Every year there is obviously a great deal of turnover in college basketball, however this year just feels like there’s more than usual. Players like Ethan Happ, who seemingly have been in college forever, are gone, as well as recognizable freshmen such as Zion Williamson and Tyler Herro. Teams within the Power 5 conferences have been flipped upside down, scrambling to rebuild and reload, so I’m here to rerank them a couple weeks into the start of the fresh campaign.
1. Atlantic Coast Conference
Despite losing the Duke trio, Coby White, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy and countless others to the NBA, the ACC is still the best conference in the country. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they are the best conference top to bottom, in fact it’s extremely top heavy. There are four teams ranked in the top 25 as of the latest AP poll, however those four teams all fall within the first seven. Duke, the No. 1 ranked team in the country, has adjusted very quickly to life with Zion and R.J. Tre Jones led a new group of freshmen to a win over an experienced Kansas team, and they have only produced consistent results after that. No. 2 Louisville expectedly won their four games, but what’s been impressive is that they’ve shown they have a balanced scoring attack around Naismith candidate Jordan Nwora. North Carolina and Virginia fall at No. 5 and 7 respectively. Both lost as much talent and experience as just about anybody else in the country, yet they have passed tests early in very different ways. Freshman Cole Anthony (34/11/5) shot UNC past ACC rival Notre Dame in their season opener as he looks to replace Coby White in that high tempo offense that Roy Williams loves to play. Virginia, in typical Virginia style, held Syracuse to 34 points at the Carrier Dome to tip off the season. Those four will be there at the end of the year, but I question how many teams will be relevant after that. Florida State is the clear fifth team, with their dominating win at in-state rival Florida proving they’ll be interesting. After that, there is a serious drop off. I think that Notre Dame is the best poised to lead the pack of the rest, due to NC State, Syracuse and Virginia Tech all rebuilding.
2. Big Ten
The Big Ten per usual is built very differently than the ACC. It never boasts the same number of five stars, rather it has a foundation of fantastic coaches and hard working student athletes. The Big Ten and the country this year goes through Michigan State. Cassius Winston is far and away the best player in the conference, but they need to show more consistent shooting if they’re going to win the national title. Regarding the Big Ten, I fail to see how they don’t run away with it. In that case it’s really a race for second place and it’s not as clear cut as you might think. Ohio State, Purdue and Maryland are so equally matched, that it’s extremely difficult to pick them apart this early in the year. No. 6 Maryland and No. 10 Ohio State have good wins so far against Rhode Island and Villanova respectively. Ohio State absolutely dismantled Villanova by 25, putting the country on notice that they are a legitimate contender. After those three, there are five to six other teams I think are capable of making the tournament. Those from best to worst (in my opinion) are Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn St., Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. I honestly expect all of those schools to make the tournament and the only thing that would stop them, is each other. What kills Big Ten teams is that the conference is so strong year in and year out that conference play gets so competitive; every game is a dogfight. Some of those teams won’t have 20+ wins, but the committee needs to realize that’s a testament to how good the conference is, not that the teams don’t belong to play in March. The lack of strength at the top after Michigan State keeps the ACC as the best conference, but once again the Big Ten is very clearly the deepest.
3. Big 12
There is a major drop off after the top two conferences and it was difficult to pick the third best, but I managed to settle on the Big 12. Kansas should be better than they were last year, due to the most dominant big man in the country in Udoka Azubuike coming back. Losing Dedric Lawson hurts, however there’s enough experience outside of the paint for them to be Final Four contenders. Last year’s surprise runners up, Texas Tech loses a lot from last year’s team, highlighted by top 10 pick Jarrett Culver. Chris Beard will have that defense going strong again; Davide Moretti and freshman Jahmi’us Ramsey are good enough shooters to lift the offense where they need to be. Shaka Smart and Scott Drew are fantastic, experienced coaches who are gonna have their Longhorns and Bears battling for the Big 12 title. Baylor lost to a talented but young Washington team in Alaska, but they’ll be a team to look out for in March. The rest of the Big 12 is in a down year with typical March contenders TCU, ISU and Kansas State looking to be on the bubble for most of the year. Kansas, Baylor, Texas Tech and Texas should all be second weekend tournament teams. After that, the Big 12 would be lucky to have 2-3 other teams just make it.
4. Big East
UConn’s future conference looks to be on the rise, which bodes well for the Huskies. Villanova lost that game to Ohio State I just talked about, but they seem to have one bad loss at the beginning of every season. “GQ” Jay Wright always has the Wildcats ready for March. Seton Hall, not Villanova, is the conference’s best team, obviously led by future first team All-American, Myles Powell. Powell dropped 37 in a game where he wasn’t supposed to be healthy enough to play in, against Michigan State. Seton Hall lost that game by three, but they showed they have enough around Powell to compete with any team in the country. Marquette is a worse version of Seton Hall. They start and end with Markus Howard. That’s about it though and I see them heavily struggling against any real opposition, shown by the 16-point loss to Wisconsin on Sunday. Butler, Xavier and Providence are the last three teams that will make the tournament, yet I don’t see them going too far. UConn gets a good look at Xavier in a week granted they beat Buffalo. That game will be a good market for both.
Ahh, the demise of the Pac-12. It’s honestly quite sad as college basketball is so much more fun when UCLA, Oregon and Washington go deep into March with players like Lonzo Ball, Dillon Brooks and Isaiah Thomas. This is another down year for the Pac-12, however there is a ton of promise. They are beginning to steal really talented recruits from the likes of Kentucky and Duke. Freshmen such as Isaiah Stewart, Jaden Mcdaniels, Josh Green and Nico Mannion make every Washington/Arizona game worth watching. Oregon is still king in the Pac-12 after their shock tournament run they made last year, led by crafty point guard Payton Pritchard. Look for a McKinley Wright IV-led Colorado team to play spoiler, as they will not be an easy out in March. The Pac-12 is going to be extremely entertaining this year with all the diaper dandies around the conference. They just are not going to be capable to compete with the big boys come tournament time, but there is hope going forward for the conference.