:  B +

    Through eight conference games, Notre Dame has played as tough a schedule as anyone in the Big East.  The fact they’ve made it through above .500 is a significant accomplishment. 

    The Irish have already knocked off four teams who are .500 or better in the league — Connecticut, St. John’s, Cincinnati, and Marquette — all coming in South Bend.  Their other home win came against Georgetown, who was ranked ninth nationally when the two played in late December.

     Conversely, Notre Dame is 0 — 3 on the road in conference play.  None of their losses could be classified as “bad” – Syracuse, Marquette, and St. John’s.   However, the fact that all three were decided by double digits – including a 22-point loss to Marquette and an 18-point loss to St. John’s — makes the Irish look a bit suspect when compared to the upper echelon of the Big East.

     Upcoming Schedule:  C -

    Notre Dame’s next game is quite daunting — at Pittsburgh on Monday night.  After that, however, the Irish get a nice breather.  They will be off for nine full days, before playing at DePaul.  They then get Rutgers at home. 

    The results for this stretch of games seems fairly predictable, so we may not learn as much about Notre Dame as some of the other teams in this group. 

GEORGETOWN

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    14 – 5 Overall; 3 – 4 Big East (T-11th)

    Non-Conference:  A –

    John Thompson III has helped to shake the reputation of past Georgetown teams who seemed to consistently play weak out-of-conference schedules.  This year’s Hoyas team played — and beat — several quality teams, mostly away from Washington, DC.

    Georgetown won the Charleston Classic in November, blowing past Coastal Carolina (leading the Big South), Wofford (tied for the lead in the Southern Conference), and NC State.   Prior to Charleston, the Hoyas scored a very solid win at Old Dominion.

    Georgetown closed out a very strong November by stealing an overtime win at Missouri – thanks in large part to a Chris Wright three that forced overtime.  The Hoyas did lose a close game at Temple in December, but rounded out their OOC schedule with an impressive 17-point win at Memphis.

    Big East to date:  C

    Georgetown has not played with the quite the same precision and defensive intensity that carried them in November and December.  Thus, the Hoyas have a 3 – 4 Big East record, without a win over a team who is .500 or better in the league.

    The Hoyas lost by 14 at Notre Dame in their first Big East game.  After a win over lowly DePaul, they went on to lose three in a row.  The Hoyas were beaten by three at St. John’s, and then lost back-to-back home games to West Virginia and Pittsburgh.  A 1 – 4 start in the Big East is truly toeing the line with disaster.

    Georgetown has bounced back a bit, winning their last two games — both on the road — over Rutgers and Seton Hall.  That makes the Hoyas the only team in this group with more than one road win.

    Upcoming Schedule:  B

    Georgetown will play three of their next four at home, including a rematch with St. John’s on Wednesday.  They then travel up to Philly to face Villanova, a game they could certainly win, despite Villanova’s impressive play of late.

    Next week, the Hoyas will face Louisville and Providence at home.  If they can take care of their home games — never a given with this team — Georgetown will be in a good position to make a nice February run through the Big East.

LOUISVILLE

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    15 – 4 Overall; 4 – 2 Big East (T-5th)

    Non-Conference:  C +

    Louisville got their season off to a strong start by rolling over NCAA Runner-Up Butler by 15, in the grand opening of the Yum! Center.  Butler has not quite lived up to expectations, but it is still a solid win.  The Cardinals also went on to beat Marshall (who just knocked off West Virginia) and UNLV at home. 

    Louisville’s two losses outside the Big East both came at home — to Drexel and Kentucky.  The Drexel loss is questionable, but not fatal to the Cardinals NCAA aspirations.  The bigger issue may be the fact that they did not play a single non-conference game outside of the state of Kentucky.  Rick Pitino’s team did not give themselves a challenging game on a neutral or opposing home court. 

    Only two of Louisville’s non-conference games were decided by ten points or less.  This may seem like a luxury at the surface (since all but one was a win), but the Cardinals could have used a little more 40-minute-game experience, which is all too common in Big East play. 

    Big East to date:  B

    After a strong 4-1 start to their Big East schedule, Louisville fell hard at Providence, who came in 0-6 in conference, on Saturday.  If the Cardinals had won that game as expected, they wouldn’t have even been included in this piece.

    Prior to the Providence debacle, the Cardinals had solid back-to-back home wins , over Marquette and St. John’s.  While it took a huge second-half rally (down 18 with six minutes to play) to steal a win over Marquette, the Cardinals looked absolutely brilliant against St. John’s, winning by 25.  The Cardinals toughest test thus far was a game at Villanova, which they lost by 14.

    Louisville has certainly taken care of business on their home court, going 3 – 0 so far in Big East games.  However, they will need to step up their play away from the Yum! Center to a higher level if they want to have any chance of finishing in the top four, with the elites of the league.

    Upcoming Schedule:  B +

    Speaking of road tests, Louisville will have two very tough ones coming up – Connecticut, followed by Georgetown.  Prior to facing UConn, the Cardinals will host West Virginia.  That will be a key game for both teams.  After the game at Georgetown, the Cardinals return to the Yum! Center to face DePaul, who is now the only winless team left in the Big East.

MARQUETTE

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    13 – 7 Overall; 4 – 3 Big East (T-8th)

    Non-Conference performance:  C +

    Marquette’s out-of-conference showing was solid in effort, but ultimately characterized by missed opportunities. 

    The Golden Eagles lost four games — all by five points or less — to teams outside the Big East.  This includes a five-point loss to Duke and three-point loss to Gonzaga at the CBE Classic in Kansas City.  They fell to in-state enemy Wisconsin, by five at home, a bitter loss.  They had a chance to steal a last-second win at Vanderbilt, but Darius Johnson-Odom tripped on a potential game-winning drive to the basket.

    In terms of OOC wins, there is nothing Marquette can really take to the bank.  Their best wins are probably home wins over Bucknell and Green Bay — two teams having solid seasons, but nothing for a Big East team to boast about.

    Big East performance:  B –

    Like most teams in this 5-through-12 group, Marquette has protected their home court well, while losing some tough road contests.  Like with their OOC play, the Golden Eagles left a couple opportunities for great wins on the table.

    Marquette picked up a nice win at home over West Virginia to start Big East play.  They followed that up by picking up a respectable win in New Jersey, over Rutgers.  The Golden Eagles played Pittsburgh tough but ultimately could not stop the Panthers from scoring, losing by eight. 

    The really devastating loss was at Louisville, where Marquette led by 18 with six minutes to play, before losing in the final seconds.  The Golden Eagles had an excellent road win locked up, and let it slip away. 

    Marquette earned a home-and-home split with Notre Dame, losing in South Bend by five this past weekend.

    Upcoming Schedule:  A

    Marquette can go a long way toward shoring up their NCAA At-Large status this week, facing Connecticut and Syracuse back-to-back, in Milwaukee.  As if that wasn’t tough enough, they then face their third straight Top Ten team, Villanova, in Philadelphia.

    A split for the Golden Eagles against UConn and Syracuse would help them keep pace with teams like Notre Dame and West Virginia.  If they lose both, they may have some serious work to do in February to get back into the upper half of the league, and into probable At-Large territory.

CINCINNATI

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    17 – 3 Overall; 4 – 3 Big East (T-8th)

    Non-Conference:  C

    Going 13-0 in non-conference play would normally be held in higher regard.  When those 13 wins include the likes of Mount St. Mary’s, Florida A&M, Savannah State, and Utah Valley State, among others, that mark loses its luster.  

    The Bearcats did look extremely impressive in beating two quality Atlantic 10 teams — Dayton and Xavier — at home.  They gave up a laughably low 34 points to Dayton, and just 46 to Xavier, winning by 34 and 20 points, respectively. 

    Other than those two wins, however, there is little else to feel good about for Cincinnati.  The only game they played outside the state of Ohio was against Oklahoma, who has been struggling all season.  If the Bearcats wind up right at the .500 mark in the Big East, their non-conference weakness may damage their NCAA At-Large hopes.

    Big East to date:  C +

    Cincinnati reached a 15 – 0 record thanks in part to their wins over DePaul and Seton Hall, both at home, to begin Big East play.  From there, the schedule can only get tougher. 

    Cincinnati played respectably in an 11-point loss at Villanova, their first loss on the season.  After another home win against another bottom-quarter team, South Florida, the Bearcats went on a difficult three-game road trip, facing Syracuse, Notre Dame, and St. John’s. 

    After losing the first two, the Bearcats were able to survive an ugly shooting affair against the Red Storm, winning by two.  That win may be one of the more important ones they get this season.

    Upcoming Schedule:  B –

    Cincinnati returns home to play two games this week, against Rutgers and West Virginia.  The WVU game will be a very important one for both teams, who are vying to stay in the upper half of the league standings.  The Bearcats have yet to lose at home this season, which may give them the slight edge against the Mountaineers.

    After a week off, the Bearcats then have to play the toughest of all road tests — at Pittsburgh.  While a win is unlikely, the Bearcats may have the interior defense to keep the game a closer, low-scoring affair.  That would certainly help build some support from skeptics who have yet to see anything substantive from this team.

ST. JOHN'S

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    St. John's head coach Steve LavinAndy Lyons/Getty Images

    11 – 7 Overall; 4 – 4 Big East (10th)

    Non-Conference:  C -

    While they didn’t play any juggernauts outside the league, St. John’s certainly did travel early on.  They lost, to Saint Mary’s, in California, before playing in the Great Alaska Shootout.  They won that tournament, but did not beat anyone too impressive.  They defeated Arizona State, who is currently in last in the Pac-10, in the final.

    In December, St. John’s lost back-to-back games to in-state teams — St. Bonaventure and Fordham.  Neither of those teams figures to make too much noise in the Atlantic 10 this season.  The Red Storm partially redeemed themselves later in the month, beating Northwestern in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.

    Big East to date:  B –

    St. John’s turned some heads by opening their Big East schedule with a win in Morgantown over West Virginia.  They got to 3 – 0 in the league after beating Providence and Georgetown at home.

    Since then, the Red Storm have lost four of five.  The only win during that time was over Notre Dame, part of a home-and-away split with the Irish.  Three of the four losses — to Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Louisville — were by an average of 19 points per game.  That is not a good sign for a team trying to develop consistency.

    The most recent loss, on Saturday at home to Cincinnati, was a two-point loss in a poor-shooting game.  This may be a game that comes back to haunt the Red Storm, if they are competing with Cincinnati for an At-Large bid.

    Upcoming Schedule:  B

    The next two weeks are very interesting for St. John’s and Coach Steve Lavin.  They will play Georgetown in DC this week, followed by a game against Duke at MSG. With some Big East success thus far, it will be interesting to see how the Red Storm fare against Duke, a team who has had some difficulty with Big East teams over the past several years.

    The following week, the Red Storm will play Rutgers at home, before another OOC contest.  They will travel to UCLA in a Lavin-homecoming affair.  The Bruins have started to play pretty good basketball in the Pac- 10, so that would be a decent win on the resume of St. John’s if they can get it.

RUTGERS

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    12 -7 Overall; 3 – 4 Big East (T-11th)

    Non-Conference:  C –

    Rutgers’ play outside of the Big East is very mediocre.  The toughest game they played was a game at MSG against North Carolina, which they lost by 13.  They did get a win over another ACC team, however, beating Miami at home.

    There are no other real wins of note for the Scarlet Knights, other than maybe Fairfield (current leader in the MAAC).  Their two losses in OOC play came to Princeton, and St. Joseph’s, both on the road.

    Big East to date:  C

    The best way to assess Rutgers’ thus far in Big East play is to say that they’ve won and lost the games they should have. 

    The Scarlet Knights didn’t play terribly in their games at Villanova and Connecticut — the game at UConn was in single digits until the final couple minutes.  They also played fairly well in home losses to Marquette and Georgetown, but ultimately lost those by eight and nine points, respectively.

    The best win Rutgers has to date in the Big East is their win this weekend at Seton Hall (with Jeremy Hazell). 

    Upcoming Schedule:  B +

    Rutgers plays three of their next four on the road, so this may be a make-or-break stretch for them.  The Scarlet Knights have a chance to pick up an excellent road win — and get to the .500 mark — when they play Cincinnati on Wednesday.

    The Scarlet Knights’ lone home game during the next two weeks is against Pittsburgh, a tall order even with the best of home court advantages.  After that, they go back on the road to face St. John’s and Notre Dame. 

    Rutgers will probably need to somehow earn a split of their next four games to stay relevant in this Big East discussion.

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