Villanova unanimous pick to win Big East for second straight preseason
NEW YORK — Villanova can only hope the Big East coaches are on the money as they were last season.
For the second straight year, the Wildcats are the unanimous choice in the Big East preseason poll. They proved the coaches to be pretty good prognosticators last season, winning the regular-season title by four games with a 16-2 mark and then taking the Big East Tournament crown.
At Wednesday’s media day at Madison Square Garden, senior forward Daniel Ochefu was asked why it didn’t seem the Wildcats were enjoying the news.
"What’s there to enjoy?" he said with a smile. "Now, if this happens again like last season, then we have something to enjoy."
Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono was asked what last year’s team will remember more, the school-record 33 wins or the three losses, the last of which was a stunner to North Carolina State in the round of 32 of the NCAA tournament.
"I’ll remember the 33 wins. That’s a great season what we did last year," said Arcidiacono, the conference co-player of the year last season. "I will always look at a whole season. Maybe some of our guys will use the last loss as motivation, but people go about things their own way."
Ochefu and Arcidiacono are the only returning starters for the Wildcats, who were No. 2 in the final AP poll, but sixth man Josh Hart, the Big East Tournament MVP, is also back along with a solid recruiting class.
"Our kids seem to understand that expectations are nothing we have control of," coach Jay Wright said. "I think over the years guys like Ryan and Daniel have understood that and they pass it on to younger guys, and our young guys seem to be intelligent enough to understand that."
Georgetown is second in the preseason poll for a second straight year, followed by Butler, Xavier, Providence, Marquette, Seton Hall, DePaul, Creighton and St. John’s.
Of the six Big East teams that were in the NCAA tournament, Xavier made the deepest run, reaching the Sweet 16. That was something that stuck with the conference all offseason.
"After three seasons we remain committed to being a conference that has teams playing for the national championship," Commissioner Val Ackerman said. "We expect our teams to be a factor nationally and our coaches and players are aiming at nothing less."
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Providence’s Kris Dunn, who shared player of the year honors with Arcidiacono and was the defensive player of the year last season, was picked as the preseason player of the year.
"I am a player who grinds, grinds and grinds," said the junior guard, who averaged 15.6 points and 5.5 rebounds and led the conference with 7.48 assists and 2.75 steals. "I will keep grinding, believe me."
OLD NEW COACH
Dave Leiato will start his second tenure as DePaul’s coach. The former assistant to Jim Calhoun at Connecticut led the Blue Demons from 2002-03 to 2004-05 before he left for Virginia, where he coached for four seasons. DePaul was in Conference USA back then.
"Time creates a lot of differences. You get older; you evolve in philosophy," Leiato said. "But the challenge is the same, to restore winning, tradition and history."
NEW NEW COACH
Chris Mullin takes over at St. John’s, his alma mater, and it’s his first coaching job of any kind. Still, it’s hard to imagine any fan base is as excited as the Red Storm’s to welcome back the Naismith Hall of Famer after a 17-year NBA career.
"People ask about recruiting, and I tell them that’s why I hired the assistants I did so I can follow their lead," Mullin said. "The game is the one I played for more than 30 years and don’t forget, I learned a lot from coach (Lou) Carnesecca."
BIG EAST/BIG TEN
This year will start an annual early-season series between the Big East and Big Ten named in honor of Hall of Famer Dave Gavitt, the founding commissioner of the Big East. Eight games will be played during the first full week of the regular season: DePaul at Penn State; Nebraska at Villanova; Georgetown at Maryland; Illinois at Providence; Rutgers at St. John’s; Creighton at Indiana; Iowa at Marquette; and Xavier at Michigan.
Madison Square Garden will again be the home of the Big East Tournament as it has every year since 1983. The tournament is the longest running conference tournament at the same venue. The Big East began competition in 1979-80. After rotating the tournament the first three years (Providence, Syracuse and Hartford), the event moved to its March home.