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Point/Counterpoint — What’s college basketball’s strongest conference?

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | NOVEMBER 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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College basketball begins officially on Friday, with nearly every top-25 team, and Iowa, playing their first contests. Our Daily Iowan sports staffers debate which conference is the toughest going into the 2012-13 season

Big Ten

Over the last decade, the Big East has been without a doubt the best conference in college basketball. But last year, that all changed.

Prominent freshmen began to pop up all over the Big Ten. Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Michigan’s Trey Burke proved to have instant success on the court. But now that each player is a year older and their teams a year wiser, it could mean big things for the Hoosiers and Wolverines.

In the AP preseason poll, three Big Ten teams were ranked in the top 5: No. 1 Indiana, No. 4 Ohio State, and No. 5 Michigan. Each team has Final Four aspirations and fields players capable of taking them to the land of a national championship.

What’s even more interesting about the three squads is that they each have a Player of the Year candidate going into the season.

Indiana’s Zeller, whose older brother, Tyler Zeller, was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, is considered by many experts to be the front-runner for Player of the Year. Michigan point guard Burke and Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas are each projected to have very strong seasons.

All in all, the Big Ten has five teams ranked in the preseason top 25. Michigan State and Wisconsin, even though over shadowed by their top-5 counterparts, are locks for the tournament. The Spartans haven’t missed the dance since 1997. Similarly, Wisconsin has made it to the tournament every year since 1998.

While all five teams will make the tournament, the Big Ten hopes for its first championship since Mateen Cleaves led the Spartans over Florida in the 2000 final.

Come March, the Big Ten Tournament will resemble the ACC and Big East tourneys of past years.

The grueling competition will only improve the Big Ten’s top teams for a run at the national championship.

With three Final Four hopefuls, the Big Ten can solidify its return to prominence in college basketball.

— by Carlos Sosa

Big East

In the last five NCAA Tournaments, the Big East has had either the most teams in or at least tied for the most teams. In 2011, the conference sent a record 11 schools to the tournament, including eventual national champion Connecticut. The last year the Big East didn’t have the most teams in the tournament was 2007, and the conference still had a Final Four representative in Georgetown.

While this season is a potential up year for both the Big Ten and ACC, one must think the Big East will be the top conference come Selection Sunday.

The preseason AP top-25 puts four Big East squads in the initial rankings — including No. 2 Louisville — and three more teams receiving votes. Considering the 15-team league is a gauntlet that’s incomparable with any other conference slate in college basketball, Big East teams typically have high Rankings Power Indexes and strength of schedules on their tournament résumés. There’s also the intangible of the always rough but ultimately positive Big East Tournament to toughen teams up for the postseason.

Yes, the conference has lost West Virginia for this season and beyond, but it still has one more go-round with Syracuse and Pittsburgh wearing the Big East patch.

The Big Ten and ACC, personally, seem top heavy. While the ranked teams all seem like sure bets to make the tournament, the middle types could be mediocre. An NIT  bid next March could satisfy squads such as Minnesota, Purdue, and Clemson. Meanwhile, some teams in the bottom half of the Big East will pack their bags for the NCAA Tournament.

— by Ian Martin

ACC

Year in, year out, the ACC is consistently in the discussion for the best men’s college basketball conference, and 2012-13 is no different.

With powerhouse programs such as North Carolina and Duke blazing the path, it is difficult to argue against the dominance of the conference. Accompanied by the Maryland Terrapins, these three teams have won five of the last 12 NCAA championships, beginning with Duke’s title run in 2001.

This year, the Blue Devils reeled in two highly sought-after freshmen in Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson. Duke is also returning some key players­, notably Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, and Ryan Kelly.

Their main rivals, North Carolina, have captured a couple solid recruits of their own in J.P. Tokoto, Joel James, Brice Johnson, and Iowa native and former Linn-Mar graduate Marcus Paige — who will likely start for head coach Roy Williams.

The ACC is a grinding, competitive conference for NCAA basketball, and there are always several surprise teams that add competition in the conference. And it will remain highly competitive this season. Expect to see several ACC teams still working in March, because this conference is full of teams that expect to make the NCAA Tournament come spring.

-by Levi Lynott


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