Burlison college hoops update

A lot of evidence is being offered of late as to why the Big East is the strongest conference in college basketball this season. And top-ranked Connecticut is far from the only source of that evidence

The vast majority of those who hadn't yet bought into the way of thinking that the Big East is not only the biggest but also the bestest of basketball conferences should have been converted Saturday.


The victories by Georgetown (handing then-No. 1 Duke its first loss), West Virginia (beating Pac 10-leading UCLA in Pauley Pavilion) and St. John's (slapping conference member Pittsburgh with is first defeat) were all resounding figurative statements on behalf of Big East superiority.


Here are a couple of other games played in the past month that also speak to the national strength of the conference:


*Texas 58, Villanova 55 (Jan. 14 in Austin): The Wildcats came up oh-so-short on the home floor of a squad that is toying with Big 12 competition, as illustrated by the Longhorns' 34-point shellacking of Eddie Sutton's Oklahoma State team Monday night. Texas is 5-0 in the Big 12 with an average winning margin of 26.4 points.


*Marquette 94, Connecticut 79 (Jan. 3 in Milwaukee): Granted, the now-No. 1 Huskies were playing their first game with reinstated point guard Marcus Williams and Golden Eagles' forward Steve Novak (41 points, 16 rebounds, two assists and two steals) turned in perhaps the top individual performance of the season by a player not named J.J. Redick or Adam Morrison. But it's still indicative of the strength of a conference when one of its teams beats, arguably, the most gifted squad in the nation in such convincing fashion.


The Huskies are, along with fellow conference members West Virginia and Villanova, on a very short list of teams I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see advance to the Final Four.


The others are Duke, Michigan State and Texas.


In the next rung I'd throw Florida, Gonzaga, Illinois, Indiana, LSU, Memphis, Ohio State and Washington.


The loss of its frontcourt depth (via the departures of Marcus Landry and Greg Stiemsma), coupled with the unsightly loss to North Dakota State in Madison Saturday, dropped the Badgers from consideration for either of those two plateaus for the time being.



*In hindsight (and after revisiting his game-by-game performances), the one player I probably shortchanged the most when I submitted my midseason John R. Wooden Award Top 30 nomination list was Steve Novak. But I assembled the list prior to his marvelous performances last week in leading Marquette to Big East victories over DePaul (24 points and six rebounds) and Notre Dame (28 points and six rebounds and the game-winning shot with 1.1 seconds to play.


*LSU has played its way into the No. 19 slot of the Scout.com Top 25 but not into the Associated Press version's of the 25 best clubs in the country. The Tigers' five losses (four of those on the road, all to opponents likely to be in the NCAA Tournament) are by a combined 11 points. They fell by just a point to Connecticut and have a three-point victory at West Virginia (they're the last team to beat the Mountaineers). And they're 4-0 in the Southeastern Conference, with one of those W's coming by 14 points over Tennessee – which is in the latest AP Top 25.


*For those who are curious about certain ratings in the Scout.com 25 that don't seem to make any sense (for example, West Virginia is only No. 13 this week yet is clearly one of the four or five best teams in the country right now), here's one of the rules I follow: If a team doesn't lose, it can't be leapfrogged in the ratings, no matter how unimpressive it might have been the previous weeks. Trust me, those things eventually work themselves out.


*Just when you think that J.J. Redick, after dropping in 41 points during Duke's loss to Georgetown on Saturday after a 28-rebound and six-assist performance earlier in the week against North Carolina State, is beginning to pull away in the Player of the Year races, Adam Morrison reminds you that he's still alive and playing quite well for Gonzaga, thank you very much. The 6-foot-8 junior scored 41 points (hitting 14 of 23 from the field, including five of seven 3's) and grabbed nine rebounds with just two turnovers during the Bulldogs' 84-75 victory at the University of San Francisco Monday night that brought the team's West Coast Conference record to 6-0. The exposure the players received during their respective games was a bit different, though. Duke's game at Georgetown was televised by CBS, Gonzaga's at USF by Fox Sports Northwest.


Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.FrankHoops.com

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