The West Virginia men’s basketball team has been picked to finish second in the Preseason Big East Coaches’ Poll. The Mountaineers earn their highest preseason conference ranking since joining the conference in 1995.
WVU garnered five first-place votes and 215 points, finishing just three points shy of Big East favorite Villanova. Both teams have been tabbed not only as conference favorites, but preseason top 10 squads because of several returning players.
Senior Da’Sean Butler and sophomore Devin Ebanks highlight WVU’s returning starters, with Wellington Smith, Darryl “Truck” Bryant and a healthy Joe Mazzulla back. Key reserves Kevin Jones, John Flowers and Cam Thoroughman also return, while junior college transfer Casey Mitchell and a highly-touted freshman class in Dan Jennings and Deniz Kilicli are expected to contribute.
“We have a lot of guys that can contribute—a lot of shooters, a lot of big guys, a lot of guys that hustle all out,” Ebanks said. “It’s a great balance and that’s what you need to be a Final Four team I think.”
Butler, who led the team with 17.1 points per game and 5.9 rebounds last season, was one of six conference players to be named to the preseason all-Big East first team. The Newark, N.J., native joins preseason player of the year Luke Harangody of Notre Dame, Cincinnati guard Deonta Vaughn, Villanova guard Scotty Reynolds, Marquette forward Lazar Hayward and Georgetown center Greg Monroe.
Ebanks, who was named to the conference’s all-rookie team in 2009, earned preseason all-Big East second team honors. Joining him on the team are Connecticut guards Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker, Seton Hall guard Jeremy Hazell, USF guard Dominique Jones and Louisville center Samardo Samuels.
“Right now we’re just excited for the season,” Ebanks added. “We appreciate being number two right now, and we’re glad that our hard work has paid off. Now we’re just ready to show it.”
Connecticut’s Stanley Robinson and Syracuse’s Arinze Onuaku were named preseason all-Big East Honorable Mention.
Since the 2004 season, WVU has finished higher than its preseason prediction. In that year, the Mountaineers were picked ninth in the conference and finished eighth, ending the season on a flurry to reach the Elite Eight.
In 2005, the Mountaineers were predicted to place fifth in the conference regular season, largely because the Big East was bracing for arguably its most competitive year after newcomers Louisville, Cincinnati, DePaul, Marquette and USF joined. WVU ended up finishing third en route to a trip to the Sweet 16.
Losing several of its senior leaders, WVU entered the 2006 year slated to finish 12th, but jumped up five spots and finished seventh. The Mountaineers went on to win one of the most competitive NIT Championships ever, with more teams than usual involved who had legitimate cases to be in the NCAA Tournament.
In coach Bob Huggins’ first season at his alma mater in 2007, WVU entered the year as 10th-best team, according to the preseason conference poll. It ended up as the fifth seed in the Big East Tournament, reached the conference semifinals and journeyed to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons.
Huggins proved the pollsters wrong once again last year, leading a team forecasted to finish ninth into the Big East Tournament as the seventh-place team. Once again, WVU made the semifinals in what some say was the strongest conference in the history of college basketball, and made a return trip the NCAA Tournament.
Following WVU in third is Connecticut, which received the other first-place vote. Louisville is predicted to finish fourth, followed by Georgetown, Syracuse, Cincinnati and Notre Dame.
Pitt was spotted at ninth-place in the poll, followed by Seton Hall, St. John’s, Marquette and Providence. USF, Rutgers and DePaul round out the final three teams.
Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. Villanova (218)
2. West Virginia (215)
3. Connecticut (185)
4. Louisville (179)
5. Georgetown (161)
6. Syracuse (152)
7. Cincinnati (135)
8. Notre Dame (132)
9. Pitt (119)
10. Seton Hall (110)
11. St. John’s (82)
12. Marquette (78)
13. Providence (52)
14. USF (44)
15. Rutgers (43)
16. DePaul (15)