NEW YORK (AP) — A year ago Connecticut was 10th in the Big East coaches’ preseason poll. Six months later the Huskies had national championship No. 3.

On Wednesday, they were tied for first place in the coaches’ voting for 2011-12 with Syracuse, although the Huskies can lay claim to more No. 1 votes, 7-5.

It’s hard to imagine Connecticut playing better than it did during the 11-game winning streak that ended with the cutting of the nets in Houston.

This group will have to do it without All-America guard Kemba Walker, who did everything needed to win games.

Coach Jim Calhoun has three starters returning, including sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb, a preseason first-team pick, and junior forward Alex Oriakhi, a second-team selection. Freshman Andre Drummond, a 6-foot-11 center, was chosen preseason rookie of the year.

The Orange return first-team selection Kris Joseph, a senior, and second-teamer Scoop Jardine, a junior who led the conference in assists with a 6.1 average last season.

Louisville, which had three first-place votes was third, followed by Pittsburgh, which had one.

Panthers senior guard Ashton Gibbs was selected preseason player of the year. He led Pittsburgh in scoring (16.8), and led the conference in 3-point shooting (49 percent), and was second in free throw shooting (88.9) He enters the season third on the Big East career 3-point shooting percentage list at 45.4.

The other Panthers to be preseason player of the year are Charles Smith (1986-87), Jerome Lane (1987-88), Brandin Knight (2002-03) and Aaron Gray (2006-07).

Cincinnati was fifth followed by Marquette, West Virginia, Villanova, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Rutgers, St. John’s, Seton Hall, South Florida, Providence and DePaul.

In addition to Gibbs, Lamb and Joseph, the preseason first team included seniors Darius Johnson-Odom of Marquette and Kevin Jones of West Virginia, and graduate student Tim Abromaitis of Notre Dame.

Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team or players.

Everything about the Big East is in flux right now. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference and TCU, which was scheduled to start competing in 2012, left for the Big 12.

Conference commissioner John Marinatto announced Tuesday that the Big East wants to expand to 12 football schools and reiterated the conference intends to hold Pitt and Syracuse to the league’s 27-month notification rule, keeping those schools in the league for the next two years.

He said the conference has looked at 14-team models for next season.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.


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