MORGANTOWN - Syracuse leads the Big East basketball race, but "buffalo" is better to describe how the conference has foiled prognosticators.
Witness the Saturday night "marquee" game delivered via ESPN's College GameDay, with 11th-place Louisville visiting basement-dwelling Pittsburgh.
When West Virginia was picked to finish seventh in the 2011-12 Big East race, it seemed a tribute to Bob Huggins and his acumen from his fellow coaches.
And to be honest, that really seemed perhaps a notch or two too lofty.
After all, the Mountaineers had seven freshmen - and the same number of WVU rookies (six frosh and a junior college transfer) - on his roster.
True, the Big East wasn't going to be 11 NCAA Tournament teams-deep as it was during a record 2010-11, but it was still the Big East, with 16 teams and 18-game league schedules.
Well, it seems that for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons, WVU (15-5, 5-2) seems destined to finish as high as or higher than it was forecast. In fact, if the Mountaineers don't finish better than seventh, it will be a surprise.
After outlasting Cincinnati 77-74 in overtime before a sellout crowd of 14,070 at the WVU Coliseum, Huggins' team finds itself a half-game out of second place in the league and only one loss behind Syracuse (20-1, 7-1), which suffered its first loss Saturday at Notre Dame.
The win over the Bearcats came with senior Truck Bryant going 2-for-16 from the floor, while classmate Kevin Jones (26 points, 13 rebounds) did nothing to dissuade anyone that he isn't the Big East's best player.
What was most significant for WVU, however, was that in tandem with Truck's crash, freshmen and fellow guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne combined for 25 points, 14 rebounds and five steals.
The Bearcats have a chance to tighten the Big East race even more, since the first-place Orange visits "The Shoe" tonight for the first ESPN "Big Monday" there since Cincinnati joined the league in 2005-06.
The victory was especially significant for WVU in this regard: It could go a long way toward helping the Mountaineers to a double bye - top four seeds - in what figures to be their final appearance in the Big East tournament before heading to the Big 12.
Yes, WVU still has to visit the Carrier Dome this Saturday. However, Huggins' club owns head-to-head tiebreakers on second-place Georgetown (16-3, 6-2) and the Bearcats (15-5, 5-2).
Marquette (16-4, 5-2) has to visit the WVU Coliseum next month. USF (12-8, 5-2) is the fourth team in the third-place crowd. WVU has to go to Tampa for a regular-season finale, but before then the Bulls must travel to Marquette, Georgetown, Providence, Pitt, Syracuse and Louisville.
Asked about the Big East race and WVU's prime positioning headed to his hometown to face St. John's (8-11, 2-6) on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, Bryant said, "Yeah, it's hard to think that."
West Virginia isn't the biggest surprise in the Big East. Pitt's 0-7 start in league play is a stunner, and suddenly the "Backyard Brawl" home-and-home doesn't look so foreboding for the Mountaineers.