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Big East coaches pick Villanova to repeat

Villanova head coach Jay Wright gestures during the

Villanova head coach Jay Wright gestures during the second half of a second-round game against Milwaukee in the NCAA tournament on Thursday, March 20, 2014. Credit: AP

There's no doubt who holds the "poll'' position entering the second season of the new Big East Conference. Villanova was the unanimous choice with 81 points in the coaches' poll to repeat as regular-season champion, while Georgetown (67) edged St. John's for second (65).

Xavier was fourth (52), ahead of defending Big East Tournament champ Providence (49), Seton Hall (43), Butler and Marquette (28), Creighton (25) and DePaul (12).

That's the highest preseason position for the Red Storm in coach Steve Lavin's five seasons, and it's an indication of elevated expectations for the only 20-win team (20-13) in the Big East a year ago that did not receive an NCAA bid.

"Our expectations are greater than what you see in the preseason polls because we want to see our seniors succeed,'' said Lavin, whose teams failed to earn an NCAA bid the past three seasons.

Red Storm senior guard D'Angelo Harrison was a first-team all-Big East preseason selection, and sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan was named to the second team. The return of 6-9 junior center Chris Obekpa and size and rebounding from 6-11 freshman Adonis Delarosa and 6-8 junior college transfer Keith Thomas should provide St. John's much-needed size.

"It's a huge difference,'' guard Jamal Branch said. "Chris is one of our most improved players. He's running well and has an offensive motor now. Once Adonis, with his size, gets you on his back, it's hard to stop him. Keith is a great rebounder. I think we've got a lot.''

Villanova's 29-5 season ended with a quarterfinal loss to Seton Hall in the conference tournament and a third-round NCAA loss to North Carolina. The Wildcats have four returning starters, including first-team pick Jayvaughn Pinkston and second-teamers Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard.

"It's an honor,'' coach Jay Wright said. "A lot of expectation comes with it, and a lot of attention comes with it. So, it creates a new challenge . . . We have a really difficult schedule. We might not win as many games, but we'd like to be a better team by the end of the year.''

Preseason player of the year D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera leads a Georgetown team that hopes the return of 6-10, 350-pound Josh Smith, who quit last year, will make a difference. The preseason rookie of the year, guard Isaiah Whitehead, heads an impressive recruiting class at Seton Hall.

Notes & quotes: Defending women's champ DePaul (81) was the unanimous first-place choice ahead of St. John's (73). Red Storm guards Aliyyah Handford and Danaejah Grant made the six-player preseason first team, with Amber Thompson honorable mention.

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