- Dick Vitale, College Basketball analyst
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I was recently asked to rank the top conferences in college basketball for the 2009-10 season. I thought about it for a moment and realized it is a lot tougher to rank them this fall compared to a season ago.
Talk about parity, the top conferences are so close. Last year, I feel there was little argument that the Big East was the crème de la crème from top to bottom. Every night, that league had an incredible battle as the big boys had to lace 'em up and fight hard.
This season, it is a wire job, coming down the stretch. For now, here is how I see them at the start of this season. We have to see if some of these teams live up to their billing.
5. The SEC: It is so close, and there are several outstanding clubs with Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi State (assuming Renardo Sidney is eligible). Florida will be improved with Kenny Boynton in the backcourt. Andy Kennedy's Mississippi squad will be dangerous. South Carolina has Devan Downey leading the way for Darrin Horn's club. There is good competition in the league.
4. The Big East: It says a lot when Pittsburgh is picked ninth and Marquette is chosen 12th in the preseason poll. That tells you everything about the depth. The key to the league's strength will be the development of Cincinnati and Seton Hall. Up top, look for big things from Villanova thanks to the return of Scottie Reynolds; West Virginia is solid for the Huggy Bear, Bob Huggins; Connecticut, Louisville, Georgetown and Syracuse will make their share of noise. Luke Harangody will make Notre Dame a tough foe as well. As I said, rating these conferences is tougher than ever, baby!
3. The Big 12: This league could easily be No. 1, especially when you look at a top two of Kansas and Texas. They are two of the top five clubs in America. Then you look at a team like Oklahoma with All-Solid Gold candidate Willie Warren. Kansas State, Texas A&M, Missouri and Oklahoma State can flat-out play and will compete for NCAA berths. Iowa State could be a tough sleeper with Craig Brackins leading the way.
2. The ACC: Duke and North Carolina will battle it out once again, contending for Final Four slots. They are top-10 teams for sure. Then you have tough opponents like Maryland, an improved Georgia Tech club with newcomer Derrick Favors and junior Gani Lawal, Clemson, Wake Forest and on and on. Florida State could be a surprise team, too.
1. The Big Ten: Commissioner Jim Delany should be jumping with joy. Hey, JoePa, I am talking hoops, not the pigskin here! Michigan State and Purdue are capable of making a run to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy for the Final Four. Ohio State is impressive with underrated Evan Turner. Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Penn State and Wisconsin could end up in the Big Dance.
There you have it. It is going to be a big year and I know there will be great debates. That's the fun of it all. I remember growing up and hearing conversations about which baseball player was the best between Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider. All three were Hall of Famers and it was a matter of opinion.
You can make a legit case for any of the top five conferences being numero uno, which is why this should be a super, scintillating, sensational season on the hardwood.