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September 21, 2009

Debating the best and worst conferences

There already is jawing about the nation's best college football conference, so we're going to go ahead and start the jawing about the best basketball conference.

We're also going to start jawing about which will be the worst of the "Big Six" conferences.

We asked writers Mike Huguenin and Jason King to give us their thoughts.

JASON KING SAYS ...

Last spring, four teams from the Big East reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament - with two of them (Connecticut and Villanova) advancing to the Final Four.

The conference won't be as strong in 2009-10 - but it will still be the top league in college basketball. West Virginia and Villanova are legitimate Final Four contenders, with Connecticut and Georgetown also having an outside shot.

Syracuse should be strong, as well, while Louisville, Marquette and Pittsburgh will likely struggle after losing all of their marquee players.

One difference in this year's version of the Big East is that the lower-tier teams won't be as big of a pushover as they were in 2008-09. Schools such as USF, St. John's and Seton Hall - Bobby Gonzalez's squad has a ton of transfers who could make an impact - will be talented enough to threaten anyone on their schedule. Even Rutgers, which features standout guard Mike Rosario, will be noticeably improved.

Entertaining as the Pac-10 race was a year ago, the conference won't be able to hold a candle to the other BCS leagues in 2009-10.

Stars such as Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, James Harden, Jon Brockman, Darren Collison and DeMar DeRozan either graduated or left school early for the NBA - and there are no marquee stars to replace them.

Seriously, who are the Pac-10's first-team all-conference candidates? Tajuan Porter, Jerome Randle, Nic Wise, Klay Thompson and Isaiah Thomas? Ouch.

The good thing is that the parity should keep the games close and interesting. Whatever the case, enjoy the regular season, because the postseason for most - if not all - of the Pac-10 schools should be brief.

MIKE HUGUENIN SAYS ...

I think the ACC will be the strongest and the Pac-10 the weakest.

I think nine ACC teams - all but Miami, N.C. State and Virginia - will head into the season with legitimate NCAA tournament hopes. North Carolina and Duke are constants. Georgia Tech, which was awful last season, signed a great recruiting class and should be in the league title hunt. Clemson, Wake Forest and Florida State have shots at top-four finishes. Maryland and Virginia Tech could finish in the top half of the league. Boston College returns four starters from an NCAA tournament team.

This will be a deep league. There are a number of top-flight coaches. There is both experienced talent and young talent. There are teams that want to run and gun, and teams that would prefer to grind it out. The ACC might be having trouble on the football field this season, but it will be great on the basketball court.

As for the Pac-10, it wouldn't be surprising to see just two league teams - California and Washington - show up in the preseason top 25s. Cal will be favored, a position it's not used to, and Washington is having to replace perhaps its best player in Jon Brockman - and those are the league's best teams.

UCLA is in rebuilding mode. Arizona lost its two best players and has a new coach. Arizona State also lost its two best players. Oregon State and Washington State have some intriguing young talent, but will it all mesh? Plus, Oregon State actually has expectations this season, which is the first time that has been the case since Gary Payton was playing for the Beavers. Oregon coach Ernie Kent, as usual, is on the hot seat; how will his team respond? USC is in turmoil and saw massive roster turnover as well as a coaching change - but the Trojans still look better, on paper, than Stanford.

The Pac-10 race will be an interesting one, as a lot of teams appear to be evenly matched. But that doesn't necessarily mean there will be a lot of good basketball played in the league 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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