The talk entering the season was that the ACC would be the best basketball conference in America—and it wasn’t even going to be close.
But as conference play approaches, that’s hardly been the case. The ACC is far from the top league in the country. Heck, it’s not even the second best.
Instead, the top two conferences in America, at least thus far, have been the Big Ten and the Big 12. Each has four teams represented in this week’s Top 25 poll.
Big Ten schools like Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin are ranked Nos. 5-7, respectively, while Iowa checks in at No. 21.
Meanwhile, the Big 12 has four schools (Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas) ranked between No. 4 and No. 14.
Both conferences feature solid depth, outstanding coaching and passionate fans that take pride in making their home arenas as daunting as possible for opposing teams.
If I had to choose, I’d say the Big Ten is better than the Big 12—but only slightly. My opinion seems to go back and forth every five minutes. It’s not an easy call, and as my colleagues C.J. Moore and Kerry Miller would attest, neither was voting for this week's power rankings.
Dropped out of the power rankings: Gonzaga and Pittsburgh
Keep an eye on: Texas, LSU, UCLA, Creighton
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article experienced a tech glitch that resulted in Jason King's analysis of Colorado spreading throughout the rest of the slideshow. We apologize as this made for a poor reader experience—the issue has since been resolved.
Previous Power Ranking: 23
Frank Haith’s squad lost a heartbreaker to Illinois in St. Louis on Saturday, but a one-point setback against a rival on a neutral court wasn’t enough to knock the Tigers out of the rankings.
Haith loves what he’s getting from Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson, who is averaging a team-high 19.9 points per game while shooting 51 percent from the field.
Missouri still has a pair of games (against North Carolina State and Long Beach State) before opening SEC play against Georgia at home on Jan. 8.
Previous Power Ranking: 20
Saturday’s 60-55 loss to Florida State was the first of the season for the Minutemen, who own victories over LSU, BYU, Clemson, Nebraska and New Mexico.
Instead of worrying about his job, Derek Kellogg can focus on trying to win an Atlantic 10 title, because that certainly seems like a possibility with this group.
Standout guard Chaz Williams averages 15.7 points and 7.5 assists but is shooting just 39.8 percent from the field. He needs to be more efficient. Massachusetts’ next four games are at home.
Previous Power Ranking: NR
Much like last season, the Billikens are one of the most underrated teams in the country. Their only losses this season are against a pair of top-10 teams (Wichita State and Wisconsin), and they feature one of the best players in the Atlantic 10 in senior forward Dwayne Evans, who averages a team-high 15.9 points.
With VCU being a mild disappointment thus far, no one would be surprised if Saint Louis won a second straight conference championship. Jim Crews has done a phenomenal job with this bunch.
Previous Power Ranking: 19
Saturday’s 87-82 loss to Oklahoma State in Las Vegas snapped the Buffaloes’ 10-game winning streak. Still, Colorado (whose only other loss was to Baylor) should be a force in the Pac-12.
Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker form one of the top backcourts in the country, while Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon are emerging as forces in the paint.
A Jan. 5 clash with undefeated Oregon will highlight Colorado’s upcoming three-game homestand, although right now, the Buffaloes are more concerned with their next opponent, as Georgia visits Boulder on Saturday.
Previous Power Ranking: 24
The Hawkeyes have just two losses. One came against Villanova in overtime in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis. The other was a three-point setback against Iowa State in Ames. Iowa boasts wins over Xavier and Notre Dame.
Roy Devyn Marble leads the Hawkeyes in scoring at 15.9 points per game, but he’s shooting just 40 percent from the field and only 30 percent from three-point range. Iowa’s next game is at home against Nebraska on New Year’s Eve. It will be the Big Ten opener for both teams.
Previous Power Ranking: 14
Now that the P.J. Hairston situation is behind them, the Tar Heels can turn their attention to another troublesome situation: free-throw shooting. Roy Williams’ squad missed 23 foul shots in Wednesday’s 86-83 home loss to Texas and is now shooting just 61 percent from the line this season.
The one bright spot has been Marcus Paige, who has made 60 of his 65 free-throw attempts (92 percent). North Carolina has home games against Northern Kentucky (Dec. 27) and North Carolina-Wilmington (Dec. 31) before opening ACC play at Wake Forest on Jan. 5.
Previous Power Ranking: NR
The Aztecs haven’t lost since falling 69-60 to Arizona back on Nov. 14. Victories over Creighton, Marquette and Washington highlight San Diego State’s resume, and it still has a chance to earn a marquee victory by beating Kansas in Lawrence on Jan. 5.
Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard combine to average 28 points and 4.6 assists while Tulane transfer Josh Davis is averaging a team-high 10.7 rebounds. This may not be Steve Fisher’s most talented San Diego State team, but these Aztecs are just as fiery and salty as some of his units of the past.
Previous Power Ranking: 21
Apparently, Wildcats forward Julius Randle had had enough of the losing and mediocre play that has defined Kentucky’s season. The 6’9” freshman helped his team battle back from a second-half deficit to defeat Belmont 93-80 Saturday at Rupp Arena.
Randle scored a career-high 29 points to lead the Wildcats. He was 8-of-10 from the field and 13-of-19 from the foul stripe. He also grabbed 10 rebounds for a Kentucky squad that will play its biggest game of the season to date Saturday when it hosts Louisville.
Previous Power Ranking: 16
Memphis had a chance to make a bold statement by beating Florida at Madison Square Garden Tuesday, but Josh Pastner’s squad fell just short in a 77-75 loss. One bright spot was the play of point guard and leading scorer Joe Jackson, who scored 17 points and committed only one turnover against Florida defensive wizard Scottie Wilbekin.
Forward Shaq Goodwin is really starting to assert himself for the Tigers. A sophomore, Goodwin is averaging 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds in his last five games.
Previous Power Ranking: 9
After winning four games by two points or less, Connecticut finally came up on the short end in Wednesday’s 53-51 loss to Stanford in Hartford. Shabazz Napier missed three shots in the final 40 seconds that would’ve put Connecticut ahead.
Kevin Ollie’s squad deserves praise, however, for not letting the loss have a snowball effect. Four nights after losing to the Cardinal, the Huskies showed some toughness by beating Washington 82-70 in Seattle. Connecticut has one game remaining (against Eastern Washington Saturday) before opening conference play at Houston on New Year’s Eve.
Previous Power Ranking: 17
Not many coaches in the country have been as impressive as Dana Altman this season. Altman’s Ducks are undefeated, and their top three scorers (Mike Moser, Joseph Young and Jason Calliste) are transfers who played for different teams in 2012-13.
As well as Oregon is playing, it’s natural to think things could get even better as Dominic Artis works his way back into the rotation after missing the first nine games because of an NCAA-mandated suspension. Artis averaged 8.5 points as a freshman but has averaged just 2.5 points since returning two games ago.
Oregon has reached the 100-point plateau four times, although two of them came in contests that went to overtime.
Previous Power Ranking: 18
The Jayhawks are feeling good again following back-to-back blowout victories over New Mexico and Georgetown.
The wins came largely because of 7'0" center Joel Embiid, a freshman who gets better with each game. Embiid averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds against the Lobos and Hoyas and played a key factor in limiting Georgetown’s Josh Smith to five points and zero rebounds.
Embiid is the headliner of a frontcourt that may be the nation’s best. Starter Perry Ellis ranks second on the team in scoring (13.3 points) while Jamari Traylor, Tarik Black and Landen Lucas provide a spark off the bench.
Previous Power Ranking: 10
After a lackluster start to the season, Isaiah Austin appears to be finding his groove. Austin posted his first double-double of the season Sunday with a 14-point, 10-rebound effort in a victory over Southern. He also had an impressive showing in a win against Kentucky, when he had 13 points, six boards and five blocks.
Baylor is a completely different team when Austin is at his best. His talent has never been questioned, but at times he looks disinterested and plays with a lack of fire. That hasn’t been an issue in recent weeks, and Baylor has been a different team because of it.
Previous Power Ranking: 12
The Wildcats haven’t defeated a quality opponent since posting back-to-back wins over Kansas and Iowa on Nov. 29 and 30. They’ll face the biggest test of their season to date on Saturday when they take on Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.
Senior James Bell has been one of the biggest reasons for the Wildcats’ success thus far. He’s scoring 15.4 points per game after averaging just 8.6 as a junior. And he leads Villanova in rebounds with 6.5 boards per contest.
Four of Villanova’s next five games are on the road.
Previous Power Ranking: 11
Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim command the most headlines—and rightfully so. But the Cyclones wouldn’t be undefeated if not for the play of forward Dustin Hogue.
A transfer from Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College, Hogue ranks seventh in the country with 11.1 rebounds per game. He’s been particularly effective in his last four outings, with averages of 17 points and 13.8 boards.
Iowa State is competing in this week’s Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. After that, the Cyclones will have one more game (against Northern Illinois on New Year’s Eve) before opening conference play at Texas Tech on Jan. 4.
Previous Power Ranking: 15
Even though he’s eligible, highly touted freshman Chris Walker won’t be making an impact for the Gators any time soon.
Florida coach Billy Donovan said Walker is “not even close” to being ready to make a significant contribution after arriving on campus a little more than a week ago. Donovan said Walker weighed in at 203 pounds and spent his first few days of practice getting manhandled by Gators forward Patric Young.
Florida, meanwhile, is doing just fine without Walker. The Gators went 3-1 in a rough stretch that featured games against Connecticut, Kansas, Memphis and Florida State. The only loss was at Connecticut on a shot at the buzzer by Huskies guard Shabazz Napier.
Previous Power Ranking: 13
Even though most people were talking about Jabari Parker’s 23-point performance, arguably the biggest thing that came out of Duke’s win over UCLA at Madison Square Garden Thursday was the awakening of Rasheed Sulaimon.
One of the top freshmen in the ACC last season, Sulaimon's struggles earned him a spot on the bench next to coach Mike Krzyzewski. He didn’t play in a Dec. 3 loss to Michigan and only saw five minutes of action Dec. 16 against Gardner-Webb.
But against UCLA, Sulaimon came off the bench and contributed eight points, five rebounds and four assists. It couldn’t have happened at a better time, as Duke will need Sulaimon desperately in ACC play.
Previous Power Ranking: 8
Darius Carter, a 6’7” transfer from Vincennes (Ind.) Junior College, has stepped up his game in recent weeks and solidified himself as the replacement for 2012-13 star Carl Hall, who graduated. Carter is averaging 12.8 points and eight rebounds in his last four games. Those numbers are considerably higher than his season averages of 6.8 and 5.2, respectively.
Wichita State, which hosts Davidson Sunday, is one win away from finishing its non-conference schedule undefeated.
Previous Power Ranking: 7
The Badgers have quite a one-two punch in Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, who combine to average 28.9 points and 11.6 rebounds. Wisconsin also have a pair of experienced guards in Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser.
The Badgers boast a gaudy record, but they haven’t always been dominant. Seven of their 12 victories have come by 10 points or less. But their ranking is justified thanks to victories over Florida, Saint Louis, Virginia and Marquette. Bo Ryan’s team should be in the thick of the Big Ten title race.
Previous Power Ranking: 5
The Buckeyes pulled off what may end up being the most dramatic win we’ll see all season when they rallied from an eight-point deficit with 50 seconds remaining to defeat Notre Dame 64-61 Saturday at Madison Square Garden. “I really don’t know what happened,” Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft said after the game, per the Washington Post. “It was a blur. We never stopped. We never gave up.”
Other than Marquette, Notre Dame was the only high-profile opponent on the Buckeyes’ non-conference schedule. Two of their first three Big Ten games are against Michigan State and Iowa, both of whom are ranked.
Previous Ranking: 6
Tom Izzo said forward Adreian Payne played the best game of his career in Saturday’s win over Texas. No one argued.
Payne scored 33 points on 10-of-12 shooting and snared nine rebounds to propel the Spartans to a 92-78 win in Austin. Payne is now averaging 18.1 points on the season and 22 points in his last four games.
Michigan State will open Big Ten play having played only two teams (Kentucky and North Carolina) ranked in the current Top 25. Still, the Spartans are considered the slight favorite over Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan to win the conference title.
Previous Power Ranking: 3
The hype surrounding freshmen such as Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker has overshadowed the play of Orange point guard Tyler Ennis. The 6’2” freshman averaged 15.5 points and 7.5 assists last week in victories over St. John’s and High Point.
As much as Jim Boeheim hated to lose Michael Carter-Williams (to the NBA) and Brandon Triche (to graduation), it appears the Syracuse backcourt hasn’t missed a beat. And it’s not as if Ennis hasn’t been tested—included on Syracuse’s non-conference resume are victories over Baylor, Indiana, Cal and Minnesota.
Next comes a home tilt with undefeated Villanova Saturday at the Carrier Dome.
Previous Power Ranking: 4
The Cowboys are, without question, one of the top 10 teams in America. But as Big 12 play approaches, it’s fair to question how much this team has truly been tested. Oklahoma State has played just three games against Top 25 teams, and two of them were against Memphis. The Cowboys and Tigers split.
The other came in a 78-73 win over Colorado Saturday night in Las Vegas. The rest of the schedule has been relatively soft, as Oklahoma State’s 11 victories have come by an average of 25.5 points.
The Cowboys won’t play many, if any, patsies in conference play.
Previous Power Ranking: 2
Saturday’s showdown with Kentucky in Lexington will finally give us a chance to see Rick Pitino’s squad face off against a quality opponent. The Cardinals’ non-conference schedule has been laughable. Of course, it was terrible last season, too, and that hardly affected Louisville on its trek to the NCAA title.
With so many pieces returning from that team—namely Russ Smith, Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear—Louisville is getting the benefit of the doubt in these rankings. No one would be surprised if the Cardinals repeated as national champions.
Previous Power Ranking: 1
Freshman standout Aaron Gordon scored a career-high 21 points against Southern University last week, but for the most part, he hasn’t had to be more than a complementary player on a team that features exceptional chemistry and balance.
The Wildcats showed some toughness by rallying from an 11-point deficit to beat Michigan on the road Saturday. They’ll need all the moxie they can muster in the Pac-12, which is as strong at the top as it’s been in years with undefeated Oregon and Colorado also in the Top 25.
Arizona’s trio of non-conference victories against San Diego State, Duke and Michigan more than legitimizes its No. 1 ranking.
Jason King covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.