MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Is there a better basketball league in the country right now than the Big East?
In what other conference can a team predicted to finish 12th in the preseason poll (Cincinnati) be one of the last teams in college basketball with an undefeated record and sitting near the top of the league standings?
In what other conference can the No. 1 team in last week's RPI (Georgetown) have a 1-3 record in league play and is now confronted with an uphill fight just to get out of the bottom of the conference standings?
In what other conference can its preseason player of the year (Austin Freeman) not even get a sniff for the league's player of the week award now seven weeks into the season?
And in what other conference can a team 10th in the standings with a 1-2 record (Connecticut) own non-league wins over Michigan State, Kentucky and Texas?
Welcome to the Big East. Welcome to the jungle.
As of Sunday, 13 teams already have double-digit wins, including 16-0 Syracuse, ranked fourth in last week's AP poll. Pitt is ranked fifth and is now 15-1, Villanova is seventh with a 14-1 record and UConn was eighth before falling at Notre Dame last Tuesday night. Seven Big East teams were ranked last week, and 10 have earned top 25 votes at one time or another this season.
The Big East's record is 25-15 against the five other BCS conferences, the league owning at least a .500 record against all five. And the Big East is 5-2 against the Big Ten, 5-1 against the Big 12 and 3-1 against the Pac 10.
The Big East also has a winning record against nationally ranked non-conference foes.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, whose team started conference play with losses to St. John's and Marquette, commented on how tough life is in the Big East while walking with a security guard to do his post-game radio show after his team knocked off the 13th-ranked Georgetown Saturday afternoon.
"I said, 'Tell me another league in America where Georgetown starts their conference season 1-3?' It doesn't happen," Huggins said.
In an effort to avoid a bad start in Big East play, Georgetown played a difficult non-league schedule that included games against Old Dominion, Tulane, Coastal Carolina, NC State, Missouri, Temple and Memphis.
The Hoyas won 11 out of 12. They have won one out of four since starting league play. Now after conference losses to Notre Dame, St. John's and West Virginia, Georgetown has a deep ditch to dig out of.
"We're in a place where we don't want to be right now," said Georgetown coach John Thompson III. "Everyone in that locker room from myself on down has to figure out how to get us out of this place. We're the same group of guys who were in there two or three weeks ago (when the Hoyas were in the top 10) and now we just have to find out how to get back there."
It won't be easy. Up next for Georgetown is improving Rutgers, now 10-5 under first year coach Mike Rice. Rutgers is 8-1 at home where Georgetown must play the Scarlet Knights. Following a road game at Seton Hall, Georgetown's three after that are against St. John's, Villanova and Louisville. The combined record of those three teams is 37-7.
West Virginia, which avoided Georgetown's 1-3 start in league play, has improving Providence at the Coliseum on Thursday night. The Friars are 0-4 in Big East action so far, but they have lost three of those four by margins of 7, 2 and 4 points to Syracuse, St. John's and Pitt respectively.
Providence is 11-6 overall and owns a win over Alabama back on Dec. 11. If anyone is already counting Providence as a W on Thursday night, just think back to two weeks ago when St. John's beat the Mountaineers by 10 on Dec. 29 - one of just three times since Huggins' return to Morgantown that West Virginia lost by a double digit margin at the Coliseum.
St. John's came into the Coliseum that night having lost 10 straight to the Mountaineers.
Welcome to the Big East.
- West Virginia dodged a big bullet by defeating Georgetown 65-59 on Saturday. After dropping its first two league games to St. John's (at home) and Marquette, and barely surviving at 6-9 DePaul on the road, the Mountaineers have to feel pretty good now after coming out of that 2-2.
West Virginia has two more non-conference games to improve its RPI, now 13th according to RealTimeRPI.com. Purdue, which the Mountaineers will play at the Coliseum on CBS next Saturday, is 15-1 after beating Iowa by 23 yesterday.
Jan. 19 foe Marshall is also having a strong season, the Herd now 11-4 after their 30-point win over Southern Miss on Saturday in Huntington. Marshall has games against Savannah State and Memphis coming up before the annual Capital Classic in Charleston.
- Georgetown guard Chris Wright said a wrinkle Huggins threw at them at the end of the game led to four turnovers on the Hoyas' final five possessions.
"It was man-to-man, but one guy was left open and John Flowers was sitting in the middle of the lane," he explained. "We tried to recognize it - tried to stay with our stuff regardless of what they were doing - but they threw a little gimmick at us and it paid off."
- Forward Kevin Jones, who scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Georgetown, has now scored double figures in six straight games, averaging 15.3 points and 7.2 rebounds during this latest stretch of games.
"We're getting back to the point where everybody is having fun," Jones said after the Georgetown game. The forward repeated the phrase "we're back" several times. He was pressed for an explanation.
"It means that we're finally starting to do what we are wanting to do," he said. "The maturity that we need to be in the league is important. We're defending Big East champs … we need to keep in the mindset of playing like we're down and keep fighting to the very end and I think we proved it today."
- Casey Mitchell has five straight double-digit scoring performances following a two-game stretch when he scored just 6 points against Robert Morris and 2 against Duquesne. Mitchell's 46 points scored against DePaul and Georgetown is the best two-game stretch since putting up 58 points in consecutive games against Vanderbilt and Minnesota in Puerto Rico before Thanksgiving.
- The three-guard lineup Georgetown used against West Virginia on Saturday is in stark contrast to Hoya teams of the past with their long history of outstanding big men such as Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Mike Sweetney, Roy Hibbert and Greg Monroe.
Think about this: When was the last time a West Virginia team beat Georgetown by nine on the glass?
And remember, this is not exactly one of Huggins' better rebounding teams. St. John's and Marquette out-rebounded the Mountaineers by 10 boards each earlier this year.
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