High Hopes for UConn, Syracuse

NEW YORK - The Connecticut men found many sources of motivation on the way to the national championship in 2010-11. One of those sources was the preseason Big East coaches' poll. The conference coaches tabbed the Huskies for No. 10 in that preseason prognostication, the lowest UConn had ever been in the preseason poll.

The Huskies barely met those expectations, finishing ninth in the conference with a 9-9 record. But, of course, the Huskies saved the best for last. The Huskies made history with their five wins in five days at the Big East tournament. Then they extended their winning streak to 11 games on the way to the national championship.

The 2011-12 season got off to a much different start Wednesday as the Huskies were picked as preseason co-favorites, along with Syracuse, in the coaches' poll. Louisville and Pittsburgh followed closely behind in third and fourth, offering the promise of an another great conference race – perhaps the last with these particular teams, given the recent round of moves brought on my conference realignment.

In a poll of media representatives covering the conference, Syracuse finished first and UConn was second but only one point separated the two.

The coaches and media did agree on their choices for preseason player of the year (Pitt's Ashton Gibbs), and preseason rookie of the year (UConn freshman Andre Drummond). The coaches named UConn's Jeremy Lamb to the first team All-Big East squad. Forward Alex Oriakhi was a second team selection. Drummond and sophomore guard Shabazz Napier were honorable mention choices.

"Last year, when we were picked 10th, we used it as motivation," Lamb said at Big East media day. "This year we're picked No. 1 and we're going to use it as motivation again. It's just motivation to work hard to try to do that."

A reporter asked Oriahki if coach Jim Calhoun has shown any signs of change since winning his third national championship. Oriakhi just shook his head and smiled.

"No way," Oriahki said. "He's coaching us in practice like we didn't do anything. And I think that's exactly what you've got to do, just keeping us hungry. He knows how good this team is, so he's not going to let us settle a bit."

At the other end of the ballroom at the New York Athletic Club, senior guard Scoop Jardine was gushing over the talent on his team and talking with a hunger of his own.

"We've got every piece and everyone seems excited," Jardine said. "It's a great feeling in practice. Our subs play very well against the starters. We've got a lot of weapons. My sophomore year we had a great team but we really didn't know what we had with guys coming off redshirts. This year we've got proven guys."

Should be another great conference season. And with Syracuse headed to the ACC in the near future, who knows how much longer we will be treated to the UConn-Syracuse rivalry.

Here's a look at the coaches' poll, the media poll and my ballot for use in the media poll.

2011-12 Preseason Big East Coaches' Poll

1. Connecticut (7) 209

1. Syracuse (5) 209

3. Louisville (3) 201

4. Pittsburgh (1) 188

5. Cincinnati 169

6. Marquette 155

7. West Virginia 132

8. Villanova 127

9. Notre Dame 114

10. Georgetown 104

11. Rutgers 75

12. St. John's 71

13. Seton Hall 56

14. USF 43

15. Providence 40

16. DePaul 27

(First-place votes in parentheses)

2011-12 BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year

Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh

2011-12 BIG EAST Preseason Rookie of the Year

Andre Drummond, Connecticut

2011-12 Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team

Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh (Player of the Year), G, Sr., 6-2, 190, Scotch Plains, N.J.

Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut, G/F, So., 6-5, 185, Norcross, Ga.

Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette, G, Sr., 6-2, 215, Raleigh, N.C.

Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame, F, Gr., 6-8, 235, Unionville, Conn.

Kris Joseph, Syracuse, F, Sr., 6-7, 210, Montreal, Quebec

Kevin Jones, West Virginia, F, Sr., 6-8, 260, Mount Vernon, N.Y.

2011-12 Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team

Yancy Gates, Cincinnati, F, Sr., 6-9, 260, Cincinnati, Ohio

Alex Oriakhi Connecticut, F/C, Jr., 6-9, 240, Lowell, Mass.

Peyton Siva, Louisville, G, Jr., 5-11, 180, Seattle, Wash.

Scoop Jardine, Syracuse, G, Sr., 6-2 190, Philadelphia, Pa.

Maalik Wayns, Villanova, G, Jr., 6-2, 200, Philadelphia, Pa.

2011-12 Preseason All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention

Andre Drummond, Connecticut, C, Fr., 6-11, 275, Middletown, Conn.

Shabazz Napier, Connecticut, G, So. 6-0, 170, Roxbury, Mass.

Cleveland Melvin, DePaul, F, So., 6-8, 208, Baltimore, Md.

Jae Crowder, Marquette, F, Sr., 6-6, 235, Villa Rica, Ga.

Augustus Gilchrist, USF, F/C, Sr., 6-10, 245, Clinton, Md.

Syracuse Post-Standard media poll

1. Syracuse 29 (6 1st-place votes)

2. Connecticut 30 (8)

3. Louisville 45 (2)

4. Pittsburgh 58

5. Marquette 90

6. Cincinnati 96

7. West Virginia 120

8. Villanova 124

9. Notre Dame 141

10. Georgetown 153

11. Rutgers 188

12. St. John's 191

13. Seton Hall 204

14. South Florida 230

15. DePaul 236

Providence 241

(Teams were given one point for a 1st-place vote, two points for a 2nd-place vote and so on through No. 16).

All-Big East team: Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh; Kris Joseph, Syracuse; Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut; Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame; Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette.

Others receiving votes:Yancy Gates, Cincinnati; Kevin Jones, West Virginia; Peyton Siva, Louisville; Scoop Jardine, Syracuse; Andre Drummond, Connecticut; Alex Oriakhi, Connecticut; Maalik Wayns, Villanova; Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova.

Player of the Year: Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh (7 votes);Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut (4); Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette (2);Kris Joseph, Syracuse (1); Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame (1); Peyton Siva, Louisville (1).

Rookie of the Year: Andre Drummond, Connecticut (12 votes); Wayne Blackshear, Louisville (1); Chane Behanan, Louisville (1); Ryan Boatright, Connecticut (1); Khem Birch, Pittsburgh (1).

The following writers participated in the media poll: Greg Auman, St. Petersburg Times; Rick Bozich, Louisville Courier-Journal; Phil Chardis, Manchester (Conn.) Journal-Inquirer; Ken Davis, UConnPlaybook.com; Chris Dortch, Blue Ribbon Basketball Yearbook; Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Dave Hickman, Charleston Gazette; Joe Juliano, Philadelphia Inquirer; Bill Koch, Cincinnati Enquirer; Kevin McNamara, Providence Journal; Tom Noie, South Bend Tribune; Dana O'Neil, ESPN.com; J.P. Pelzman, Bergen (N.J.) Record; Brendan Prunty, Newark Star-Ledger; Lenn Robbins, New York Post; Todd Rosiak, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Ken Davis, UConnPlaybook.com, ballot to Syracuse Post-Standard poll

1. UConn

2. Syracuse

3. Louisville

4. Pittsburgh

5. Cincinnati

6. Villanova

7. Marquette

8. West Virginia

9. Notre Dame

10. Georgetown

11. St. John's

12. Seton Hall

13. DePaul

14. Rutgers

15. South Florida

16. Providence

All-conference: Jeremy Lamb, UConn; Ashton Gibbs, Pitt; Kris Joseph, Syracuse; Yancy Gates, Cincinnati; Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette.

Player of the Year: Jeremy Lamb, UConn

Rookie of the Year: Andre Drummond, UConn

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