- John Gasaway, ESPN Insider
Let's get the bad news out of the way. Rick Pitino's team did indeed drop three in a row in the span of seven January days: at home to Syracuse 70-68, at Villanova 73-64 and at Georgetown 53-51.
Now the good news. By just about any performance measure, this team is better than the one that Pitino took to the Final Four last April. The Cardinals' offense is much better than it was last season (granted, that's a low hurdle), and the defense has improved as well (no small feat). In per-possession terms, this is the best team in the Big East, one that's outscoring conference opponents by 0.16 points per possession.
Year after year, this conference's best team is a legitimate Final Four threat. That's the case once again this season.
So set aside the rankings and take a fresh appraisal of the Cardinals ahead of their matchup at Notre Dame on Saturday night (9 ET, ESPN) in this final season of the "old" Big East.