The Big East seems to grow stronger every year. Nine of the teams in this year’s conference tournament — which tips off at noon today at Madison Square Garden — are ranked in the top 25, and as many as a record 11 Big East teams could reach next week’s 68-team NCAA tournament.
DePaul Blue Demons (7-23, 1-17 Big East)
Led by freshmen Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young this young DePaul team will likely be overmatched by its experienced first-round opponent, UConn.
South Florida Bulls (9-22, 3-15)
With last year’s leading scorer Dominique Jones off to the NBA D-League, the Bulls have struggled to find the net, averaging a conference-worst 61.7 points per game.
Providence Friars (15-16, 4-14)
Senior Marshon Brooks, above, contributes 24.8 of the Friars’ 76.1 ppg, a scoring clip bettered by only one Big East team: first-round opponent Marquette.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (14-16, 5-13)
Rutgers scored a big home win versus Villanova a month ago, but has otherwise struggled in conference, including a season split versus first-round foe Seton Hall.
Seton Hall Pirates (13-17, 7-11)
The Hall lost its rhythm while missing senior Jeremy Hazell due to a wrist injury for 13 games early on, but this team is building momentum and could make a run.
Marquette Golden Eagles (18-13, 9-9)
Marquette needs to win at least one game this week to get off the NCAA tournament bubble. The Golden Eagles’ balanced, high-scoring offense is capable of beating any Big East foe.
Villanova Wildcats (21-10, 9-9)
This senior-led squad has been on an unexpected slide, losing four straight and eight of its past 12; they were ranked No. 7 in the country just seven weeks ago.
No. 21 Connecticut Huskies (21-9, 9-9)
The emergence of Kemba Walker as one of the country’s top players helped guide UConn to a strong start, but the Huskies are losers of four of their last five. Their performance this week will largely determine their seed in the NCAA tournament.
No. 22 Georgetown Hoyas (21-9, 10-8)
Key wins: at Syracuse, vs. Louisville
Key losses: vs. Cincinnati, vs. West Virginia
Three straight losses and point guard Chris Wright’s hand injury have Hoyas fans worried. But don’t underestimate this No. 8 seed — Georgetown reached the Big East finals last year from the same spot. Senior guard Austin Freeman is their top scorer (17.8 ppg).
No. 25 Cincinnati Bearcats (24-7, 11-7)
Key wins: at St. John’s, at Georgetown
Key loss: vs. West Virginia
The Bearcats quietly put together a strong season and their first .500 Big East campaign. Led by 6-foot-9 junior forward Yancy Gates, Cincy relies on its stingy defense, which allows a conference-low 58.2 ppg.
No. 20 West Virginia Mountaineers (20-10, 11-7)
Key wins: vs. Louisville, vs. Notre Dame
Key losses: at Marquette, vs. St. John's
Coach Bob Huggins has a knack for adjusting his team to the Big East’s varied styles, but the Mountaineers are not likely to repeat as champs due to season-long struggles on the road.
No. 17 St. John’s Red Storm (20-10, 12-6)
Key wins: vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Notre Dame
Key losses: at Seton Hall, vs. Cincinnati
St. John’s has been the Big East’s biggest surprise this season. First-year coach Steve Lavin has the Red Storm playing opportunistically (+4 average turnover margin), and senior guard Dwight Hardy (17.9 ppg) thrives in the Madison Square Garden spotlight.
No. 11 Syracuse Orange (25-6, 12-6)
Key wins: vs. Notre Dame, at Georgetown
Key losses: vs. Seton Hall, at Marquette
Syracuse has had a season of streaks, winning five in a row twice during Big East play while also losing four straight in late January. The Orange has played well away from the Carrier Dome (6-3), including a 76-59 win on Jan. 12 at Madison Square Garden over potential quarterfinal opponent St. John’s (the Red Storm’s only loss at MSG this season).
No. 14 Louisville Cardinals (23-8, 12-6)
Key wins: vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Syracuse
Key losses: at Providence, at Cincinnati
Coach Rick Pitino expected a rebuilding year for Louisville, but his Cards have surprised. Their guard-heavy lineup features Pitino’s hallmark reliance on 3-point shooting, but also moves the ball well (17.4 apg) and forces turnovers (9.5 spg).
No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-5, 14-4)
Key wins: at Pittsburgh, vs. Louisville
Key losses: at Marquette, at West Virginia
Seniors Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough, right, keyed an undefeated home season, dropping 30 each against Villanova during the home finale. Notre Dame protects the ball (conference-low 10.9 turnovers per game) and is deadly from 3-point range (conference-best .392).
No. 3 Pittsburgh Panthers (27-4, 15-3)
Key wins: vs. Syracuse, at Georgetown
Key loss: at St. John’s
The conference’s toughest team, Pitt leads the Big East in average scoring margin (+13.6). Behind center Gary McGhee, right, Pitt also dominates glass with a +11 rebounding margin, which is more than twice that of second-place Notre Dame (+5.1). Pitt’s only downfall is from the foul line (.668 percentage).