Big East Update

Irish Eyes takes a weekly look at the Big East men's basketball scene and a quick glance around the nation. The Big East started the season with a record seven teams in the AP Preseason Poll, now the conference has eight teams ranked.

Even before the release of the 2008-09 preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll it was clear that the Big East Conference would be the nation's best this year. The Big East set a record with seven teams in that initial AP poll and set another mark with eight teams in last week's rankings.

The Big East has the same eight teams in this week's AP poll, but some of their spots have changed. Notre Dame (6-2), which lost to Ohio State on Saturday, dropped from seventh to 12th. The win helped the Buckeyes (5-0) jump into the AP rankings, where they sit at No. 21.

Connecticut (8-0) and Pittsburgh (9-0) remain second and third respectively behind top-ranked North Carolina. Louisville (5-1) is the third top-10 team from the conference, checking in at No. 9 while Syracuse jumped up to 13th in the AP after debuting at No. 16 last week.

15th-ranked Villanova (8-0), 19th-ranked Georgetown (6-1) and 24th-ranked Marquette (7-1) round out the Big East squads in this week's poll.

The same eight Big East teams are featured in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll, but Louisville and Notre Dame are each ranked a spot lower. Syracuse is down three spots, from No. 13 to No. 16, while Villanova is up three places to No. 12. The Wildcats lost to Texas 67-58 on Tuesday night.

After the Big East, the Big 12 has the most teams represented in the rankings with four.

Further illustrating the strength of the conference is the fact that a number of teams could eventually work their ways into the rankings before conference play starts. West Virginia received one vote in the coaches' poll, but the Mountaineers lost a great chance to jump into the rankings with a 68-65 loss to Stephen Curry and Davidson on Tuesday night.

Seton Hall improved to 7-1 with a 92-80 win over California Baptist on Tuesday. Included in the Pirates' seven wins is a 63-61 season-opening win over then 19th–ranked Southern California. Cincinnati (6-1) has beaten UNLV and UAB and while St. John's (7-1) has not yet beaten anyone of any huge significance, the Johnnies continue to pile up wins.

The Bearcats will get a chance to prove that they belong in the rankings when they take on No. 10 Xavier on Saturday. But while Cincinnati will be battling to get in the polls this weekend, the Hoyas will be fighting to stay when they take on No. 18 Memphis on Saturday.

It will be important for every team to take care of business in non-conference games before what figures to be a cannibalistic Big East Conference schedule that is set to begin at the end of the month. No Big East team is currently under .500 with South Florida sitting at 3-3 and at the bottom of the conference.

The Irish have three games left before their Big East play begins with a New Year's Eve matchup at DePaul. Notre Dame will host Boston University (4-3) this Saturday before entertaining Delaware State (2-10) next Saturday and Savannah State (5-4) on Dec. 22.

With such a strong conference schedule along with another big non-conference game at UCLA in February, the Irish will have plenty of opportunities to move back into the top 10 and improve their tournament résumé, but they missed a great opportunity against Ohio State.

The Irish were passed by Tennessee, Louisville, Xavier, Wake Forest and Texas, who the Irish beat this year, in the AP Poll. The same teams, along with Villanova, moved ahead of the Irish in the coaches' poll.

It is extremely likely that some very high NCAA seeds will be awarded after the Big East Tournament, but if Notre Dame wants to be playing for a top spot come March it will need to have a very strong showing in January and February.


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