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Big Ten should rule the conference roost next college basketball season

Unlike college football, which has an unquestioned king among the conferences (the SEC), college basketball is far more fluid when it comes to the annual crowning of the top league.

If you go by overall conference RPI, there have been four different No. 1 leagues in the past four seasons: the Big Ten this past season, the Big East in 2010-11, the Big 12 in 2009-10 and the ACC in 2008-09.

Here are what we think will be the top 12 leagues next season, listed in reverse order.

12. West Coast

Newcomers/departures: Same 10-team makeup
League RPI this past season: 11th
NCAA tourney teams this past season: 3
League title contender next season: Gonzaga
Buzz: This should be a Gonzaga runaway next season; the Zags will have one of the two or three best starting lineups on the West Coast if freshman C Przemek Karnowski, a native of Poland, lives up to billing. The battle for second should be a good one. Saint Mary's has a proven backcourt, but the frontcourt has some questions. BYU lost leading scorer Noah Hartsock but still has solid all-around talent. Loyola Marymount was surprisingly good this past season and returns three of its top four scorers. The league as a whole would benefit if bottom-feeders Portland and Santa Clara improved on their combined 3-29 conference mark from this past season.

[Related: An updated look at the Preseason Top 25 for 2012-13]

11. Colonial

Newcomers/departures: Same 12-team makeup
League RPI this past season: 15th
NCAA tourney teams this past season: 1
League title contenders next season: Drexel and VCU
Buzz: VCU returns seven of its top eight scorers and is adding a four-star swingman. The Rams play with a great deal of confidence in March and look poised to make tourney noise again next season. Drexel, which won the CAA regular-season title this past season, gets back four starters, including rising star Damion Lee. Delaware made huge strides this past season and returns its top seven scorers. George Mason will have a good backcourt but needs some big guys to emerge. Northeastern and UNC Wilmington have a chance to get into the top four. UNCW has one of the league's best players in F Keith Rendleman and also returns its top seven scorers. Northeastern loses only one senior.

10. Conference USA

Newcomers/departures: Same 12-team makeup
League RPI this past season: 9th
NCAA tourney teams this past season: 2
League title contender next season: Memphis
Buzz: C-USA will undergo great change after this season, with Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF leaving for the Big East. Memphis should enjoy a nice going-away season. Memphis will miss SG Will Barton, who turned pro early; he was the Tigers' leading scorer and rebounder. But there is ample talent on hand for coach Josh Pastner, whose team should breeze to the league title. UCF should provide the toughest challenge. The Knights return their top four scorers but need more mental toughness. Houston is the other team to watch; for some mystifying reason, leading scorer Jonathon Simmons turned pro, but he's the only one of the leading six scorers who won't be back and there is a good recruiting class.

9. Missouri Valley

Newcomers/departures: Same 10-team makeup
League RPI this past season: 8th
NCAA tourney teams this past season: 2
League title contenders next season: Creighton and Northern Iowa
Buzz: As soon as star F Doug McDermott announced he was staying for his junior season, Creighton became the prohibitive league favorite and a good bet to open the season in the top 20. The Bluejays return nine of their top 10 players. Northern Iowa should provide the toughest competition. The Panthers lose just one senior and return their top four scorers. Wichita State, which won the regular-season title this past season, should take a step back with the loss of its top five scorers. Illinois State is a mystery team; the Redbirds had zero seniors and won the MVC tourney. But coach Tim Jankovich left for SMU, where he is the coach-in-waiting with Larry Brown, and he hasn't been replaced yet.

8. Atlantic 10

Newcomers/departures: Same 14-team makeup
League RPI this past season: 7th
NCAA tourney teams this past season: 4
League title contenders next season: Saint Louis, Temple and Xavier
Buzz: While Temple is moving to the Big East in football this fall, this is supposed to be the final season for the Owls in the A-10 for basketball; the entire sports program moves to the Big East in the 2013-14 academic year. Saint Louis, which received its first NCAA bid since 2000 this past season, should head into next season as the league favorite. While leading scorer Brian Conklin is gone, the Billikens still return six of their top seven scorers. Temple and Xavier seemingly always contend for the title, but both have some questions. Xavier loses four of its top five scorers, while Temple loses three of its top five. But both schools have the infrastructure in place to remain successful. Massachusetts returns its top four scorers and should contend for a top-three finish. Saint Joseph's started fast but faded this past season; if the Hawks, who had no seniors, can maintain their consistency, they also should contend for a top-three finish. Richmond returns its top four scorers, and if the Spiders can adequately replace Darrius Garrett up front, they are another team that should contend for a top-three finish.

7. Mountain West

Newcomers/departures: Fresno State (from WAC), Hawaii (from WAC) and Nevada (from WAC) are new to the league. TCU (to Big 12) is gone. The league has 10 members.
League RPI this past season: 5th
NCAA tourney teams this past season: 4
League title contenders next season: San Diego State and UNLV
Buzz: While outgoing TCU made some strides last season, newcomer Nevada has a better basketball program than the Horned Frogs. This will be the final season in the league for Boise State (from a basketball standpoint, who cares?) and San Diego State (that's a big blow); both are leaving for greener football pastures. San Diego State should go out with a bang; the Aztecs return all their key players and add a good recruiting class, headed by five-star prospect Winston Shepard. Depending on how big-name freshmen play at Arizona and UCLA, SDSU could end up being the best team on the West Coast. UNLV should be strong, as well. The Runnin' Rebels lost two starters, but there is good returning talent and a nice recruiting class. New Mexico tied for the regular-season title this past season, but the Lobos lost leading scorer/rebounder Drew Gordon and are going to fall back a bit. Colorado State returns its top four scorers, and how the returning talent adapts to new coach Larry Eustachy will be an important storyline next season. Of the newcomers, Nevada should make the biggest splash. The Wolf Pack return their top two scorers, but the frontcourt is a big question.

6. Pac-12

Newcomers/departures: Same 12-team makeup
League RPI this past season: 10th
NCAA tourney teams this past season: 2
League title contenders next season: Arizona and UCLA
Buzz: The league was pitiful this past season, but it should be noticeably better next season. Arizona and UCLA brought in monster recruiting classes, and if the freshmen live up to the hype, both teams should finish in the top 10. That obviously would give the league a huge boost. Stanford, which won the NIT, returns five of its top six scorers and should have one of the best backcourts on the West Coast. California, Colorado, Washington and Washington State should challenge Stanford for third place – as well as sixth and seventh. Each has some positives but also some glaring negatives. USC and Utah won a combined 12 games overall this past season, and it will help the league that those two can't possibly be that bad again.

[Roundtable: Which underclassman will become an NBA star?]

5. ACC

Newcomers/departures: Same 12-team makeup
League RPI this past season: 6th
NCAA tourney teams this past season: 5
League title contenders next season: Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State
Buzz: For the first time since David Thompson was flying around for North Carolina State, the Wolfpack are going to go into a season expected to win the ACC title. NCSU returns its top four scorers, all of whom averaged in double figures, and adds a top-notch recruiting class headed by five-star SG Rodney Purvis. North Carolina lost three underclassmen to the NBA, along with senior C Tyler Zeller. But the Heels' recruiting class and returning talent gives them a chance to win the league. Duke appears to be a tier below its Triangle neighbors. The backcourt should be good, but the frontcourt is iffy. Florida State has a shot to finish third if someone emerges to replace Bernard James' production up front. Miami is the other league team that looks to have the talent to challenge for a top-four finish; the Hurricanes return six of their top seven scorers. The rest of the league is a mystery, with every team having giant holes.

4. SEC

Newcomers/departures: Missouri and Texas A&M (from Big 12) are new to the league, giving it 14 members.
League RPI this past season: 3rd
NCAA tourney teams this past season: 4
League title contenders next season: Florida and Kentucky
Buzz: Kentucky lost the top six players from its national-title team, but the Wildcats reloaded on the recruiting trail and should go into the season in the top three nationally. The talent definitely is there for coach John Calipari, but will the Wildcats again enjoy almost impeccable chemistry? Florida will miss Gs Bradley Beal and Erving Walker, but if C Patric Young develops some kind of offensive game, that would help mitigate their departures. There is a nice group of recruits, but the lack of frontcourt scoring again could be the Gators' ultimate undoing. Tennessee and newcomer Missouri should be the main combatants for a third-place finish. The Vols return six of their top seven scorers and will benefit from having physical F Jarnell Stokes for the whole season. Missouri was a pleasant surprise this past season – well, until the NCAA tourney, anyway. The Tigers lose their top three scorers, but there's still a nice backcourt and UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi should team nicely with Laurence Bowers (who missed 2011-12 with a knee injury) up front. There also is an OK group of recruits. Arkansas might be the biggest darkhorse; the Hogs were abysmal on the road this past season, but they return all their key players and get back F Marshawn Powell, who blew out his knee in Game 2. After that, it's a jumble. Vanderbilt and Mississippi State both underachieved last season, and both also lost a ton of talent (the Bulldogs also lost their coach). Alabama had chemistry issues last season, but still made the NCAA tourney; the Tide need to find some guys who can hit some outside shots. Ole Miss needs to find a new go-to guy and develop some consistency.

3. Big 12

Newcomers/departures: TCU (from Mountain West) and West Virginia (from Big East) are new to the league; Missouri (to SEC) and Texas A&M (to SEC) are gone. League has 10 members.
League RPI this past season: 4th
NCAA tourney teams this past season: 6
League title contenders next season: Baylor and Kansas
Buzz: Kansas was supposed to be in trouble this past season; instead, the Jayhawks lost in the national title game. While Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor will be missed, the Jayhawks should have the talent to make another long run in March, assuming freshman F Perry Ellis lives up to the hype. Kansas should have one of the nation's best backcourts. Baylor is another Big 12 team that will have an excellent backcourt. As with the Jayhawks, the Bears could make a long March run if their top freshman (C Isaiah Austin) is as good as expected. Texas loses leading scorer J'Covan Brown, but still should have a solid group of guards. It, too, needs a freshman (or two) to make an impact up front. Oklahoma has a chance to contend for a top-four finish, as the Sooners return everyone of note and are bringing in a backcourt-heavy recruiting class. New Kansas State coach Bruce Weber inherits a solid roster from predecessor Frank Martin, and if the Wildcats' big men make the requisite year-over-year improvement, K-State will be in good shape. Of the newcomers, West Virginia has the better chance of making some immediate noise. Still, a finish in the upper half of the league could be tough for the Mountaineers because of the loss of the top two scorers, including star F Kevin Jones.

2. Big East

Newcomers/departures: West Virginia (to the Big 12) is gone. There will be 15 members this season.
League RPI this past season: 2nd
NCAA tourney teams this past season: 9
League title contenders next season: Louisville, Notre Dame and Syracuse
Buzz: Louisville went to the Final Four this past season and overachieved to do so. Next season, a Final Four spot will be expected. The Cardinals are loaded, assuming they stay healthy. C Gorgui Dieng is a developing force in the middle, and there is ample backcourt talent. Syracuse lost four key players, but the Orange have solid returning talent and a good recruiting class. The frontcourt will be good, but there are some concerns about the backcourt. Notre Dame is another team that overachieved this past season, but as with Louisville, a long NCAA run will be expected next season. Coach Mike Brey annually gets the most out of his players, and he will have a lot with which to work. Providence, Georgetown, Marquette, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh also should be in the hunt for an upper-division finish in league play. Providence should be one of the more intriguing teams in the nation, thanks to one of the best recruiting classes in school history. While the Friars will have ample firepower, they need to play some defense for a change.

1. Big Ten

Newcomers/departures: Same 12-team makeup
League RPI this past season: 1st
NCAA tourney teams this past season: 6
League title contenders next season: Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State
Buzz: Indiana seems likely to head into the season as the favorite to win it all. Yes, for the first time in a long time, there are immense expectations for the Hoosiers. IU returns its top five scorers and also is bringing in one of the nation's best recruiting classes. If freshman PG Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell lives up to the hype, IU very well could be cutting down the nets next April. Michigan will have one of the best backcourts in the nation with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., but the Wolverines need freshmen Glenn Robinson Jr. and (especially) Mitch McGary to become important offensive weapons. Ohio State is going to miss Jared Sullinger and William Buford, but DeShaun Thomas has All-America talent and there is a deep group of complementary players. Wisconsin never will wow anyone with its athleticism, but coach Bo Ryan's team always wins at least 20 and next season won't be any different. Big things are expected from freshman F Sam Dekker. Michigan State won't be able to replace do-everything F Draymond Green, which means the Spartans don't have a shot at the league title. But the backcourt will be a good one, and coach Tom Izzo will find a way to coax production out of his big men. Minnesota is the sleeper. The Golden Gophers were without injured F Trevor Mbakwe, their best player, for most of last season, but still won 23 games. The Golden Gophers lose no one and get Mbakwe back. Iowa returns five of its top six scorers and could have its best team in a while. Illinois returns most of its top players, but the big question for the Illini is how the players mesh with new coach John Groce.

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