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CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31412754 West Coast West+Coast CBK

Adding BYU played a role in the WCC’s success last season, enabling the league to send three teams to the NCAA tournament for only the second time in conference history. But what was really strange in the WCC was not seeing Gonzaga at the top. For the first time since 1996-97, the Bulldogs captured neither a share of the regular-season title nor the conference tournament title. Instead, Saint Mary’s became the first WCC team to win both an outright regular- season title and the league tournament title since Pepperdine in 1991-92.

The addition of BYU’s consistency makes the WCC a deeper league, but Gonzaga may be poised to return to its familiar spot as the West Coast king.

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Kelley L Cox - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417288 Sun Belt Sun+Belt CBK

Western Kentucky emerged last season from the rubble to go on an unlikely NCAA tournament run. This season it may be JT Sulton and Middle Tennessee.

Western Kentucky, the Sun Belt’s most successful basketball program, will try to continue its momentum into 2012-13, but the conference may be tougher at the top than it was a year ago. North Texas has one of the nation’s most underrated stars in Tony Mitchell, a potential lottery pick who landed in Denton after he failed to qualify at Missouri. Middle Tennessee, which had the league’s best record at 14-2, returns most of its firepower from a year ago as well.

This will also be the last year for the Sun Belt in its current incarnation. The departure of Denver to the WAC leaves the league with just 11 teams this season before Georgia State, Texas State and UT Arlington replace FIU and North Texas in 2013-14.

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Jim Brown - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417278 SEC SEC CBK

This is a league divided. Just compare the top of the league (Kentucky) with the No. 14 team (South Carolina). Kentucky is the defending national champion where attrition doesn’t seem to matter. The Wildcats lost four first-round draft picks and two second-round picks but reloaded with another elite recruiting class. At South Carolina, new coach Frank Martin immediately lost two of best players to transfers from a team that went 2-14 in the SEC. He’ll have an undersized team that may need a few years to rebuild.

Kentucky, Missouri, Florida and Tennessee are all ranked in the Athlon preseason Top 25, while teams like Arkansas, Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M are looking for the right breaks to reach the NCAA tournament. After that, the remainder of the league is in a stage of rebuilding. At Vanderbilt, that begins with a cast of characters wholly different from last season’s SEC tournament champions.


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Crystal LoGiudice - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417283 Pac-12 Pac-12 CBK

After three seasons of looking like a mid-major conference, the Pac-12 is ready to bounce back.

A year ago, even Pac-12 regular-season champion Washington was not among the NCAA field with Cal going as an at-large bid and Colorado winning the Pac-12 tournament. The Pac-12 has garnered only eight NCAA bids the past three seasons, compared to 18 in the three seasons prior.


That looks to change this season. The Pac-12’s best two programs, Arizona and UCLA, have experienced an influx of talent due to transfers and elite freshmen. Cal returns Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, both Athlon All-Pac-12 performers, to go with perhaps the best coach in the league in Mike Montgomery. Colorado returns Andre Roberson along with Tad Boyle, a proven program builder who appears to be doing more of the same in Boulder. Then there’s Stanford, poised for its best season under coach Johnny Dawkins after winning the NIT a year ago.

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417286 Mountain West Mountain+West CBK

For the past three seasons, the best conference out West was not the Pac-12, but the Mountain West. The MWC produced 11 NCAA tournament teams compared to the Pac-10/12’s eight in the same span. But the Mountain West’s best incarnation will fall apart after next season. BYU already has gone to the West Coast Conference, and San Diego State will head to the Big West thereafter.

For now, though, UNLV and San Diego State will continue to compete for the MWC's top spot. On paper, UNLV’s last season was similar to the previous five, but coach Dave Rice has injected the program with energy — and talent — which is reminiscent of the Jerry Tarkanian era. San Diego State, however, is keeping pace with wins and recruiting success. Those two programs will slug it out one more time before going their separate ways.

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Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417289 Missouri Valley Missouri+Valley CBK

The return of All-American Doug McDermott to Creighton will be the biggest story in the Missouri Valley. McDermott became the league’s first All-America selection since Wichita State’s Xavier McDaniel in 1985, and McDermott is the first to return to make a run at National Player of the Year since Indiana State’s Larry Bird in 1979. With nine of the top-10 scorers returning to Creighton, McDermott will have plenty of help in trying to get the Bluejays over the hump from a solid postseason team to a true NCAA tournament threat.

With regular-season champion Wichita State and MVC tournament champion Creighton reaching the tournament field last season, it marked the first time since 2007 multiple teams from the MVC made the Big Dance. Wichita State lost five seniors from last year’s team but returns the league’s top newcomer from 2011-12 plus a key transfer.

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Jeff Curry - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417291 MAC MAC CBK

By reaching the Sweet 16, Ohio gave the MAC its most high-profile basketball moment since Kent State reached the Elite Eight in 2002. The Bobcats' wins over Michigan and USF, followed by a hard-fought 73-65 loss in overtime to North Carolina in the regional semifinals, were reasons for the MAC to brag.

Unfortunately, it also all but rendered the regular season moot. Ohio was third in its division before winning the MAC tournament, but at least the Bobcats had a winning record (11-5 in conference) before defeating Akron (with a MAC-best 13-3 conference record) in the league tournament final. Two years ago, Ohio went 7-9 in the MAC before it won the conference tournament and upset Georgetown in the NCAA tournament.


Despite a coaching change with former TCU coach Jim Christian replacing John Groce, who took the job at Illinois, Ohio has high expectations for a follow-up and perhaps an elusive division title. Point guard D.J. Cooper, the architect of Ohio’s NCAA upsets the past three seasons, returns for a senior year.


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Eric P. Mull - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417290 Horizon League Horizon+League CBK

The Horizon League opens 2012-13 without its marquee program, Butler, which departed during the offseason for the Atlantic 10.

Try telling the remaining teams Butler’s absence cuts into the intrigue around the league. Butler finished last season in a three-way tie for third place at 11-7. The Bulldogs weren’t even the Horizon’s best team in Indiana. That title belonged to Valparaiso, which won the regular-season title in Bryce Drew’s first season as head coach. Drew is ready for another run at a title and perhaps Valpo’s first NCAA tournament bid since 2004.

The league’s best player resides in Detroit, where Ray McCallum Jr. averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4 assists.

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Mike DiNovo - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417285 Conference USA Conference+USA CBK

A year before Conference USA undergoes another major recalibration, at least one school hopes the status quo remains. Memphis returned to the top of C-USA last season, winning both the regular-season and tournament titles for the first time since 2009, but the Tigers have yet to win an NCAA tournament game since John Calipari left for Kentucky.

Along with Houston, SMU and UCF, Memphis is in its final season in C-USA before joining the Big East. Marshall, which has not reached the NCAA tournament since 1987, has all the tools to spoil Memphis’ final season in a league it dominated from 2005 to 2009.

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Spruce Derden - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417287 Colonial Athletic Association Colonial+Athletic+Association CBK

With the Colonial Athletic Association in flux, new blood could represent the league in the NCAA tournament. This year, with VCU having departed for the Atlantic 10 and Old Dominion ineligible for the CAA title as it prepares to leave for Conference USA, the door is open for some redemption for Drexel.

Drexel set a school record for wins last season, hit the 20-victory plateau for the second year in a row and won the CAA’s regular-season title. But the Dragons didn’t win the conference tournament and missed the NCAA tournament for the 16th consecutive season.

Delaware has its own tourney drought (since 1999) it hopes to end thanks to one of the highest-scoring duos in the conference. Traditional CAA contenders George Mason and Old Dominion are rebuilding to various degrees, but they can’t be counted out.

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Geoff Burke - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417280 Big 12 Big+12 CBK

The Big 12 may be one of the most interesting leagues from top to bottom, but the smart pick at the top remains, as always, Kansas. The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the past eight Big 12 regular-season titles, including the past four outright. Coach Bill Self again has stars ready to emerge.

Seven other Big 12 teams have realistic aspirations to reach the NCAA tournament, with the possible exceptions of Texas Tech and newcomer TCU. Baylor adds a standout freshman class as does Texas. Teams like West Virginia, Oklahoma and Iowa State are relying on an influx of transfers to bolster their postseason hopes. How each team manages the new faces on its roster may determine the look of the Big 12.


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Peter G. Aiken - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417281 Big Ten Big+Ten CBK

A dozen years have passed since a Big Ten last claimed a national title. Since Michigan State won the 2000 NCAA tournament, four conferences have won at least two national titles. The Big East and SEC have claimed three titles. The ACC has claimed four.

Not that the Big Ten hasn’t been close. The Big Ten has produced eight Final Four teams with three reaching the title game. Could this be the season Indiana gets over the hump? The Hoosiers are Athlon’s preseason No. 1 team, but the league could be one of the deepest in the country. Four Big Ten teams are in our preseason top 10, and the league has perhaps the deepest crew of coaches in the country.


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Brian Spurlock - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417282 Big East Big+East CBK

The next two years will mark the end of an era for the Big East. No more Jim Calhoun this season. No more Syracuse and no more Pittsburgh next season. No more Notre Dame in the years to come. The Big East will expand again next season with Memphis and Temple joining, but it’s fair to say the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden may never be the same.

On the farewell tour through the Big East, Syracuse is poised to be among the league’s elite again, and Pittsburgh is poised for a rebound. But the favorite remains Louisville, which reached its first Final Four as a Big East member last season and is poised for another bid this year.

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Debby Wong - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417284 Atlantic 10 Atlantic+10 CBK

The Atlantic 10 begins a two-year state of flux as it adds recent Final Four teams VCU and Butler to the lineup this season. The league is set to lose Temple (Big East) and Charlotte (Conference USA) a year from now, but there are questions all over the conference, which may be one of the most competitive in the country, at least at the top.

With a handful of young players returning to VCU, the Rams may be the favorite in the league in their first season here. Part of the reason is personnel turnover at Xavier and Temple, the teams that have set the pace for the conference the past few years.

Saint Louis has the personnel, but one major question is on the bench as Jim Crews coaches the team while Rick Majerus takes a leave of absence to tend to health concerns. UMass and St. Joseph’s appear to be ready to reclaim their spots as NCAA tournament teams after several years of the NIT or worse.

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Jim O'Connor - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31417279 ACC ACC CBK

As usual, Duke and UNC will be stocked with talent, but their hold on the top of the league may be more fragile than it has been in recent years thanks to the departures of a combined six first-round NBA Draft picks since last season. So after a long wait, NC State’s hopes for ACC supremacy may be realized.

The Wolfpack have not won an ACC regular-season title since 1989 and haven’t won the ACC tournament since 1987. But a year after reaching the Sweet 16, NC State adds a highly touted freshman class to a talented veteran core. Even the Florida schools, Miami and defending ACC tournament champion Florida State, have reason to believe they can contend.


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Bob Donnan - USA TODAY Sports
CBK 99 43 Athlon's 2012-13 conference previews 31409993 The Big Ten is where it’s at The+Big+Ten+is+where+it%26rsquo%3Bs+at CBK

Complain all you want about the down years of once-great Big Ten football. One thing you can’t do is complain about their basketball. It’s currently the best basketball in the country, and it’s entirely feasible three Big Ten teams (Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State) could make the Final Four.

In the SEC, reigning champ Kentucky has a tough new challenger. In the ACC, NC State threatens to upset the balance of power. In the Big East, Louisville and Syracuse will butt heads one last time. There's something to have everyone pumped ... even Sean Connery. We're getting you ready for the season tip-off, conference by conference.

Mary Langenfeld- - USA TODAY Sports
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