Calling All Conferences: Big East beast

Jason King
Yahoo! Sports

Cincinnati took a risk when it signed troubled high school star Lance Stephenson last spring. More and more, the gamble is paying off.

Stephenson scored 21 points to lead Cincinnati to a 71-69 upset of Connecticut on Wednesday in the Big East opener for both schools. His biggest contribution came in the game's final moments.

With the score tied, Stephenson slashed toward the basket and drew a foul from Huskies forward Gavin Edwards with 0.7 seconds remaining. Stephenson made both foul shots to lift the Bearcats to victory.

Lance Stephenson has come through in Cincy.
(Tom Uhlman/AP Photo)

Stephenson – whose off-court problems caused some recruiters to take a pass – is averaging 13.3 points for a Cincinnati squad that improved to 9-3 overall and 1-0 in conference play. The Bearcats play at Rutgers on Saturday.

Connecticut, meanwhile, has nothing to hang its head about following an outstanding comeback Wednesday in a tough road environment. The game was just another sign that the Big East – which appeared to be entering a bit of a down year – is as tough as ever.

In the past week, No. 6 and unbeaten West Virginia needed overtime to beat Seton Hall before taking advantage of some missed free throws to defeat Marquette.

Louisville struggled early, but now appears to be getting back on track. Wednesday's win over South Florida was the fifth straight for Rick Pitino's squad.

Syracuse is undefeated, and Villanova and Georgetown have only one loss. Even Rutgers – which finished 15th in the conference race a year ago – appears to have made significant improvement. The Scarlet Knights gave No. 10 North Carolina all it could handle in Chapel Hill on Monday before faltering down the stretch.

Bottom line: As strong as the Big 12 has been this season, the Big East still reigns supreme.

On to this week's rankings. Last week's evaluations in parenthesis.

Leonard Hamilton deserves recognition at FSU.
(Dave Martin/AP Photo)


1. Duke (10-1, 0-0) – Jon Scheyer has 66 assists and only 10 turnovers. Wow. (1)

2. North Carolina (11-3, 0-0) – Marcus Ginyard (ankle) seems snake-bitten. (2)

3. Florida State (11-2, 1-0) – Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton is proving his worth. (4)

4. Miami (13-1, 0-1) – The Hurricanes have played just two Big Six opponents. (5)

5. Clemson (12-2, 0-0) – The Tigers beat South Carolina State by only three points. (3)

6. Georgia Tech (10-2, 0-1) – Coach Paul Hewitt is confident guard Iman Shumpert will make his return Saturday against Charlotte. (6)

7. Wake Forest (9-2, 1-0) – Thursday's game against Richmond won't be easy. (7)

8. Virginia Tech (11-1, 0-0) – Malcolm Delaney is averaging 21.5 points. (9)

9. North Carolina State (9-3, 0-1) – The Wolfpack gave a heck of an effort in a road loss to Arizona. (10)

10. Boston College (9-4, 1-0) – Nice win Wednesday, but the Eagles' best hope is the NIT. (11)

11. Virginia (7-4, 0-0) – Wednesday's victory over UAB was Tony Bennett's best victory thus far. (12)

12. Maryland (8-4, 0-0) – There's no excuse for losing to William & Mary – especially at home. (8)


North Carolina State – No one is ready to predict an NCAA tournament berth for the Wolfpack, but it's clear that Sidney Lowe's squad is becoming a much, much better team. N.C. State's comeback attempt in last week's two-point loss at Arizona made for one of the more exciting games of the season thus far. The Wolfpack also turned in a strong effort in a seven-point loss at Wake Forest. Javier Gonzalez and Tracy Smith are big-time players.


Clemson – Once again, the Tigers are one of college basketball's greatest enigmas. One day they're beating formidable opponents such as South Carolina and Butler. The next they're blowing 23-point leads in a home loss against Illinois. Clemson's latest head-scratcher came Tuesday night, when they squeaked past South Carolina State 70-67 at home. Not what you'd expect from the country's 21st-ranked team.



Seton Hall at Virginia Tech – The Pirates are one of the few formidable opponents on Virginia Tech's non-conference schedule.


Xavier at Wake Forest – The Skip Prosser Classic should be a good one, as both teams are strong.

Clemson at Duke – Two ranked teams go head-to-head in the ACC opener for both schools.

Jerome Dyson is starring for UConn.
(Jessica Hill/AP Photo)


1. Syracuse (13-0, 1-0) – The Orange are gunning for a No.1 seed. (1).

2. West Virginia (11-0, 2-0) – Almost lost to two unranked teams – but still very impressive. (2)

3. Villanova (11-1, 0-0) – All five starters are averaging double figures in scoring. (3)

4. Cincinnati (9-3, 1-0) – Huge win on Wednesday. Now the Bearcats need to sustain the momentum. (8)

5. Connecticut (9-3, 0-1) – Jerome Dyson (19.8 points) is having an outstanding season. (4)

6. Georgetown (9-1, 0-0) – Only six players average more than 11 minutes per game. (5)

7. Marquette (9-4, 0-1) – Missed free throws kept Buzz Williams' squad from winning at West Virginia. (8)

8. Seton Hall (9-3, 0-2) – Two strong efforts went for naught in losses to Syracuse and West Virginia. (7)

9. Notre Dame (12-2, 1-0) – The Irish have something that is rare in college hoops these days: Senior leadership. (9)

10. Louisville (10-3, 1-0) – The Cardinals have won five straight, but the competition is about to stiffen. (12)

11. St. John's (10-2, 0-0) – The Red Storm rank 13th out of 16 Big East teams in rebounding margin. (11)

12. Pittsburgh (11-2, 1-0) – Adding Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown to the mix has been a huge plus. (13)

13. Rutgers (9-3, 0-0) – The Scarlet Knights were impressive in Sunday's loss to North Carolina. (15)

14. South Florida (10-3, 0-1) – The Bulls have already exceeded last season's nine victories. (11)

15. Providence (8-5, 0-1) – The Friars open Big East play with back-to-back road games. (14).

16. DePaul (7-6, 0-1) – Mac Koshwal is back – and it hasn't even mattered. (16)


Marquette – Even though they lost, it was tough not to be impressed with the Golden Eagles in their two-point setback at No. 6 West Virginia on Tuesday. If Marquette can go into Morgantown and almost win then it can clearly compete with any team in this conference. Don't be surprised if Buzz Williams' squad finishes fourth or fifth in the Big East. Then again, it could also place seventh or eighth. Still too early to tell, but it was definitely a promising start.


DePaul – This Blue Demons team doesn’t appear to be that much better than the one that went winless in the Big East last season. In a recent road loss to Florida Gulf Coast, DePaul shot just 34.4 percent and made just 12 of 27 free throws. Jerry Wainwright's squad has now lost 13 straight road games.



West Virginia at Purdue – Only six unbeaten teams remain in college basketball, and two of them are in this game.


Villanova at Marquette – The Golden Eagles let one get away against West Virginia. Lazar Hayward needs to come up big to keep it from happening again.

Louisville at Kentucky – Lots of eyes will be on this game. Unfortunately, the score may get ugly.

David Lighty is buoying the Buckeyes.
(Jay LaPrete/AP Photo)


1. Purdue (12-0, 1-0) – Four of the Boilermakers' next five games are against Top 25 teams. (1)

2. Michigan State (10-3, 0-0) – Tom Izzo is upset with Kalin Lucas for a lack of leadership. (2)

3. Wisconsin (10-2, 0-0) – Two of the Badgers' first three league games are on the road. (3)

4. Ohio State (10-2, 0-0) – David Lighty is averaging 18.8 points since Evan Turner's injury. (5)

5. Illinois (9-4, 1-0) – A victory over Gonzaga on Saturday would be huge. (7)

6. Northwestern (10-2, 0-1) – The Wildcats bowed after being ranked for the first time in 40 years. (4)

7. Minnesota (10-3, 1-0) – The Gophers were upset by Iowa last season. They can't let it happen again on Saturday. (6)

8. Michigan (6-5, 0-0) – Manny Harris leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals. (8)

9. Penn State (8-5, 0-1) – The Nittany Lions' last four losses have come by five points or less. (9)

10. Indiana (6-6, 0-0) – Who will step up in Maurice Creek's absence? (10)

11. Iowa (5-8, 0-1) – The Hawkeyes played their best game of the season in Tuesday's loss to Purdue. (11)


Minnesota – With former coach Clem Haskins in the stands for the first time since his messy exit from the school, the Gophers defeated Penn State on Tuesday behind 29 points from Lawrence Westbrook. Tubby Smith has done an excellent job of keeping his squad focused amid a handful of off-court distractions. Even without Royce White, Minnesota remains a longshot conference title contender.


Indiana – The loss of leading scorer Maurice Creek to a knee injury has put a major dent in Tom Crean's rebuilding project. Creek led all freshman scorers with 17.6 points per game. Without him, Indiana will be hard-pressed to finish higher than 10th in the conference race. Crean is a good enough coach to get the program back on track. It may just take a bit longer than he originally planned.



West Virginia at Purdue – This is easily the toughest test of the season thus far for the Boilermakers.


Michigan State at Northwestern – The Wildcats will be juiced for one of the most-anticipated games in Evanston in years.


Ohio State at Michigan – The Wolverines can get back on track with a victory over the Evan Turner-less Buckeyes.

Marcus Morris is improving.
(Orlin Wagner/AP Photo)

BIG 12

1. Texas (12-0, 0-0) – Florida transfer Jai Lucas is beginning to make an impact. (1)

2. Kansas (12-0, 0-0) – Marcus Morris is one of the league's most-improved players. (2)

3. Kansas State (12-1, 0-0) – Only one more game before Big 12 opener at Missouri. (3)

4. Oklahoma State (11-1, 0-0) – James Anderson getting better each game. (5)

5. Baylor (10-1, 0-0) – A win against South Carolina would help the Bears' NCAA stock. (6)

6. Texas Tech (10-2, 0-0) – The Red Raiders are great at home, terrible on the road. (4)

7. Texas A&M (9-3, 0-0) – Saturday's game will be the Aggies' first without Derrick Roland. (7)

8. Missouri (10-3, 0-0) – Last week's blowout of Illinois was nice, now how about some consistency? (11)

9. Iowa State (9-3, 0-0) – Expect the Cyclones to make huge strides in the next two months. (8)

10. Nebraska (10-3, 0-0) – Ryan Anderson's 11 points per game lead the balanced Cornhuskers. (10)

11. Oklahoma (8-4, 0-0) – Sooners are the Big 12's most disappointing team thus far. (9)

12. Colorado (8-4, 0-0) – A victory at Tulsa Saturday would be huge. (12)


Oklahoma State – The Cowboys will enter Saturday's game at Rhode Island on a five-game winning streak. James Anderson is averaging 21.8 points to lead four players scoring in double figures. Marshall Moses has developed into a rebounding machine. Oklahoma State has played a relatively weak schedule, but the victories and success should give Travis Ford's squad some momentum as Big 12 play begins.


Texas Tech – Pat Knight has done a phenomenal job with a Red Raiders squad that won just three conference games a year ago, but Texas Tech has to learn to play better outside of Lubbock. It had to fight back from a double-digit deficit to win at TCU and then lost at Wichita State and New Mexico after digging itself into holes early. The Red Raiders will face even tougher road environments in the Big 12.



Kansas at Temple – The Owls, who have already defeated Villanova, could prove to be the Jayhawks' toughest non-conference opponent.


UTEP at Texas Tech – This is hardly a cakewalk for the Red Raiders, who will be facing a Miners squad that added Louisville transfer Derrick Caracter at the semester break.


Duke vs. Iowa State in Chicago – The Cyclones have enough talent to pull the upset, but they won't have a prayer if Craig Brackins or Marquis Gilstrap get into foul trouble.

Marcus Johnson has the Trojans in contention.
(Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo)


1. Washington (9-2, 0-0) – Abdul Gaddy is still struggling to make an impact. (1)

2. USC (8-4, 0-0) – Marcus Johnson had a career-high 19 points against UNLV. (2)

3. Cal (8-4, 0-0) – Theo Robertson is averaging 11.3 points since his return on Dec. 9. (3)

4. Washington State (10-2, 0-0) – A victory over LSU is the Cougars' only semi-marquee win. (4).

5. Arizona State (10-3, 0-0) – Duke transfer Eric Boateng is averaging 6.3 rebounds. (5)

6. Stanford (6-6, 0-0) – The Cardinal have played one of the league's toughest non-conference schedules. (7)

7. Arizona (6-6, 0-0) – Derrick Williams will contend for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors. (6)

8. Oregon State (6-5, 0-0) – Seth Tarver has scored in double figures in nine straight games. (8)

9. Oregon (8-4, 0-0) – Tajuan Porter is finally getting healthy. (9)

10. UCLA (5-7, 0-0) – Point guard Jerime Anderson averages three turnovers a game. (10)


Cal – The return of Theo Robertson has given the Bears a boost. All of a sudden Cal looks strong enough to contend for the Pac-10 title. Remember, Robertson didn't play in losses against New Mexico, Syracuse and Ohio State. The Bears' other loss was last week against Kansas. I can't see any scenario – other than a key injury – in which Mike Montgomery’s squad finishes any lower than third in the conference race.


Arizona – Just when Nic Wise's game-winning shot against North Carolina State was causing everyone to feel good again, BYU stormed into Tucson and annihilated Sean Miller's squad 99-69. The Cougars are a good team, but even Miller probably never thought he’d see the day when the Wildcats would lose by 30 points to a team from the Mountain West.



Oregon at Washington State – Tajuan Porter's presence will make a huge difference for the Ducks, who have won four straight.

Arizona State at UCLA – The Sun Devils will be favored – but they're not nearly as good as their record hints.


Arizona State at USC – Two of the Pac-10's top Xs and Os coaches – Herb Sendek and Kevin O'Neill – go head-to-head.

Alex Tyus is Florida’s catalyst.
(Phil Sandlin/AP Photo)


1. Kentucky (14-0, 0-0) – John Wall had a school record 16 assists against Hartford on Tuesday. (1)

2. Tennessee (9-2, 0-0) – The Vols are facing a tough three-game stretch with Memphis, Charlotte and Kansas. (2)

3. Ole Miss (11-2, 0-0) – The Rebels were brought back to earth against West Virginia. (3)

4. Mississippi State (11-2, 0-0) – John Riek is coming along slowly. (4)

5. Florida (10-3, 0-0) – Alex Tyus is shooting 56 percent from the field. (5)

6. Alabama (9-4, 0-0) – The Crimson Tide are having a tough time getting noticed in football-crazed Tuscaloosa. (6)

7. Vanderbilt (9-3, 0-0) – Kevin Stallings' squad has three more games against non-BCS schools before SEC play begins Jan. 9. (7)

8. South Carolina (8-4, 0-0) – Devan Downey will thrive in Saturday's up-tempo game against Baylor. (8)

9. LSU (8-4, 0-0) – The Tigers don't own a single win against an opponent from a power conference. (9)

10. Georgia (7-4, 0-0) – Beating Missouri in Columbia on Saturday would be huge. (10)

11. Auburn (7-6, 0-0) – DeWayne Reed averages a team-high 15.3 points. (11)

12. Arkansas (7-6, 0-0) – Standout guard Courtney Fortson is still suspended. (12)


Mississippi State – The Bulldogs entered Thursday's game against San Diego on an eight-game win streak. That number is likely to reach 10 by the time Mississippi State travels to Oxford for its SEC opener against Ole Miss on Jan. 9. With Ravern Johnson averaging 15.4 points and Jarvis Varnardo blocking 5.3 shots and snaring 10.3 boards per game, Rick Stansbury's squad should give fits to every opponent remaining on its schedule.


LSU – The Tigers have played four good teams (Connecticut, Arizona State, Washington State and Xavier) and lost to each of them. The Washington State loss was two-point setback. The others came by an average of 23 points. LSU has three nice players in Tasmin Mitchell, Storm Warren and Bo Spencer, but the dropoff is huge after that.



Tennessee at Memphis – The Vols are much more talented than the Tigers but, other than Kentucky's Rupp Arena, this is as tough of a road environment as Tennessee will face all season.


Baylor at South Carolina – The Gamecocks need some momentum entering SEC play. A victory against the one-loss Bears would give them just that.

Louisville at Kentucky – John Calipari –and Kentucky's fans – will get the best of Rick Pitino at Rupp Arena.

Mark Few is barking at the Bulldogs.
(Jeff Roberson/AP Photo)


1. Temple (11-2, 0-0) – The Owls beat Villanova. Why not Kansas? (1)

2. New Mexico (13-1, 0-0) – The Lobos annihilated a good Texas Tech team Tuesday. (3)

3. BYU (13-1, 0-0) – Arizona may not be able to recover from the 30-point beatdown it suffered at the hands of the Cougars. (NR)

4. Gonzaga (9-3, 0-0) – The Zags can't afford to lose Saturday's game at Illinois. (4)

5. Alabama-Birmingham (11-2, 0-0) – Just when the momentum was starting to build, the Blazers lost at Virginia on Tuesday. (2)

6. Northern Iowa (10-1, 1-0) – The Panthers played a tough non-conference schedule and flourished. (5)

7. Dayton (10-2, 0-0) – Are the Flyers the best team in the Atlantic 10? (7)

8. St. Mary's (13-2) – There's nothing embarrassing about losing to USC. (6)

9. Butler (8-4, 1-0) – The Bulldogs have 17 games remaining. They can win all of them. (8)

10. Xavier (8-4, 0-0) – Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford is averaging 18.3 points. (9)

11. UTEP (9-2, 0-0) – Louisville transfer Derrick Caracter has made a huge difference for the Miners, who beat Oklahoma. (NR)

12. Memphis (9-2, 0-0) – The Tigers need to get more out of Will Coleman. (11)


BYU – The Cougars might be the best team from a non-power conference. Just ask the Arizona Wildcats, who suffered a 99-69 setback against BYU in Tucson earlier this week. Jimmer Fredette scored 49 points in the victory and is now averaging 21.6 points on the season. BYU has also defeated Nebraska, Nevada and Arizona State.


UNLV – The Runnin' Rebels are a solid team. But Lon Kruger's squad may not be quite as good as some people originally thought. UNLV got hammered by Kansas State and then lost to USC in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic. Still, it's way too early to jump to conclusions about the Runnin' Rebels. It's a long season, and Kruger is one of the best in the business.



Tennessee at Memphis – This is the biggest game to date of Josh Pastner's young career.


Illinois State at Missouri State – Two of the top three teams in the Missouri Valley will face off when the Redbirds (10-2) take on the Bears (11-1) in Springfield.

Dayton at New Mexico – The Flyers may be one of the best non-glamour teams in the country, but it's darned near impossible to win in The Pit.

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