• Davis Cordova

Projections: Conference Regular Season Winners

Updated: Jan 12

College basketball's midseason predictions of conference champions.

With the start of conference play throughout the nation, here are predictions on the regular-season conference winners.

ACC: Duke

In head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last season, it’s only fitting he wins the ACC regular season championship for the 13th time, and it seems this season it will come to fruition for the first time since 2010. This season is a down year for the ACC as Duke is the only team currently ranked in the conference and the only one with less than three losses. Duke has more experience than past years and has another freshman phenom in forward Paolo Banchero. The ACC crown is Duke’s to lose this year.

American: Houston

The American, through the first two weeks of play, is already cannibalising itself with Cincinnati defeating SMU, but Tulane, which is 5-7, beating Cincinnati and Memphis. With that, Houston is the only team in the conference that has proven itself, but the Cougars have been riddled with injuries as guard Marcus Sasser is done for the season with a toe injury and guard Kyler Edwards has been out for a couple of weeks with an ankle injury, but he’s scheduled to return later this month. The American is wide-open this season, but I believe the best team, Houston, will prevail as champions.

A-10: Saint Louis

The A-10 has always been considered to be one of the best mid-major conferences, but this year is a down year in the conference. There are currently no AP Top 25 teams and only one team has more than 10 wins (Davidson). So, with no clear frontrunner for the conference title, I’m choosing the more equipped team to win the conference, Saint Louis. Led by guard Gibson Jimerson, who averages 16 points, the Bilikens have an experienced roster on hand and have shown they can win the A-10. The Billikens also have a favorable schedule ahead, playing bottom feeders of the conference in UMass (X2), La Salle (X2) and George Washington. Saint Louis may not be a top national team, but they are the frontrunners in the A-10.

Big Ten: Illinois

In two of the last three seasons, the Big Ten has had co-champions (2019: Michigan State & Purdue; 2020: Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland) and this season, the conference is stacked like always with teams such as Purdue, Michigan State and Wisconsin, but Illinois has what it takes to win the Big Ten outright for the first time since 2005. One of the frontrunners for National Player of the Year, Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, is putting up exceptional numbers, and there are not a lot of players in the Big Ten who can stop his domination. The Fighting Illini are without the reigning Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year, sophomore guard Andre Curbelo, but he is progressing towards returning later this season after only playing in four games. Illinois looks to be in very good shape to take the Big Ten crown once Curbelo is back healthy.

Big 12: Baylor

The Big 12 has been known to be the toughest conference in college basketball due to the low, but strong number of teams and the aspect of playing every team twice in a season. The reigning national champion, Baylor, has had a stronghold on the conference the past three seasons as they boast a conference-best 31-5 conference record. Baylor is on a 20-game win streak, which began at the start of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, and it seems no one, but maybe Kansas, is standing in Baylor’s way to repeat as Big 12 champion.

Big East: Xavier

In recent history, the best non-Power Five conference in basketball is the Big East, and this year is no different with seven different teams with 10+ wins and four teams ranked in the AP Top 25. It’s crowded at the top of the conference with usual teams such as Villanova, Providence and Seton Hall, who are vying for the Big East Crown, but the team that is primed for the championship is Xavier. With two fifth-year seniors and three four-year players, the Musketeers are one of the most experienced teams in the Big East and that translates to success. This season, the Big East is Xavier’s to lose.

MWC: Colorado State

Twentieth ranked and undefeated Colorado State is the clear favorite to win the Mountain West, but the Rams had a 24-day COVID pause. The conference is not that strong outside of Colorado State, Wyoming and San Diego State, which in turn, gives the Rams the edge. If the Colorado State program can stay out of COVID protocols, it can find its way to a conference championship and a top six-seed in March.

Pac-12: Arizona

USC and UCLA are two of the best teams right now in college basketball, finding their way into the top 10 and are considered the top dogs in the Pac-12, but I believe Arizona comes out of the regular season as Pac-12 champions. Arizona came into the season with arguably one of the best hires in Tommy Lloyd for head coach, and Lloyd was able to save the majority of the roster. Guard Bennedict Mathurin is having a Conference Player of the Year type season and center Christian Koloko is having his way down low on both ends of the court. This Wildcat team has been together for two seasons now and with the right coach in Lloyd, this team could see a conference championship this year.

SEC: Auburn

In recent years, the SEC has become one of the toughest conferences in the country, and this season it might be the toughest it's been in a long time. The SEC has powerhouse teams like Kentucky, LSU and Alabama right in the mix in the AP Top 25, but the team I believe will win the SEC is Auburn. Head coach Bruce Pearl has a dominant Tiger team as it has outscored its first three SEC opponents by an average of 14 points per game. The Tigers have a bonafide Conference Player of the Year candidate in forward Jabari Smith and a solid defensive POY candidate in forward Walker Kessler. Expect Auburn to not only be an SEC frontrunner, but to be a potential Final Four team.

WCC: Gonzaga

Gonzaga has some real competition in the WCC with BYU continuing its success from a season ago and teams like San Francisco, Santa Clara and St. Mary’s elevating their performance, but the Bulldogs are the clear favorites to win the WCC for the sixth consecutive year. Led by National POY candidate forward Drew Timme and freshman phenom center Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga is a shoe-in for the WCC and a top-two seed in March.

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