Yesterday SI college basketball (and soccer) writer Andy Glockner tweeted a question to the masses, asking which conference would have the 2014 national champion, if you had to pick one.
It’s certainly a welcome distraction from the long month and a half or so before games begin, and it is an interesting two pronged thought exercise. First, you have to be able to determine who the best teams are, but second you have to determine whether you’d rather have the conference with, say, the 4th best team or the one with the 7th and 15th best teams. That having been said, here are the conferences you want in your pool assuming anyone is enough of a degenerate to actually do this:
The SEC certainly isn’t a deep league. In fact it might be the shallowest league in the country. Outside of Kentucky and Florida, no one else really has a prayer. Alabama lost Trevor Lacey, Missouri lost Phil Pressey, Ole Miss might have Marshall Henderson back but the best they could do as a one man team was a 12th seed.
But, Florida and Kentucky are two of the top ten (and, without giving away my entire preseason ranking, maybe top five) national championship contenders, and with their ability to rack up wins in the SEC, they should have fairly high seeds. Kentucky will be the odds on favorite for the championship next year, but I like Florida just as much. They have a lot of talent back from last year’s team, should be able to play the same level of defense, and assuming Chris Walker eventually gets cleared they’ll get to add another big time recruit to Kasey Hill and transfer Dorian Finney-Smith, who was maybe Virginia Tech’s best rebounder as a Freshman in 2011-12.
2. Big XII
It was a three way race between the Big 12, ACC and Big 10, but I sided with the Big 12 because they have a twosome (Kansas and Oklahoma State) that I like better than the ACC’s triumverate of Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse, and even though Michigan State is (spoiler alert) my preseason #1 team, the Big 10 doesn’t have a good enough backup for me to rank them in the 2 spot.
Kansas’s role as a national championship contender is fairly tenuous, as they will depend heavily on three Freshmen, a Sophomore who only started to look like a Big 12 caliber player in March, and a fairly unproven point guard. But, they feature three guys who could go in the lottery of next year’s NBA Draft (and maybe all in the top 10), including Andrew Wiggins.
Oklahoma State is being talked about as a back end of the top 10 team, as they return their three best players from last year’s team, and I can’t see Phil Forte not improving as well. I have been on the record as probably the low man on the totem pole as far as Marcus Smart is concerned, but he is one of the better guards in the country and an elite defender. March is about guards and while Smart disappointed in last year’s tournament, there is always the chance that, using the experience he earned last year, he could make a run with Oklahoma State this year. Like most years with the Big 12, however, this looks to be Kansas or bust. But, like most years, Kansas should be a title contender.
Time to throw the leagues in a hat. I favor the ACC because Duke looks to be on par with Michigan State and Louisville (or at least close to it), and North Carolina and Syracuse are better than anything those schools have backing them up. Quinn Cook is one of the most underrated players in the country, and Jabari Parker should make an impact right away. Duke will need to replace a lot of offensive talent, with Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry all graduating, but I think they’ll defend a little better than they did last year and I’m expecting Rasheed Sulaimon to take a big step forward.
I have no idea what to make of North Carolina. James Michael McAdoo has all the talent to be a top 15 pick in the draft, but he struggled last year as a more featured part of the offense. PJ Hairston has the talent to be an All-American, but with all of his legal troubles, who knows how much he will even be on the floor.
4. Big 10
Michigan State is my preseason #1 team. They’ll be led by two Seniors, Gary Harris had a great Freshman year, and they add three star Gavin Schilling, who (note: I am not a recruiting analyst) I think will be better than his ranking indicates. If they take care of the ball a little better (20.8% turnover rate) their only holes will be miniscule.
The problem is no other Big 10 team is going to win a title. Michigan isn’t going to with Spike Albrecht at point guard (sorry, Spike), I like Wisconsin quite a bit but they;’re not quite there for me, Ohio State should be in the tournament but that’s about it, and Iowa will be improved but obviously not tournament quality. It’s Michigan State or bust, and while I think the Spartans would be my pick for a title if I had to pick a team today, they lose out in the numbers game.
Louisville should be very good yet again, especially if they get Kevin Ware back. But I think they’ll struggle a bit because, while they do have a very good and deep perimeter group, they’ll have to replace their point guard and that’s never easy. Creighton also should be very good, but they don’t defend well enough to win a title.
6. Pac 12
Arizona should be good (though I don’t think they’ll be as good as a lot of people seem to think), Oregon should be improved, I really like Colorado this year, and I think UCLA and Cal will be decent. But the Pac 12, while improved, is still pretty down.