Predicting Every Conference Champion
We continue our countdown to the beginning of the NCAA Basketball season (4 days) by temporarily leaving the ACC and taking a look at the rest of the conferences. Below I pick the winner of all 32 conferences, most of which go a long way in determining the field of 68 in March.
ASUN: Liberty- It’s hard to pick any team other than Liberty here. Ritchie McKay has built a consistently solid team in Lynchburg, VA, and they return the ASUN POY in Darius McGhee who shot 41% from three last year while shooting 8 per game.
America East: Vermont- John Becker’s teams are always great defensively (they’ve finished no worse than 26th in the country in points allowed per game in the last 5 years), and this roster is full of Juniors, Seniors, and Super-Seniors.
AAC: Houston- Houston probably won’t be as good as the Houston team that went to a Final Four last year, but they’re still the team to beat in the AAC. They’re ranked at 15 in the Preseason AP Poll.
Atlantic 10: Richmond- The consensus favorite this year seems to be St. Bonaventure, but I’m going with the Spiders. This was a really good team in ’19-’20 before the season got shut down. They were getting all the preseason love last year, but things didn’t go as planned. I’m thinking most of that was due to weird things happened in the Covid year and they put it all together this season.
ACC: Florida State- Read my 21-22 Outlook for my full breakdown of Florida State. https://www.theaccguru.com/post/acc-basketball-21-22-season-outlook
Big 12: Kansas- Kansas comes into the season ranked #3 in the country. The media voted the trio of Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, and newcomer Remy Martin to the All-Big 12 team. The Jayhawks should be one of the best teams in the country all year.
Big East: Villanova- After Villanova, the Big East should be very competitive and entertaining this year, but this is still Villanova’s conference to lose. Collin Gillespie is back after suffering a torn MCL towards the end of last year and should lead the Wildcats to another Big East title and deep into March.
Big Sky: Southern Utah- This team went 20-4 last year en route to the regular season title. They return First Team All-Conference Tevian Jones who average just shy of 17 points a game last year.
Big South: Winthrop- The Eagles went 23-2 last year and earned a 12 seed in the NCAA tournament before losing to Villanova. Pat Kelsey moved on after the year to coach the College of Charleston, but Mark Prosser takes over a Winthrop team that should still win the Big South with the help of preseason Player of the Year D.J. Burns Jr.
Big Ten: Purdue- The Big Ten is LOADED this year. They could end up having 9 or 10 teams make the tournament this year. It’s also the year of the big in this conference as the entire all-conference first team could end up being Power Forwards or Centers. As far as a champion goes, I’m picking Purdue because Trevion Williams is a beast and I really like what I saw out of Jaden Ivey last year. Ivey could have a huge 2nd year breakout.
Big West: UC Irvine- The home of the best mascot in college sports is also home to the best team in the Big West. The Anteaters will play great defense and feed it often to big man Collin Welp, who is the frontrunner for Player of the Year after averaging 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds last year.
CAA: Hofstra- The CAA should be competitive this year, but I’m picking the Pride to finish first in Speedy Claxton’s first year as the head guy. Hofstra should have great guard play led by Jalen Ray who scored 19.3 PPG last year. They should also have decent depth this year after bringing in 5 D-1 transfers with playing experience.
Conference USA: Louisiana Tech- The Bulldogs finished 12-4 in conference last year and won the 3rd place game in the NIT. They finished strong down the stretch led by Forward Kenneth Lofton Jr. Look for him to have a breakout year in his sophomore campaign.
Horizon: Milwaukee- Wright State and Cleveland State were Co-Champions last year and should both be good again, but I’m going with the Panthers to lead the way this year. 5 Star Guard, Patrick Baldwin Jr., decided to stay home and play for his father at Milwaukee. Before an ankle injury ended his senior year in high school, ESPN had him ranked as the No. 1 player in the class, and he will single-handedly put the Horizon League on the map this year.
Ivy: Penn- No one in the Ivy League has played a game since March 7th, 2020, so there are a lot of questions about every team in the league. Penn may have the best guard in the league, Jordan Dingle, who averaged 13.5 PPG as a freshman.
MAAC: Iona- Rick Pitino lead the Gaels through a shortened 2021 due to multiple Covid issues to a conference tournament championship last year and now he adds three major conference transfers to his team. Iona should run away with the MAAC.
MAC: Ohio- The Bobcats made it to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament with an upset of 4 seed Virginia. Jason Preston is gone, but this team still returns 4 double-figure scorers. Ohio should be able to score in bunches on the rest of the MAC.
MEAC: Norfolk State- The Spartans won the MEAC Tournament last year and beat Appalachian State in the First Four before losing to Gonzaga. This team is full of experience as they have 11 upper classmen on the roster.
Missouri Valley: Missouri State- Cameron Krutwig is gone, so the MVC should be much more wide open this year. Missouri State won 7 of their last 8 games to end the regular season last year and will look to build on that. The Bears will be led by Isiaih Mosley who scored 19.8 PPG last year.
Mountain West: San Diego State- The Aztecs made the tournament last year (and unfortunately got paired up with Syracuse) and they come into this year with high expectations again. They’re ranked 33rd in the initial KenPom standings and they will start 5 seniors.
Northeast: Wagner- The Seahawks won the regular season title before being knocked out of the tournament by eventual champion, Mount St. Mary’s. They had 4 players average double figures last year, and they all return for this season.
Ohio Valley: Belmont- The Bruins have won 10 regular season titles since 2010. They are headed to the Missouri Valley Conference after this year. They return all of their rotational players from last year’s team, and they will leave the OVC as champions once again.
Pac-12: Oregon- I know UCLA made the National Championship game last year, and are getting all the preseason buzz, but I don’t think they’re actually as good as they were for 3 weeks in March when they caught lightning in a bottle. Oregon won the Pac-12 regular season last year and made a Sweet 16. Will Richardson is back, and they add two transfers that should make an immediate impact in Quincy Guerrier (Syracuse) and De’Vion Harmon (Oklahoma).
Patriot: Colgate- The Raiders owned the Patriot League last year and made the NCAA tournament for the 2nd time in 3 years. They also unlocked the secrets to the mysterious NET rankings and found themselves in the top ten for most the year. I’ll pick the Raiders to repeat behind success of their 3 senior guards.
SEC: Alabama- I love what Nate Oats has done since coming to Tuscaloosa. His teams are always entertaining as they’re going to shoot a ton of threes. Herbert Jones and John Petty are gone, but Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford should lead the Tide to another SEC title.
Southern Conference: Chattanooga- The SoCon should be one of the better mid-major conferences with multiple teams with a chance at a title. I’m picking the Mocs to win what should be a tight race. Malachi Smith and David Jean-Baptiste both averaged over 16 PPG last year, and I always side with the team with dominant, experienced guards.
Southland: Nicholls State- The Colonels went 14-2 in conference last year before losing the conference tournament. Ty Gordon is back for his bonus Covid year and should lead Nicholls State to another regular season title and potentially a Player of the Year award.
SWAC: Prairie View A&M- Jawaun Daniels and Cam Mack both averaged double figures last year and are back this season to lead the Panthers. PVAMU has won the SWAC regular season title for 3 straight years, but only made the tournament once in that span. I think they sweep the regular season and the tournament championships this year and make it to The Big Dance.
Summit: Max Abmas Oral Roberts- What a ride March 2021 was for Oral Roberts University. The knocked off Ohio State and Florida on their way to the Sweet Sixteen, where they almost pulled off another upset of Arkansas. While I don’t think they can repeat that success, Max Abmas is back for the Golden Eagles and could lead the NCAA in scoring again.
Sun Belt: Georgia State- Georgia State lost in the Sun Belt Championship but had won their previous 8 games before that. They will be led by a trio of Super-Senior guards that all averaged over 12 PPG last year. They should be the favorite in the Sun Belt.
WCC: Gonzaga- Over the last 20 years, 2012 was the only year they didn’t win the regular season title. Why pick anyone else? Oh, and they have Final Four potential again.
WAC: New Mexico State- Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State, and Stephen F. Austin are all joining the WAC this year after leaving the Southland Conference. This should be a deeper and more competitive conference, but New Mexico State has won the conference 4 of the last 6 years. I think they get it done again.