NEW YORK (AP) — Villanova is in a familiar place — atop the Big East Conference.
The defending NCAA champions were picked by coaches to win the Big East Conference on Thursday. This is the fifth straight year the Wildcats have held the top spot. They received eight first-place votes while Marquette and Butler each received one No. 1 pick. Coaches may not vote for their own team.
The Wildcats only return two starters from last season’s team that went 36-4 and won its second national championship in three years.
“It is definitely wide open this year,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
Marquette was second, followed by Providence, St. John’s and Butler. Xavier, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Creighton and DePaul round out the poll.
St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds has been chosen the conference’s preseason player of the year. Ponds led the Big East in scoring in all games last season with a 21.6 average and ranked second in steals with a 2.3 mark. Ponds set the Red Storm’s sophomore scoring record with 647 points last season. He is the only returning member of last year’s All-Big East first team.
He was joined on the first team by Butler’s Kamar Baldwin, Georgetown’s Jessie Govan, Marquette’s Markus Howard, Providence’s Alpha Diallo and Villanova’s Eric Paschall.
Ponds is the first St. John’s player to win the preseason player of the year honors since Malik Sealy shared it with Georgetown’s Alonzo Mourning in 1991-92.
Providence guard David Duke and Villanova guard Jahvon Quinerly are co-winners of the Big East preseason freshman of the year award.
NEW ROLE: Travis Steele took over as the head coach of Xavier when Chris Mack left for Louisville. Steele has spent the past 10 seasons at the school, including the past nine on Mack’s staff.
“It makes it easier,” Steele said of familiarity with his team and the school. “I have relationships with the players already and that goes a long way. I know the people on campus and want to keep our culture going that Chris Mack established over the last 10 years. There are still adjustments that have to be made.”
Xavier won the Big East regular season title last season and earned the first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in school history.
Steele jokingly said the pressure he’s facing after last year’s success was “none at all.”
Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing smiled while recalling his reception at MSG last year — his first as a coach — when he received some boos from the crowd.
“It was like the old, old days,” said Ewing, laughing. “It’s funny because I played 15 years here and with all the fans they hated me when I played at Georgetown. They loved me when I played for 15 years here (with the Knicks).”
REMEMBERING OC: Big East commissioner Val Ackerman announced that the conference is naming the press center at the league’s tournament after longtime Associated Press basketball writer Jim O’Connell, who died in July. O’Connell had attended every Big East tournament since it began in 1980 before missing last year’s games because of health issues.