Oct. 20, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - Pittsburgh is the clear-cut choice of Big East coaches in their preseason poll, the first time coach Jamie Dixon's team has been voted on top since 2006.

The Panthers, who return four starters from last season's 25-9 team that finished tied for second in the Big East at 13-5, received 12 first-place votes from the 16 coaches, who could not vote for their own team. Pittsburgh is the only team in the conference to have at least 10 Big East victories each of the last nine seasons.

Villanova, which received one first-place vote, was second, followed in the first division by Syracuse, Georgetown, defending conference champion and Final Four participant West Virginia, St. John's, Notre Dame and Louisville and Marquette, which tied for eighth.

Syracuse, last season's regular-season champion, received two first-place votes and St. John's had one.

The remainder of the poll was Connecticut, Seton Hall, Cincinnati, South Florida, Providence, Rutgers and DePaul.

Georgetown senior guard Austin Freeman, who averaged 16.5 points last season while shooting 52.5 percent from the field - including a league-best 51.9 percent from 3-point range - was the choice as preseason player of the year. He is the fourth Hoya to be selected for the award, joining three-time honoree Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Roy Hibbert.

Joining Freeman on the first team were seniors Jeremy Hazell of Seton Hall and Corey Fisher of Villanova, and juniors Kemba Walker of Connecticut, Ashton Gibbs of Pittsburgh and Kevin Jones of West Virginia.

Syracuse freshman Fab Melo, a 7-foot native of Brazil, was chosen the preseason rookie of the year.

St. John's, one of four teams in the conference with a new coach, has not been picked higher than ninth in the preseason poll since 2002-03. Former UCLA coach and ESPN analyst Steve Lavin has 10 seniors back from a team that finished 6-12 in the conference and 17-16 overall.

The other new coaches are Kevin Willard at Seton Hall, Mike Rice at Rutgers and Oliver Purnell at DePaul.