NEW YORK — The Big East might have the most parity since the reconfiguration of the league before the 2013-14 season. But one thing hasn't changed.
Villanova has been voted by conference coaches to finish the regular season in first place.
"I'm very surprised," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said Thursday during the conference's media day at Madison Square Garden. "I'm flattered. I love my fellow coaches. I never really care, but I didn't even think about it this year just because I thought we wouldn't be. So I was kind of shocked."
The vote marks the fifth consecutive year that Villanova has been picked No. 1 by the coaches. The Cats had their streak of four Big East regular-season championships ended last season by Xavier, but came back and won the conference tournament before going 6-0 in the NCAAs to win their second national championship in three years.
The Wildcats lost their top four scorers from last year's team but still finished with eight of the 10 first-place votes, with Marquette and Butler splitting the other two. By rule, Wright could not vote for his team.
The dean of Big East coaches, Wright said he had a difficult time filling out his ballot, and others appeared to as well. Providence nosed out St. John's by one point for third place, and Butler edged Xavier by four points in the battle for fifth.
"I can't remember who we picked No. 1, to be honest, but I know we had a tough time," Wright said. "I assume everyone else did, too, so it's easy to throw us up there because we've been there. That's probably what happened."
The teams with returning veterans were picked for high finishes, such as Marquette (second), Providence and St. John's. Teams that lost quite a bit of talent, such as Seton Hall (eighth) and Creighton (ninth) were toward the bottom.
"More than any year, I think it's going to be more unpredictable this season and probably more volatile during the season," Wright said. "The last two years, I think it's been us and Xavier at the top, Creighton always up there. I think this year, we could all go from 2 to 7. I really think it's going to be like that."
The Wildcats defeated Providence in overtime to win the Big East tournament. While Friars coach Ed Cooley acknowledged that the conference is more wide-open, "you've still got to beat Villanova."
"They're good," he said. "I don't care what anybody says. You've got to beat them."