Arguments over conference supremacy have begun well before the start of the college basketball season.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim offered one of the most quotable remarks of the preseason when he pointed out the Big Ten’s failings in the postseason.
“At the end of the day, you play for the tournament,” Boeheim said. “That’s what you play for. It’s simple. You can say all you want about the Big Ten. They sucked in the tournament. So to me, that’s what they did. I don’t care what they did in the regular season.”
The Big Ten led all conferences with nine NCAA Tournament bids last season but sent only two teams ( Michigan and Purdue ) to regional semifinals and didn’t have anyone last beyond the Sweet 16. Syracuse plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which got five bids but sent three teams to the Sweet 16 and had North Carolina and Duke reach the Final Four.
“That’s what you play for, to get in the tournament and to win in the tournament,” Boeheim said. “If you don’t do that, then you’re not good.”
As we rank the top six conferences for the upcoming season, we don’t give the No. 1 spot to either the Big Ten or the ACC. That honor instead goes to the league that has produced the last two NCAA Tournament champions.
A look at the preseason Top 25 indicates the SEC could emerge as the best conference of all. The SEC has five ranked teams, all in the top 20: No. 4 Kentucky, No. 10 Arkansas, No. 11 Tennessee, No. 15 Auburn and No. 20 Alabama. Arkansas, Alabama and Kentucky brought in three of the nation’s top five freshman classes according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports. Kentucky’s Oscar Tschiebwe was the consensus national player of the year last season.
The ACC has the nation’s top-ranked team in North Carolina, which returns preseason AP All-America selection Armando Bacot from a team that lost to Kansas in last season’s championship game. No. 7 Duke begins the post-Mike Krzyzewski era by welcoming in new coach Jon Scheyer and the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class. The only other ACC team in the preseason Top 25 is No. 18 Virginia.
4. BIG TEN
The Big Ten figures to take a step back this season after having three players (Iowa’s Keegan Murray, Purdue’s Jaden Ivey and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis) among the top 10 picks in the NBA draft. No. 13 Indiana is the only Big Ten team ranked higher than 22nd in the preseason Top 25. The league’s only other ranked teams are No. 22 Michigan and No. 23 Illinois. Perhaps this is the year the Big Ten gets fewer NCAA Tournament bids but ends up lasting longer in the tournament.