The Hoyas lost leading scorers Austin Freeman and Chris Wright and top rebounder Julian Vaughn to graduation from a team that finished 10-8 in the conference last season.
“We don’t need a reminder,” Hoyas Coach John Thompson III said. “We have some of the best minds in basketball sitting in this room. But what coaches vote on in July is irrelevant once we get on the court in January, February and March. Our guys realize that.”
“We’ve been picked where we are,” he added. “Now we’ve got to go play.”
The Hoyas also did not place any players on the preseason all-conference first team, second team or honorable mention teams, a year after Freeman was named preseason conference player of the year and Wright garnered second-team honors.
Senior Jason Clark leaned back in his chair and carefully measured his response when asked if he was surprised that no Hoyas player was listed.
“Playing from an underdog perspective, that’s always good,” said Clark, who averaged a career-high 12 points per game last season but saw his three-point shooting accuracy drop from 42.4 percent to 34.7.
“I have a year where I can go out and surprise a lot of people, which I plan to do. I’m not disappointed at all. It’s definitely motivating. This is my time to shine.”
Defending national champion Connecticut joined Syracuse as the co-favorite to claim the conference’s regular season title. Louisville and Pittsburghalso received first-place votes.
The Panthers’ Ashton Gibbs was named the preseason player of the year. The senior guard, who decided against entering the NBA draft, is the conference’s top returning scorer at 16.8 points per game.
The Huskies, meantime, won’t have smooth-shooting guard Kemba Walker, who was drafted ninth overall by the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, but they do have four players on the preseason all-conference squads. Sophomore swingman Jeremy Lamb was named to the first team, while junior forward Alex Oriahki made the second team. Sophomore guard Shabazz Napier and freshman forward Andre Drummond were honorable mentions.
The conference’s basketball media day was moved to the New York Athletic Club because longtime host Madison Square Garden is undergoing renovations.
The unfamiliar setting – and the steady rain pelting the windows – was appropriate considering the conference is also experiencing significant upheaval, too. Syracuse and Pittsburgh have announced their intentions to leave for the ACC, while Texas Christian reneged on its commitment and has decided to bolt to the Big 12. That turmoil was the day’s primary story line, despite Commissioner John Marinatto’s plea to focus on the coaches and athletes in his opening remarks.
Asked to discuss Syracuse’s decision to leave the Big East, Orange Coach Jim Boeheim snapped: “I don’t know anything. I’m here to talk about this year, Big East basketball. That’s it.”
Across the ballroom, Notre Dame’s Mike Brey said he wants to focus on basketball but it’s difficult given the uncertainty.
“You know how they say you’re listed day-to-day?” Brey said. “Leagues are now listed as day-to-day now. It’s going to be talked about, brought up. And it does distract a little bit from the games.”
Louisville Coach Rick Pitino turned sentimental when asked about the rivalries that will be lost once Syracuse and Pittsburgh leave.
“I can’t picture the Big East without Syracuse,” Pitino said. “I can picture the Big East without Pittsburgh. I can picture the Big East without DePaul. I can picture the Big East without Louisville. But I can’t picture the Big East without Syracuse. It’s a difficult pill to swallow for a fan.”
In the end, though, the upheaval won’t have an effect on what happens on the court – at least for the next two seasons because Syracuse and Pittsburgh will be held to the Big East’s 27-month waiting period.
There are still 18 conferences games on everyone’s schedule. Connecticut is as talented as ever. Syracuse will play a 2-3 zone. Georgetown will go backdoor.
“No one can definitely say what tomorrow will look like,” Thompson said. “But at the same time, come November through March, we’re going to throw up the basketball. This conference, today, is unquestionably the best basketball conference. In a couple of years, we’ll be arguably the best basketball conference.”