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Top of the Arc - December 9, 2008

Dec. 9, 3:50 p.m.: Now it is time to take a look at the Big East, which is unquestionably the nation’s strongest conference this season. The Big East is weaker at the bottom than the ACC. But the Big East goes about 10 deep. Just consider that Seton Hall, which is the ninth or 10th best team in the Big East, has beaten Virginia Tech, which could be the sixth-best team in the ACC.

Best team: Four teams will be in the running for the top spot in the Big East. Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Louisville and Notre Dame should all have a chance. But there is no shame in fourth place in this league because it may still enable a team to earn a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Look for the Big East to earn to No. 1 seeds. Considering U-Conn.’s near stumble against Buffalo, the edge right now probably goes to Pittsburgh, which has won its first nine games, the most impressive being a 14-point victory against Washington State.

Worst team: South Florida has lived down to expectations. The Bulls have already dropped games to Central Florida, UAB and Virginia. They may only split an upcoming four-game road trip. All this before a brutal conference season even begins.

Biggest surprise: Syracuse is undefeated with wins over Florida and Kansas. The Orange look like it is on the brink of being able to challenge the top tier in the conference. Seton Hall has been the other surprise. In perhaps a make-or-break year for Coach Bobby Gonzalez, the Pirates already have victories over two potential tournament teams in Southern California and Virginia Tech. If the Pirates keep it up, it could mean 10 Big East teams will be able to make cases for NCAA tournament inclusion.

Biggest disappointment: Louisville’s 14-point loss to Western Kentucky was a shocking development. The Hilltoppers lost two key players from last season’s Sweet 16 team and were predicted to finish behind Middle Tennessee and South Alabama in the Sun Belt, in some publications. The Cardinals are expected to rebound and challenge for the conference title, but that loss will stand as the most inexplicable in non-conference play.

Best victory: The most impressive win was Notre Dame’s one-point victory over Texas in Maui in a battle of two Final Four hopefuls. The problem was that the Irish earned a matchup against North Carolina and were run off the floor.

Conference rank: 1

Tournament worthy: U-Conn., Louisville, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Marquette, Syracuse, Villanova, Georgetown, West Virginia

By Eric Prisbell  |  December 9, 2008; 3:37 PM ET
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