NEW YORK -- Connecticut and Syracuse are the co-favorites to win the 2011-12 BIG EAST men's basketball regular-season crown in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches' Poll. The Huskies, who won the 2011 NCAA national championship, received seven first-place votes and a total of 209 points.
The Orange, who finished last season with a 27-8 record, collected five first-place votes. It is the third tie for first place in the history of the BIG EAST with the last coming in 2007-08. The league's head coaches do not place their own teams on their ballots.
The Huskies, coached by Jim Calhoun, welcome back three starters, including sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb, a 2011-12 Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team pick, and junior forward Alex Oriakhi, a Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team selection. Freshman forward Andre Drummond was named BIG EAST Preseason Rookie of the Year.
The strength of the Orange in 2011-12 starts with senior forward Kris Joseph, a member of the Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team. Junior guard Scoop Jardine who led the BIG EAST in assists with a 6.1 average in league play, is a Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team pick.
Louisville finished third in the poll with 201 points and three first-place votes. The Cardinals return 11 lettermen including three starters from last year's team that finished 25-10 overall and 12-6 in the BIG EAST. Junior guard Peyton Siva is a top all-around contributor to the UofL success. Last season, he averaged 9.9 points, was fourth in the league in assists with a 5.2 average and second in steals at 2.0. He is a Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team selection.
Pittsburgh is a solid fourth in the poll with 188 points and one first-place vote. The Panthers won the BIG EAST regular-season crown last season and finished 28-6 overall. This year, Pitt will depend on senior guard Ashton Gibbs, the 2011-12 BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year.
Cincinnati was placed fifth in the poll, its highest position since joining the BIG EAST in 2005-06. Last year, the Bearcats finished 26-9 overall, 11-7 in the league and earned an NCAA berth for the first time since 2005. Coach Mick Cronin welcomes back three starters, including senior forward Yancy Gates, a Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team selection.
Marquette, placed sixth in the poll, will be aiming for its seventh straight NCAA bid. Guard Darius Johnson-Odom, a Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team pick, will give coach Buzz Williams a proven scorer. Last year, the Golden Eagles finished 22-15 and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003.
West Virginia was picked seventh. The Mountaineers figure to be led by senior forward Kevin Jones who made the Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team. Last season, WVU compiled its seventh straight 20-win season, finishing 21-12.
Villanova was slotted for eighth place. Like West Virginia, the Wildcats finished 21-12 and were one of the BIG EAST's record 11 NCAA tourney teams. This season, coach Jay Wright will not have a senior on his squad. Junior guard Maalik Wayns is the top returning scorer with a 13.8 average.
The coaches chose Notre Dame ninth. The Irish recorded the second highest win total in school history last year when they finished 27-7 overall and were 14-4 in the BIG EAST. Notre Dame will miss guard Ben Hansbrough, last year's BIG EAST Player of the Year, but will lean on Tim Abromaitis who made the 2011-12 Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team.
Georgetown is 10th in the poll. The Hoyas will look to senior guard Jason Clark while finding replacements for Clark's backcourt partners, all-conference players Austin Freeman and Chris Wright.
Rutgers was tabbed for 11th place, the Scarlet Knights' highest position in the poll since the BIG EAST became a 16-team conference in 2005-06. Rutgers, under second-year coach Mike Rice, expects to improve on last year's 15-17 record.
St. John's is 12th in the poll. Under coach Steve Lavin, the Red Storm earned their first NCAA bid last season since 2002. This season, Lavin will have a team with only one returning scholarship player.
Seton Hall was placed 13th in the poll. USF is 14th followed by Providence and DePaul.