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Monday, December 9, 2013

2013-14 Conference Predictions

Holiday tournaments are finished and opportunities for non-conference quality wins are waning.  That means whether we realize it or not, the NCAA Tournament is already taking shape.  A lot of teams changed conferences causing a dramatic reshuffling of the college basketball landscape.  The Big East split into two conferences - the Big East and the American Athletic Conference.  The Big Ten will add two teams next year while the ACC loses Maryland but gains Louisville.  All of this likely means we're in for a unique year in college basketball.  Here's a look at what each of the major conferences looks like so far.

ACC
Media's conference champ: Duke
My prediction: North Carolina
Likely Tournament Teams: North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Virginia
Can Jabari Parker lead Duke to a Final Four?
First he'll need to get his team to the top of the ACC.
Need a few breaks: Florida State, Clemson, Notre Dame
Wait 'til Next Year: Maryland, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech
The conference got off to a pretty rough start this season but earned a tie in the BigTen/ACC Challenge.  North Carolina has a couple of baffling losses (Belmont, UAB) but also beat Louisville and Michigan State giving me confidence they'll emerge as the conference's best team at the end of the year.  Duke, Syracuse, and Pitt all look strong in their own rights while Virginia is well positioned despite their loss at Green Bay.


American Athletic Conference
Media's conference champ: Louisville
My prediction: Louisville
Likely Tournament Teams: Louisville, Memphis, Connecticut, Cincinnati
Need a few Breaks: SMU, Temple
Wait 'til Next Year: South Florida, Central Florida, Rutgers, Houston
This is the AAC's first season and though there aren't any real rivalries here, it should provide plenty of entertaining basketball.  Louisville is the defending NCAA champion and they seem likely to take home the conference crown.  Memphis and UConn both appear strong as they each took home a holiday tournament title.  Cincinnati is always in the tournament and I'm penciling them in unless they do something silly like lose four in a row.  SMU and Temple have chances but SMU will need to get some quality wins while Temple just needs wins.  Everyone else has pretty much eliminated themselves already.

Atlantic 10
Media's conference champ: VCU
My prediction: UMass
Likely Tournament Teams: UMass, VCU, Dayton, St. Louis
Need a few breaks: St. Joseph's, Richmond, George Washington
Derek Kellogg's jacket may not know how to wear a coat
 but performance thus far has been excellent. UMass is
the favorite to claim the A-10 crown in 2014.
Wait 'til Next Year: La Salle, St. Bonaventure, George Mason, Fordham, Rhode Island, Duquesne
UMass is off to an incredible start and seems poised to earn a top four seed come March. VCU is a nightmare and will be there, Dayton has two quality wins over California and Gonzaga, and St. Louis is more a gut feeling. Picking up wins over Indiana St. and Valpo will help their profile considerably. Everyone else save St. Joseph's has a tough row to hoe and it would be a stretch for me to say they've got a chance.

Big 12
Media's conference champ: Kansas
My prediction: Oklahoma State
Likely Tournament Teams: Oklahoma State, Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor
Need a few breaks: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas
Wait til Next Year: Texas Tech, Kansas State, TCU
The Big 12 has two elite teams that help make this conference look pretty tough.  The problem is how bad TCU and Texas Tech look.  Even Kansas State might be the most disappointing team in the nation right now.  Meanwhile, I predict OKSt. ends Kansas ridiculous run of 14 straight Big 12 titles.  West Virginia remains the most likely bubble team to earn an NCAA bid but they'll need to win one of their games against Gonzaga and Purdue.

Big East
Media's conference champ: Marquette
My prediction: Villanova
Likely Tournament Teams: Villanova, Creighton, Georgetown
Need a few breaks: Marquette, Butler, St. John's, Providence, Xavier
Wait til Next Year: Seton Hall, DePaul
This is your new Big East. It's not the 16 team cluster (insert preferred word here) of years past but it's still a pretty good basketball conference.  Villanova looks great while Creighton and Georgetown look solid to say the least.  Marquette has two tough losses to Big Ten schools as well as one each to Arizona State San Diego St. Their upcoming game against New Mexico is critical.  Butler is a team that can never be counted out and St. John's, Providence, and Xavier all still have chances for quality wins before conference play begins.  Seton Hall and DePaul look pretty bad.

Big Ten
Media's conference champ: Michigan State
My prediction: Michigan State
Likely Tournament Teams: Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana
Need a few breaks: Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State
Wait 'til Next Year: Northwestern
Led by Sam Dekker, I have a feeling the Badgers
will go far this time around. 
When you're considered the best conference in the country nearly every win during conference play counts as a quality win.  That's why I see only one school that has already killed their chances of making the NCAA tournament.  Michigan and Indiana haven't looked especially great so far but they haven't suffered any bad losses (though Michigan's loss at Charlotte is close). Illinois is struggling on offense, Minnesota is struggling on defense, and Purdue is just struggling. Still, it won't surprise me if two of these three make it in.  A 9-9 conference record is going to get it done.

Mountain West
Media's conference champ: New Mexico
My prediction: New Mexico
Likely Tournament Teams: New Mexico, San Diego State
Need a few breaks: Boise State, Utah State, Colorado State, UNLV, Wyoming
Wait 'til Next Year: Fresno State, Nevada, San Jose State, Air Force
It's possible three teams from the Mountain West can qualify for the NCAA's but at this point I think it's unlikely.  Still, until conference play begins there's not going to be much separation amongst the teams. Boise State is still undefeated but they haven't played anyone really.  Their next game is at Kentucky and while I think they'll lose it's a chance for them to get people to notice them.

Pac 12
Media's conference champ: Arizona
My prediction: Arizona
Likely Tournament Teams: Arizona, UCLA, Oregon
Need a few breaks: Colorado, Arizona State, Stanford, California
Wait 'til Next Year: Utah, USC, Washington State, Oregon State, Washington
Arizona looks great so far and Oregon is also undefeated.  UCLA let one get away from them at Missouri but are still definitely a tournament team.  I think four or five can get in from the conference but there will need to be some separation from the middle of the pack in conference play.  If not maybe only three qualify. Watch out for Colorado who got a huge win over Kansas on Saturday.

SEC
Media's conference champ: Kentucky
My prediction: Kentucky
Kentucky is the most talented team but that does not
guarantee success in March.
Likely Tournament Teams: Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Tennessee
Need a few breaks: Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M
Wait til Next Year: Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Auburn, South Carolina
Another year, another loaded Kentucky team. The big question for the Wildcats this season is how well can they play together? They're probably going to win the conference just on sheer ability but once March comes around strange things happen.  Florida is a lock to make it.  Missouri and Tennessee are both off to strong starts as well.  The middle of the pack will vie for bids but it will be tough since the conference RPI doesn't appear to be very strong this year.  And we know how the committee loves the RPI...

That's nine conferences and 34 slots that seem to be taken.  In my next post I'll cover the mid-majors and explain the conference favorites as well as potential at large teams.  
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