Big 12 (predicted order of finish and records)
Kansas Jayhawks (28-2)
The Jayhawks return every relevant player from a 27-win team and bring in a top five recruiting class to assemble one of the best college basketball teams of the last decade.
Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich form the best inside-outside combo in the nation and are complemented by talented players to give the Jayhawks depth at every position.
In my opinion, this Kansas team is far more suited to win a championship than the team that did so in 2007-08, and it will take a mammoth effort from another team to even knock these Jayhawks off their game.
Texas Longhorns (26-4)
Similar to Kansas, Texas has possibly their best team ever, as this tops any roster that coach Rick Barnes has ever headed.
Their best player might be freshman Avery Bradley, who is looking at a top five pick next year. Surrounding this centerpiece are physical forward Damion James and senior center Dexter Pittman. The only problem will be finding minutes for the 11 or 12 players that will be in this rotation.
This conference has taken a big step forward, and a battle of the giants will ensue to determine its eventual winner.
Oklahoma Sooners (23-7)
There will obviously be a drop in the quality of this team after losing Blake Griffin, but it won’t be much of a decline as long as sophomore sensation Willie Warren can carry the load alongside a number of freshmen brought in by Jeff Capel.
The backcourt has enough experience to make the Sooners a competitive team, but the losses in the frontcourt will not allow Oklahoma to be a top two team in the Big 12.
They certainly have enough to get by and make it into the NCAA Tournament, but a deep run might be too much to ask for.
Iowa State Cyclones (20-10)
This conference has three really good teams, and then there’s a bit of a drop-off. I’d say Iowa State is probably the next best only because of their superstar big man Craig Brackins, the best player that no one’s ever heard of.
This program hasn’t been very good since the days that they were upset as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they return to the Big Dance this season. No player is good enough to carry his team over Kansas, Texas, or Oklahoma, but if one guy can do it, I’d put my money on Brackins.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (20-10)
Missouri Tigers (18-12)
Kansas State Wildcats (17-13)
Texas A&M Aggies (17-13)
Baylor Bears (16-14)
Texas Tech Red Raiders (16-14)
Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-17)
Colorado Buffaloes (12-18)
Pac-10 (predicted order of finish and records)
Washington Huskies (21-9)
The Pac-10 this year will be an absolutely miserable basketball conference, but Washington should be the best team in it. They lose a few top players, but the backcourt of Isaiah Thomas and freshman Abdul Gaddy should be extremely exciting to watch.
The team won 26 games and earned a No. 4 seed with a considerably better team last year, but as they’ve declined, so has the conference.
The way I see it playing out, the Pac-10 should only be able to get four teams into the tournament, with Lorenzo Romar’s team being the best.
California Golden Bears (20-10)
A lot of people like the Golden Bears to win this conference, but I’m not sure it makes much of a difference who wins it, as they will both be mid-level seeds.
Mike Montgomery returns the core of a 22-win team that was tournament-bound and brings back a great backcourt tandem of Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher.
They looked out of sorts down the stretch after losing five of their last seven and bowing out in the first round of the Big Dance, but they should be much improved this year, but with more pressure on them.
UCLA Bruins (20-10)
This program has lost so many players to the NBA over the past decade or so, but even as they have remained just shy of elite, the decline began last year as they only won one tournament game.
They’re depending on a bunch of guys that have never been relied on at all in the past, but there’s no denying Ben Howland will present a talented bunch to their competition.
Among their stars are Malcolm Lee, Nikola Dragovic, and Jerime Anderson, and if this threesome can get hot at the right time, they could make the Bruins a dangerous bunch.
Arizona Wildcats (19-11)
The assumption is that the Pac-10 is only a three-bid conference this season, but if Sean Miller has anything to say about it, the streak of consecutive NCAA Tournaments made by Arizona will continue.
They will be the definition of a bubble team unless they overachieve or really collapse, and that probably won’t happen since they are carried by their standout point guard Nic Wise.
They lose both Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, and similar to some other classic programs, they are looking to walk the line between rebuilding and competing at once.
Arizona State Sun Devils (17-13)
Oregon State Beavers (17-13)
Oregon Ducks (16-14)
Washington State Cougars (16-14)
USC Trojans (15-15)
Stanford Cardinal (14-16)
SEC (predicted order of finish and records)
Kentucky Wildcats (28-2)
You can erase everything that has transpired at Kentucky over the past few years, as a new era has dawned upon college basketball’s greatest program.
John Calipari has brought an unthinkably talented recruiting class to complement centerpiece big man Patrick Patterson, led by who is already one of the nation’s top guards in John Wall.
There may be an adjustment period for the Wildcats, but these players are NBA-ready now, and Calipari has set up this season perfectly to return the glory to Kentucky right away.
South Carolina Gamecocks (21-9)
The bubble burst late for South Carolina last year, as they won 21 games but did not reach the NCAA Tournament. They return four starters, including their tremendous point guard Devan Downey, who has All-American ability.
If this team stays healthy, they are almost guaranteed to be the runner-up in this division, as no one will catch Kentucky.
They’re good enough to be a mid-level seed similar to other teams that I’ve mentioned, as South Carolina is assured a return to the Big Dance for the first time in six years.
Tennessee Volunteers (21-9)
Florida Gators (20-10)
Georgia Bulldogs (15-15)
Vanderbilt Commodores (15-15)
Mississippi State Bulldogs (22-8)
There’s no reason to believe that Renardo Sidney will ever suit up as a Bulldog, but they’ll still be good thanks to dominant big man Jarvis Varnado, the SEC’s premier rebounder and shot-blocking presence.
They won the SEC Tournament, return all five of their starters, and are not exactly facing the toughest competition in the SEC West.
This group together could probably be better than the team that snuck into the Big Dance and was bounced early last year, as this year they might be good enough to reach the Sweet 16.
Mississippi Rebels (20-10)
Andy Kennedy is in position to take the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002, as they return their leader Chris Warren and put him alongside last year’s breakout scorer, Terrico White. The two form a backcourt duo formidable as any in the SEC, as their up-tempo style and pace will be exciting to watch.
The rest of this conference has serious shortcomings, and most would be hard-pressed to give the SEC five bids, but with a down year in college basketball, the Rebels should return to the tourney.
Alabama Crimson Tide (18-12)
Arkansas Razorbacks (17-13)
LSU Tigers (15-15)
Auburn Tigers (11-19)
Others to Watch
Butler Bulldogs (23-7)
Coach Brad Stevens is quiet with his words, but he knows that there’s a real chance that this Butler team could be really special. Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, and Matt Howard make up a trio that could play with nearly anyone in the nation, as this small school has risen over the past five years to become a postseason threat.
However, they haven’t advanced past the Sweet 16, which leaves the possibility that they would fold in a big spot.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (22-8)
Perennially, Gonzaga is among the best teams from minor conferences. The WCC will be a runaway like always, but Gonzaga’s question marks shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Four of their top five scorers are gone, the exception being Matt Bouldin, and players who didn’t play much last season will be expected to make immediate contributions for Mark Few, and for a team which has huge expectations every year.
Big 12's Top 10 Players
1) Sherron Collins, G - Kansas, Sr.
2) Cole Aldrich, C - Kansas, Jr.
3) Willie Warren, G - Oklahoma, So.
4) Craig Brackins, F - Iowa State, Jr.
5) Avery Bradley, G - Texas, Fr.
6) James Anderson, G/F - Oklahoma State, Jr.
7) Denis Clemente, G - Kansas State, Sr.
8) Damion James, F - Texas, Sr.
9) Xavier Henry, G - Kansas, Fr.
10) Tyshawn Taylor, G - Kansas, So.
Pac-10's Top 10 Players
1) Isaiah Thomas, G - Washington, So
2) Jerome Randle, G - California, Sr.
3) Patrick Christopher, G - California, Sr.
4) Nic Wise, G - Arizona, Sr.
5) Malcolm Lee, G - UCLA, So.
6) Abdul Gaddy, G - Washington, Fr.
7) Quincy Pondexter, F - Washington, Sr.
8) Dwight Lewis, G - USC, Sr.
9) Klay Thompson, G/F - Washington State, So.
10) Landry Fields, G/F - Stanford, Sr.
SEC's Top 10 Players
1) John Wall, G - Kentucky, Fr.
2) Devan Downey, G - South Carolina, Sr.
3) Patrick Patterson, F/C - Kentucky, Jr.
4) Tyler Smith, F - Tennessee, Sr.
5) Jarvis Varnado, F - Mississippi State, Sr.
6) Tasmin Mitchell, F - LSU, Sr.
7) Terrico White, G - Mississippi, So.
8) Kenny Boynton, G - Florida, Fr.
9) DeMarcus Cousins, F/C - Kentucky, Fr.
10) Scotty Hopson, G - Tennessee, So.