*Game of the Weekend: No. 24 Marquette (16-4, 3-2) at No. 6 Pittsburgh (16-2, 5-0) on Sunday at 3 PM (CBS). The Panthers have been the class of the league so far. They've won seven in a row since back-to-back defeats to Wisconsin and Oklahoma State. 7-0 center Aaron Gray is still averaging a double-double at 15 PPG and 10 rebounds a contest. But watch out for the Golden Eagles. After losing their first two conference games, Marquette has rattled off three victories in a row, including two on the road. Guard Dominic James is seventh in the Big East in scoring at 16.5 PPG. It's tough to win a league game on the road, especially in Pittsburgh where the Panthers are undefeated this season. Marquette is fourth in the conference in scoring defense but Pittsburgh is second in the league in three-point percentage. What really helps the Panthers is that they're unselfish and find the open man. Pittsburgh is first in the Big East in assists.
*Player to watch: Geoff McDermott of Providence. The Friars don't have the stiffest of competition on Saturday. They'll host Rutgers (8-10, 1-4) at 7:30 p.m. But appreciate the year that McDermott is putting together. The 6-7 guard/forward leads the Big East in rebounding (10.5/game) and assists (5.4/game). He's one of the reasons why Providence is 12-5 overall the 2-2 in league play. McDermott also averages 11 PPG. The high point was a 101-92 win over Harvard where the sophomore recorded a triple-double. In a 74-59 victory over Marquette back on January 4th, McDermott was one rebound short of another triple-double. He's had nine double-doubles on the year. The sky appears the limit for the young man and he'll try to get the Friars back on track after two consecutive defeats.
*Other storylines to follow:
*Can the Big East step up this weekend in two non-conference tilts? Villanova (12-5, 2-3) is home versus Connecticut while Connecticut (13-4, 2-3) welcomes in Indiana to Storrs. The Wildcats have momentum, fresh off a 102-87 win over No. 20 Notre Dame on Wednesday. But they'll have to deal with the freshman phenom, Kevin Durant. He's averaging 24 PPG and 11 rebounds a contest. In Big 12 play, he's even better, scoring 34 PPG and pulling down 13 rebounds a contest. Curtis Sumpter, the league's second best scorer at 18 PPG, will have his hands full.
As for UCONN, they'll be searching to get their season back on track. The Huskies top-12 players minute-wise are all freshmen or sophomores and it's showing. UCONN has lost four of six after starting out 11-0. The Hoosiers are on a roll at 13-4 overall and 4-1 in the Big 10. The Huskies will have to contend with junior forward D.J. White, who is coming off his best game of the season with 23 points and 12 rebounds in a win over Iowa.
Coming into the week, the Big East was seventh in the RPI conference ratings. Sweeping these two contests would show the nation that they're for real. Two losses would further show this is a down year for the league with only one team ranked in the top-15 and three in the top-25 Coaches Poll (two in the AP).
*How good is Syracuse? The Orange escaped with a one-point win over Cincinnati on Wednesday at the Carrier Dome to improve to 15-4 overall and 4-1 in conference play, good for second in the conference. The Bearcats had been averaging just 65 points a game and on a four-game losing streak, all by double digits. But Syracuse got the benefit of a questionable call late and Eric Devendorf nailed two free throws for the win. This weekend, the Orange goes on the road to face St. John's (10-8, 1-4), a game they should win. They are clearly setting up as one of the better teams in the league.
But just how good is Jim Boeheim's group? They have the Big East's leading scorer in Demetris Nichols at 19 PPG. Terrence Roberts is fifth in the league in rebounding. They've already shown the ability to go on the road and win in a tough environment at Marquette. Another win this weekend over the Red Storm will keep the ball rolling. One note to keep in mind: the Orange and Pittsburgh do not play this season and Syracuse only has one more contest against a ranked opponent. That's at No. 20 Notre Dame on January 30th.