Women's Preseason Pick

West Virginia's women's basketball team was picked seventh in the preseason Big East coaches' poll release today. Defending champion Rutgers replaced perennial favorite Connecticut as the coaches' pick.

Rutgers University, the defending Big East regular season champions, were picked as the preseason favorite to win the 2005-06 conference women's basketball regular season title. The poll is determined by a vote of the league's 16 head coaches who are not permitted to place their own teams on the ballot. Rutgers' predicted first place finish marks the first time in 12 years that a team other than Connecticut was selected. Dating back to the 1993-94 season, Connecticut has been the preseason choice, and has won at least a share of the last 11 of 12 regular season titles.

Rutgers garnered 11 of 16 possible first-place votes to finish first with 221 points in the poll. The Scarlet Knights captured last year's regular season title with a 14-2 conference mark. Rutgers (28-7) advanced to the NCAA Championship for the seventh time in eight years, falling to Tennessee in the Elite Eight. The 2005-06 squad will be led by Preseason Player of the Year and All-Big East Team selection Cappie Pondexter, a senior guard. Sophomore Matee Ajavon, also a preseason all-league member, is coming off a successful rookie campaign when she was named the 2005 Big East Freshman of the Year.

Connecticut (25-8, 13-3 Big East) will be defending its Big East Championship title for the 12th time in program history.

The Huskies, who were picked second, earned five first-place votes and 215 points in the poll. Advancing to the NCAA Championship for the 17th consecutive season, UConn bowed out to Stanford in the Sweet 16, ending its streak of three straight NCAA titles. Connecticut will be led by Preseason All-Big East Team picks, seniors Barbara Turner and Ann Strother, who have also been tabbed as preseason candidates for the State Farm Wade Trophy and the Wooden Award.

Notre Dame grabbed 191 points to finish third in the preseason poll. Last year, the Irish posted a record of 27-6 overall, 13-3 in the league and returned to the NCAA Championship for the 10th straight year, every season since joining the BIG EAST in 1995. The Irish advanced to the Big East Championship semifinals before falling to eventual champion, Connecticut. Senior Megan Duffy will lead charge for the Irish. The Preseason All-Big East Team member is a candidate for the State Farm Wade Trophy and the Wooden Award.

Big East newcomer DePaul was picked to finish fourth with 183 points. The Blue Demons are returning nine letterwinners and four starters from last season's 26-5 team that captured the Conference USA championship title. Twotime All-American and National Player of the Year candidate Khara Smith is back for her senior season after leading DePaul with 18.6 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. Smith is one of three players from the new Big East schools named to the Preseason All-Big East Team, along with Louisville junior Jazz Covington and USF junior Jessica Dickson.

West Virginia finished seventh in the poll with 128 points. The Mountaineers placed junior Meg Bulger on the preseason all-Big East team.

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