Notebook: Flipped standings not a sign of weakness

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The Big East didn't only live atop the list of the best conferences over the past five years, they've owned property there. Rented it out to their friends. Repeatedly posted pictures of the view on Facebook.

Only, this season, the conference had to foreclose on the top spot. The Big Ten lives there now. At least, the national narrative insists as much.

The defacing of Big East stalwarts like Louisville (1-3), Villanova (1-3) and Pitt (0-4) along the with the rise of less-traditional powers like Cincinnati (3-1), Seton Hall (4-1) and Notre Dame (3-1) have fans and media alike puzzled.

Among the teams picked in the top half of the preseason coaches poll, only four own winning records in conference play. Ranked Georgetown was picked to finish 10th and Seton Hall in the bottom half as well.

It's early to be placing judgments, but stats and eyeballs don't lie. This isn't your father's Big East this year. Shoot, it isn't even your older brother's Big East.

"It's weird," Dion Dixon said. "But you can expect that. In the Big East you don't know what is going to happen. But it is kind of weird seeing the top teams that have been in our league down like that."

Weird? Yes. Sign of weakness? Not necessarily. If anything, those criticizing a perceived decrease in depth this year, should look in the opposite direction, according to Mick Cronin.

"I think that's unfair to Cincinnati or Seton Hall or Rutgers because people think that Pitt is supposed to win or Louisville is supposed to win," Cronin said. "The bottom has gotten much better. Which I said was going to happen. Schools want to win and they are throwing money at their programs to catch those at the top who have unbelievable facilities and things of that nature. It only gets worse. It only gets harder to win because what you see is teams improve that were struggling."

Toss in the No. 1 overall team in the country and Cronin will tell you what you can do with the "Big East is down" theory. He'd prefer to push his theory on the importance of veteran players. He's seen it tried and true in the rebuild of the Bearcats and watched it cripple prominent programs early in this conference season. 

"It shows how hard it is to win in this league, what this league is all about," Cronin said. "You better have some veteran guys. Our league is not for the faint of heart around the rim. That's really a big adjustment for new players in this league. You do not get bailed out by officials, you have got to finish."

--- Cronin's case in point will stand across the court at Fifth Third Arena on Saturday. Villanova lost three senior 1,000-point scorers (Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena) and replaced them with three juniors who contributed 27.8 points per game last season (Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek and Mouphtau Yarou). 

Consequently, the Wildcats enter at 8-9 overall and owning only a win over doormat DePaul to their conference credit.

Villanova is staring down the possibility of finishing below .500. Talk about a stray from the norm. The last time the Wildcats finished with less than 20 wins was 2004, much less below .500.

"We all assume, you got this guy back, you got that guy back," he said. "Sometimes it's addition by subtraction and sometimes when you subtract it really hurts. For them they really lost a lot of guys like Antonio Pena that was the heart and soul of their team."

--- Bit of news coming out of the press conference today. Ge'Lawn Guyn, who spent Monday night in the hospital after a collision against Georgetown will not play Saturday against Villanova.

As for any availability or analysis beyond that, Cronin wasn't budging.

"How long he's out I don't know," Cronin said. "Head injuries, it's a day-to-day thing with stuff like that. I don't get into that, I've been advised by people that have more degrees than me that are doctors to stay away from specifics. He is out. He is evaluated daily. Hopefully he'll be back sooner than later, but he will not play Saturday."

JaQuon Parker is expected to play Saturday. Parker took an elbow to the sternum and had trouble breathing and that's why he didn't come back to play Monday.

--- Cashmere Wright's hot streak disappeared quicker than 2012 eyeglasses the past week and a half. Following four consecutive double-digit games against the four lower-rung opponents where he shot 26 of 45 (58 percent) from the field, he hasn't broken into double digits in any of the last five games. He's 13 of 50 (26 percent) from the field over that span including 3 of 18 from 3-point range.

What's the answer?

"I just got to get back in the gym," Wright said. "Like before practice and after practice, got to go shoot get my game back right. I can't allow me going cold to keep happening. I got to start hitting shots sooner or later."

Missing that many shots would make any player tentative. While Wright insists he's not afraid to let it loose, he did admit there are better options and he finds himself acting on them.

"I still go out there and take my shots," he said. "Because (teammates) are hitting shots I make sure I look at them first. So, if they open and I'm open I'd rather get them the shot because right now I feel they are making more shots than me."

--- If you want to listen to the entire press conference with Mick Cronin, click here. If you want to hear Dixon and Wright, click here.

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