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Andy Katz | Correspondent | December 2, 2021

Ranking the top 10 conferences in men's college basketball so far this season

SEC and Big East are the top two conferences early on, according to Andy Katz

The conference games start up this weekend in a number of high-profile leagues. And this month still has a significant amount of non-conference games to fully gauge the strength of leagues as well as continue the debate on which league may be the deepest.

Here are my rankings with nearly a month into the season. I’m looking at overall depth, quality wins and Final Four contenders.

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Sahvir Wheeler of Kentucky men's basketball

1. SEC

The SEC has six teams ranked in Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Auburn. LSU isn’t far behind. Arkansas, Florida and LSU all won tournaments during Feast Week. Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee will see an uptick in scheduling. And it’s not a reach that Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama and Florida have the goods to make a Final Four run.

2. Big East

The league got off to a blazing start even though its Final Four contender Villanova lost two marquee games at UCLA and to Purdue at the Mohegan Sun. UConn, Seton Hall, Xavier, Marquette and Providence have all had significant wins that will have shelf-life for tournament resumes. Getting six out of 11 teams in the field is a good bet. 

Jaden Ivey of Purdue men's basketball

3. Big Ten

Purdue is the class of the league and may enter the new year as the favorite to win the national title. The league struggled for a few weeks but found its footing in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Illinois, which should be the second-best team, hasn’t had one game with all of its players yet even with Kofi Cockburn now dominating. Ohio State’s win over Duke was the signature victory for a league starving for wins. Michigan still needs to reach its potential while Michigan State is proving that it may be better than projected. Iowa has been the surprise by getting off to an undefeated start and Wisconsin’s relocated Maui title put the Badgers in the hunt. Iowa’s Keegan Murray and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis are potential all-Big Ten first team players. Meanwhile, Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis has been a star, dropping 43 on Marshall. That’s eight teams which should feel good about their NCAA chances in mid-December. 

4. Big 12

Baylor is a title contender — again. The Bears won the Battle 4 Atlantis. Kansas is as well, even with the buzzer-beating loss to Dayton. Texas did lose at Gonzaga, but has the personnel to make a Final Four run. Iowa State is the surprise of the Big 12, winning the NIT and blowing out Memphis. Texas Tech and Oklahoma will be viable NCAA-bid contenders once the schedule improves. Oklahoma State is ineligible for the NCAA tournament. The chances for 6 out of 10 is highly likely. 

Paolo Banchero of Duke men's basketball

5. ACC

Duke established itself early as the class of the league. There is a drop-off, albeit slight for now. Give North Carolina, Virginia, Florida State, Louisville and Syracuse, which is coming off a must-win against Indiana in double OT, and they will all be in position for safe bids. But after that it's wide open to see if a seventh team emerges for a bid.

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6. Pac-12

UCLA will be the title contender but not the only one for a Final Four berth. Don’t sleep on USC and suddenly Arizona. Those three look like good locks. Colorado has a stud in Evan Battey and can get back in more secure status. Oregon has the players but hasn’t been able to mesh just yet. Washington State’s loss to Eastern Washington was a buzz kill, but the Cougars can’t be dismissed as possible tournament team a month into the season.

Drew Timme of Gonzaga men's basketball

7. WCC

Gonzaga is the elite team and a possible title team yet again. But BYU is off to a tremendous start and has the offense and experience for a deep run. San Francisco has loads of both as well and is undefeated. Saint Mary’s made the relocated Maui final. Santa Clara has had its moments but has a tougher hill to climb. A four-bid WCC isn’t out of the question if USF and Saint Mary’s can separate themselves and join Gonzaga and BYU in a clear four atop the league. 

8. American

Houston is the team to beat. Memphis needs to rectify its point guard and defensive issues that arose against Iowa State and again against Georgia and Wichita State has a player of the year candidate again Tyson Etienne. But the team that could be the biggest surprise is Cincinnati. The Bearcats beat Illinois and are playing extremely hard for Wes Miller. But they can’t allow slips like losing to Monmouth. This should be a three-bid league but it could slide to two. 

Kyle Lofton of St. Bonaventure men's basketball

9. A-10

The A-10 always adds the most intrigue of the non-football playing conferences. St. Bonaventure is the favorite and beat Marquette to win Charleston. Dayton beat Kansas and won Orlando with a win over Belmont. But don’t forget about Saint Louis. The Billikens are more than capable of making a run toward a bid. So, too, could Rhode Island, Davidson and George Mason. And the tournament title could come from another team like Richmond, UMass or who knows. This will be a wild ride in the A-10. 

10. Mountain West

Colorado State is the team to beat followed by San Diego State. Both could be heading for bids. The two teams to look out for are Wyoming and Utah State. This league is likely to have at least one team in the First Four.

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