Southern Methodist sadly missed out on one of the best young studs in the entire world. Emmanuel Mudiay is lighting it up in China, but that won’t stop SMU from taking the American Conference Crown. Their only opposition is UCONN, who might be the better team, but I’m banking on the greater depth of SMU. UCONN will miss the late game saves from Shabazz Napier, and this will lead to a much less impressive record. They also lean will on Ryan Boatwright far too much, and will become a one dimensional team because of it. SMU has the distribution of Nic Moore, mixed with Ben Moore’s versatility, and Yanick Moreira’s paint prowess. They also have many other options on the wing, like former blue chip recruit, Keith Frazier, who can light it up from long range.
Atlantic 10- UMASS
Massachusetts had a historic season last year, going 24-9, and making their first tournament appearance in 16 seasons. It was their first time being relevant since John Calipari was coaching the minutemen. They have some tough competition, with VCU, Dayton, Saint Louis, La Salle, and George Washington all being tournament teams last year and bringing back some good talent. With Cady Lalanne in the paint, and Derrick Gordon dishing it out, UMASS will be able to fend off the rest of the A10, chomping at the bit for continued success. Watch out for the Dayton Flyers; their team returns Dyshawn Pierre, Devon Scott, and Jordan Sibert, who led them to the elite 8 last year.
Hands down, Duke takes it. Jahlil Okafor is unbelievably smooth for a freshman, and is surrounded by great talent. Tyus Jones, Quin Cook, Amile Jefferson, Justice Winslow, and Rasheed Sulaimon make up a core which is by far the most talented in the ACC. Louisville and Virginia are strong contenders, but do not have the immense depth of Duke. Miami is an ultra-dark horse, but the Angel Rodriguez led squad turned heads against Florida at home. The Blue Devils just need to use their natural talent and soak up as much knowledge as possible from the wise Coach Krzyzewski.
Big 12- Iowa State
The Cyclones have one of their best squads ever this year. They have a legitimate all American in Georges Niang, and seem to get a new amazing transfer every year. This year, it is Bryce Dejean-Jones, who will replace Melvin Ejim’s production from last year. Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma are in the running, but do not have the proven players, like ISU. Kansas was just embarrassed by Kentucky, Texas is still playing above its actual talent level, and Oklahoma is still one step behind the big dogs of the Big 12. Iowa State should win a tight race for #1 in the conference, but will need its stars to consistently produce in all the big moments, or Kansas or Texas will gladly take their spot.
Big East- Villanova
The new big east might not have the plethora of high caliber teams like it did a few years back, but it is still extremely competitive. However, the leader of the pack is definitely Villanova. They are led by the sharpshooting Ryan Arcidiachano and big JayVaughn Pinkston. Both are talented vets, who have won big games and are respected throughout the country. Their team also features great guard play, from Tyler Ennis’ older brother Dylan, Darrun Hilliard, and Josh Hart. They are deep and talented, and have a leg up on one dimensional Butler (Led by Roosevelt Jones), and the shell of a team that is Creighton University. They are still very talented, but they were made for Doug McDermott and will sorely miss him. Nova should win the conference, but only by a game or two.
Big 10- Wisconsin
This is my least confident pick. I love Michigan and their amazing combo of Caris Levert and Zak Irvin, and think they have a good chance of winning the conference, but they have no legitimate big men. There is no one on their roster that can even hold a candle to Frank Kaminski or Nigel Hayes. Their roster doesn’t even have a player 6’10”. The Wolverines will miss Jon Horford, who has seem to finally be hitting his potential at Florida. Besides The great Bigs in Madison, they also have Treavon Graham, Bronson Keoenig, and Sam Dekker, who provide great scorings and are high IQ players. Watch out for Wisconsin all season, but especially in March.
Missouri Valley- Wichita State
Plain and simple, no contest, undefeated in conference. They have 2 All-American candidates in Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, compared to the rest of the conference with none. You can chalk it up now.
Mountain West- San Diego State
The Moutain West has a slew of high-level teams, but San Diego State is above the rest. They lost their offensive leader in Xavier Thames, but Winston Shepard is the new top dog, and Dwayne Polee is a close second. This team makes a living on defense, and could be the best in the country at it. Their ridiculous steals per game leads to easy transition and fast-break buckets, which they will need to stay competitive offensively against Boise State and UNLV.
Pac 12- Arizona
They reload every season, and 2014-15 is no exception. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has come into his own, TJ McConnell is a leader, and Stanley Johnson should be PAC 12 freshman of the year. They are one of the top teams in the country, and have a surplus of tall, talented players. UCLA seems to have reloaded this year, but I’m not quite sold on their roster yet. Cal also has the ability to surprise, but winning the conference seems out of their realm of possibility for now.
I am a Florida fan, and this doesn’t change that, but when I watch Kentucky play, I cringe at how unstoppable they look. They have 10 studs, who could start on any team in the country. Every single one of their contributors deserve to be drafted. They can out-shoot, out-rebound, out-defend, out-hustle, and out-smart any and every team they play this year. The only possible losses I see in their future are vs. Texas, vs. Louisville and @ Florida, but I would heavily favor them in all 3 games. They probably aren’t the best team every, but they are undoubtedly the most talented.
West Coast- Gonzaga
The Zags have maybe the best point guard in the country in Kevin Pangos. He can do a lotta-bit of everything, especially when it comes to distributing. Spokane is always full of top tier bigs, and Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis continue that tradition. Gary Bell Jr. is another great contributor from the backcourt. Saint Mary’s and BYU are also in the running, but do not have the big names and big size of the Bulldogs.