NEW YORK - Put yourself in Jay Wright’s fashionable shoes for a moment.
A year after going to the Sweet 16, your Villanova squad brings back eight players who played in 30 or more games last season.
Your frontcourt is relatively settled with Casiem Drummond back at full health, and your backcourt is less clogged with Malcolm Grant having transferred out.
You’d probably expect to be ranked among the Big East’s elite in the preseason coaches poll, wouldn’t you?
Would you be surprised if you were ranked fifth? Or would you look at the teams below you and realize that the conference is ridiculously deep this season?
Not that we had to guess, but Wright did indeed pick the latter.
“I think this is unprecedented,” Wright said during this morning's Big East media day at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. “Even in the 80's, with the top teams, to have this many teams have quality returning starters is just unheard of.”
Louisville coach Rick Pitino, the only coach at the Garden today who was dressed better than Wright, made an even stronger statement.
“I don’t think I’m overstating this: since I’ve been a coach 33-some-odd years, I think this is the strongest league in the history of college basketball,” Pitino said “In terms of its depth, in terms of players coming back, I’ve never seen a league with 11 teams that could be ranked in the top 30.”
I’m skeptical of the hype, mainly because I think the verdict on conference depth is delivered in March, not October.
But you can’t argue with the numbers presented by Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese in his opening remarks this morning. The top seven shot-blockers and stealers, the top nine recorders of assists, 13 of the top 18 scorers and 10 of the top 11 rebounders in the conference last season return this year.
Last season’s player of the year, Luke Harangody of Notre Dame, is back and it should be no surprise that he was named the preseason player of the year for this season.
Reigning defensive player of the year Hasheem Thabeet of Connecticut and the co-rookies of the year, Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn and Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair, return as well.
That Scottie Reynolds is the only Villanova player on the preseason All-Big East team shows the size of the task ahead of the Wildcats this season, in both the frontcourt and the backcourt.
If Jay Wright can get Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes to share the ball enough, and if Drummond and Dante Cunningham stay healthy, there’s no reason to think Villanova isn’t up to the challenge.
Well, except for that New Year’s Day game at Marquette, and two games against Syracuse, and another stacked freshman class at Georgetown, and...
You get the idea.
Here's the full poll and the number of points each team received. First-place votes are in parentheses.
1. Connecticut (9) 214
2. Louisville (3) 205
3. Pittsburgh (3) 200
4. Notre Dame (1) 195
5. Villanova 153
6. Marquette 146
7. Georgetown 141
8. Syracuse 139
9. West Virginia 121
10. Providence 99
11. Cincinnati 91
12. Rutgers 53
13. Seton Hall 50
14. St. John's 44
15. DePaul 43
16. South Florida 26
I talked to the head coaches of the top 10 teams in the poll. I actually didn't realize that the coaches I had talked to were the exact top 10 until after I left the Garden, but I guess it works. Unless you're a Rutgers fan, I guess.
Topics of discussion (and thanks for asking; I forgot to mention this earlier) include the depth of the conference this season, the expansion of the conference tournament to 16 teams, moving the three-point line back a foot, and many other things.
If it makes you feel any better, I interviewed New Jersey native Bill Raftery to get his thoughts on the coming season. I also asked him about the World Series in a not-at-all-subtle attempt to start something between Raftery and Rays season ticket-holder Dick Vitale.
The ploy didn't really work, but Raftery did say he'd be rooting for the Phillies. Another reason why he's the best in the business.