The vexing Big East: Just how good is league in its final traditional year?

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer
As the Big East gets set to break apart, its final season is starting out confusing and in an impressive fashion. (Getty Images)

So just how good is the Big East shaping up to be this season?

Well, it's not enduring a down year, that's for sure. The Big East is No. 2 in KenPom.com's league rankings, No. 2 in RPI -- with a significant gap between the Big Ten in the top spot -- and No. 3 in Jeff Sagarin's computer calculations, which has the Mountain West slotted in the second spot.

Subjectively, the Big East as of now has a lone legitimate title contender in Louisville. Syracuse currently equals the Cardinals' record, sharing a 16-1 mark, but the collective seems a little hesitant to embrace the Orange on the same plane as Rick Pitino's team. (James Southerland is indefinitely suspended; the big men are still in the incubator; Michael Carter-Williams isn't a great shooter) Beyond those two, Marquette, Notre Dame and Cincinnati help comprise the five squads that have won 80 percent or more of their games to date. Toss in a game UConn club in addition to Georgetown and Pittsburgh, and the top half of the league is once again rounding into fine shape. Not exactly 2008-09 but certainly a far cry from the state the SEC is in these days.

Beyond that, there's this: The Big East is for this season only a 15-team conference, and only one team -- DePaul, of course, at 173 -- sits outside the top 100 in the RPI. Fourteen of 15 teams in the premature bubble conversation? That's rare for any league this deep into a season. If we had the data, I'd love to dive in and see if it has ever happened like this, where a league with more than 10 teams had all but one of its members in the top 100 come mid-January. (I don't even think the '08-09 Big East could boast that.) Even three of the Big Ten's teams this year don't crack the century mark in the flawed-but-relied-upon RPI.

Additionally, every team is above .500 and all but two have reached double-digit win totals. Even DePaul's there already.

But a small-sample-size examination of league play indicates some oddity. A sign of league strength or a bit of unwanted parity? Check this out:

We have seven weeks of the regular season to go, where in fact we'll see that trend reversed, but it's still incredible. Home teams win more than 70 percent of their games in college hoops. Exhaustive research has shown college basketball to have the biggest home-venue advantage in major American sports.

And yet the Big East is a bingo-ball bin of unpredictability and odds-defying outcomes so far. Is that good for the league? It's good for discussion, at least, and it's making things interesting right away. The aforementioned Hoyas and Panthers are two teams that I think will ultimately make the NCAAs with room to spare. They are a combined 2-5 in the conference. South Florida made the Round of 32 last season, has a good group back this year. At 0-3, it's the only winless team left in league play.

Fitting and fun that in the final season of the Big East as we know it, we're getting set up for an interesting league race and the possibility for a variety of contradictory results that should make the postseason conversation an interesting one. And, amid all this, there's UConn, ineligible for the postseason, playing the role as the sport's best spoiler team in decades.

This weekend brings the marquee game, Syracuse at Louisville, to sell the nation on what one of its ultimate hoops leagues is offering in this walking funeral of a final campaign. The others all offer trends worth tracking. Marquette vs. Cincinnati and Connecticut vs. Pittsburgh are matchups any college basketball fan should seek to watch, because right now I could easily see any of those four teams finishing third in the league. Rutgers (11-4) travels to Notre Dame, and if the Irish lose there, it will only emphasize what this post is all about.

By now, leagues usually develop identities, ones defined by the production of their teams through more than half of a season gone by. The Big East is still a little confusing, and maybe that will ultimately end up being the legacy of this season. Some legendary coaches leading the way at the top of the standings, while the rest of the conference rises with the tide. It might be a beautiful mess before it all disintegrates.


For more college basketball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCBB on Twitter, like us on Facebook and subscribe to the thrice-a-week podcast on iTunes. You can follow Matt Norlander on Twitter here: @MattNorlander.

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