Which men's basketball conference will be the best in the 2013-14 college basketball season?
The Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big Ten are always two of the top conferences in men's college basketball.
They each have multiple teams that will be ranked during the upcoming 2013-2014 season.
Let's take a look at the two conferences and see which one is tougher and better.
The teams are ranked in descending order and alternate back and forth between the two conferences to show how the teams compare.
Key Returner: Jarell Eddie (12.3 PPG; 5.6 RPG)
Quick Look: Virginia Tech’s second-year coach James Johnson is staring down the barrel of a grueling 2013-14 season. With last season’s ACC’s leading scorer, Erick Green, now gone, the Hokies need to find someone who can pick up the scoring slack.
Not only will Johnson need to find someone to put the ball in the hole, he is also in search of someone who will hit the boards. Tech’s leading rebounder from last year’s team, Cadarian Raines (like Green), used up his eligibility.
Jarrell Eddie is a legitimate scorer. He uses his length and athleticism to work down low.
Virginia Tech only won four ACC games a year ago. In some ways, just reaching that benchmark would be viewed as an accomplishment.
Key Returner: K.J. McDaniels (10.9 PPG; 5.0 RPG)
Quick Look: Clemson head coach Brad Brownell’s ability to teach defense will be tested in 2013-14. He has far more perimeter players heading into next season than interior defenders.
Losing two of their top three scorers and their top two rebounders (Devin Booker and Milton Jennings) leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup.
K.J. McDaniels gives Brownell an athletic wing to reconstruct the Clemson attack. Rising sophomore PG Jordan Roper needs to become a more effective floor leader in order for the Tiger attack to become competitive.
Key Returner: Rion Brown (6.4 PPG; 2.0 RPG)
Quick Look: Miami had a miracle 2012-13.
The ‘Canes won the ACC regular season title. They also seized the league’s postseason tournament and finished up 29-7. That is a rare combination for any team in the league.
However, no one in the nation has as much to replace as Miami head coach Jim Larranaga. He has to figure out how to replace last year’s top six scorers, which accounted for over 91 percent of the ‘Canes offense.
Rion Brown will most likely be joined on the wing by red-shirt senior Garrius Adams. If Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez receives a waiver from the NCAA, his floor leadership will solve a lot of issues heading into 2013-14.
Key Returner: Ray Gallegos (12.5 PPG; 3.1 RPG)
Quick Look: Nebraska’s transition to competitiveness in the Big Ten is definitely still a work in progress. The Cornhuskers have only won nine conference games in their first two seasons.
The challenges will not lessen as Tim Miles enters his second year in Lincoln. Nebraska loses two of their top three scorers from last year. Ray Gallegos needs a huge senior season to offset the relative lack of offensive firepower on the Cornhuskers' roster. Rising sophomore wing Shavon Shields will be counted on to build upon his solid first season.
Miles is counting on Florida transfer Walter Pitchford to step in and be a force in the middle.
Quick Look: Georgia Tech has been looking for silver linings on the hardwood for some time. The Yellow Jackets are still lacking the elite-level talent that would help them get out of the ACC basement.
Brian Gregory enters his third season as GT’s head coach. He welcomes back his top four scorers from last season. The Yellow Jackets showed signs at the end of 2012-13 of pulling it all together, beating Maryland and Miami in the last five games of the season.
Georges-Hunt and Carter both had solid freshmen seasons and will provide the core of a team that should improve on their 16-15 (6-12 ACC) mark from last year.
Fresh Faces: John Johnson (6'1" G; Pitt transfer)
Quick Look: Penn State welcomes Tim Frazier—a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2011-12—back from a ruptured Achilles injury that sidelined him for all but four games last season. In Frazier’s absence, D.J. Newbill stepped up and showed that he can be a versatile running mate.
Ross Travis works hard on the boards, but is a little undersized to bang in the Big Ten.
Quick Look: It may be premature to say that Wake Forest is getting ready to turn the corner, but the Demon Deacons did win more ACC games this past season (six) than they did the two previous seasons (five) combined.
McKie returns for his senior season. He has been WFU’s best player for his entire collegiate career. Devin Thomas showed flashes of a huge upside. He put a 25-point, 14-board beat down on NC State on Jan. 22.
If another year together helps Wake step up, then they may be ready to take further steps up in the conference standings.
Fresh Face: Nate Taphorn (6’7” SF)
Quick Look: First-year head coach Chris Collins has a nice nucleus to start from as he takes on the challenge that is Northwestern basketball. Drew Crawford received a fifth year of eligibility because of his torn labrum (shoulder). If Crawford gets back to full function this year, he could be a troublemaker on the wing for the rest of the conference.
The Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein hit the nail on the head when he wrote that the "NU offense is in good hands with Sobolewski.” Greenstein pointed out in midseason last year that that the rising junior led the nation with a 4.58 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The development of 7'0" sophomore Alex Olah will go along ways towards determining the strength of NU’s interior defense.
Quick Look: North Carolina State lost five of their top six scorers from last year’s 24-11 team. The only major contributor that returns is T.J. Warren.
The NewsObserver.com’s Joe Giglio mentions that Warren “led the ACC and ranked fourth in the NCAA in field goal percentage (62.2 percent) and was named to the All-ACC freshmen team by both the media and the league’s coaches.”
Look for LSU transfer Ralston Turner to make an immediate impact on the wing with Warren.
Head coach Mark Gottfried continues to restock the roster with elite-level talent, bringing in McDonald’s All-American PG Anthony Barber and big-time big man, BeeJay Anya.
Quick Look: First-year head coach Richard Pitino will have tons of talent in the Minnesota backcourt. Andre and Austin Hollins (not related) were the Gophers leading scorers last year. They may be one of the best guard tandems in the Big Ten.
Malik Smith averaged 14.1 PPG for FIU last year, and will be immediately eligible. He hit 96 3-pointers last season.
Pitino’s biggest challenge will be finding someone to clog the lane and clear the boards.
Is a five-guard lineup a possibility?
Quick Look: Could this be the year that Boston College turns the corner? Last season, every Eagle player but one was a freshman or a sophomore.
Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon stepped right in and contributed as freshmen. Both are versatile guards with good size. Ryan Anderson has strung together two quality seasons and is ready to break out as a junior.
Alex Dragicevich will add another scorer to the mix and could help continue head coach Steve Donahue’s rebuilding process.
BC's biggest area of development continues to be on the defensive end of the court.
Quick Look: As John Groce enters his second season at Illinois, he has some big decisions to make. After losing both Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson, the Fighting Illini need to figure out how to replace their 28.0 PPG and 8.3 rebounds.
Tracy Abrams is ready to step into one of those primary roles. Incoming freshman Kendrick Nunn will challenge for a starting place in the U of I backcourt from Day 1.
Nnanna Egwu (pictured), a 6’11” rising junior, is ready to blowup and become one of the emerging big men in the Big Ten.
Quick Look: Florida State will be an athletic team that will have plenty of opportunities for people to move into one of the main roles.
Okaro White is the most established returning player and should help ease the challenge of the losses of Michael Snaer, Terrance Shannon and Terry Whisnant.
If Ian Miller returns to form after battling injuries last year, he will help the ‘Noles become more consistent on both ends of the court.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes will benefit from Leonard Hamilton’s team structure. He has the chance to be a star.
Fresh Face: Kendall Stephens (6’5” SG)
Quick Look: Purdue was one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten last year, starting three freshmen for most of the 2012-13 season.
Matt Painter is going through the paces of rebuilding the Boilermakers. He is effectively recruiting and patiently working to climb back into the upper-tier of the Big Ten.
Terone Johnson will provide scoring and leadership to a team that is back on the rise. A.J. Hammons showed signs of being a dominant big man, capable of controlling games in ways other than scoring.
Incoming freshman Kendall Stephens has insane range on his jumper and could be a difference-maker on a team that, at times last year, struggled to score.
Quick Look: Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon continues to putting the pieces together to get the Terrapins back in the ACC race and the national conversation. He has brought in talent and length. Now, he simply needs to get everyone playing together and consistently working hard.
Dez Wells is a multi-talented, tough-as-nails wing who could become one of the ACC’s best individual players before Maryland moves on to the Big Ten next season. Nick Faust is ready to finally capitalize on his length and versatility.
Michigan-transfer Evan Smotrycz is a prototypical stretch 4, able to knock down the long ball, but also capable of scoring inside.
The development of both Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare is pivotal (no pun intended). If these two low-block bangers can consistently become enforcers in the paint, Maryland could make bigger strides that expected this season.
Fresh Face: Jarrod Uthoff (6’8” F; Wisconsin transfer)
Quick Look: Things are looking up at Iowa as the Hawkeyes return their four top scorers from last year. Beyond Marble and White, Mike Gesell and Melsahn Basabe can fill it up. They make it challenging for Iowa’s opponents to focus on any one player or portion of the Hawkeyes' lineup.
Jarrod Uthoff will add a further perimeter dimension to Iowa’s lineup. Look for him to stretch the floor for everyone else to work inside the arc.
The Hawkeyes made it the 2013 NIT championship. This could be the year for the Hawkeyes to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006.
Quick Look: Virginia is on the verge of breaking into the upper-tier of the ACC. They lost four league games by less than six points last year. With another year of experience, this year’s Cavaliers will be a tough opponent for anyone.
Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell return for their senior seasons. They have paid their dues and will provide much needed leadership if UVa is going to move forward again this year.
Rising sophomore Justin Anderson is going to be a star.
One of the keys to Virginia’s 2013-14 success will be the ability of freshman PG London Perrantes to hit the ground running.
Fresh Face: Nigel Hayes (6’7” PF)
Quick Look: Wisconsin is a safe bet to be in the top-tier of the Big Ten on an annual basis. Head coach Bo Ryan does an excellent job of recruiting to his system and then getting his teams to play as hard and smart as any team in the conference, maybe even the nation.
This edition of Badger basketball will be a gritty group of players that have a high basketball IQ. Ben Brust is an excellent player on both ends of the court. Sam Dekker is set up to have a huge sophomore season.
One crucial part to this team’s success is the healthy return of PG Josh Gasser.
Quick Look: It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh does in their inaugural season in the ACC. They lost a lot of talent from their 24-9 team. Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon will look to build around ball control and pressure defense.
Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna will provide maturity and stability to a team that will start the season looking to replace more than half of their points and rebounds from last season.
If Uchebo is ready to roll, watch for the Panthers to surprise the league in their first pass through.
Quick Look: Very few college basketball teams lost as much talent as Indiana did. Saying good-bye to Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls means that someone is going to need to chip in a mere 52 points and 23 rebounds per game.
Will Sheehey was one of the best sixth men in the country. He is ready to move into a primary role in the 2013-14 season.
Yogi Ferrell did a fantastic job of directing traffic as a freshman PG. He may be counted on to do a little more scoring this season.
Tom Crean pulled in another monster recruiting class that will, in quick order, fill the gaping hole in the Hoosiers lineup. Watch Noah Vonleh. He will be a strong contender for Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Fresh Faces: Demetrius Jackson (6’1” PG)
Quick Look: Few teams are as consistent on a year-to-year basis as Notre Dame. You can count on head coach Mike Brey’s teams to win about 25 games per season.
Brey has the benefit of having both Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins back. They will match up with most any backcourt tandems in college basketball.
Incoming freshman Demetrius Jackson is good enough to push Brey to field a three-guard lineup.
Garrick Sherman’s emergence as a big time post player will go a long ways towards helping the Fighting Irish finish strong in their first season in the ACC.
Quick Look: Michigan rode a miracle run to the 2013 NCAA championship title game. Even though Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. have left school and are getting ready for the NBA draft, the Wolverines will be tough as nails in the upcoming season.
Michigan will be carried by a set of super sophomores. Mitch McGary caught fire during March Madness, and he should continue to rage in 2013-14. Glenn Robinson III will become a star, and Nik Stauskas will be one of the best long-distance shooters in college basketball.
One of the big factors for head coach John Beilein is who will handle the point. Spike Albrecht ran the show on a limited basis during the tournament. But incoming freshman Derrick Walton could be the heir apparent to Trey Burke’s vacated floor general position.
Quick Look: Of all the recent realignment changes, Syracuse moving to the ACC presents one of the most intriguing situations. The Orange have been such an essential, indispensable part of the Big East since its inception that it is hard to imagine them competing anywhere else.
C.J. Fair’s return for his senior year is enormous. He will not only lead the ‘Cuse, but he has a good shot at being in the running for the ACC Player of the Year.
Rakeem Christmas may never be an offensive star, but he has the chance in 2013-14 to become one of the premiere defenders in college basketball.
Incoming freshman Tyler Ennis will have a lot to do with how far head coach Jim Boeheim’s squad can go. If he steps in and runs things masterfully, then Syracuse has a shot at winning the ACC in their first year in the league.
Quick Look: Ohio State made a deep run in the 2013 NCAA tournament. Even though they lost the Big Ten’s leading scorer in Deshaun Thomas, the Buckeyes may not experience a significant drop off.
Aaron Craft is back to lead the way, controlling both ends of the court from his PG position. Not too many players his size at any level have as much influence on what goes on in game without being an elite scorer. He is the best on-ball defender in the collegiate game.
LaQuinton Ross is ready for a breakout season. He should fill Thomas’ role as go-to scorer. He has paid his dues and has further developed his game to where he is able to create his own scoring opportunities.
Balance and depth will be two of the main features that will help OSU to challenge for the Big Ten title and beyond.
Quick Look: Duke is ready to reinvent itself on the fly. Normally the Blue Devils are a fairly stable program without many player changes from year to year.
In 2013-14, Coach K will be ready to enter the “Jabari Era” as Jabari Parker brings his versatile game to Durham. Even if it is just for one season at the collegiate level, we can look forward to his brilliance on the basketball court.
But Duke will not just be about Parker. Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon will return for a second season of attacking opponents side-by-side in the Blue Devils backcourt.
Now, add Mississippi transfer Rodney Hood into the mix, and you very well could have a Final Four contender.
The biggest question mark surrounds Marshall Plumlee's health and if he can stay on the court long enough to use his athleticism to shut down the middle and clear the boards.
Quick Look: Michigan State is loaded and ready to make some noise from the start of the 2013-14 season until the final horn sounds in Cowboy Stadium for the 2014 NCAA Championship Game. The Spartans return almost everyone from this past season’s roster. MSU head coach Tom Izzo does wonders with teams that have come together and stayed together for a few years.
Even though Gary Harris had an exceptional freshman year, he is ready for a scary sophomore season.
Adreian Payne has consistently improved since he arrived in East Lansing. Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson make for a fabulous core that will be tough to handle come March.
Heck, they will be tough all year long.
Key Returners: P.J. Hairston (14.6 PPG; 4.3 RPG); James Michael McAdoo (14.3 PPG; 7.3 RPG)
Quick Look: North Carolina is deep and talented. Very few teams in college basketball come close to the number of legitimate players the Tar Heels possess.
When you look at the parade of athletes that head coach Roy Williams has brought to Chapel Hill in the last few years, you have to be impressed. Now Roy has to do something with what he has assembled.
P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo are the absolute core of this UNC team. If they falter or fail this year, it won’t be because they didn’t have enough high-level players around them.
Marcus Paige will be back to run the show. He will be a better floor leader this year than he was last. While he will still make some mistakes, watch for his assist-to-turnover numbers to improve.
The competition along the front line will be fierce. But that might be exactly what this team needs: enough competition to bring out the best in each other.
North Carolina is set up to go all the way. Now, they just have to do it on the court.
Putting the two best conferences side-by-side demonstrates how many incredibly good teams make up these two premiere college basketball leagues.
Both the Big Ten and the ACC have brutally strong top-ends. They each have several teams who are more than capable of getting hot and winning the conference regular season or the postseason tournament.
But as things stand in early June, I say that the ACC currently is the tougher men's basketball conference.
I can't wait for the 2013-2014 college basketball season to begin in five months. It is going to be a great one!