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January 5, 2009

Monday tip: Which is the second-best league?

As we enter the new year, at least one preseason prognostication is holding true: The Big East is clearly the best league in men's college basketball.

Because there is no debating the Big East's dominance, we asked college basketball writers Mike Huguenin and Jason King their opinion on which conference is No. 2 behind the Big East.

Is the Big Ten conference playing second-fiddle to the Big East? One expert says yes, the other says no.

JASON KING: Yes.

The Big East may be the best conference in college basketball – but thanks to the Big Ten, the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 isn't as wide as some people may think.

From Michigan's victories over Duke and UCLA to Minnesota's win over Louisville, almost every school in the Big Ten ended the non-conference season with an attention-grabbing upset. Other than Indiana – and everyone knew the Hoosiers would struggle – there isn't one bad team in the Big Ten.

Even Northwestern, which for years has been a league bottom-feeder, has earned some respect with a victory over Florida State. Michigan State beat Texas, and Ohio State defeated Notre Dame. The résumé goes on and on for a conference that features five teams that entered weekend play with two or fewer losses.

The Big Ten may not have a national championship contender or even a Final Four squad, but top to bottom, it's the second-deepest conference in the country.

MIKE HUGUENIN: No.

The Big Ten is better than expected, no question. But that just means that some teams that were thought to be mediocre instead are merely good, and I dare you to find a Final Four team among the 11.

The second-best league is the ACC – and I thought that before North Carolina was shocked at home Sunday by Boston College. Of the league's 12 teams, all but Georgia Tech and Virginia enter league play with a legit chance to get into the NCAA tournament.

Even with the loss – which likely causes Roy Williams to be able to show his team what happens when there's a lackluster effort on defense – UNC still is the nation's best team.

Duke has perhaps the nation's best coach and a nice group of talented players led by sophomore forward Kyle Singler. Plus, with senior guard Greg Paulus now coming off the bench, Duke's starting five has better quickness and more offensive weapons.

Wake Forest is young but extremely talented. Miami has one of the nation's best shooters in Jack McClinton and a bunch of solid complementary role players. Clemson is off to another fast start, and it's time to stop questioning the Tigers' talent level.

In addition to the UNC upset, Boston College has some solid non-conference wins and a big-time scorer in Tyrese Rice. Florida State plays good defense and finally may have enough depth to get into the NCAAs. Virginia Tech is gritty and poses matchup problems. Maryland has one of the nation's best point guards in Greivis Vasquez and one of the nation's best coaches in Gary Williams, and because the Terps have made three NIT appearances in the past four seasons, they're playing with a chip on their shoulders. Even N.C. State – whose three losses have come to Davidson, Florida and Marquette – looks to have enough talent to finish .500 in the league, which could be good enough to get them into the NCAA tournament.

ACC backers crow every season about their league's depth and talent. They should crow especially loud this season.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.
Jason King is a college basketball writer for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.



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