We all know the Big East is the best basketball conference in America. But this season, it has outdone itself.
When the Associated Press poll came out on Monday, six of the top 12 teams in the rankings were from the Big East, which is the first time any conference has done that this season. Most of the major conferences would consider it a good year if they could get six teams in the NCAA tournament — this week’s poll suggests that the Big East could get six teams as No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds alone.
But everyone knows about the success of the six heavyweights (Pitt, Notre Dame, UConn, Villanova, Georgetown and Syracuse). The depth of the Big East is less talked about, but it may be even more impressive. To illustrate the point, let’s look at the bottom six teams in the Big East.
St. John’s — Despite losing six of their last nine games, the Red Storm are 13-9 overall, 5-5 in conference play and still in decent position to make the NCAA tournament. In Head Coach Steve Lavin’s first year, St. John’s has defeated three teams currently ranked in the top 11 of the AP poll, with a tough win against Georgetown, a blowout of Notre Dame and most improbably, a 15-point shellacking of Duke at Madison Square Garden. The future is even brighter with one of the best recruiting classes in the nation coming to St. John’s this fall, a group featuring six of the top 85 players in the country according to Rivals.com, including five-star prospect Norvel Pelle. The Knicks aren’t the only storied team bringing back memories of glory days to the Garden.
Rutgers — The Scarlet Knights have been a Big East doormat for many years, but under first year Head Coach Mike Rice Jr., they’ve shown flashes of life. In the last two weeks, they lost by only three points to a top-five team in Pittsburgh, and on Wednesday night, they shocked No. 10 Villanova with a 77-76 win on senior forward Jonathan Mitchell’s four-point play with less than one second remaining. Rutgers also has a good crop of freshmen on the horizon, as Rivals.com top-100 recruits Kadeem Jack and Jerome Seagears will be heading to the Garden State next year.
Seton Hall — The Pirates have been hurt this year by star senior guard Jeremy Hazell’s 13-game absence due to both a wrist injury and a gunshot wound suffered during a robbery. But since Hazell’s return in mid-January, Seton Hall has lost close games to Georgetown and UConn by five points or fewer and destroyed Syracuse in the Carrier Dome in a 22-point rout. Hazell, who should pass 2,000 career points on Saturday against Rutgers, has the potential to single-handedly take over a game, meaning very few teams will be looking forward to playing the Pirates the rest of the way.
Providence — If teams are scared of Hazell, they’re terrified of senior guard Marshon Brooks, the nation’s second-leading scorer at 24.1 points per game. We Hoyas can attest to the star guard’s prowess after he dropped 43 points on Georgetown in last Saturday’s nail-biter at Verizon Center. With Brooks at the helm, Providence has wins over Louisville and Villanova and tight losses to Syracuse, Pitt and Georgetown. And Brooks isn’t the only weapon in Providence’s arsenal, as he is surrounded in the backcourt by a talented freshman in Gerard Coleman and a great distributor in Vincent Council.
South Florida — OK, the Bulls are simply not very good, but even they’ve had their moments this year. BYU, who’s now ranked in the top-10, needed two overtimes to beat South Florida the day after Thanksgiving. On New Year’s Eve, the Bulls took then-No. 10 UConn to overtime on the road. This is a team that’s often competitive, if not usually the one on top when the buzzer sounds — not bad for the second-worst team in a conference.
DePaul — There are not many positive things to say about DePaul, which has now lost 46 of 47 regular-season Big East games over the last three seasons. But forward Cleveland Melvin has been the best freshman in the Big East, averaging 18 points and seven rebounds per game in conference play. Melvin’s size and athleticism at 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds give him a good chance to follow DePaul alum and current New York Knick Wilson Chandler into the NBA.
So these are the six worst teams in the Big East. When people talk about how there’s no easy win in this conference, they’re not mistaken — unless they’re talking about DePaul. The Big East’s depth doesn’t extend to the very bottom, but it comes pretty darn close.
Parimal Garg is a senior in the College. TAKING THE COURT appears in every other Friday edition of HOYA SPORTS.