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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | December 29, 2020

The top 10 men's college basketball conferences, right now

College basketball rankings: Northwestern is legit, plus more Power 36 notes

The final episode of the calendar year for the #MM365 podcast was released Tuesday, and it features conversations between Andy Katz and NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt, as well as between Katz and Missouri men's basketball player Mark Smith.

You can listen to the podcast here. Gavitt said the first NET rankings of the season will be published Monday, Jan. 4. He also said to expect an announcement on March Madness details during the first week of 2021. That portion of the conversation begins at about 29 minutes in and includes a quick discussion on how the men's DI basketball committee intends to use its normal procedures to select the field of 68.

In the #KatzRankz segment, Katz picks the top 10 conferences in the country through Dec. 28.

"I'm putting heavy emphasis on the top of each conference," Katz said. "And with that, I mean, you'll see here, there are a couple teams, notably one team, that carry the weight of their conference."

Here are his picks:

10. Missouri Valley

"Drake [is] clearly one of the better teams out of a potential one-bid league and Loyola Chicago has played pretty well," Katz said. "The Valley at the top, certainly deserves to be in the top 10."

Drake owns the best record in the Missouri Valley at 11-0 (2-0 Missouri Valley), while Southern Illinois (7-1) and Missouri State (4-1) are both one-loss teams. Loyola Chicago (No. 44) and Drake (No. 76) are the two teams from the conference ranked in the top 100 of kenpom.com.

Editor's note: Katz emailed us right after this was published with a mea culpa. He meant to include the American Athletic Conference, led by Houston at 7-0 and No. 5 in the AP Poll. "Bad on my part!" Katz said.

9. Mountain West

"San Diego State and Boise State are two of the better teams out West," Katz said. "Now, yes, the bottom of the Mountain West drags it down but the top, those two teams are legitimate top-25 teams and teams that could win a game or two in the NCAA tournament."

San Diego State was second among "others receiving votes" in the latest AP Top 25 poll, while Boise State received two votes. Through Dec. 28, Boise State and Utah State sit atop the conference standings with a 2-0 record in the Mountain West. There are five teams in the conference with just one loss on the season, and in addition to San Diego State at No. 24, the Mountain West has three teams in the back half of the top 100 on kenpom.com — Boise State (No. 73), Utah State (No. 83) and Colorado state (No. 99).

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8. Atlantic 10

Katz said the top two teams in the Mountain West could win a game or two in the NCAA tournament and he said the same is true in the A-10.

"The reason I give it a slight nudge ahead of the Mountain West is I believe Saint Louis, Richmond and Dayton all are legitimate — not just NCAA tournament teams, but teams that could win a game in the NCAA tournament," Katz said. "So I go three deep in the A-10 and I go two deep in the Mountain West."

Saint Louis and VCU share the conference lead in total wins this season with seven apiece, while Richmond sits at 6-2 and Dayton owns a 4-1 record. Saint Louis and Richmond were among "others receiving votes" in the latest AP Top 25 poll.

7. Pac-12

"The Pac-12 has struggled," Katz said. "Oregon and UCLA appear to be the two best teams. I wouldn't dismiss, yet, Colorado and USC as two I think could push up there."

Washington State (8-0) has the best record of any Pac-12 school, while Oregon, Utah, Arizona and USC have only lost one game apiece.

Oregon checks in at No. 21 in the latest AP poll.

LOOK AHEAD: Here's how March Madness contenders are playing compared to last spring

6. West Coast Conference

“Obviously Gonzaga is the No. 1 team in the country and they are the best team in the country by far at this point,” Katz said.

In addition to Gonzaga, which ranks No. 1 on kenpom.com, not just the AP poll, the conference has three other top-100 teams in BYU (No. 66), Saint Mary's (No. 68) and San Francisco (No. 74). 

5. SEC

"The SEC, top-heavy again," Katz said. "Tennessee and Missouri ... That's why the SEC is at the top because Tennessee is clearly a Final Four contender. Missouri beat a team that's played exceptionally well to this point."

Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri and Georgia are all undefeated through Dec. 28, while Florida, Ole Miss, LSU and Texas A&M only have one loss each. The Volunteers are the conference's flagship team with a No. 7 ranking in the AP poll and No. 9 ranking on kenpom.com, and 13 of the 14 teams in the conference rank in the top 85 of kenpom.com.

WILDCATS: In the deep Big Ten, here's how Northwestern has emerged as the surprise leader

4. ACC

"They have not played as well yet," Katz said. "I'm kind of hedging a little and going [for] depth here because Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State, Duke, Clemson, NC State, Virginia Tech are all looking like tournament teams. And Louisville ... I think the depth of the ACC keeps it in the top four."

No. 18 Florida State, No. 20 Duke, No. 23 Virginia and No. 24 Virginia Tech give the ACC four teams ranked in the latest AP Top 25 poll, with North Carolina, Clemson and NC State among others receiving votes.

3. Big East

"Villanova and Creighton," Katz said. "Two Final Four contenders. Behind them, Xavier's played great. Right now, you could argue Providence, Seton Hall and Marquette are all right there together into the NCAA tournament."

The Wildcats check in at No. 4 in the latest AP poll, with Creighton at No. 11 and Xavier as the first time among "others receiving votes." Villanova is the only team in the conference with an unblemished conference record at 3-0, and the Wildcats are 8-1 on the season, which is the same overall record as Xavier.

2. Big 12

"Love the depth of this league," Katz said. "Kansas, Baylor, they're title contenders. West Virginia, Texas Tech and Texas, that's the top five right now, where you could say any of those five could be in the Sweet 16. Go a little further down, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, TCU all could be playing into the second round or beyond, so the depth of the Big 12 certainly puts them [at] two."

The Big 12 has two of the top three teams in the country, according to the latest AP poll, with No. 2 Baylor and No. 3 Kansas, plus No. 8 Texas, No. 9 West Virginia and No. 13 Texas Tech. That's five teams in the top 13 nationally. Seven of the 10 teams in the conference have at least six wins on the season.

1. Big Ten

The Big Ten was an easy pick for Katz as the best conference in college basketball, right now.

“If the selection were happening this week, the Big Ten would probably get 11 schools in the NCAA tournament,” Katz said.

Katz thinks there are multiple Final Four contenders in that group, led by Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. He can see Michigan, Rutgers or Northwestern making a run too.

Nine teams from the Big Ten were ranked in the latest AP poll: No. 6  Wisconsin, No. 10 Iowa, No. 14 Rutgers, No. 15 Illinois, No. 16 Michigan, No. 17 Michigan State, No. 19 Northwestern, No. 21 Minnesota and No. 25 Ohio State. Eleven teams in the conference rank in the top 50 on kenpom.com, which makes the Big Ten the deepest conference in the country.

 
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