NEW YORK, Oct. 22 – League coaches are already calling this year’s Big East one of the best conferences of all time. And they’re only calling Georgetown its seventh-best team.

Just months after winning the league’s regular season for the second straight year, the Hoyas were predicted to finish seventh by a vote of league coaches. Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh were picked to finish first, second and third, respectively.

“Whoever is ranked one, two, three – if they end up seven, eight, nine – I don’t think that would surprise anyone at all,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said. “Nor would it surprise anyone if the teams ranked seven, eight and nine end up one, two, three. The beauty of it is, it’s a meritocracy.”

Connecticut returns 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet, an athletic, shot-blocking center who averaged 10 points and eight rebounds last season as a junior. The Huskies also bring back senior Jeff Adrien, an undersized but tough-as-nails forward who led the team in scoring last season, and dynamic senior guard A.J. Price, both of whom were first-team all-league selections last season.

Connecticut Head Coach Jim Calhoun said, “We’re not the best team in the league starting off. I would hope we would be the best team in the league [at the end].”

The Huskies will gain the services of 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Stanley Robinson and 6-foot-10 freshman Ater Majok after the first semester, giving the Huskies a truly premier front line. Robinson took a leave of absence from the team last season, while Majok, a Sudanese refugee, is working to get his academics in order.

Not surprisingly, Notre Dame, which was picked to finish fourth in the league, saw its star, junior forward Luke Harangody, picked to repeat as Big East player of the year. Last season, the 6-foot-8 Harangody averaged 20.4 points and 10.6 rebounds.

Two freshman centers, Georgetown’s Greg Monroe and Louisville’s Samardo Samuels, were voted co-rookies of the year.

Big East coaches voted the Hoyas’ DaJuan Summers to the preseason all-league squad.

The focus of Wednesday’s media day was not individual distinctions, however. All parties involved focused on how tremendously competitive the Big East promises to be this season.

“There’s no more difficult a conference for coaching,” Big East Conference Commissioner Mike Tranghese said in his opening remarks. “We return 10 of our leading 11 rebounders. We return 13 of our leading 18 scorers, the player of the year, the defensive player of the year, the co-rookies of the year, and we have eight teams that qualified in the tournament. That alone is enough to scare you.”

If Tranghese, who presided over men’s basketball media day for the final time before he retires at the end of the school year, seemed optimistic for the upcoming season, Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino was profuse in his praise.

“I don’t think I’m overstating this: I think this is the strongest league in the history of college basketball, in terms of its depth, in terms of the returning players coming back,” he said. “I’ve never seen a league with 11 teams that could be ranked in the top 30.”

Indeed, many preseason polls have eight Big East teams – Connecticut, Louisville, Pitt, Notre Dame, Villanova, Marquette, Georgetown and Syracuse – ranked in the top 25. What’s more, both Pitino and Calhoun raved Wednesday about the potential of Cincinnati, West Virginia and Providence.

“You can’t pay any attention to [the preseason poll],” Pitino said, “because you really can’t say who the best team is. It’s who is going to be the healthiest . who is going to make free throws at the end of the game, who has the best backcourt to control tempo at the end of the game.”

Georgetown kicks off its season against Jacksonville on Monday, Nov. 17. And when Big East play begins in late December, the Hoyas will be thrown into the deep end.

They face No. 1 Connecticut on Dec. 29, No. 3 Pittsburgh on Jan. 3 and No. 4 Notre Dame on Jan. 5.

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