Oct. 29, 2003
New York, N.Y. – The Connecticut Huskies have been picked to win the 2003-04 BIG EAST regular season title by a vote of the league’s head coaches. The Huskies received 13 first-place votes. Coaches did not place their own teams on their preseason ballots. It is the first time a team has been chosen unanimously to win a regular season crown since UConn received all possible votes in ’98-99.
The BIG EAST is returning to one division this season. Last year, Connecticut was co-champion with Boston College in the East Division with 10-6 records. UConn finished the season 23-10 and advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies will be building around forward-center Emeka Okafor, the BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year, and guard Ben Gordon, a preseason first team All-BIG EAST Selection. UConn can also boast the Preseason Rookie of the Year, freshman forward Charlie Villanueva.
Syracuse, the 2003 NCAA champion, is picked a solid second with Notre Dame third. Pittsburgh edged Providence for fourth place. Notre Dame and Pittsburgh were Sweet 16 teams last season. Providence returns most of its key players from an 18-14 squad. The fifth-place projection for the Friars matches their highest preseason ranking in BIG EAST history.
Seton Hall, Villanova and Boston College, all NIT clubs last year, were sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.
2003-04 BIG EAST Coaches’ Preseason Poll Rank Team Points 1. Connecticut (13) 169
2. Syracuse (1) 153
3. Notre Dame 135
4. Pittsburgh 125
5. Providence 123
6. Seton Hall 112
7. Villanova 104
8. Boston College 73
9. West Virginia 70
10. St. John’s 66
11. Miami 47
12. Georgetown 39
13. Rutgers 35
14. Virginia Tech 23
(First-place votes in parentheses)
Emeka Okafor, the Connecticut frontcourt standout who was the 2002-03 BIG EAST/A?ropostale Scholar-Athlete of the Year in men’s basketball, has been named the 2003-04 Preseason Player of the Year by a vote of the league’s head coaches. UConn freshman forward Charlie Villanueva has been named Preseason Rookie of the Year.
It is only the fourth time in league history that the same school has earned Preseason Player and Rookie of the Year honors in the same year.
A 6-9 junior, Okafor averaged 15.9 points and a league-leading 11.2 rebounds last year for the Huskies, who finished the season with a 23-10 mark. Okafor’s 4.7 blocked shot average led the nation and helped him earn BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year honors. In two seasons of conference play, his 4.4 blocked shot average is better than any player in league history.
Okafor was chosen unanimously to the All-BIG EAST First Team. He is joined by teammate Ben Gordon. A 6-2 junior, Gordon led the Huskies in scoring last season with a 19.5 average. He was first in the BIG EAST in 3-point shooting, hitting 41.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Notre Dame guard Chris Thomas, like Okafor, was a unanimous first team all-league selection. The 6-1 junior has directed the Irish to two NCAA tournament bids and a pair of 20-win seasons. He has won two BIG EAST assist crowns. Last year, he averaged 19.7 points and 6.9 assists. In league games over the past two years, Thomas’ assist average of 7.4 makes him the conference’s all-time leader.
Syracuse junior Hakim Warrick earned Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team honors after winning the league’s Most Improved Player award last year. He averaged 14.8 points and 8.5 rebounds for the Orangemen, who won the NCAA title.
Miami senior Darius Rice has earned Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team honors for a third straight season. The 6-10 forward averaged 18.7 points and 5.8 rebounds a year ago. Four times last season he hit a 3-point basket at the end of regulation time that either won a game or sent it into overtime.
Providence junior Ryan Gomes was an All-BIG EAST Second Team pick last season after leading the team with an 18.4 scoring average and a 9.7 rebounding mark. He posted 17 double-doubles and led the team in free throw shooting (84.0).
Villanueva, a 6-10, 220-pound forward was named USA Today All-USA Second Team as a prep senior at Blair Academy in New Jersey.
Among the Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team selections are guard Andre Barrett of Seton Hall and Boston College’s Craig Smith, both postseason second team picks last year. Pittsburgh guard Julius Page was a third team selection a year ago, while Bryan Matthews of Virginia Tech was on the All-BIG EAST Honorable Mention squad. Syracuse guard Gerry McNamara rounds out the second team after setting a league record for free throw shooting (.964 in conference play) last season.
2003-04 PRESEASON ALL-BIG EAST SELECTIONS
2003-04 Preseason Player of the Year Emeka Okafor, Connecticut
2003-04 Preseason Rookie of the Year Charlie Villanueva, Connecticut
2003-04 Preseason All-BIG EAST First Team
Emeka Okafor, Connecticut, Jr., C, 6-9, 240, Houston, Texas*
Ben Gordon, Connecticut, Jr., G, 6-2, 185, Mount Vernon, Texas
Darius Rice, Miami, Sr., F, 6-10, 222, Jackson, Miss.
Chris Thomas, Notre Dame, Jr., G, 6-1, 182, Indianapolis, Ind.*
Ryan Gomes, Providence, Jr., F/C, 6-7, 238, Waterbury, Conn.
Hakim Warrick, Syracuse, Jr., F, 6-8, 205, Philadelphia, Pa.
2003-04 Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team
Craig Smith, Boston College, So., F, 6-7, 265, Los Angeles, Calif.
Julius Page, Pittsburgh, Sr., G, 6-3, 191, Buffalo, N.Y.
Andre Barrett, Seton Hall, Sr., G, 5-10, 172, Bronx, N.Y.
Gerry McNamara, Syracuse, So., G, 6-2, 172, Scranton, Pa.
Bryant Matthews, Virginia Tech, Sr., G/F, 6-7, 215, Columbia, S.C.