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St. John’s confidence not shared by other Big East coaches

St. John’s believes it is vastly improved from last year, with a deeper roster better suited to play Mike Anderson’s up-tempo style in his second season.

The Big East coaches still don’t see the Johnnies moving up in the conference.

In the league’s preseason poll, released shortly before its virtual media day on Wednesday, Anderson’s team was picked to finish ninth in the 11-team conference with 33 votes, four behind No. 8 Butler. No St. John’s player was named in the league’s preseason honors, which is voted on by coaches.

Motivation shouldn’t be hard to come by for the Johnnies, who finished ninth out of 10 teams last year — exactly where they were picked to finish — but came on strong late, winning three of their last four games, including the Big East Tournament opener over Georgetown prior to the cancellation of the season due to COVID-19. Despite losing leading scorer LJ Figueroa, St. John’s has high hopes after adding a number of potential key parts, in particular George Washington grad transfer forward Arnaldo Toro and freshman point guard Posh Alexander. It also returns four of its top six scorers, including sophomore Julian Champagnie, an all-Big East freshmen team selection.

It will be a difficult start for St. John’s, which will visit UConn on Dec. 11 to kick off the league season, then go to Butler on Dec. 14, before hosting Creighton and Georgetown on Dec. 17 and 20, respectively.

After sharing the regular-season crown last year, Seton Hall was picked fifth, with All-American Myles Powell and fellow starters Quincy McKnight and Romaro Gill graduating. The Pirates were represented in the preseason honors, though. Versatile forward Sandro Mamukelashvili, who toyed with going pro, was named to the first team and Harvard grad transfer Bryce Aiken was an honorable mention selection. The Pirates open the league season Dec. 11 at home against DePaul.

As expected, national title contender Villanova was selected first by the league’s coaches, followed by Creighton, Providence and return member UConn. Marquette came in sixth, with Xavier seventh, Butler eighth, St. John’s ninth, DePaul 10th and Georgetown 11th.

Creighton point guard Marcus Zegarowski was voted the Preseason Player of the Year and joined on the first team by Mamukelashvili, Providence guard David Duke, Villanova duo Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and in a surprise, DePaul guard Charlie Moore.

UConn sophomore wing James Bouknight, a first snub, led the second team, alongside Xavier guard Paul Scruggs, Creighton sharpshooter Mitch Ballock, Providence forward Nate Watson, Villanova guard Justin Moore and Butler forward Bryce Nzei. Marquette 6-foot-11 forward Dawson Garcia was named Preseason Freshman of the Year.

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