The conference race, top and bottom aside, is still a won/loss jumble with Notre Dame holding onto second place with a ½ of a finger nail, three teams tied for third place and a two loss margin separates second place from tenth place, but the differentials are beginning to sort out the contenders and also rans. As for the pretenders, that may take another five or so games. The conference is approaching the point where a blowout win or loss will not necessarily scramble the differentials much.
Sorted by efficiency differential, the tiers are becoming distinct, though several teams, St. John's for example, continue to defy the characteristics associated with the other teams in their "cluster" (or tier). The offensive/defensive conference average has moved down to about 1.03 (points per possession), about 0.02 above the Division 1-wide average of 1.01. Defense in Big East games is starting to assert itself?
The Great Divide...
The conference has separated into an upper and lower division as suggested by the positive and negative differentials, and within both the upper division and the lower division, clusters, sometimes pairs but often four or more teams have "clustered". The conference has not split into convenient halves however. 10 teams sit above the natural dividing point of zero, and six sit below. The uneven division suggests at least one (DePaul?), but probably more (South Florida? Providence?) have had a number of ugly losses in conference play which most likely will translate into won/loss records well south of 0.500. Among the lower division teams, St. John's is an anomaly. The record reads 5-5, but the Pythagorean Winning Percentage computes to a 3-7 record through 10 games. Should the Red Storm "play to their PWP" through the balance of the season, they will finish with a 8-10 record, an improvement over their 2010 conference mark. On the other hand, does a win over Duke last weekend -- one that caught more than a few off guard -- coupled with a conference SOS ranked third, hint of an improvement in PWP if not the won/loss record in the last half of conference play? The Johnnies' last out of conference game this season, to be played this weekend at UCLA, may give us a clue.
Pittsburgh and DePaul aside, the upper and lower divisions of the conference appear to cluster fairly nicely into a series of tiers. For the upper division, Villanova and West Virginia are located together on the level below Pitt. How convenient, given the two will face off Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. The winner will move into a tie with the paradoxical Irish, and most likely inch closer to Pitt. Marquette and Louisville are, like Nova and WVU, paired, while "The Old Guard", Connecticut, Syracuse and Georgetown, along with Cincinnati are clustered above the conference differential mid-point, but UConn, 'Nati and GTown have had easier portions of their schedules than have 'Cuse or the Irish. There will no doubt be a bit of sorting out in this cluster in the next two weeks or so. Notre Dame, staddling the uppper and lower divisions last week, has become a "bridge" between the Louisville and UConn clusters. Given the Irish continue to lead in strength of schedule, it is likely they continue to move up over the next week or so. The Demons continue to fall "out of touch" with the rest of the conference, with a -0.256, below their -0.235 differential last week.