CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I've been trying to come up with a different way to depict the honest-to-goodness degrees of separation - it's closer than six - in Big East men's basketball this season.
There are the recurring coaches' quotes (more of those later) and the RPI, where six of the top 14 and nine of the top 28 are Big East teams (and 12 of the top 33 in strength of schedule).
The opinion here is that in 41 days - on Selection Sunday - the Big East will break its own record (eight teams in 2006, 2008, 2010) and land nine or 10 berths in the 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket - and not just because the field is 68 teams, growing by three NIT-worthy at-large teams.
Finally, on Saturday as I tube-tracked Louisville's double-overtime win at Connecticut along with resurgent Georgetown's victory at Villanova, I decided the Big East standings would prove a point ... and that was before Marquette handed Syracuse a fourth consecutive loss, dropping the Boeheims into a four-way tie for seventh.
By winning Saturday night at Cincinnati, West Virginia (14-6, 5-3) is in a three-way tie for fourth place (with UConn and Villanova). Had Bob Huggins' team fallen at his old "Shoe" home, the Mountaineers would be sitting today alone ... in 10th place.
And 11th-place St. John's (12-8, 4-5) humbled third-ranked Duke, 93-78, on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. It was the last in a run of eight straight ranked foes for the Red Storm (3-5).
Winning on the road in the Big East has a degree of difficulty ... well, just ask first-place Pitt, which escaped Rutgers 65-62 on Saturday. Only Pitt, WVU and the Hoyas have winning road records in league play. The only teams with losing marks at home are in the league's bottom five (Rutgers, Seton Hall and woeful DePaul).
Eight of the top 11 in the standings lost last week. Louisville and Georgetown (they meet tonight in the nation's capital) each went 2-0. Notre Dame won at Pitt.
Another way to look at it? The top 11 in the Big East standings are a combined 121-16 in non-conference play. Of the 16 losses, 11 have come to teams ranked at one time or another this season. Of those 16 defeats, only three were on Big East home floors.
The Big East is 6-1 against top 10-ranked teams, the only loss by Marquette to Duke in Kansas City back in late November.
Huggins' club entertains Seton Hall on Wednesday, then plays seven of its remaining nine regular-season games against teams currently ranked. An upside there? Five of those poll-sitting seven must visit the WVU Coliseum.
One of my longtime coaching acquaintances, Oliver Purnell, is looking at it from the bottom up, in his first season at DePaul after 22 sideline seasons and tours of duty at Radford, Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson.
"We had the same issue when we were in the ACC," Purnell said last week on the Big East coaches' teleconference about the beastly Big East. "You don't get credit for playing each other in conference play. It's crazy.
"The Big East may be the strongest conference I've ever been a part of in terms of a given year, maybe the strongest ever. It's crazy for the teams in this league, for six or seven of them not to be high seeds. Anyone who makes the tournament should be a high seed just because of the strength of the conference. The number of good teams is incredible."