1 – No. 3 PITTSBURGH
Sam Young may be the most dangerous scorer in the league. Add supporting talents DeJuan Blair on the block (14.7 ppg, 13.0 rpg through 12 games) and Levance Fields at the point (10.3 ppg, 6.4 apg) and the Panthers have one of the most balanced attacks in the country. They have the role players to make it through the nailbiters – guys like Gilbert Brown and Brad Wanamaker – and they defend as good as anybody with an emphasis on forcing turnovers. They haven't been a great three-point shooting team, but it hasn't stopped them from coming out of the gate as the Big East's only undefeated team.
2 – No. 2 CONNECTICUT
Hasheem Thabeet is a shot blocking machine with enough coordination to be respected on offense as well. Overall this team has freakish talent with A.J. Price, Jeff Adrian, Jerome Dyson, Craig Austrie, and Stanley Robinson running alongside Thabeet. But many question their motivation after a loss to Georgetown to open Big East play. Many a talented UConn team has seen its season end in disappointment, and it will be up to Jim Calhoun to keep history from repeating itself this year.
3 – No. 18 LOUISVILLE
Samardo Samuels was expected to contribute right away, and he has, leading the team in scoring with 15.2 ppg. If Earl Clark can stay out of trouble, he should have a big impact as well. However, Louisville has been playing point guard by committee as Edgar Sosa has struggled to produce early on. The Cardinals didn't do very well in non-conference play, losing arguably their only two challenging games, but Rick Pitino's teams always seem to be there when the cards are on the table.
4 – No. 13 SYRACUSE
Once again, Syracuse will trot out some of the best pure athletes in the country. Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku have been doing work inside, both averaging over 12 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The Orange also dodged a huge bullet with the reinstatement of Eric Devendorf after an off-the-field incident. Johnny Flynn is a workhorse who should once again be among the league leaders in points and assists. This team may finally be mature enough to get an invite to the Big Dance in 2009.
5 – No. 11 GEORGETOWN
This is a much faster, more athletic Georgetown team than most fans are used to thanks to two players in their first full season – Chris Wright and Greg Monroe. Wright, a sophomore, is a true point guard with quickness and a deadly three-point shot. Monroe, as a freshman, may already be the most versatile center in the league. But the key to their success is junior DaJuan Summer, who has been scoring at will and has stepped up as the leader of this team. The Hoyas still turn the ball over a lot, but when they hit their three-point shots they are very tough to beat.
6 – WEST VIRGINIA
The Mountaineers may not be the most talented team in the conference, but they are deep. Eight players average at least 5.5 points per game. Alex Ruoff can shoot lights-out on any given night – like his 38-point outburst against Radford – and freshmen Darryl Bryant and Devin Ebanks have been solid contributors. The Mountaineers have the misfortune of drawing Louisville and Pitt twice during conference play.
7 – No. 7 NOTRE DAME
Once again, ND is a team that lives and dies by the three-ball – a third of their shots have been threes, and they've made 42 percent of them thus far. Luke Harangody is as solid as ever, yet it is still possible to neutralize him on the glass. Their x-factor may be junior PG Tory Jackson, who is both well built and lightning-quick and is averaging close to 6 assists per game on the young season. The Irish have already played in some quality non-conference matches – besting Texas and falling to UNC and Ohio State – and they have the misfortune of drawing UConn twice during conference play.
8 – MARQUETTE
Notre Dame had the Four Horsemen, but it's Marquette who will be riding their four horses to any success this season. Jerel McNeal, Dominic James, Wes Matthews and Lazar Hayward account for 67 percent of the minutes and 79 percent of the scoring for the Golden Eagles. The return of freshman Chris Otule from injury should be a big boost, but he has a lot of catching up to do.
9 – No. 15 VILLANOVA
Once again, Jay Wright will suit up an ensemble of guards who like to shoot. Leading the way so far has been Corey Stokes, who's hit 47 percent from three though 13 games. Dante Cunningham has held down the post so far, but Scottie Reynolds has not shot the ball well, hitting only 36 percent from the field. It hasn't hindered the Wildcats' success, though. Villanova demolished a strong Temple team on Monday, and their only non-conference blemish came against Texas in the Jimmy V Classic.
10 – PROVIDENCE
New head coach Keno Davis hopes to use his record of overachieving at mid-major Drake to turn around the perennially underachieving Friars. This group of seniors – Weyinmi Efejuku, Jeff Xavier and Geoff McDermott – and oft-injured junior Sharaud Curry has averaged only 15 wins per season over the last three seasons.
11 – CINCINNATI
Deonta Vaughn is one of the most talented and versatile players in the league, and Mick Cronin may have finally found a wing man for him in freshman Yancy Gates. The Bearcats probably won't crack the top half of the Big East, but their star power and stingy defense could help them make a nice run in the conference tournament.
12 – SETON HALL
Jeremy Hazell has been on a scoring tear, averaging 22.4 ppg, and the Pirates already have good resume wins against USC and Virginia Tech. But this team has shown too much immaturity in the past to be counted on late in the season.
13 – DEPAUL
Earlier in the year, I told a friend that Mac Koshwal will lead the league in rebounds. Koshwal has kept up his end so far, with 11.3 rpg and a 22 board-effort against Creighton. Dar Tucker is an athlete and Will Walker can shoot, but the Blue Demons still won't beat anybody significant in conference.
14 – RUTGERS
Freshman Mike Rosario has been a scoring machine, with four games of 24-plus points on the young season, including 26 against UNC. Fellow freshman Gregory Echenique is averaging close to a double-double through 12 games. The Scarlet Knights have a lot of talent, but their individualistic style of play will once again doom them to languish near the bottom of the conference.
15 – ST. JOHN'S
The loss of Anthony Mason, Jr. three games in was a huge blow to this team, who must now rely on a quartet of sophomore swing players to carry the offensive load. D.J. Kennedy has done his part so far, averaging 13.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Still, the Red Storm will have a rough go of it in the Big East this year.
16 – USF
Transfer Augustus Glichrist gives the Bulls a much-needed inside scorer, but this team may be lucky to even win one Big East game this season.