The Big East is at it again.
Of the 11 remaining undefeated schools, four are from the Big East. Six of its teams are ranked in this week's AP poll, more than any other league. Only the Big 12 is winning games at a better rate.
|Wesley Johnson and Syracuse seem like the only sure-fire title contender thus far.
Somewhat remarkably, the conference has a better overall record than it did at this point last season (118-27 to 115-28). To think that nearly every school lost a chunk of players or a leading scorer from last season and still hasn't seen a significant drop-off is impressive.
Schools like Villanova, UConn and Marquette all lost at least three starters, yet are a combined 22-6. Not bad.
Or take Syracuse. The Orange (10-0) are arguably the nation's top team, with wins against North Carolina, Florida and Cal – all while replacing their three top scorers from last season.
"Of all the problems you can have in the world, we don't have a lot right now," coach Jim Boeheim said after last week's win over then-No. 10 Florida. "We'll probably encounter some problems, but right now we don't have a lot."
The same can't be said of every school, which raises the question: Is the Big East's fast start this season an illusion?
Consider that Georgetown (8-0) has nice wins this season against Butler, Washington and Temple. Just like last season, when the Hoyas started off 10-1 with wins against Memphis, Maryland and UConn. They finished 16-15 and missed the NCAA tournament.
They're not alone in that regard. St. John's is 8-1, similar to last season's 9-1 start. The Red Storm finished 16-18. Notre Dame is 9-2, and began last season 7-2. Irish finished 21-15. Rutgers, 7-2 this season; 7-3 last year, finished 11-21.
Even Seton Hall (8-0), which seems likely to break through to the Big East's upper echelon this season thanks to its new additions and explosive offense, began last season 8-1, only to finish 17-15. Should I even mention that the Pirates haven't played anyone of note?
Maybe it's best not to mention Louisville (5-3), which is doing its usual early season swoon. But unlike the last two seasons, the Cardinals aren't as well equipped to rebound when conference play begins.
And unlike last season when Pitt, UConn and Louisville were Top 25 mainstays and clear title contenders, only Syracuse has done so thus far.
Villanova doesn't shoot well, and fouls too much. Notre Dame still can't play defense. Pitt and Cincinnati aren't efficient on offense and West Virginia is still waiting on Devin Ebanks to assert himself (though the Mountaineers are a handful with or without Ebanks).
Still, there are a couple of caveats.
It's only mid-December, which means it's too early for serious proclamations about the Big East's NCAA tournament fortunes, from the number of seeds to possible contenders.
But the other caveat is anecdotal, and perhaps more interesting. It's a good thing the rest of the league – DePaul, South Florida, Providence – is better than expected. If every game in a 16-team league is a challenge, it could bode well for March, just like it did for ACC teams during the '90s.
Yes, that's a high standard, given that the ACC placed 11 schools in the Final Four during that decade. But after last season, shouldn't the Big East be aiming high?
Mike Miller can also be found on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, saying much less at one time than this.