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UConn tops Big East pre-season hoops poll

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


AP Basketball Writer

NEW YORK -- The Big East coaches picked Connecticut as the preseason favorite in the conference most consider the deepest in college basketball.

Jim Calhoun agrees with half of those ideas.

"We're not the best team in the league right now," the Huskies coach said at the conference's media day Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. "We could be in time, when we get a couple of players healthy and get a couple of others eligible in December. There is no doubt, though, that this league is as deep as its ever been. We had eight teams in the NCAA tournament last year and most of them are better and some of the ones who just missed making it are better. This is one tough league."

Connecticut, which returns its nucleus of center Hasheem Thabeet, guard A.J. Price and forward Jeff Adrien, received nine first-place votes and 214 points, edging Louisville, which got three No. 1 votes and 205 points. Pittsburgh had three No. 1s and 200 points, and Notre Dame had one first-place vote and 195 points.

Villanova was fifth followed by Marquette, Georgetown, Syracuse, West Virginia, Providence, Cincinnati, Rutgers, Seton Hall, St. John's, DePaul and South Florida.

The Big East matched its own record last season with the eight schools selected for the NCAA tournament. Louisville, which returns four starters, went the deepest in the tournament, reaching the regional final, while Villanova and West Virginia both reached the round of 16.

"There is something to look forward to in this league every night out," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "The Big East makes you play every night and to prove it, we lost to Seton Hall and Cincinnati last season, two of the teams that didn't make the tournament. You don't know what to expect from anybody. You can't say who the best in the league is unless you can say who will stay healthy or who will make free throws at the end of a game. That's how tough this is."

Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody, the Big East player of the year last season, was picked as the league's preseason player of the year.

The 6-foot-8 Harangody, who led the Big East in scoring (23.3) and rebounding (11.3) last season, and Pittsburgh's Sam Young, the MVP of the conference tournament last season, were the only unanimous selections to the league's 11-man preseason team.

Harangody joins a list of Big East honorees that includes the likes of Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Ray Allen and Allen Iverson.

"There's no reason he can't be compared to guys like that," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said of Harangody. "He is an unusually efficient offensive machine. He worked hard to improve his outside game this season. He has earned everything he has received."

Harangody is the first Big East player of the year to return to school since Pitt's Brandin Knight, who shared the honor with Connecticut's Caron Butler in 2001-02.

Kyle McAlarney of Notre Dame was also chosen to the preseason team, meaning the Fighting Irish and Connecticut, with Thabeet and Price, were the only teams with two selections.

The rest of the preseason team was: Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati; DaJuan Summers, Georgetown; Terrence Williams, Louisville; Jerel McNeal, Marquette; Jonny Flynn, Syracuse; and Scottie Reynolds, Villanova.

Greg Monroe of Georgetown and Samardo Samuels of Louisville were chosen co-preseason rookies of the year.

For the first time since the Big East became a 16-team conference, all the schools will participate in the tournament at Madison Square Garden from March 10-14. Pitt, which won four games in as many days last March, is the defending champion.

The two doubleheaders on Tuesday, involving teams 9-16, will not be televised.

"We don't know what to expect of Tuesday," said commissioner Mike Tranghese, who is retiring after this season, his 18th in charge of the conference. "It is something our presidents and coaches wanted, for every player to experience coming to New York for the tournament. It's something that won't affect our chances of again having eight, or possibly even more, teams in the NCAA tournament."

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