Monday, November 5, 2012

Conference Calling: The Top 13

So, the 31 in 31 series has met its unfortunate demise. It was an ambitious project for a one-man operation, especially when said man has family and work obligations to contend with and no media monolith like ESPN or CBS behind him providing a paycheck.

If that paycheck came, it would seriously help defray the other stuff, so if anyone's willing to donate...ahem.

Since we didn't reach the upper echelon of the conference rankings, let me at least disclose where the top 13 leagues ranked in this season's TBI list...after this here jump.

13. MAC
--Akron and Ohio will stage a major battle for one division, while Eastern Michigan gets in some strong transfers. Toledo could be the best team in the whole damn league, but they're not even postseason eligible.

12. Colonial
--Without VCU, look for Drexel as an overwhelming favorite, but Delaware should creep up from the outside as they round the top of the stretch. Jamelle Hagins and Devon Saddler could be the league's two best players (sorry, Frantz).

11. Conference USA
--Marshall may be the only team with a serious chance to challenge Memphis, but look for Tulane, Southern Miss and East Carolina to all make convincing NIT cases/play NCAA bid thief.

10. Missouri Valley
--Creighton's going to get all the views thanks to Doug McDermott, but Illinois State's Jackie Carmichael could be just as productive. At some point this season, Evansville's Colt Ryan should drop 40 on somebody.

9. Mountain West
--San Diego State and UNLV will stage a rousing battle all season and Nevada will make a splash. Can this league equal the four bids from last year? And in the "What Does He Know That We Don't?" department, Ken Pomeroy has Boise State as his No. 3 MWC team, 89th overall.

8. Pac-12
--This is a hedge of the bet, in case this league teases and flops as badly as it did last year. There could be a legit seven or eight tournament-worthy teams in the Pac...or all the touted freshmen could be mirages and the conference could struggle to draw two or three bids. If Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi gets eligible, watch for Oregon.

7. West Coast
--Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and BYU will all be tournament-caliber, which is more certainty than we have about anyone in the Pac-12. Loyola Marymount may have missed their prime opportunity last season.

6. Big 12
--Don't bet against Kansas. Seriously. It's a sucker move. Bill Self replaces a group of stars with guys from whom no one quite knows what to expect, and gets to the national title game. Baylor will be good again, but Kansas should still see it through. Kansas State and West Virginia aren't getting nearly enough love, while Texas and Oklahoma State might be getting too much.

5. Atlantic 10
--Another league that could have eight worthy teams by year's end. Want me to rattle them off? Okay: VCU, St. Joseph's, Temple, Butler, Saint Louis, UMass, LaSalle and Dayton. Richmond could even be interesting, and Xavier will bear watching just to see if coach Chris Mack graduates from maestro to absolute-effing-wizard.

4. SEC
--This is not last year's Kentucky team, kids. Still, the new Wildkittens will be good. I still like Missouri's group of hired guns to step up and take the regular season. Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee team will also threaten, and Florida could be a point guard away from another Final Four. Alabama's the sleeper if Devonta Pollard makes everyone forget both JaMychal Green AND Tony Mitchell (no, not that one).

3. Big East
--There could be seven tournament teams here, but everyone's got questions to answer. Pitt should be your sleeper of the season. Louisville could still use someone to call a go-to scorer. I like Syracuse to take the title in its final Big East season, with Pitt and Cincinnati closing fast.

2. ACC
--There are five teams that could legit win this league. Outside the Triangle, which welcomes NC State back to relevance seemingly for the first time since Valvano needed a hug, the southern outpost of Florida State and Miami actually have the talent to contend. The Canes' Johnson-Kadji post duo should be feared.

1. Big Ten
--Not sexy, but deep as hell. I'm forced to project my beloved Purdue Boilermakers seventh, which would undoubtedly send one noted blog into paroxysms of rage, and they should still prove to be tournament-worthy if the freshmen show up immediately. Hell, Michigan's getting Final Four buzz off of its freshman class. Right now, you can likely put everyone save Penn State, Nebraska and Northwestern (?) on the March Madness radar and wait for them to prove otherwise.

I wasn't really planning on doing the super-deep previews of the power conferences, since you can find those damn near anywhere. I hope you enjoyed the ones that did get posted, and for the Sun Belt and Big West fans in particular, much respect for posting the links and steering readers...yes, even you, guy who thinks Keith Richard won't get fired if UL-Monroe only wins three games again.

From here, this will become a slightly more conventional college hoop blog, looking around the country to find some compelling stories. There probably will be more emphasis on the low-to-mid-major end of the spectrum, since those folks are still somewhat underserved by the likes of CBS and ESPN. NBC Sports, though, is solid for the little guys.

If you see any stories that should get some run, by all means, hit me up at More direct conversation welcome on Twitter (@4QuartersRadio) and on Facebook (just like the "4 Quarters Radio" page).

First ball tips on Friday. I'll be back before then with a look at what I'll be watching over the weekend.

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