Isn’t the Big East maybe a little different this season?

With no Big East representative ranked in the Top 10, hovering above the league, yet five Big East teams in the AP top 25, as much as any league out there, the standings seem to paint a picture. If you predicted right now that Providence is going to win the regular season, or Connecticut, or Marquette …

Or Villanova, for sure …

All believable. Maybe you’d take Villanova right now as front-runner, not just on history or the presence of established winners -- that factors in, for sure -- but also because the Wildcats are first to have put eight wins on the board after Tuesday night’s win over DePaul.

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Let’s hold off on that for now, however, as a firm prediction. Villanova has trips to Marquette, Providence, and UConn in the weeks ahead. Some big Wednesday night games should go a long, long way in determining the regular-season champ.

Questions abound on the Main Line. Can Brandon Slater return to his sharp early-season offensive form? Can Caleb Daniels keep being a top weapon off the bench at both ends? Will small ball work when Eric Dixon, working tirelessly every possession, is off the court? Can the continuing minutes for Bryan Antoine and Jordan Longino turn the Villanova bench unit into a needed force?

In many ways, this Villanova team is probably about what you expected heading into the season. (My own preseason air ball, thinking the bench would be a force from the start. Big air ball. I’d add my reasoning, but it’s still a shot taken and missed.)

Of course, Collin Gillespie is Villanova’s driving force, better than ever in his ability to get a defender off balance. Gillespie’s three-point shooting and KenPom.com offensive ratings are the best of his career. Preseason first-team All-American coming off major surgery? No sweat, Gillespie can handle it.

Justin Moore can handle himself, too. A third-year vet, playing like one. Moore’s offensive rating up, his turnover rate down. Nothing surprising, game-to-game variations aside. Just like there’s nothing surprising in how Jermaine Samuels factors in, outside jumpers going in or not. (Based on history, Samuels still has a game-winning three-pointer in him.)

So if this mid-season appraisal suggests Villanova is close to being on target, and Jay Wright’s group was picked to win the league, what’s the issue?

Well, none of the players mentioned above project as NBA lottery picks. Other Big East teams are stocked with high-level college talent, too. Providence, for instance, has Nate Watson as an inside presence and Ed Croswell, St. Joseph’s Prep graduate and La Salle transfer, picking up inside minutes without skipping a beat in terms of overall effectiveness.

From the outside, Villanova’s game next week at Marquette has a big circle on it, since Shaka Smart’s team took the game at the Finneran Pavilion. Villanova tends not to lose two to anybody during a Big East season. We’ll see.

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From the outside, this all makes for an interesting 2021-22 Big East season. From the inside? Next game up, Villanova players are trained to think. Most college athletes are and Villanova players take it seriously. In many ways, hosting DePaul was more important than a road test at a tough opponent. Can’t lose the games you’re supposed to win, and DePaul was capable of an upset, Seton Hall can confirm. (Nope, not Tuesday. Villanova took care of business.)

“Whatever the standings are, you’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Moore said this week.

“I don’t really look at any of the rankings … it doesn’t really matter to me,” Daniels said. “I feel as if our main goal has always been to just be the best team we can be by the end of the year. As far as the Big East, we know how competitive it is from top to bottom.”

“I think college basketball itself is a lot different,” Wright pointed out, how first-round draft choices used to stay four years, how that’s mostly a thing of the past.

Not a new trend. How that plays out in this year’s Big East, with no powerhouse, but a lot of power.

“I think it’s because of the maturity of the guys,” Wright said. “We have a lot of schools, they’re basketball schools, they have a great culture, and the guys stay. I think we have the most in the country of super seniors …”

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Meaning players actually playing a fifth year of college ball.

“I think it’s made a big difference in our league,” Wright said.

That’s true at Villanova obviously, with Gillespie and Samuels in that category. It’s just not a league for the untested in 2021-22, with the biggest tests just ahead.