Butler knocked off the 5th-ranked UNC Tarheels, Georgetown took care of 18th-ranked Florida, Creighton knocked Oklahoma (formerly 18th) out of the AP Poll, and Villanova took down 14th-ranked VCU and 19th-rated Michigan -- all within the first two weeks of the college season. That's not all: Providence took victories over ACC foes in FSU and Notre Dame, and St. John's handled Big Ten Minnesota with a shot at 10th-ranked Gonzaga tonight.
Is this the sign that the Big East beast is back from last season's winter hibernation?
Looking at the numbers, the league entered Friday with a combined record of 41-5 -- they'll add another loss today when Butler and Georgetown face off for the first of at-least three meetings this season. The league hosts two top-10 rated offenses, according to KenPom.com, and two top-25 defenses. All but two programs have a defense within the top-100 in college basketball (Marquette and DePaul), and all but three are in the top-100 offensively (with Butler and DePaul in the 140's and St. John's just missing at 105).
Those numbers will change as the season progresses, teams gel, suffer injuries or (sometimes) change tactics. What happens in the non-conference slate, however, will ultimately have the biggest impact on how the Big East rates itself against other leagues.
For what it is worth though, the Big East currently stands in fourth-place among basketball conferences according to KenPom. The league ranks below the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC (in order) and ahead of the SEC and Pac-12. The site uses a formula that averages the adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies of the leagues' members to generate an overall "rating."
Based on rating, the Big East is 0.0323 behind the ACC and just 0.0196 ahead of the SEC. The gap between the Pac-12 and the 7th-place Atlantic-10 Conference is 0.0773, which seems to place the Big East firmly within the "elite club" so far this season, with a somewhat-clear delineation of power between the top-six leagues and the rest of college hoops.
The divide is "somewhat clear," rather than fully-clear, because, while the top-six leagues are separated by less than the margin between number-six and number-seven, the top league and sixth league have 0.0966 separating them.
The Big East has two ranked teams -- possibly three or more on Monday -- and has seven members in the KenPom top-50. That's not a small feat for a league with just ten members. The five power-football conferences dominate college hoops as well, but their averages are in some cases aided by having a larger number of teams; 14 for the SEC, 15 for the ACC, 14 for the Big Ten, and 12 for the Pac-12. More teams can minimize the risk of one or two duds in the mix -- in a 10-team league, having a few programs in a "down year" is more devastating to overall strength than the same in a 14-team conference.
These sort of things rely heavily on what happens in March, usually, but November's early-season tournaments provide a great glimpse of what may come near the end of the season.
Georgetown and Butler both followed their huge upset wins with a letdown on Thanksgiving -- and one will be a loser today, but their play against top programs proved that both have the ability to win a tough game. If these programs stay strong until conference play, the Big East should be able to hang with the "Power Conference" pack.