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College Basketball Conferences with the Most Star Power in 2014-15 Season

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistAugust 1, 2014

College Basketball Conferences with the Most Star Power in 2014-15 Season

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    The addition of Louisville's Montrezl Harrell and coach Rick Pitino adds even more star power to an already star-studded ACC.
    The addition of Louisville's Montrezl Harrell and coach Rick Pitino adds even more star power to an already star-studded ACC.USA TODAY Sports

    When ranking the many college basketball conferences, there is plenty of data to use to make an educated assessment based on team strength and performance. It's what experts like CBS Sports' Jerry Palm and others do for a living, and they do it well.

    For the casual college hoops fan, though, there's not always an interest in metrics and advanced statistics. Wins and losses are more than enough to determine who is better than whom, as well as comparing the quality of the players and coaches in each league.

    Or you can just rank them based on star power.

    Being considered a "star" in the college game is a hard thing to determine, because someone's notoriety depends on who is being queried. And in the NCAA, in many cases a team's coach is as big a star—if not bigger—than any single player on the roster.

    To rank the Division I conferences with the most star power entering the 2014-15 season, factors such as prospective draft picks (based on NBADraft.net's most recent 2015 mock draft), well-known incoming recruits and transfers, championship-level coaches and individuals who have been named to all-conference and All-America teams were used.

    Here's how they ended up.

10. Atlantic 10

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    Prospective 2015 draft picks: 1

    Championships won by coaches: 0

    Top-25 2014 recruiting classes: 0

    The Atlantic 10 is the home of some of the hottest young coaches in the country, namely VCU's Shaka Smart and Dayton's Archie Miller. Both have put their programs on the map through unexpected deep runs in the NCAA tournament. Instead of jumping ship for a better offer, they have stuck around to make their own teams more noteworthy.

    That hasn't translated into name-brand players, yet, though. VCU is getting close, as senior guard Treveon Graham is projected as a second-round pick in the 2015 NBA draft, and the Rams' incoming recruiting class features 4-star forward Terry Larrier. Rhode Island, which flirted with stardom in the late 1990s when Lamar Odom played one season there, also has a 4-star recruit in guard Jared Terrell.

    As solid a league as the A-10 is, it's not so much star-driven as it is filled with potential sleepers. And as we know, those are the ones who can easily become stars in March.

9. Sun Belt

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    Prospective 2015 draft picks: 1

    Championships won by coaches: 0

    Top-25 2014 recruiting classes: 0

    No one is going to ever confuse the Sun Belt with being a power conference, not when only four of its 11 current members have ever won an NCAA tournament game. The league has also gone through constant change of late, with many teams leaving for Conference USA and being replaced with ones from the Southern or Southland conferences.

    But thanks to Georgia State and Louisiana-Lafayette, the Sun Belt will get plenty of attention this season.

    In GSU's case, it's because the Atlanta school has become a popular destination for transfers from major programs, with former Kentucky guard Ryan Harrow being joined this season by former Louisville guard Kevin Ware. In addition, ex-Indiana forward Jeremy Hollowell will be eligible in 2015-16.

    Combined with guard R.J. Hunter, the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year and son of Panthers coach Ron Hunter, the Panthers should be even better than last year's squad that won 22 of 23 at one point but lost to ULL in the conference final.

    ULL, led by NBA prospect Shawn Long—the 6'9" junior forward is projected as the No. 26 pick in the 2015 draft—should also draw attention from media and scouts.

    The Sun Belt might not be able to compete on the recruiting trail (South Alabama is the top-rated school at No. 100 in the 2014 class), but it has shown there are other ways to get attention.

8. Mountain West

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Prospective 2015 draft picks: 2

    Championships won by coaches: 1

    Top-25 2014 recruiting classes: 2

    With schools in several good-sized media markets out west, the Mountain West has the opportunity to draw a lot of attention. The stars are few and far between, though, with some of the league's coaches having more notoriety than any single player.

    San Diego State is the cream of the crop, but in most years the Aztecs haven't had anyone you'd consider a superstar. Last season was an exception, with do-everything guard Xavier Thames, but the 2014-15 team will be known as much for being yet another strong team put together by underappreciated coach Steve Fisher (who won an NCAA title with Michigan) in 1989 than for the individual players.

    SDSU and UNLV are making national inroads in terms of recruiting, though, with both schools landing top-25 classes for 2014. UNLV's was particularly impressive, with coach Dave Rice convincing the fifth-best class in the nation to play in Las Vegas.

    Las Vegas might actually be the part of the Mountain West that provides the most star power, as the city has become a big destination in college hoops. Four conferences (including the MWC) play their postseason tournaments there, and numerous other nonconference neutral-site games and tournaments are held in Sin City in November and December.

7. American

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Prospective 2015 draft picks: 2

    Championships won by coaches: 2

    Top-25 2014 recruiting classes: 0

    The American Athletic Conference is the home of the defending NCAA champion Connecticut, as well as a team coached by a Hall of Famer (SMU's Larry Brown) who holds the distinction of having won his NCAA title (with Kansas in 1988) further back than any other active coach.

    The league also sports a pair of potential 2015 NBA draft picks, both from Memphis. Sophomore forward Austin Nichols is projected as a first-rounder, while junior forward Shaq Goodwin currently rates as a second-round choice. However, the great results the American put up in its first year of existence didn't translate into big recruiting success, as Connecticut's No. 35 class was the best in the league.

    Having Louisville depart for the ACC drastically diminished the American's glow, and the teams that joined the league—East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa—didn't provide much wow factor. The closest would be Tulsa, which hired away Missouri's Frank Haith as its coach after Danny Manning left for Wake Forest following an NCAA tournament run.

    On the coaching front, there are some names, but not huge ones. Beyond Brown there's Kevin Ollie at UConn, but he's just starting to develop his reputation and star status, while Cincinnati's Mick Cronin and Memphis' Josh Pastner aren't yet household names. New Houston coach Kelvin Sampson is close, but he's more known for committing NCAA infractions at both Indiana and Oklahoma than for anything else.

6. Big East

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Prospective 2015 draft picks: 1

    Championships won by coaches: 0

    Top-25 2014 recruiting classes: 4

    If these rankings were based on last season's star power, the Big East would be much higher on the list. But the mercurial scoring machines that were Creighton's Doug McDermott and Providence's Bryce Cotton have moved on, leaving this once superconference severely lacking in notable names.

    Well, at least from the players. The coaching roster is pretty well-stocked with recognizable ones, led by St. John's Steve Lavin, Georgetown's John Thompson III and Villanova's Jay Wright. Each has reached movie star-level notoriety in the coaching world and especially in media circles, despite only a combined two Final Four appearances between the trio.

    While there's not much on the fame front in terms of players who are coming back (though Villanova senior guard Darrun Hilliard could be a second-round NBA pick), the league's newcomers could change that quickly. Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall and Xavier all have top-25 classes joining the fray this fall, and Seton Hall's group includes 5-star guard Isaiah Whitehead.

    The Big East will probably never get back to the level it was two or three years ago, but even with all the recent talent and attention exodus, there's hope that the spotlight will stick around this league of well-known private schools.

5. Big Ten

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Prospective 2015 draft picks: 13

    Championships won by coaches: 1

    Top-25 2014 recruiting classes: 3

    The Big Ten saw five of its biggest stars from last season go in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft, while two more went in the second round. Many other well-known names graduated, such as Ohio State guard Aaron Craft, which would make you think 2014-15 is going to be pretty dull in the upper Midwest.

    Think again. NBADraft.net projects a baker's dozen from the Big Ten will get taken in the 2015 draft if it were to happen today. While such mock selections are completely speculative this far out and don't even reflect which teams will draft in what order, the fact that so many from the league are considered pro-level players is promising.

    That group just isn't very flashy. The highest-rated of the group, Michigan junior guard Caris LeVert at No. 6, doesn't have the same allure that past Wolverines standouts like Nik Stauskas or Trey Burke had. The Big Ten's biggest star player is probably one who has reached that stardom by being about as wholesome-looking as possible: Wisconsin senior center Frank Kaminsky.

    There will be no Johnny Manziel comparisons to Frank the Tank this season.

    The league has plenty of successful coaches, but only Michigan State's Tom Izzo has won it all. Instead, guys like Tom Crean (Indiana), John Beilein (Michigan), Thad Matta (Ohio State) and Bo Ryan (Wisconsin) have come close, while a fresh face in Nebraska's Tim Miles has the potential to be a star if his on-court performance surpasses his work in fad viral videos.

4. Pac-12

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Prospective 2015 draft picks: 7

    Championships won by coaches: 0

    Top-25 2014 recruiting classes: 5

    Arizona and UCLA are the cream of the crop in the Pac-12, both in terms of performance and star power. Even though these teams lost a combined five underclassmen to the NBA draft in June, it should remain the status quo out West.

    Not only are both considered pro-producing teams yet again this season—four more of their 2014-15 players are projected as draft picks, all in the first round—but with two of the most well-known names in coaching in Arizona's Sean Miller and UCLA's Steve Alford, it's unlikely they won't garner the lion's share of the conference's attention.

    Miller and Alford also have fame from prior to being coaches, as they were star college players (Alford was a point guard on Indiana's 1987 national championship team), and Miller has managed to maintain stardom through YouTube videos. This started as a teenager with his dribbling prowess and continued at Arizona with a famous postgame rant during the 2013 Pac-12 tournament.

    Have no fear for the Pac-12, though. With five teams ranked in the top 25 in recruiting for this season, plenty of potential stars are on the way.

3. Southeastern

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Prospective 2015 draft picks: 8

    Championships won by coaches: 3

    Top-25 2014 recruiting classes: 4

    Thanks to Kentucky, there's no shortage of star power no matter how weak the bottom half of the SEC is.

    The Wildcats are once again loaded with big-name talent, pulling in another top recruiting class to bolster their roster of former McDonald's All-Americans to nine. Without checking very hard, it's safe to say that most of the other teams in the conference haven't had nine such All-Americans in the history of their programs.

    But Kentucky's stardom in no way ends with the players. John Calipari, one of the most famous coaches in the game, is a magnet for media attention. The team's fanbase, Big Blue Nation, is also star-studded thanks to superfan Ashley Judd.

    Not to be forgotten, though, is Florida. Billy Donovan has shrugged off multiple overtures from the NBA to turn the Gators into one of the best programs in the nation over the last 18 years. He not only brings in stars, he churns them out, with 13 of his former players on NBA rosters for the 2014-15 season.

    To be fair, it's hard to be a basketball star at most SEC schools, due to the league's overabundant lean toward football. But one place where the balance could shift a bit this year is at Auburn, where Bruce Pearl, with his background as a winning coach, former ESPN personality (and NCAA scofflaw), is primed to put that long-dormant program on the map.

2. Big 12

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    Prospective 2015 draft picks: 9

    Championships won by coaches: 2

    Top-25 2014 recruiting classes: 1

    While the SEC is one of those leagues where a school gets labeled as a basketball or football backer, in the Big 12 there's a lot more multi-devotion fanbases. It helps that the league is probably the deepest of any in Division I in terms of winning programs, with eight of the 10 schools making the NCAA tournament at least once in the past three years.

    Kansas, though, is the far and away leader in the clubhouse when it comes to star power. Whether it's media-friendly coach Bill Self (one of two in the league with an NCAA title, along with Texas Tech's Tubby Smith) or the seemingly annual influx—and then exodus—of big-name talent, the Jayhawks control the Big 12's spotlight.

    But that light spreads pretty much all over, as nearly every school has managed to turn its players into stars. Iowa State has transformed a roster of castaways into lovable underdogs, with coach Fred Hoiberg and his boyish good looks and awesome nickname ("The Mayor") accentuating the Cyclones' stardom. Similar situations exist at Kansas State and Oklahoma State, while Texas looks to be moving back into the spotlight after last season's turnaround and the late signing of 5-star center Myles Turner.

    The star power might actually be a little weaker this season than last, due to the departure of uber-star Andrew Wiggins at Kansas and OK State's polarizing Marcus Smart. While no one appears in line to reprise Smart's bad-boy role, there will be plenty of candidates for the more positive side of stardom.

1. Atlantic Coast

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Prospective 2015 draft picks: 7

    Championships won by coaches: 9

    Top-25 2014 recruiting classes: 6

    The top conference on this list was about as much of a lock as anything in sports nowadays. With nearly a quarter of the best incoming recruiting classes hauled in by a stable of coaches that includes a quartet who have cut down the nets (three of whom have done so more than once), not to mention a strong returning crop of star-worthy players, the ACC is by far the best in Division I.

    Four different schools saw at least one player who left early get taken in the first round of the NBA draft, and yet all four might be just as good, if not better than the 2013-14 version because of what they have coming back and what they're bringing in.

    Duke has to replace Jabari Parker? That's fine; it will just bring in the No. 1 overall class that features three players rated in the top 14.

    North Carolina lost P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo? The No. 3 class is coming in as reinforcements, and the Tar Heels bring back junior guard Marcus Paige, one of the most recognizable players in the game who didn't graduate or go pro after last season.

    And we haven't even touched on the star power that's joined the league in the past 15 months. Last year it was Syracuse and Jim Boeheim, whose 2-3 zone defense might be the most famous college basketball scheme since Dean Smith's old Four Corners offense at North Carolina before the shot clock. And this year it's Rick Pitino and Louisville, where the master coach won a title two years ago to go along with the one he claimed in the 1990s at Kentucky.

    Even some of the league's bottom feeders have a certain level of star power, with Virginia Tech and Wake Forest making high-profile hires in the offseason that will help point some microphones and cameras in their direction.

     

    All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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