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A big part of it is the new cast of teams. Gone are four of the top five defensive teams from last season - Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cincinnati and Syracuse. Interestingly, when Cincinnati met Pittsburgh in New York on Dec. 17 for what was now a nonconference game, the Bearcats notched an old-style 44-43 win.

The league’s three newcomers have injected a new style as well. Creighton’s McDermott is among the nation’s leading scorers, averaging 24.8 points. The Bluejays lead the nation in 3-point shooting. None of this grind-it-out-inside stuff for them.

“We’re new to this league and we probably don’t look the best on paper,” Creighton senior forward Ethan Wragge said. “We’re kind of short. We’re not going and wind-milling during warm-ups.”

Xavier is a well-balanced team that likes to push the pace on offense. Butler is struggling the most of the three newbies, but the Bulldogs aren’t a slouch when it comes to scoring.

“There’s a real diversity of styles of play,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said. “And teams are winning in different manners.”

Which isn’t to say that the Big East has turned into a shoot-away league. The seven holdover teams - DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova - have rosters built to handle the old style of play.

Xavier forward Justin Martin said Big East games have been much tougher physically than the ones the Musketeers played in the Atlantic 10. During Xavier’s 86-79 win over Marquette on Jan. 9, the referees allowed a lot of contact under the basket.

“I think the referees are starting to scale back a little bit,” Martin said. “They’ll call the obvious fouls, but they’re letting guys play a lot more than they were in nonconference. I think a few other places can attest to that.

“It’s definitely physical. I think it’s going to get more physical come conference tournament time and NCAA tournament time.”

Coaches think it will take a few seasons for the Big East to develop a new identity. Teams will get more familiar with the new rules and with one another and figure out ways to hold each other down.

“We’re just in the beginning stages of figuring out what the identity of this conference will be,” Mack said.


AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Omaha contributed to this report.