As the Big East Conference season crosses its midway point distinctions between the teams at the top, teams at the bottom and the ones in the middle are becoming clearer. While the teams in each group are not all that surprising, some of their spots within those groups are.
The conference's top four teams - Marquette (19-2, 8-0), Connecticut (21-1, 10-1), Louisville (17-4, 8-1) and Pittsburgh (20-2, 7-2) – have proven to be the league's elite.
Marquette was picked in the preseason to finish sixth in the league and could have had a case to be higher, but few would have predicted the Golden Eagles to be the last remaining unbeaten in the conference. Marquette has a good chance to head into next week with a 0 still in the conference loss column after games against DePaul (8-14, 0-9) and South Florida (7-14, 2-7).
The Huskies may be the nation's No. 1 team, but they are still behind Marquette in the loss column in the Big East. UConn looked motivated by the top ranking when it dismantled Louisville on Monday and host Michigan on Saturday in a non-conference matchup.
Despite the 68-51 loss to the Huskies, the Cardinals still rank among the top teams in the conference and will play at St. John's (12-9, 3-6) on Sunday. Pitt rebounded from last week's loss to Villanova with a victory over Notre Dame. The Panthers beat Robert Morris in a non-league game on Monday and will play at DePaul on Saturday.
Seton Hall (11-9, 2-6), South Florida, Rutgers (10-12, 1-8) and DePaul make up the bottom four teams in the conference and there is just about no chance of any of them to move up into the league's top eight.
While the bottom four will almost assuredly be playing on the first day of the Big East Tournament, the teams in the middle eight are jockeying for the right to earn that first-round bye. Notre Dame and Georgetown are no doubt the conference's most disappointing teams with identical 12-8, 3-6 records.
The Irish will try to snap their five-game losing streak at Cincinnati tomorrow night before heading to UCLA for a non-conference matchup on Saturday.
While Notre Dame's losing streak is disappointing, the Hoyas' five-game slide is even more disheartening because it did not come against five top 10 teams. But Georgetown figures to have the better chance to end the streak when it hosts Rutgers tonight.
Providence (14-7, 6-3) continues to be the surprise of the league even after last week's loss to Connecticut. But the Friars will be tested again this week when they host Villanova on Wednesday before traveling to West Virginia on Saturday.
Like Providence, Villanova (17-4, 5-3) is in the best position to move up into the conference's top four and will host Syracuse on Saturday after playing the Friars. The Orange (17-5, 5-4) are right behind the Wildcats after a three-game losing streak and will play West Virginia tomorrow before Villanova on Saturday.
West Virginia (15-6, 4-4) is in the middle of the middle group and has the chance to move up with games against Syracuse and Providence this week. Cincinnati (14-8, 4-5) is also in the middle of the league and will have to deal with the angry Irish and Hoyas this week.
The team with the best chance to drop into the bottom four of the conference is St. John's (12-9, 3-6). The Johnnies have the same league record as Notre Dame and Georgetown, but not nearly the same ceiling.
Maybe by this time next week everything in the Big East will be even clearer, but the way the conference strength is spread out it is more likely that it will be even more muddied.