In doing the SEC summer catch-up, I noted that while the league continues to have significant quality of depth issues, the strength at the very top may be as good as any league in the nation. That led to a bigger picture question: Which conference is most likely to provide the eventual national champion?
When I posed the question to my Twitter followers, the range of results was surprising. There was absolutely zero consensus. Given that, let's walk through the options and see what you think.
ACC: Duke and Syracuse likely will start the season in the top 10 of the polls, and North Carolina won't be much below that. Both the Blue Devils and Orange likely will garner high NCAA tournament seeds thanks to their expected standing in the nation's toughest (or second-toughest, depending on how the bottom is) league. I don't think North Carolina will be good enough to win it all, and there doesn't appear to be a darkhorse beyond that trio with that kind of upside.
Big Ten: Michigan State is a likely top-3 team in the preseason. Michigan should be in the top 10 and just made the national title game last season. Ohio State could be improved from a team that made the Elite Eight last season. That's a pretty good threesome to start with without including someone like Wisconsin exceeding expectations with a young, developing frontcourt.
Big 12: Kansas is a clear option for national champ. Oklahoma State will have to make a leap from first-round (er, sorry, Round of 64) NCAA tournament exit to national champion. That's a huge leap for any team to make and doesn't seem entirely reasonable. Baylor would have to try to "pull a '13-'14 Kentucky" and go from the NIT to national champ. That seems even more unlikely, even with some talent there.
Pac-12: Arizona will have a defense that's impossible to score on, and a potential offense that's good enough to land them in Dallas. The league, though, will be more defined by quality of depth than national title hopefuls. Do you think Oregon, UCLA, Colorado or anyone else from this league can win it all?
SEC: Here we have superhyped Kentucky and back-to-back-to-back Elite Eight participant Florida, both of whom are expected to be anywhere from very good to 40-0 this season. Hmmmm ...
American Athletic: Louisville, absolutely. Do you believe in UConn's backcourt being that good? Not impossible, I guess. Memphis? Nah.
There are so many ways to look at this, but in a season where there are a higher number of legitimate title contenders than normal, my best sense is spreading your bets out among multiple options is a better choice. For me, that rules out the American (just Louisville, really), Pac-12 (Arizona) and Big 12 (just Kansas, really).
Of the remaining choices, it then becomes a balancing act between number of options and how good the options really are. The "realistic" decision is basically Kentucky/Florida vs. Duke/Syracuse vs. Michigan State/Michigan/Ohio State. You can argue this any which way. It's very easy to say each of those combinations could yield two Final Four teams this season.