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October 25, 2006

Pitt relishes role of Big East favorite

Preseason Top 25
Top Sleepers for '06-'07
The College Basketball Wire

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NEW YORK Pittsburgh was picked as the favorite to win the Big East at the league's annual media day on Wednesday afternoon, and the Panthers wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's a great feeling," said Panthers reserve forward Doyle Hudson. "There is some pressure to stay in that spot, but we've put in a lot of hard work and now it's paying off."

The Panthers were voted first or second on all ballots and received 10 of the 16 first-place votes. Georgetown was second with four first-place votes, followed by Syracuse and Marquette with one vote apiece.

Pittsburgh center Aaron Gray, who originally entered the NBA Draft but pulled his name out just hours before the deadline, was voted the Big East preseason player of the year. Gray was the league's most improved player last season after averaging 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.

Guard Carl Krauser, who led the Panthers in scoring last season with 15 points per game, is gone. However, Gray feels confident Pitt has the depth to overcome the loss. Seven players who played at least 15 minutes are back, including five who averaged seven or more points a game.

"Our guards are tremendously underrated if you ask me," Gray said. "We are going to see more zone and I'll see more double-teams this year. I have confidence I can kick the ball out and they can hit shots.

"(Losing Krauser) definitely affects the team, but we have so much depth and so many young guys we will be just fine."

The rest of the 11-player preseason All-Big East team was made up of Connecticut power forward Jeff Adrien, power forward Wilson Chandler and guard Sammy Mejia of DePaul, Georgetown small forward Jeff Green and center Roy Hibbert, Louisville power forward Juan Palacios, Marquette guard Dominic James, St. John's power forward Lamont Hamilton, Syracuse power forward Terrence Roberts and Villanova power forward Curtis Sumpter.

Gray, Green, Hibbert and James were unanimous selections.

Syracuse's Paul Harris was voted the league's rookie of the year.

With 13 teams losing their top scorer, the Big East will be hard-pressed to duplicate the success the league enjoyed last season when it expanded to 16 teams. A record eight programs reached the NCAA Tournament and Syracuse, who started the Big East Tournament as a No. 9 seed, went on a shocking and dramatic run to win that event.

"I heard a lot about the league being too big or too this or too that, but in the 28 years of the league that is the best regular-season race I ever saw," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese. "I also thought the conference tournament rivaled the atmosphere of 1983-84 when we had Patrick (Ewing), Chris (Mullin), and Pearl Washington."

Sumpter happy to be back at Villanova
Big East Media Day photo gallery



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