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February 23, 2009

Who will be left standing in the Big East?

We're getting closer and closer to March, which means more and more questions every day about how the season is going to play out.

Which teams are going to be the No. 1 seeds? Is Blake Griffin going to be the player of the year? Which mid-major is going to make the surprise run? Who will be this season's Stephen Curry?

All good questions. Another: Which team is going to win the Big East, the nation's best conference? Four teams are tied in the loss column, and the league's stretch run promises to be as entertaining as the season to this point.

So, which team is going to win the Big East? We asked basketball writers Mike Huguenin and Jason King for their take.

MIKE HUGUENIN: Louisville

I think Connecticut and Pittsburgh are better teams, but I think Louisville has the best chance to win the Big East because of its remaining schedule.

And it's not like Louisville is cruddy. There's an athletic and dangerous frontcourt, a top-notch coach and well, an average backcourt. Again, though, it's the schedule that's the key.

Louisville's remaining slate features a road game against Georgetown, home games against Marquette and Seton Hall and a road game at West Virginia. The talented frontcourt should be enough for wins in the first three, while the regular-season finale on the road will be difficult. But if Louisville has a shot at the regular-season crown, look for coach Rick Pitino to have his crew ready to go against WVU.

Four teams are tied with two league losses: Louisville, Connecticut, Marquette and Pittsburgh. UConn and Pitt play each other, which knocks one of them out of the running; Pitt won at UConn, so let's pick the Panthers to also beat the Huskies at home. Marquette finishes up with UConn, Louisville, Pitt and Syracuse, and the Golden Eagles will lose at least two and maybe all four of those games.

That leaves Louisville and Pitt with two league losses. Remember, Louisville beat Pitt in their head-to-head matchup, which gives Louisville the tiebreaker and the No. 1 seed in the Big East tourney.

JASON KING: Pittsburgh

It's only fitting the best team in college basketball win its own conference, and right now Pittsburgh seems to fit that label. No one is playing as well as Jamie Dixon's squad, which turned in arguably the most impressive performance by any school this season when it defeated Connecticut on the road two weeks ago.

Pitt stumbled early during Big East play when it lost to Louisville and Villanova, but since then, the Panthers have been nearly unstoppable. If it defeats Providence and Seton Hall as expected this week, Pittsburgh will have gone a full month without losing a game. In a conference as strong as the Big East, that's quite a feat.

The Panthers are one of four Big East teams with two losses, but Marquette almost certainly will lose another game or two because of its rigorous remaining schedule. Louisville could lose to Georgetown, Marquette and West Virginia.

That leaves Pittsburgh and Connecticut to battle it out for the league crown. The teams face off for a second time in the regular-season finale March 7. Because the Panthers are the home team and, right now, the better team I'll pick them to emerge as the champions of the toughest conference in college hoops.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.
Jason King is a college basketball writer for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.



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