Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Big East Holds Media Day at MSG; Marquette Tops Preseason Coaches' Poll

The big screen at Madison Square Garden. Photo by Jason Schott.

The Big East Conference held their basketball media day on Tuesday morning at Madison Square Garden, and it was a celebratory one as this marked 10 years since it remade itself as one focused on basketball. 

It also came with the announcement from Commissioner Val Ackerman that the Big East is in the process of extending The Garden as the host of the men's basketball tournament in March until 2032, which would make it 50 years straight at 33rd Street and 8th Avenue. Since it has been held here since 1982, the Big East at the moment is the conference with the longest streak of one venue holding the end-season tournament.

One of the rites of passage for media day is the announcement of the Big East Preseason Coaches' Poll, which was topped by Marquette, who is led by Head Coach Shaka Smart. They received seven first-place votes, and 96 votes overall in the poll.

The Golden Eagles exceeded last year's ninth spot in the poll by going 29-4 and winning the Big East Tournament. This season, they bring back eight of their nine top scorers, no small feat in the new free transfer world, including Tyler Kolek, who was the Big East Player of the Year and won the Dave Gavitt Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the Big East Tournament. 

The next four teams in the coaches' poll are: Creighton, who received the other four first-place votes and had 92 votes overall, after they advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight last season; Connecticut, the defending NCAA champions, who notched 79 points; Villanova, who are planning to make a move under second-year coach Kyle Neptune after they went 17-17 overall and 10-10 in Big East play; and St. John's, newly reborn under Rick Pitino, and in addition to all the new additions, they return center Joel Soriano, who averaged 15.2 points, a league-leading 11.9 rebounds last season, had 25 double-doubles, second-most in the nation, and was an All-Big East Second Team selection. Note: coaches can't vote for their own team.

2023-24 Preseason Coaches' Poll: (rank-team-points-first place votes)

1. Marquette - 96 - 7

2. Creighton - 92 - 4

3. Connecticut - 79

4. Villanova - 76

5. St. John's - 59

6. Xavier - 57

7. Providence - 51

8. Georgetown - 34

9. Seton Hall - 30

10. Butler - 16

11. DePaul - 15

Pitino's Points: St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino took questions at Big East Media Day, and here's a sampling of what he said:

On what fans can expect from the Red Storm this year: "Very similar to our exhibition game. We played Rutgers to a double-overtime game (an 89-78 win on Saturday). Both teams just played with a lot of heart and made a lot of mistakes early on, but both teams played their tails off. I think that's what our fans should expect from us. We are going to give every ounce of perspiration we have in us to try and get a victory.

On being back at Madison Square Garden: "I'm looking forward to this year as much as I have in any time in my coaching history because it's back home. I still remember my New York Knicks press conference...The Garden has changed immensely, about two billion dollars added into it, but still the same freight elevator to get to the locker room. There have been a lot of changes but it's the great history and I'm so excited to be back a part of it."

On the Big East: "Last year, [the Big East] almost had three teams in the Final Four. There are a lot of teams with a host of players back. I think Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall are all back rebuilding their brand and will make some noise this year."

On winning at St. John's: "St. John's is special and for me building St. John's up to a national power would just be an incredible experience for everyone that I call a friend or family member."

On how he assembled the roster: "I had three prerequisites that I wanted in this recruiting class. I wanted great athletes who were great people. Then I wanted to make sure they had high goals for themselves so they could take their goals and turn them into something special. If you want to prosper the name on the back, play for the name on the front. That's how you build a culture. When you play every single day in practice for the name on the front, the back will prosper. That is what we keep preaching to this team."

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