The Huskies and Panthers won their respective divisions last season, though neither team was a preseason selection for first place. Connecticut was tabbed for second and the coaches felt Pittsburgh would end up sixth. Both teams finished 13-3 in BIG EAST play and met in the title game of the ConAgra Foods BIG EAST Championship. UConn prevailed, 74-65 in double overtime.
This season, the Huskies received nine first-place votes in the East and a total of 85 points. Boston College finished second with 71 points just ahead of Villanova (67) and St. John's (66). Miami was fifth followed by Providence and Virginia Tech.
In the West, Pittsburgh garnered 12 first-place votes and 90 points. The Panthers were a comfortable selection ahead of second-place Georgetown, which had 72 points. Syracuse was third with 68 points, though the Orangemen received the other two first-place votes. Notre Dame was fourth with 59 points.
Rutgers was picked fifth with Seton Hall and West Virginia in sixth and seventh places, respectively.
Brandin Knight, the Pittsburgh guard who was the BIG EAST Co-Player of the Year in 2001-02, has been selected 2002-03 Preseason Player of the Year by a vote of the league's head coaches. Carmelo Anthony, a 6-10 freshman forward from Syracuse, was named Preseason Rookie of the Year.
Knight, a native of East Orange, N.J., also won the BIG EAST Most Improved Player award last year. He led the Panthers to the BIG EAST West Division title and a 13-3 league record. Overall, Pittsburgh finished 29-6 and advanced to an NCAA region semifinal for only the second time in school history. Knight averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 assists as the Panthers' floor general.
The 6-0 senior was a unanimous pick for the Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team. The other selections for the first team are: Troy Bell of Boston College, Emeka Okafor of Connecticut, Mike Sweetney of Georgetown, Darius Rice of Miami and Marcus Hatten of St. John's.
Bell, like Knight, is a former BIG EAST Co-Player of the Year. Bell garnered that honor two seasons ago as a sophomore. Last year, the Eagle guard was the BIG EAST's top overall scorer with a 21.6 average and earned All-BIG EAST First Team accolades.
Sweetney and Hatten also earned All-BIG EAST First Team honors last season. Sweetney, Georgetown's low post standout, averaged 19.0 points and 10.0 rebounds while helping the Hoyas compile a 19-11 record. The 6-8, 260-pound junior also led the conference in field goal shooting, connecting on 56.7 percent of his shots.
Hatten won the 2001-02 BIG EAST scoring crown by averaging 22.3 points in league games. A junior college transfer last season, he was the first newcomer in BIG EAST history to lead the league in scoring. Hatten also made numerous clutch baskets for the Red Storm who finished their season with a 20-12 record and an NCAA Tournament bid.
Miami's Rice was an All-BIG EAST Second Team selection last year. The 6-10 forward led the Hurricanes with a 14.9 scoring mark. He also averaged 5.9 rebounds while helping UM to a 24-8 record and an NCAA Tournament berth.
Okafor, the only sophomore on the Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team, made a splashy debut for the Huskies last season. He finished third in the nation in blocked shots with a 4.1 average. He posted averages of 9.2 points and 9.0 rebounds.
Among the Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team selections are forward Ricky Wright of Villanova who was a postseason second team pick last year. Miami forward James Jones was a third team selection. Notre Dame point guard Chris Thomas was the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year. A pair of senior guards, Jerome Coleman of Rutgers and Gary Buchanan of Villanova, were named All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention last season. Seton Hall guard Andre Barrett led the Pirates in scoring at 16.9 and in assists at 5.0.
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