Villanova top choice in Big East ahead of Creighton

FILE - In this March 7, 2020, file photo, Villanova head coach Jay Wright gestures during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgetown in Washington. Two-time Villanova national champion coach Jay Wright says it's "50-50" the sport -- which took one of the first major hits in the coronavirus pandemic era with the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament - can make it through this season intact. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File) (Nick Wass, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

NEW YORK – Jay Wright and his fellow Big East coaches are hoping that the basketball season runs as smoothly as possible and that they can make it to March.

They know they'll have to adapt to bumps along the way due to the coronavirus that may cause games to be postponed or canceled and teams to have to pause basketball activities.

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“This year, as we’ve all learned, anything can happen. We’ve been shut down and we all learn is it’s not 14 days. It’s guys get shutdown in different increments,” Villanova's coach Wright said. “Then have to get heart tests and it could affect your team for 21-23 days. That’s just part of it. How do you handle all the challenges? There are more than any seasons in history of college basketball.”

Marquette has already had a setback having to quarantine for two weeks because of a positive test and can't get back on the court until Nov. 4.

Wright's team does have some normalcy already as the Wildcats are the preseason pick to win the conference for the sixth time in seven years. They received nine of the 11 first-place votes from the league's coaches on Wednesday.

“I hope we live out the predictions too,” Wright said. “As we all know, we got a lot of work to do.”

Creighton, led by preseason player of the year Marcus Zegarowski, was picked second. It's the highest preseason position for the Bluejays since they joined the conference for the 2013-14 season. They received the other two first-place votes from the coaches. Zegarowski's season ended before the start of the Big East Tournament last March as he was sidelined with a torn meniscus in his right knee.

“Marcus ended up having surgery in New York City the day before we opened in the Big East Tournament. He was able to go home for a month and we were able to get him back here in the middle of April,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “He’s in a great spot. body looks great. Now it’s a matter of getting timing back from being out three to four months.”

McDermott said while it is normally a coaching cliche to say teams are taking it day-by-day is more fitting this season than any other.

“When practice is over we talk about the things that allowed us to practice today, wearing masks, practice social distancing, make sure you're not in a group setting, protect yourself and teammates. The message has been assume the person you're talking to has COVID. What steps are you taking to protect yourself?”

Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said that the league will follow the NCAA guidelines and teams will be testing three times a week leading up to game play.

“We will do our best where disruptions are kept to a minimum and a number of Big East schools are able to compete for a national championship next spring,” Ackerman said.

Here are a few other tidbits from Big East media day:

HONORING BIG JOHN: The Big East announced that it will establish an award named for former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. that will recognize his efforts to fight prejudice, discrimination and advance positive social change. The award will be given annually to an individual, team or athletic department. Thompson died in August.

“It's great. He was an important part of my life when he first started recruiting me to the day he died,” Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing said. “He was always a person I could pick up the phone and talk to. Give any advice I might need and shaping my coaching career. It's a great honor for the Big East to have the award in his name, the things he fought for over the course of his life.”

MINORITY REPRESENTATION: Five of the 11 Big East coaches are Black which is one of the highest percentages across college basketball. That fact is not lost on them.

“The Big East is at the forefront of having minority coaches at the helm,” Ewing said. “They took a chance on a high school coach (Thompson) and he proved he was up to the task. Even when we won the championship he was given an opportunity that a lot of people who looked like him weren’t given the opportunity. great to be sitting here as a head coach at Georgetown.”

Ackerman announced that players will be wearing Black Lives Matter patches this year on their uniforms.

PARTIAL SCHEDULE: The Big East announced its conference schedule through the month of December with play beginning on Dec. 11 with three games. Ackerman hopes to have the rest of the schedule out within a month.

“We broke our schedule into two pieces to take more time to see what makes sense for us in January or February,” Ackerman said “There are models on the table that best suits our needs and provides the safest environment."

REST OF THE RANKINGS: Providence was the third choice in the conference behind Villanova and Creighton. UConn, which returns to the conference after a seven-year absence, was predicted to come in fourth — just ahead of Seton Hall. The Pirates have to replace Big East Player of the Year Myles Powell. Marquette, Xavier and Butler were the next three, with St. John’s, DePaul and Georgetown rounding out the preseason poll.


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