UConn preseason choice in Big East

Updated: October 29, 2003, 6:16 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Connecticut was picked to win the Big East in the conference coaches' preseason poll Wednesday.

The Huskies' junior center Emeka Okafor was the preseason player of the year, and freshman forward Charlie Villanueva the preseason rookie of the year. It's only the fourth time a Big East school claimed both of those honors.

Connecticut received 13 of 14 first-place votes; coaches couldn't vote for their team. The Huskies return three starters from a team that went 23-10 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last season.

Defending national champion Syracuse received the other first-place vote and was second in the poll.

Notre Dame was third, followed by Pittsburgh, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova, Boston College, West Virginia, St. John's, Miami, Georgetown, Rutgers and Virginia Tech.

The 6-foot-9 Okafor averaged 15.9 points and a league-leading 11.2 rebounds last season. He led the nation with an average of 4.7 blocks and was the Big East's defensive player of the year.

Okafor was joined on the league's preseason first team by UConn junior guard Ben Gordon, Notre Dame junior guard Chris Thomas, Syracuse junior forward Hakim Warrick, Miami senior forward Darius Rice and Providence junior forward Ryan Gomes.

Okafor and Thomas got the maximum number of votes.

After three seasons of playing with two divisions, the Big East will return to one this season.

Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College are leaving to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Big East will announce its new members next Tuesday in a news conference in New York.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index