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February 5, 2013

Seven Big East teams highlight new AP Poll

As of Monday afternoon, the Big East Conference had two teams tied for first and five teams within a game of first, and seven teams are ranked among the nation's top 25 in the new Associated Press poll released Monday.

Syracuse (19-3, 7-2) at No. 9 is the top team in the league followed by Louisville (18-4, 6-3) at No. 11. Cincinnati (18-4, 6-3) is No. 17 and Georgetown (16-4, 6-3) No. 20. The Big East occupies the last three spaces in this week's poll with No. 23 Pitt (19-5, 7-4), No. 24 Marquette (15-5, 6-2) and No. 25 Notre Dame (18-6, 6-4). Connecticut (15-5, 5-3) is the only other Big East team receiving votes, with two points in this week's poll.
The Big Ten, widely considered the top league this season, has two of the top three teams with No. 1 Indiana (20-2) and No. 3 Michigan (20-2) flipping spots after IU beat the Wolverines Saturday night. Ohio State (17-4) is No. 10, Michigan State (18-4) No. 12 and Minnesota (17-5) No. 18.

While the Big East and Big Ten gobbled up nearly half the poll - 12 of 25 spots - other top leagues aren't faring so well. The ACC's top team is No. 4 Duke (19-2), with Miami (17-3) a surprise at No. 8, but those are the only ACC teams in the top 25 this week.

The SEC also has only two teams in this week's poll - No. 2 Florida (18-2) and No. 21 Missouri (16-5) - and the Pac-12 has only No. 7 Arizona (19-2) and No. 19 Oregon (18-4) in the rankings.

With nine teams with four losses or fewer in the league, the race for the regular-season title is a long way from being over.

Syracuse.com's Mike Waters wrote, "A wild weekend has turned the Big East standings into one muddled mess."

Syracuse lost 65-55 to Pittsburgh Saturday, leaving Marquette as the only team in the league with just one loss. The Orange are down to just seven scholarship players as senior forward James Southerland continues to sit out with an eligibility issue and center Dajuan Coleman is out with a knee injury.

"They were tough,'' Syracuse guard Brandon Triche said of Pittsburgh. "They took away a lot of the things we like to do. They were high on the ball screen. They were tough with us. They bumped us. They play tough.''

Marquette's time as the lone team at the top of the league standings didn't last long. Louisville beat Marquette Sunday, bringing the Golden Eagles a game closer to the pack of teams vying for the title.

"We had a great opportunity in front of us today," Marquette senior Trent Lockett said. "Unfortunately, Louisville flat out beat us today. There are no excuses."

Syracuse's win over Notre Dame Monday put the Orange back in sole possession of first place with a 7-2 league mark. Marquette is 6-2 and Cincinnati, Georgetown and Louisville are all tied at 6-3.

As flawed as the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) standings are at predicting team success in the post-season, the rankings are still one of the top factors used by the NCAA Selection Committee when selecting at-large teams for the tournament.

Thus, coaches around the country check their RPI ratings religiously. Here's a look at how the Big East stacks up in the most recent RPI.

Louisville is the top team in the league with a No. 9 rating and the seventh-toughest schedule in the nation. Syracuse is No. 12 (25th toughest schedule) and Marquette is No. 16 (13th toughest schedule).

Two other Big East teams are in the RPI top 25, No. 21 Cincinnati (27) and No. 23 Connecticut (17). Georgetown is No. 29, Pittsburgh No. 39 and Notre Dame No. 45. Connecticut can't make the NCAA Tournament this season due to NCAA punishment.

No. 59 St. John's and No. 73 Villanova are the only other Big East teams with a shot at the NCAA Tournament at this point. No. 64 Rutgers has an outside chance, but a 3-6 league record and just one RPI top-50 win hurts the Scarlet Knights' chances.

Joe Lunardi, the Bracketology expert at ESPN.com, predicted eight Big East teams in the NCAA Tournament as of Feb. 1, with Villanova just making the cut and St. John's missing the cut as one of the "Next Four Out."

The Big East has two of the top three teams in women's basketball. After dominant Baylor (20-1) collected 37 of the 40 first-place votes in this week's AP poll, Notre Dame (20-1) was No. 2 and Connecticut (20-1) No. 3. The Huskies garnered the other three first-place votes.
Louisville (19-4) is ranked No. 11, with No. 24 Syracuse (18-3) just making the poll by 50 points.

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