It’s only June, but last March seems like a long way away. Just a few short months ago we crowned Villanova as the college basketball national champion. Kids have now chosen where they want to play college ball, and college players have decided on the NBA Draft or one more season in college. It’s time to look at the Power Five conferences and see who will be the conference champions this upcoming season.
The ACC is one of the strongest conferences from top to bottom. The ACC had seven teams make the NCAA Tournament last year. Four of those teams ended up in the Elite Eight. Going into this year there is one team that sticks out as the clear favorite, the Duke Blue Devils. Duke has one big thing going for them going into this year which is the combination of returning talent and incoming new talent. Coming back from last year’s team is All-ACC performer Grayson Allen, who averaged 21.6 points per game last season and looks for another big year for his junior season. Also returning are wings and knock down shooters Matt Jones (10.4 ppg) and Luke Kenard (11.8 ppg). Their senior vocal leader – Amile Jefferson – who missed last year due to injury, will return for a 5th year of eligibility, too.
Joining these returning players is one of the best recruiting classes in Duke basketball history. This recruiting class includes five players from the ESPN top 100 recruits. Three of those players come from inside the top ten. Those thre players will all make immediate impact in Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Frank Jackson. All three players will look for starting roles on Coach K‘s team. The other players joining the recruiting class are big men Marques Bolden and Javin DeLeaurier. Look for the combination of returning vets who have been to the NCAA Tournament and the new additions to lead Duke back to the top of the ACC and a Final Four run.
The model of consistency in the Big 12 and in all of college basketball is the Kansas Jayhawks. The Kansas Jayhawks have won 12 straight Big 12 titles and I expect that streak to continue going into the next season. The Jayhawks return one of the best back courts in the country in Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham. Both averaged in double figures last season. Mason III averaged 12.9 points per game and Graham put up 11.3 points per game.
Other key returning players are Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Landen Lucas. Expect both to have big seasons this year with more minutes coming their way. Landen Lucas will be the Big 12’s most improved player by the end of the year. Last year he averaged six points and seven rebounds per game while only playing 18 minutes per game. Look for big numbers coming from Lucas when he plays close to 30 minutes a game.
Kansas also landed one of the best incoming freshman in basketball in small forward Josh Jackson. Jackson looks to be another one and done and head straight to the NBA after his freshman season. Expect him to lead Kansas deep into March. Kansas also adds big man Udoka Azubuike and a sharp shooting big man Mitch Lightfoot to their recruiting class. Look for Kansas, with their strong back court and depth in the front court, to win a 13th consecutive Big 12 Championship.
The Big Ten could be one of the more open conferences in college basketball. No real team stands out as the true favorite.
When predicting who will win the Big Ten, I am looking at the returning players for the Purdue Boilermakers. The Boilermakers return one of the best front courts in basketball starting with Vince Edwards and Caleb Swanigan. Both players tested NBA waters, and both decided to return next season. Besides Swanigan, who may be the best big man in the Big Ten, this Purdue team also has Isaac Haas. Last season Haas had to play behind A.J. Hammons and didn’t receive much playing time. But Haas did average 10 points per game while only playing 14 minutes a game. Imagine what Haas could average while playing between 25-30 minutes. Ryan Cline is a sharp shooting guard who should get some open looks this season with the play of Purdue’s big men.
Purdue isn’t a powerhouse when it comes to recruiting like a Duke or Kentucky team is, but they are bringing in a transfer player who could have a big impact on this team. Spike Albrecht is a point guard from Michigan who comes over and immediately steps in as the point guard for the upcoming season. Albrecht makes good decisions with the ball and can knock down the open jump shot. This should lead to a solid inside out game for Purdue on offense.
The PAC 12 looks like a two team race this season.
Arizona and Oregon look like front runners to take the title this year. I’m going to take Oregon due to the experience they gained last year and the returning players from last year’s Elite Eight squad. Oregon returns two of the best guards in the conference in Tyler Dorsey (13.4 ppg) and their leading scorer in Dillon Brooks (16.7 ppg). The other intriguing returner from last year’s team is big man Chris Boucher. Boucher averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds last season.
Oregon brings in three incoming freshman who will all look to contribute next season. The key may be freshman point guard Payton Pritchard in the back court. Small forward Keith Smith and center Michael Cage Jr. will add depth to the front court. With Dorsey and Brooks returning and an offense with lots of fire power, Oregon should return to the top of the PAC 12.
This was one of the hardest conferences to predict. Not because the conference is great top to bottom, but because there are two teams at the top and everyone else below. The two teams are Kentucky and Texas A&M. I’m going with last year’s SEC winner in Texas A&M to repeat. There are two reasons I’m going with the Aggies: growth in their guards and the best big man in the conference in Tyler Davis. I’m expecting big growth in sophomores D.J. Hogg (6.2 ppg) and Admon Gilder (7.0 ppg) who both got to learn from Daniel House and Jalen Jones last season. Tyler Davis is the main reason I’m picking the Aggies. He is the best big man in the conference, and I’m expecting the Aggies to play through him all season.
Last season the Aggies brought in a great recruiting class and are looking for an impact from their freshmen again, starting with Robert Williams and J.J. Caldwell. Deshawn Corprew will get some playing time at the wing as well and should help add some scoring off the bench. If the Aggies play through Davis and get help from Hogg and Gilder, they should edge out Kentucky once again to win the SEC.