Pitt Picked Third In Big East

Despite being picked as high as second in a preseason national poll, the Pitt men's basketball team was voted third behind Connecticut and Louisville by the Big East Conference coaches Wednesday.

UConn received nine first-place votes from the Big East coaches to tally 214 points in the preseason poll. Louisville and Pittsburgh had three first-place votes each and were second and third, respectively, with 205 and 200 points. Notre Dame also received a first-place vote and was fourth with 195 points.

Coaches could not vote for their own teams.

Coach Jamie Dixon and Pitt, the Big East Tournament champion last spring, return four starters in senior point guard Levance Fields, senior forward Sam Young, sophomore center DeJuan Blair and redshirt sophomore swing player Gilbert Brown. The other prospective starter is senior forward Tyrell Biggs.

The Panthers were the seventh seed in the Conference Tournament last year, but won four games in four days at Madison Square Garden. They advanced to the second round in the NCAAs and were 27-10 overall. Pitt was picked second nationally in preseason polls by ESPN.com, Slam Magazine and Blue Ribbon.

Connecticut compiled a 24-9 record last season, including a 13-5 mark in Big East play. The Huskies, led by Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, have won or shared a regular-season league crown in four of the last seven seasons. This year, the Huskies' hopes revolve around center Hasheem Thabeet, guard A.J. Price and forward Jeff Adrien.

Louisville advanced the farthest of all Big East teams in last year's NCAAs, reaching the East Regional final. This year, coach Rick Pitino welcomes back four starters, including senior forward Terrence Williams, from a team that finished 28-6 and was 15-3 in Big East play.

Notre Dame has the reigning Big East Player of the Year, forward Luke Harangody, and expects to contend for the league crown. Last year, coach Mike Brey, the Big East Coach of the Year for a second straight season, directed the Fighting Irish to a 25-8 overall mark and 14-4 Big East record.

The next four teams in the poll -- fifth through eighth place -- also were bunched closely together. Villanova was fifth with 153 points, followed by Marquette (146), Georgetown (141) and Syracuse (139).

Villanova was 22-13 last year and advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament. Marquette was 25-10 and played in the second round of the NCAAs. Georgetown also was an NCAA second-round participant after a 28-6 campaign that included a second consecutive Big East regular-season title. Syracuse made it to the quarterfinals of the NIT with a 21-14 record.

West Virginia, also an NCAA Sweet 16 team a year ago, was picked ninth with 121 points. Providence edged Cincinnati for 10th place, 99 points to 91 points.

The coaches believe Rutgers will finish 12th followed by Seton Hall, St. John's, DePaul and South Florida.

Preseason Coaches' Poll

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

First-place votes in parentheses.

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