College Basketball: Schools That Will Finish at the Top of Each Major Conference

Josh BackmanContributor IIIJune 22, 2012

College Basketball: Schools That Will Finish at the Top of Each Major Conference

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    Many of the elite teams in college basketball are given immensely high expectations. Some teams are able to live up to them while others disappoint their fans with a poor season. All five players on the court must coexist well in order to reach success.

    When March comes closer, fans and experts begin to make predictions on which schools will be the last team standing. These are often teams that were amongst the top in their conference by demonstrating a level of dominance.

    The following includes what teams will finish first, second, and third in their respected conferences. Hence it can be inferred that these schools will be the contenders in the big dance in March.


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    1. Duke

    2. NC State

    3. North Carolina

    Through the course of a whole season, it is vital to have depth. The Blue Devils' contain that this season, along with multiple upperclassmen, which should only benefit them. Last season was Duke's first season with the nucleus of Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, Andre Dawkins and Quinn Cook.

    Along with those major factors, key additions such as Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon can impact the team right away.

    However, NC State can't be overlooked this year. It wouldn't be a shocker if they overtook Duke for the top spot in the ACC. They should be in the hunt the whole season.

    The Wolfpack were only 9-7 in the ACC last season, but the addition of three McDonald's All-Americans, Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis, should help right away. Most importantly, C.J. Leslie might be the most dominant player in the conference. He can keep the Wolfpack alive in any game.

    Even though the Tar Heel's starting lineup is depleted, the team from Chapel Hill never has a losing season. It's understandable for one to lower expectations with the departure of Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson, but North Carolina somehow puts it together.

    Roy Williams knows what it takes to be a threat in the ACC, and Roy does have James McAdoo returning. Also, with Marcus Paige arriving, most will forget about Kendall Marshall.

Big 12

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    1. Kansas

    2. Baylor

    3. Texas

    Even though Kansas was pounded by Kentucky in the National Championship game and lost their top forward and guard to the NBA Draft, Kansas will surprisingly be the biggest threat in the Big 12.

    McDonald's All-American Perry Ellis will now be the future of the Jayhawks' frontcourt. He may not initially play like Thomas Robinson, but his rebounding and defense contribution will aid Kansas. Jeff Withey will return his outstanding defensive abilities to Kansas. Also, expect a breakout season from Elijah Johnson.

    Baylor will also be losing their core of players including Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller, but the Bears will be still be near the top of the standings in the Big 12.

    Point guard Pierre Jackson will be returning after his breakout season last year. He should be in the running for Big 12 Player of the Year, and will be Baylor's best player. With his role increasing this season, expect his 13.8 PPG and 5.9 APG to increase.

    Isaiah Austin is the third best recruit from the class of 2012 according to ESPN, and he's taking his talents to Baylor. He should have immediate impact.

    The head coach of Texas, Rick Barnes, will rely on his improving young point guard, Myck Kabongo. He demonstrated great inconsistency last season, but he should improve more than anyone else in the Big 12. Cameron Ridley, a top center recruit, should be beneficial for the Longhorns' physicality.

    Texas has huge potential this year, but they could easily be a disappointment.

Big East

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    1. Louisville

    2. Syracuse

    3. Notre Dame

    Louisville isn't just the preseason favorite to come first in the Big East, but they are the favorites to win the National Champion, and it's understandably so.

    After a Final Four run last season, Louisville has most of their team returning to pursue a championship. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng absolutely exploded onto the scene last year, emerging as top players in the deepest basketball conference.

    Rick Pitino is aware about what it takes to win a championship, and he has the talent this year to do so.

    However, Syracuse will not make things easy for them. They are losing key players in Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo to the draft, but Syracuse had so much depth last season that it won't make a difference.

    The Orange's big men this year, C.J. Fair, DeJuan Coleman and Rakeem Christmas, should be vital assets this season. Coleman, an incoming freshman, has unbelievable potential that Syracuse fans are excited to watch.

    The depth and experience of Syracuse will always keep them alive. Boeheim's crew might not be as dominant as last season, but they will not allow Louisville to run away with the prize.

    The dark horse in the Big East is Notre Dame. The Irish were quite average last season, finishing 22-12. Notre Dame's roster isn't loaded with NBA prospects, hence they are very overlooked regarding their talent.

    However, Jack Cooley's talent cannot be denied. He almost averaged a double-double last season and was the backbone to the Irish's frontcourt. With an experienced backcourt with probable starters Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, Notre Dame will still be one of the most feared teams in the Big East.

Big Ten

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    1. Indiana

    2. Michigan

    3. Michigan State

    The Big Ten will most likely be the best basketball conference in the 2012-13 season, so several other elite teams will not be mentioned.

    Cody Zeller is returning to Indiana, allowing them to get over the hump to be the front-runner in the Big Ten. Zeller could potentially be the best college player in America, and capturing the Naismith Award wouldn't be surprising.

    Zeller will allow the Hoosiers to have a go-to player in crunch time. Speaking of crunch time, Christian Watford is aware of how to win in that situation, after knocking off No.1 Kentucky last year on a game winner. He also will be returning with his arrays to score.

    Most of the Hoosiers' young players received positive exposure last season. Now they contain a good understanding on what it takes to be first-class in the conference.

    Along with Indiana attempting to return to greatness, so will Michigan. The Wolverines have one of their best squads since the Fab Five era. Key backcourt players, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., are returning, and they will control most of the scoring and decisions in close games. Both are candidates to be on the First Team All-Big Ten.

    Michigan also will have two high-profile freshmen this season. Mitch McGary should assist Michigan in the rebounding category along with ridiculous energy on every possession. Glenn Robinson, Jr. will bring another attacker to spread out the scoring for the Wolverines.

    However, these two teams are unproven. Michigan State is under the experienced coaching of Tom Izzo. Keith Appling is poised for a breakout season and Gary Harris has star potential. Together those two can form an elite backcourt in the Big Ten.

    It's important for the Spartans to find new anchor for their frontcourt. The loss of Draymond Green is devastating, but Tom Izzo can definitely find a solution. Derrick Nix will need to step up if Michigan State wants to overtake Michigan and Indiana.


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    1. Arizona

    2. UCLA

    3. Oregon

    Youth will be the main theme in the Pac-12 this upcoming season, and the University of Arizona will be no exception. Arizona captured four huge recruits this year. Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewzki, Grant Jarrett and Gabe York should all be successful right away, and allow Arizona to become a force in the Pac-12 for years to come.

    Solomon Hill is also the best returning player from the 2011-12 roster. Hill does everything on the court, and the senior will bring veteran leadership to a young, talented team. Arizona's young crew of players should allow them to come out on top in the Pac-12.

    UCLA's team is extremely similar to Arizona's. Both had excellent recruiting classes with key veterans returning to provide leadership. UCLA is one of the most storied college basketball programs ever, but they have not been a threat in four seasons, which is developing controversy.

    Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker are three NBA prospects that should coexist well. Many believe Shabazz and Kyle Anderson will not work together well on the wing, but Kyle Anderson is more of a point-forward and Shabazz is more of a scorer. Anderson shouldn't even be considered a traditional forward, because he is always running point.

    Oregon should surprise many in the Pac-12. E.J. Singler will be the playmaker for the Ducks this season. He is a very balanced player who gets the job done.

    Oregon actually has one of their better recruiting classes in the last couple of years. Dominic Artis is an explosive point guard whose play the Ducks will benefit from. They will also have incoming freshmen Damyean Dotson and Ben Carter who will contribute.


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    1. Kentucky

    2. Florida

    3. Tennessee

    John Calipari finally won his first championship, and it came at Kentucky. The Wildcats once again will reload their roster after another infamous large departure of players to the NBA. However, Calipari has put together a solid squad for the 2012-13 season which should put them as the favorites in the SEC.

    Nerlens Noel is practically Anthony Davis 2.0, but with more athleticism and a less polished offensive game. Still, we all saw what an Anthony Davis type player does. He can individually alter the opponent's offensive mindset with his presence.

    The Wildcats also have two other impact recruits in Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress. They will be the replacements for Doron Lamb and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

    Expect a breakout season for Kyle Wiltjer. He received limited minutes last season, but can stretch the floor from the power forward position and has a filthy shot from behind the arc. Kentucky has once again reloaded their team to a completely different title contending roster.

    The gap this upcoming season between Kentucky and Florida should be smaller, however. Last season's leading scorer, Kenny Boynton will be returning for his senior season and will be in the running for SEC Player of the Year.

    Many expected Patric Young to put his name into the 2012 NBA Draft, but decided to play his junior season at Florida. Young has great potential, but will need to improve from last season to allow the Gators to move forward.

    Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario are two promising players for the Gators and should be double-digit scorers this year. Mike Rosario was a scorer at Rutgers, but has not demonstrated it at Florida yet.

    Tennessee should rebound after missing the tournament last season. Trae Golden, Jarnell Stokes, Jeronne Maymon and Jordan McRae will be key rotation players returning to Knoxville.

    Tennessee is overlooked this year, but the SEC doesn't have depth for the 2012-13 season. Therefore, expect the leadership of a veteran Volunteer squad to have a productive season after their poor season in 2011-12.