There were a handful of conference games in December, but the New Year represents the unofficial start to league play in college basketball. Here is a look at the teams we picked to win each of the Big Six conferences in our preseason magazine and which teams we would pick if we had a mulligan.
Preseason Pick — Duke
New Year’s Pick — Duke
The Blue Devils, even without freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, are clearly the team to beat in the ACC. And it’s not even close. Duke lacks a dominant back-to-the-basket scorer but has just about everything else, highlighted by a backcourt loaded with outstanding 3-point shooters. North Carolina is the league’s second-most talented teams, but the Tar Heels don’t look ready to pose too much of a threat to Duke.
Preseason Pick — Kansas
New Year’s Pick — Kansas
The debate in late summer centered around Kansas or Kansas State (or possibly even Baylor) as the top team in the Big 12. The pick now is still KU, but the biggest competitors figure to be Missouri and Texas, not K-State and Baylor. The Jayhawks are the league’s only unbeaten team (at 13–0) and have only had freshman guard Josh Selby available for the past four games. This team should get better as the season progresses.
Preseason Pick — Villanova
New Year’s Pick — Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh stubbed its toe in a loss to Tennessee last month, but Jamie Dixon’s club boasts the most complete roster in the Big East. The program is known for its defense and toughness, but the ’10-11 Panthers have emerged as one of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation.
Preseason Pick — Purdue/Michigan State
New Year’s Pick — Ohio State
We made the Purdue pick in late summer, prior to Robbie Hummel’s knee injury. Had we had that piece of information, Michigan State would have been the team at the top of the Big Ten food chain. Well, now Ohio State has clearly established itself as the best team in the league — if not the nation. Freshman Jared Sullinger is perhaps the best big man in the college game, and his supporting cast is playing at an extremely high level.
Preseason Pick — Washington
New Year’s Pick — Washington
This is an easier prediction now that the Huskies have jumped out of the gate with a 2–0 record in league play, with both wins coming on the road. Arizona appears to be the biggest challenger, but UW’s roster is far superior and far more battled-tested.
Preseason Pick — Florida
New Year’s Pick — Kentucky
Florida recorded a nice win at Xavier Friday afternoon, but Billy Donovan’s club has been far too inconsistent this season. Kentucky lacks size — a strength of last year’s team — but this club shoots the ball much better from the outside and lacks the knucklehead factor of a DeMarcus Cousins. Vanderbilt and Florida (and possibly Tennessee, if the Vols and can get their act together) won’t make it easy, but the Wildcats should be in position to repeat as SEC East champs.