One of the things that excites me about each new college basketball season is the arguments about the creme de la creme. Who’s the best of the best?
There are always debates, like who is the preseason Player of the Year, the premier diaper dandy, or our topic today — the best conference in America.
Do you rank a conference based on the top teams? Do you go from top to bottom to determine strength? Do you evaluate the conference’s star power? It is a combination of factors which leads to great conversations, baby! Remember, this is a preseason evaluation. As the year goes on, we will get a true indication of how teams and leagues progress. There will be shocks, and players coming from nowhere who become PTP’ers — prime-time players.
In reality, the true evaluation of conferences come in the postseason. You take all the facts together and analyze the strengths and weaknesses.
I love these discussions, and have strong opinions. It is never easy to do this and I’m sure fans of several conferences will disagree with my choices. But let’s have some fun as I give you my thoughts on the top 10 conference in America, with a capsule breakdown of each one.
What I’m watching in the ACC: This conference has four of the top 11 teams in the Top 25 preseason poll. Duke and North Carolina always get the spotlight, but keep an eye on a talented Louisville team. Chris Mack has done a great job rebuilding and this team is loaded and deep. You know a league is strong and deep when Syracuse is picked eighth in the preseason poll.
What I’m watching in the SEC: With the addition of transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., Florida will challenge Kentucky in the SEC race. The Wildcats have reloaded with Khalil Whitney and Tyrese Maxey. How will Tennessee fare without Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield? Auburn should be tough again with good size up front. Georgia will be improved under Tom Crean as diaper dandy Anthony Edwards shines. Ole Miss has a pair of veteran stars and could compete as well.
3. Big Ten
What I’m watching in the Big Ten: While the Spartans were preseason No. 1 nationally, Maryland will be on Michigan State’s heels. Anthony Cowan Jr. will have a solid season. This league is deep with eight contenders for NCAA bids. Illinois will be much improved. Purdue will be solid despite losing Carsen Edwards. Wisconsin will be fine despite losing Ethan Happ. Penn State, with a lot of experience returning, could break through.
4. Big 12
What I’m watching in the Big 12: Texas Tech lost a lot of talent from last year’s Final Four team. Can the Red Raiders rebuild and contend again? Kansas fell from the top spot in the league standings and is hungry to return to the top. Udoka Azubuike’s return, along with Devon Dotson, makes them the favorites. Baylor will be tough with Tristan Clark returning from an injury-plagued season.
5. Big East
What I’m watching in the Big East: After earning just four NCAA bids last year, this league will be a lot stronger. While many have Seton Hall and Villanova battling for league supremacy, keep an eye on a dangerous Xavier team with Naji Marshall leading the way. Marquette returns Markus Howard, and Georgetown, Providence and Creighton can all make noise.
What I’m watching in the AAC: Penny Hardaway’s young Memphis team has created a buzz, with Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa leading an outstanding group of freshmen. Houston will be right up there with Quentin Grimes, the transfer from Kansas, declared eligible. Cincinnati will be in the mix under first-year coach John Brannen as Mick Cronin left for the UCLA job. South Florida has a lot of returning talent and could surprise.
What I’m watching in the Pac-12: The league will bounce back. Arizona has reloaded with several diaper dandies, including starters Nico Mannion and Josh Green, plus transfers Max Hazzard and Jemarl Baker. Washington has top-flight diaper dandy Isaiah Stewart. Oregon has Payton Pritchard back and will contend. All eyes will be on Mick Cronin at UCLA. USC added a pair of diaper dandies and could surprise.
What I’m watching in the WCC: Once again, it is a two-team race between favorite Gonzaga and St. Mary’s. The Zags may be a little bit deeper, though Killian Tillie is already hurt again. This is a league with a lot of individual talent that does not get enough national respect. BYU’s Yoeli Childs is a star. Ford is an outstanding all-around player. Charles Minlend of San Francisco is worthy of praise. The Gaels and Zags battle for No. 1.
9. Atlantic 10
What I’m watching in the A-10: Davidson and VCU are the favorites in the league. Both have experienced starters returning and that makes a difference. Kellan Grady should average 20 points per game this season. A dangerous sleeper is Dayton, which returns forward Obi Toppin, last season’s A-10 Freshman of the Year.
10. Mountain West
What I’m watching in the MW: Utah State is the clear-cut favorite and Craig Smith’s team could go to the Sweet 16. Sam Merrill is on numerous All-America lists and he can flat-out shoot the rock. San Diego State, Nevada, Boise State and Fresno State figure to be competitive but are probably shooting for second in the conference standings. Keep an eye on Steve Alford in his first season at Nevada.
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