Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Seven teams from the conference made the initial ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ poll, which was released on Thursday.
North Carolina is ranked No. 1 in the poll after receiving all 31 first-place votes.
UConn followed at No. 2 and Louisville at No. 3.
Two other Big East teams made the Top 10: No. 6 Pittsburgh and No. 9 Notre Dame. Marquette chimed in at No. 17, Georgetown at No. 18 and Villanova at No. 25. Two other Big East teams — Syracuse and West Virginia — also received votes.
“It’s the best league in the country by far, it’s not even close,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said of the Big East. “You can be the 10th-best team in the league and one of the top 50 teams in the country. It’s a joke how deep this league is.”
UCLA, a Final Four team a year ago, came in at No. 4, and second-place finisher Memphis landing at No. 12. Reigning national champion Kansas is No. 23.
UNC’s hopes skyrocketed when player of the year Tyler Hansbrough decided to return for his senior season. He’ll get help from guard Ty Lawson and shooter Wayne Ellington.
Rutgers visits North Carolina Dec. 28.
Still, UConn coach Jim Calhoun believes his team is capable of a national championship.
“[We’re capable of a] national championship, but it’s going to take a lot of good things to happen,” he said. “It’s going to take A.J. [Price] returning to to the A.J. we know and better. It’s going to take Hasheem [Thabeet] dominating the games the way we know he’s capable of. It’s going to take Jeff [Adrien] to be the warrior that he continues to be. “It’s going to take Kemba [Walker] as a freshman to not be a freshman. It’s going to take Stanley [Robinson] coming back and then the team adjusting to a guy on the fly.”
Calhoun said it could come down to Hansbrough and Thabeet for National Player of the Year honors.
“In my opinion [Thabeet] has a chance to have a greater impact on the game,” he said. “Tyler Hansbrough is the best scoring big guy in the country and he’ll have his 3,000 points but it will come down to what guy can take his team [the furthest].”
(Photos courtesy UNC athletics and AP)
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.