10/22/2009
'Nova is pick in Big East
Associated Press

NEW YORK - Last season, being at the top of the Big East meant being at the top of the national rankings. That might not be true at the start of this season - but just wait.

"We respect everybody in the league so much and when teams in the league pick us No. 1, that is respect and a great honor," said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose Wildcats were picked to the top spot Wednesday by conference coaches. "We'll go back to work and practice and know we have a lot to prove."

Villanova, which received 10 first-place votes, helped make the Big East the best conference in the country last season, and maybe the best ever in terms of sheer numbers.

A record nine teams were ranked in the Top 25 at some point of the season, seven were chosen for the NCAA tournament, a record five reached the round of 16, four made the regional finals and Villanova and Connecticut were in the Final Four.

It was a senior-laden conference last season and a few of the underclassmen splashed onto the national stage and into the NBA. There may not be as much attention this preseason, but things still won't be too bad.

"We're all young and that means a lot of variables," said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, whose Mountaineers received five No. 1 votes and were picked second, the school's highest preseason ranking since it joined the conference in 1995-96.

"We have veterans because we played three freshmen in our top six last year. Villanova is the pick because they have the perimeter and experience," Huggins said. "Villanova has been to the Final Four, so that makes sense."

Connecticut was third in the voting and the only other school to receive a first-place vote.

"There were years where we got beat up and two years later we were beating up," Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said. "It takes awhile sometimes but teams in your league reaching the Final Four is motivation for other teams. A league this tough prepares you for the NCAA tournament and that is how everybody is judged, postseason play."

Louisville, the defending regular-season and tournament champion, was fourth followed by Georgetown, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Seton Hall, St. John's, Marquette, Providence, South Florida, Rutgers and DePaul.

Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody joined Georgetown great Patrick Ewing as the only players to be chosen Big East preseason player of the year more than once.

The 6-foot-8 senior, who led the conference in scoring last season and was second in rebounding, was the Big East player of the year as a sophomore and the preseason choice last season.

Ewing was the preseason choice of the coaches three times, the last as a senior in 1984-85.

Harangody averaged 23.3 points and 11.8 rebounds as a first-team all-conference pick last season. Joining him on the six-man preseason first team were seniors Deonta Vaughn of Cincinnati, Lazar Hayward of Marquette, Scottie Reynolds of Villanova and Da'Sean Butler of West Virginia, and sophomore Greg Monroe of Georgetown.

"This league will never be down. The coaches put you in position to win," Monroe said. "The league is more balanced this year but it will be as physical as ever. Some really good players left but there are up-and-coming stars still here."

Lance Stephenson of Cincinnati was selected preseason rookie of the year.

The conference and Madison Square Garden announced a 5-year extension for the postseason tournament, keeping it there through 2016. The tournament has been played in New York since 1983, the longest run by any conference at the same venue.

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