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May 29, 2010

The top 10 leagues for the 2010-11 season

Football season is a few months away and folks already are starting to talk about how the leagues will rank.

Well, forget football. Let's really look down the road and talk about the conferences and where they will rank when it comes to basketball.

Basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee voted on the 10 best leagues, and we came up with a consensus top 10.

1. Big Ten
Michigan State and Purdue are going to open the season in the top five and have the look of legitimate national title contenders. Illinois has all its key players returning, plus adds a touted freshman class. Ohio State has a lot of key guys back and also is bringing in numerous touted freshmen. Wisconsin has coach Bo Ryan, which means the Badgers are a lock to win 20. Minnesota has enough returning to make another NCAA tournament appearance. There is hope that Northwestern finally can make its first NCAA tourney appearance. In short, the league is loaded.
2. Big East
There is no clear-cut national title contender, but this again will be a deep league. Villanova and Pittsburgh look like the league's strongest teams, but it appears Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Marquette -- each an NCAA tournament team this past season -- will slide just a bit. Still, this is a deep conference, and St. John's and Seton Hall have the talent to make things even more difficult for the teams at the top.
3. Big 12
Kansas won't be as good as it was last season, but the Jayhawks won't slide that far. Kansas State and Baylor appear primed to again make long NCAA tourney runs. Missouri is a team to watch; there are some talented guards, but the frontcourt could have issues. Texas needs to show it has overcome chemistry issues. Texas A&M may have lost too much talent to contend; same for Oklahoma State. It's hard to see any Big 12 team making it to the Final Four, but the league could have three or four Sweet 16 squads.
4. ACC
Defending national champion Duke looks strong again. But which team is going to finish second? After Duke, the rest of the league is a mish-mash. They aren't bad teams by any means. But outside of the Blue Devils, how many of these teams can say they expect to get to the Sweet 16?
5. SEC
The East race will be a good one; actually, the West race could be close, too, but who really cares? The East has most of the talent, and four division teams could make the NCAA field. As for the West, four teams could make the NIT, we guess.
6. Atlantic 10
The league was surprisingly good last season, but it won't sneak up on anyone this season, though there again should be numerous good teams. The race for the top spot will be a good one. Expect six or seven league teams to make legit runs for NCAA tourney bids; how many will get them again will be the question.
7. Mountain West
The best league on the West Coast will be this one. BYU, New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State made NCAA tourney appearances last season, and UNLV and SDSU should be appreciably better next season. BYU received good news when high-scoring guard Jimmer Fredette decided to return. New Mexico took a hit when Darington Hobson went pro, but the Lobos still have the look of a 20-win team. Colorado State looks to be a program on the rise, too.
8. Pac-10
Last season was a bad one for the league, and it may not have been a one-season aberration. Washington and California lost a lot of talent, but the Huskies still look to be the team to beat. Usual standard-bearer UCLA again looks as if it could struggle.
9. Conference USA
Memphis looks as if it will be back on top again, thanks to a phenomenal signing class. UTEP, which surprised by winning the league last season, lost its two best big men, but still should be in the mix for a title. Southern Miss, under coach Larry Eustachy, is a team to watch.
10. Missouri Valley
Northern Iowa is going to take a step back because of the loss of some key players, but Wichita State appears poised to take the Panthers' spot. Missouri State is another team to watch; the Bears struggled in league play, but return the bulk of their team. And what of Southern Illinois? The Salukis have fallen a long way in a short time and need to get back on the beam.

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