Pinkston and Wright.
By Mary Cunningham
No sport has more meaningless polls than college basketball.
Every week during the season Monday brings us three or four national polls that have all the meaning of something that Angelo Cataldi says in the morning.
College football goes through the same rigamarole, but those polls count since the bowls pay close attention, and especially now since the Final Four will be selected in about a month and a half.
Hoops, however has a massive tournament that decides who’s No. 1, so the polls are essentially just something to talk about.
Especially pre-season polls.
So take with a massive dollop of salt the fact that Villanova was chosen on Wednesday to win the 2014-15 conference crown in the Big East preseason coaches poll.
The Wildcats received all nine possible first-place votes and 81 points. Coaches did not place their own teams in their ballots.
Last season, the Wildcats finished 16-2 in Big East play to win their first outright crown since 1981-82. Their 29 wins were the second-most in school history, while the 16 Big East wins were a school record. This season, coach Jay Wright can rely on forward JayVaughn Pinkston and guard Darrun Hilliard, a pair of seniors who both averaged 14 points last year. Junior guard Ryan Arcidiacono also is back after averaging 9.9 points and 3.5 assists. Junior forward Daniel Ochefu, averaged 5.7 points and 6.1 rebounds, shared the Big East Most Improved Player award with Hilliard.
Georgetown edged St. John’s for second in the poll by just two points. The Hoyas finished 18-15 overall and 8-10 in Big East play last season. Coach John Thompson III has some quality returnees, including junior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, the 2014-15 Big East Preseason Player of the Year. A 6-3 guard, Smith-Rivera finished third in the Big East in scoring last year with a 17.6-point average. Senior guard Jabril Trawick, a standout defender, is back after averaging 9.1 points. And the Hoyas hope to have 6-10 Joshua Smith at center all season. The UCLA transfer averaged 11.5 points and 3.4 rebounds before he missed the second half of last season due to academic reasons.
St. John’s is picked third and will feature one of the league’s deepest backcourts, including All-Big East First Team guard D’Angelo Harrison. A 6-4 senior, Harrison ranked fourth in the Big East in scoring last year with a 17.5-point average. Point guard Rysheed Jordan made the Big East All-Rookie Team after averaging 9.7 points and 3.0 assists. Senior guards Phil Greene IV and Jamal Branch also are battle tested. Junior center Chris Obekpa already is the Red Storm’s all-time shot blocker. Last year, coach Steve Lavin’s club was 20-13 overall and 10-8 in Big East play.
Xavier is picked fourth. In their first season in the Big East, theMusketeers made the NCAA Tournament, finishing 21-13 overall and tying for third in the league with a 10-8 record. It was Xavier’s eighth 20-win season in the past nine years. This year, coach Chris Mack can build around senior starters Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis. Stainbrook, a 6-10 center, averaged 10.6 points and a team-leading 7.4 rebounds while making All-Big East Honorable Mention. Davis, a 6-foot guard, averaged 7.7 points and 4.7 assists, which ranked second in the Big East.
Providence is picked fifth in the poll, despite the fact the Friars won the Big East Tournament title last season under coach Ed Cooley, finished 23-12 overall and 10-8 in league play. Providence welcomes back three key contributors: forwards LaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris along with center Carson Desrosiers. Cooley also is getting back guard Kris Dunn, who missed last season with a shoulder injury. Henton averaged 14 points and led the team in rebounding at 7.9 per game. Harris averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 boards. Desrosiers averaged 3.6 points and 2.4 blocked shots.
Seton Hall is expected to move up in the standings with the coaches picking the Pirates sixth. Last season the Pirates finished on an uptick, reaching the Big East Tournament semifinals as the No. 8 seed, and they have high hopes for the upcoming season. The Hall, 17-17 overall and 6-12 in the Big East last year, has standout guard Sterling Gibbs, who averaged 13.2 points and 4.2 assists, bolstered by freshman Isaiah Whitehead, the 2014-15 Big East Preseason Rookie of the Year and the centerpiece of a stellar recruiting class for coach Kevin Willard.
Butler is tied with Marquette for seventh in the poll. The Bulldogs are expected to improve with the return of starting guards Kellen Dunham and Alex Barlow along with guard Roosevelt Jones, who missed all of last season with a wrist injury. Dunham was an All-Big East Second Team pick with a 16.4 scoring average. Two seasons ago, Jones averaged 10.1 points and 5.6 boards. Forward Kameron Woods averaged 7.5 points and posted a league-leading 9.0 rebounds a game.
Marquette, which reached the Sweet 16 from 2011 through 2013, is picked in the first year under new head coach Steve Wojciechowski. The Golden Eagles have two senior starters returning, guard Derrick Wilson and forward Juan Anderson. Wilson, who has played 100 collegiate games, averaged 5 points, 4.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds last season. Anderson started 19 games and averaged 3.2 points and 3.3 rebounds. Sophomore forward Deonte Burton made the Big East All-Rookie Team after averaging 6.9 points. Guard Matt Carlino, a transfer from BYU who is eligible immediately, averaged 13.7 points last year.
Creighton, which made three straight NCAA tournaments with Doug McDermott, is picked ninth. Last season theBluejays finished second in the Big East with a 14-4 record and were the runner-up to Providence in the Big East Tournament on the strength of McDermott, the consensus National Player of the Year. Coach Greg McDermott has the tough task of replacing his son and three other starters; point guard Austin Chatman is the lone regular returning. He was third in the Big East in assists (4.4) while averaging 8.1 points.
DePaul is 10th in the poll. The Blue Demons had two Big East All-Rookie Team members last year: guard Billy Garrett, Jr., the Big East Rookie of the Year, and center Tommy Hamilton IV. Garrett led all conference freshmen with a 12.4-point average and 90 assists. Hamilton, a 6-11 center, averaged 7.7 points and 4.8 rebounds. Some newcomers, including 6-6 transfer forward Myke Henry, are expected to help right away.