Josh Hart drives inside and eludes Oklahoma's Jamuni McNeace in...

Josh Hart drives inside and eludes Oklahoma's Jamuni McNeace in the first half Saturday night in Houston. Hart shot 10-for-12 and had 23 points in Villanova's rout. Credit: Getty Images / Chris Steppig

Defending national champion Villanova was the runaway selection to win the Big East in a preseason poll of coaches announced Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. The Wildcats, who beat Kansas, Oklahoma and finally North Carolina for the title last season got nine of a possible nine first-place votes with coach Jay Wright not permitted to pick his own squad.

Villanova’s Josh Hart was the Preseason Player of the Year pick and was on the all-conference first team. After averaging a team-high 15.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, he returned to school after withdrawing his name from consideration from the last NBA Draft.

St. John’s Shamorie Ponds was tabbed Preseason Freshman of the Year. The standout from Jefferson High in Brooklyn was also recruited by conference foes Providence and Creighton.

Villanova got to visit the White House after winning the national title and the Wildcats have been basking in the afterglow. “Once we start playing, everything will be back to usual,” Wright said. “Still, we don’t know what it will be like to walk into visiting arenas as the national champions.”

Xavier finished second in the poll, closely followed by Creighton. Seton Hall and Georgetown finished in a tie for fifth place. Butler, Marquette, St. John’s, Providence and DePaul placed sixth through 10th, in that order.

Hart is joined on the preseason all-conference first team by teammate Kris Jenkins. Xavier’s duo of Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner also made the first team, as did Kelan Martin of Butler and Maurice Watson Jr. of Creighton.

Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado was named a preseason second-teamer.

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