By Kyle Caron
1) Atlantic Coast Conference
Once again, the ACC will set the standard for basketball greatness in the 2017-18 season. After almost tying the record for most tournament bids given to a single conference with nine last season, the “Atlantic Chaos Conference” will run the table again with at least five teams realistically battling for the conference title. Last year’s NCAA tournament champs UNC Tarheels return a good portion of their championship roster and with the addition of Pitt graduate transfer Cameron Johnson, they have a legitimate chance to return to the Final Four for the third year in a row.
Duke is also starting to adopt the one-and-done mentality more and more each season; with the additions of Marvin Bagley, Trevon Duval, Wendell Carter, and Gary Trent Jr., the Blue Devils are looking like the team to beat. If Coach K can control this new talent with some senior leadership from Grayson Allen, the squad will have all eyes on them for the majority of the season. Some other teams that will hold their own include Miami, Virginia, Louisville and sleeper Virginia Tech under Buzz Williams.
2) Big 12
The Big 12 is always one of the main front runners competing with the ACC for basketball glory and this season looks no different. Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks will likely repeat as outright conference champs and go on to receive yet another one seed in the NCAA tournament. Kansas has won an incredible thirteen straight Big 12 titles, but all streaks have to end at some point. With the return of Jevon Carter, Bob Huggins’ WVU team will be fighting to dethrone Kansas as the kings of the conference and with all the talent they have this is not out of the question. The Mountaineers consistently find themselves at the top of the Big 12 standings and it seems this year will fit that pattern once again.
Texas also finds itself near the top after the addition of 5-star recruit Mo Bamba, but could easily get stuck in the middle of the pack with the likes of Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma. The Sooners are looking to recover from their devastating 11-20 (5-13 conference) campaign last season with Trae Young reaching his full potential as a combo guard.
The Big Ten finds itself in third place mainly due to the dominance expected from Izzo’s Michigan State this year. The Spartans found themselves disappointed after a mediocre season last year, only reaching a nine seed in the tournament and being bounced in the second round by Kansas. With the return of Miles Bridges and the addition of Jaren Jackson however, this Izzo team is expected to hold their spot at the top of the rankings.
Indiana could also maintain some national relevance due to the replacement of Tom Crean with Archie Miller from Dayton. After the departure of small forward OG Anunoby to the NBA there are still some questions surrounding this team, however coach Miller led the Flyers to consistent success and is looking to do the same with this Hoosiers squad. Michigan, Purdue, and Wisconsin are all looking to continue their success from last season as well.
4) Big East
Jay Wright and his Villanova Wildcats should once again run away with the conference as Jalen Brunson returns and redshirt freshman Omari Spellman finally takes the court, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to get excited about in the conference.
The Xavier Musketeers are looking to fight for the Big East title with key player Trevon Bluiett returning who helped lead the team to their magical Elite Eight run last year. Seton Hall and the Providence Friars are looking to continue their success as well and while Butler shows promise, Chris Holtmann’s departure as head coach to fill the vacancy left by Thad Motta at Ohio State means that this Bulldog’s team could wallow in mediocrity this season.
The trend of Kentucky running the SEC table is in danger with Florida possibly pulling an upset, but the chances for the middle of the pack teams to step up are too unpredictable for the conference to rank higher than fifth. This Kentucky squad is really no different than any others: Calipari and a bunch of the nation’s best one-and-dones doing Kentucky things. The one difference in this team that could make a significant impact is by Hamidou Diallo opting to remain in school rather than enter the draft, but that does not mean they’ll win the SEC without a fight.
Florida will be better than last year with the return of KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza in Mike White’s third season with the Gators. Alabama is going to take a break from destroying everyone in football to actually be somewhat relevant in the basketball world for once as well, led by 5-star commit Collin Sexton. Some coaching changes and the addition of Michael Porter Jr. will see Mizzou heading back towards relevancy as well but all in all the SEC is still too top heavy for them to be considered a legitimate threat save a few elite teams.
Arizona is largely a consensus top 5 team. Sean Miller’s ability as a coach is no longer
questionable and Deandre Ayton shocked many in his choice of school over the likes of Kansas and Kentucky. Besides the Wildcats and a promising but unproven USC team, the rest of the Pac-12 looks bleak.
Oregon lost four of its five starters from its 2017 Final Four run and while Payton Pritchard is great, it’ll take more than him for the Ducks to stay relevant. As for UCLA, the departures of Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf means there are two large holes in the roster that are being filled by smaller plugs. How much of last year’s success can be attributed to Steve Alford is up for debate but I think it is pretty clear that this season will likely not live up to the expectations set by last year’s Bruins.