NEW YORK — Villanova has a new name this season: defending national champion Villanova.
Six months ago, the Wildcats won the NCAA championship in a thrilling finish, beating North Carolina 77-74. It’s been a whirlwind since.
“This was all firsts for us,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said Tuesday. “It was our first time to the White House and to be honored at Philadelphia City. We came back from our trip to Spain — where nobody knew us — we didn’t even get our bags before people were asking for pictures.
“Once we start playing everything will be back to usual. Still, we don’t know what it will be like to walk into visiting arenas as the national champions.”
The Wildcats were the overwhelming choice of the Big East coaches as the preseason No. 1. Xavier, which finished in last season’s final Top Ten , was second followed by Creighton, Georgetown, defending Big East Tournament champion Seton Hall, Butler, Marquette, St. John’s, Providence and DePaul.
Villanova lost starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu and it won’t be their points, rebounds or assists that will be hard to replace.
“Arch and Daniel were natural leaders. They were seniors. They played a lot of basketball and knew how to lead,” Wright said. “It will be tough to replace them, but we’ll enjoy the journey.”
Wright has Big East preseason player of the year Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, who hit the 3 at the buzzer for the national title, among the returnees.
“Roles change every year, so Josh and I will try to take over the leadership role,” Jenkins said. “We’ll put last year behind us. At least we’ll try to.”
Jenkins was asked how often he watches the tape of his title-winning jumper.
“I haven’t watched it in a while,” he said. “I’ll save something like that for when I’m done playing.”
Xavier has three starters back and the Musketeers are a trendy national pick for a Final Four berth.
“We have a good experienced group. I think I’m excited to coach them,” coach Chris Mack said. “Last year, there was a lot of teaching, a lot of learning. You’re always learning, but the experience level they bring back gives you great comfort as a coach because they’ve been there before. They’ve been in those big games. They’re not afraid of the big moment.”
Preseason first-teamers Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner return for the Musketeers.
“To me Edmond was one of the top point guards in a tremendous point-guard league a year ago,” Mack said. “Edmond has that maturity about him. He’s going to have another really good year for us.”
Georgetown forward Isaac Copeland was honest in the reason why he thinks the Hoyas will have a better season than last year, when they finished 15-18 overall and eighth in the 10-team league.
“Mainly conditioning,” Copeland said when asked what the Hoyas did this offseason. “There were times last year when we were out of shape, just straight up out of shape. I think this year we run a lot more so we can push the ball more and play at a much faster pace.”
Seton Hall beat Villanova in last season’s Big East Tournament championship game and then had to watch the Wildcats win it all.
“I watched it. It was killing me to watch it,” Pirates junior Khadeen Carrington said. “I’m happy that they won. It shows how deep the league is, how good the league is.
“I think we gave them that fuel to go win that. I think Jay Wright said something like that, we gave them that fuel to go out and win six games.”
The preseason all-conference team is Jenkins, Bluiett, Sumner, Kelan Marton, Butler and Maurice Watson Jr. of Creighton.