NEW YORK – (From official news release) – For the third straight year, Villanova was the unanimous selection to win the BIG EAST regular-season title in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The Wildcats received nine first-place votes from the league’s head coaches and a total of 81 points in the poll. The 10 Big East head coaches do not place their own teams on their ballots.
Over the past three seasons, the Wildcats have proven to be the correct pick. Villanova was the outright regular-season champion in each of the past three seasons, compiling a 16-2 record each year. For 2016-17, coach Jay Wright’s club will be aiming for an unprecedented fourth consecutive title. Last year, the team was the BIG EAST Tournament runner-up before marching on to win the NCAA Tournament title and capturing the eighth national championship in BIG EAST men’s basketball history. For the second straight season, Villanova set a school record for victories, finishing with a 35-5 record.
The Wildcats return three starters from last year’s squad. Junior guard Josh Hart leads a talented group of returnees. He averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds last year and was named to the NCAA All-Final Four Team. Junior forward Kris Jenkins, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer of the national championship game against North Carolina, averaged 13.6 points and made a league-leading 100 3-point baskets. Sophomore guard Jalen Brunson averaged 9.6 points and made the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team.
Xavier was chosen for second place, the highest preseason position for the Musketeers as they begin their fourth year as a BIG EAST member. Xavier finished second to Villanova in the regular season with a 14-4 record and ended their campaign with a 28-6 overall record and a No. 9 ranking in the final Associated Press poll. This season, coach Chris Mack, who won three national Coach of the Year awards last year, can build around a backcourt that includes junior Trevon Bluiett and sophomore Edmond Sumner. Bluiett averaged 15.1 points and was named All-BIG EAST First Team. Sumner earned a spot on the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team after averaging 11.0 points and 3.6 assists.
Creighton is the coaches’ pick for third place in the poll with 64 points. The Bluejays put together a 20-15 season in 2015-16 and advanced to the quarterfinal round of the NIT. Coach Greg McDermott’s team finished 9-9 in BIG EAST play. This season, the Bluejays can boast a strong backcourt that includes senior Maurice Watson Jr., who earned All-BIG EAST Second Team honors after averaging 14.1 points and a league-leading 6.5 assists. He will be joined by junior Marcus Foster, a transfer who was a double-figure scorer in two seasons at Kansas State.
Seton Hall and Georgetown tied for fourth place in the poll with 53 points. The Pirates finished last season winning nine of their last 11 regular-season games and going on to win the BIG EAST Tournament. The Hall finished 25-9 overall and made its first NCAA appearance since 2006. They return four junior starters. Guard Khadeen Carrington averaged 14.1 points. In the frontcourt, Angel Delgado averaged 9.9 points and his 9.3 rebound mark ranked second in the BIG EAST. Desi Rodriguez compiled a 12.4 scoring mark and Ismael Sanogo averaged 5.0 points and 7.2 rebounds. The Hoyas will be focused on bouncing back from a 15-18 campaign and a 7-11 BIG EAST mark. L.J. Peak and Isaac Copeland, a pair of junior forwards, have already enjoyed two productive seasons. Last year, Peak averaged 12.3 points and Copeland averaged 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds. Peak shot 40.9 percent from 3-point range, which ranked third in the league. Center Bradley Hayes averaged 8.7 points and 6.7 boards. Starting point guard Tre Campbell (4.1 ppg) also returns.
Butler was slotted for sixth place. The Bulldogs are coming off their second straight NCAA Tournament and finished 22-11 overall and 10-8 in the BIG EAST. Junior forward Kelan Martin emerged as an effective league player, averaging 15.7 points and 6.8 rebounds. He was an All-BIG EAST Second Team pick. Senior forward Andrew Chrabascz has been a solid three-year contributor. Last year, he averaged 10.7 points and 4.2 rebounds. Junior forward Tyler Wideman earned a starting role last year and averaged 7.8 points and 5.7 rebounds.
Marquette was picked for seventh place. Last year, with one of the youngest rosters in the country, the Golden Eagles put together a 20-13 season and an 8-10 conference record. This season, Marquette has four starters back. Senior center Luke Fischer averaged 12.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and shot 60.8 percent from the field. Sophomore guard Haanif Cheatham impressed as a rookie by compiling an 11.8 scoring average and making the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team. Senior guard Jajuan Johnson averaged 10.2 points. Sophomore guard Traci Carter earned a starting spot as a freshman and averaged 5.4 points.
St. John’s was tabbed for eighth place. Last year, the Red Storm were very young, but four freshmen showed plenty of promise for new coach Chris Mullin. Forward Kassoum Yakwe led the BIG EAST in blocked shots with a 2.5 average. He also averaged 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds. Classmate Yankuba Sima was second in blocks at 2.4 and averaged 7.3 points and 5.7 boards. Guard Federico Mussini compiled a 10.7 scoring mark and led the league in free throw shooting, making 86.2 percent. Guard Malik Ellison averaged 7.3 points.
Providence was selected ninth. The Friars are coming off their third straight NCAA appearance and a 24-11 record. The Friars were 10-8 in BIG EAST play. They must replace guard Kris Dunn, the BIG EAST Player and Defensive Player of the Year, and forward Ben Bentil, who won the BIG EAST Most Improved Player award. Both were NBA Draft picks. Junior forward Rodney Bullock was an effective Friar with an 11.4 scoring mark and a 6.8 rebounding average. Guards Jalen Lindsey (7.9) and Kyron Cartwright (5.9) along with forward Ryan Fazekas (5.1) all have starting experience.
DePaul was picked 10th in the poll. Senior guard Billy Garrett Jr. figures to be the team’s anchor. A former BIG EAST Rookie of the Year, Garrett Jr. averaged 12.6 points and 3.5 assists last season. Backcourt partner Eli Cain made the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team after averaging 10.3 points. He ranked second in the league in field goal shooting at 42.5 percent. Coach Dave Leitao’s group of newcomers mostly consist of candidates to strengthen the frontcourt.