09 Dec 2021 | 09:57 | Basketball
NEW YORK – For the seventh time in the last eight years, Villanova has been chosen to win the BIG EAST regular-season title in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The Wildcats, who captured last year’s regular-season crown, received all possible 10 first-place votes from the league’s head coaches, who did not place their own teams on their ballots. Villanova received 100 points in the poll.
Connecticut was picked for second place with 84 points. The Huskies received one first-place vote. Xavier edged St. John’s for third place with 76 points, ahead of the Johnnies’ 73 points. Seton Hall was picked fifth with 68 points. Butler was sixth with 60 points followed by Providence (45 points), Creighton (38), Marquette (26), Georgetown (25) and DePaul (10).
Villanova has won or shared the regular-season crown in seven of the last eight years under coach Jay Wright. This year, the Wildcats are led by guard Collin Gillespie, and forward Jermaine Samuels who have taken advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the effects of the pandemic in 2020-21. Gillespie is the Preseason BIG EAST Player of the Year. Samuels and junior guard Justin Moore are Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team.
Connecticut is picked for second place in its second season back in the BIG EAST. The Huskies, who earned an NCAA Tournament bid last year, welcome back grad student guard R.J. Cole and senior guard Tyrese Martin, who are Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team picks. Sophomore forward Adama Sanogo was named Preseason All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention. A pair of fifth-year seniors, forwards Tyler Polley, the BIG EAST Sixth Man of the Year, and Isaiah Whaley also return. Whaley shared Defensive Player of the Year honors with St. John’s Posh Alexander.
With its top seven scorers back from last year, the league coaches picked Xavier for third place. The Musketeers’ leader is fifth-year guard Paul Scruggs, a unanimous Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team pick. Junior forward Zach Freemantle is also on the Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team. Sophomore guard Colby Jones was a BIG EAST All-Freshman Team member in ’20-21.
The coaches placed St. John’s fourth. The Johnnies’ boast two of the league’s top players, junior wing Julian Champagnie, a unanimous All-BIG EAST First Team pick and last year’s BIG EAST scoring champion, and sophomore guard Posh Alexander, a Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team selection, who was last year’s BIG EAST Freshman of the Year.
Seton Hall is tabbed for fifth place. The Pirates have to replace Sandro Mamukelashvili, who shared BIG EAST Player of the Year honors last season, but welcome back four of their top six scorers. This season’s nucleus includes senior forward Jared Rhoden, a Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team selection, dependable fifth-year wing Myles Cale and the BIG EAST blocked shots leader, grad student Ike Obiagu.
Butler, slated for sixth place, brings back 10 of its top 11 scorers, including six fifth-year players. Sophomore guard Chuck Harris made the All-Freshman Team last year and was the first BU freshman to lead the team in scoring (12.9 ppg) in 40 years. Four other double-figure scorers are back – forwards Bryce Nze (11.9) and Bryce Golden (10.4) along with guards Jair Bolden (10.5) and Aaron Thompson (10.4).
Providence was chosen for seventh place. The Friars’ anchor is fifth-year center Nate Watson, a unanimous Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team pick. Forward Noah Horchler, a strong rebounder who can also hit from 3-point range, is also back for a fifth year. Senior wing A.J. Reeves and guard Jared Bynum are two more returning starters.
Creighton is picked eighth. Last year, the Bluejays finished 22-9, advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament and finished 19th in the final AP poll. While the Bluejays do not return any starters, they can look to three top reserves – center Ryan Kalkbrenner, wing Alex O’Connell and guard Shereef Mitchell to move into more prominent roles.
Marquette has been predicted ninth under new coach Shaka Smart. The Golden Eagles have almost a completely turned over roster. Promising sophomore forward Justin Lewis and veteran guard Greg Elliott are the lone returnees who have made significant contributions. Transfers and recruits will have opportunities to help right away.
Georgetown is 10th in the poll. The Hoyas were picked 11th last year, but their season ended with a BIG EAST Tournament title and a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore guard Dante Harris, the BIG EAST tourney’s Most Outstanding Player, is the top returning scorer.
DePaul, under new coach Tony Stubblefield, is slotted for 11th place. The Blue Demons also have plenty of new faces. The top returnees are 6-6 senior Javon Freeman-Liberty, who started all 14 games he played last year, and promising big man Nick Ongenda.
2021-22 Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. Villanova (10) 100
2. Connecticut (1) 84
3. Xavier 76
4. St. John’s 73
5. Seton Hall 68
6. Butler 60
7. Providence 45
8. Creighton 38
9. Marquette 26
10. Georgetown 25
11. DePaul 10
First-place votes in parentheses.