50 in 50 is a feature here at RCT counting down until the Jayhawks kick off the 2011 basketball season on November first. Got an idea for something you'd like to see featured here? tweet @rockchalktalk or @fetch9 or email me at fetch9 at gmail dot com.
Last year for Beadlemaniacs I predicted every conference champion to
critical acclaim indifference, and so I figured that was a good enough excuse to do so again. There are 32 conferences, 31 of which receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament (the Great West does not), and so to lighten my workload a bit I split them up into two halves:
Note: these are predicted regular season champs.
America East - Boston University
First, for the best America East coverage, head over to Unranked America East, SB Nation's newest CBB blog. For my part, I like the Terriers, KU's first round opponent in last year's NCAA tournament, to get back to the big dance with their four returning starters.
Atlantic 10 - Xavier
Tu Holloway is in some trouble for apparently playing too much basketball, but I think they have enough to hold off Temple, even though I love the Owls this year as well.
ACC - North Carolina
The Heels are definitely the best team in the country heading into the year, and I think that the ACC as a whole could be a bit down this year.
Atlantic Sun - Belmont
Remember Belmont for March, as the Bruins should be one of the best stories come March and are a sleeper Elite 8 team.
Big 12 - Kansas
Baylor has more talent, and people seem to be in love with Texas A&M, but every year people start off doubting Bill Self and at the end of every year claim to have learned their lesson. We'll see if they actually do this time.
Big East - Syracuse
I had Pitt ranked higher in my preseason rankings, but Cuse has more depth up front which should help them better withstand the battle of attrition that is the Big East season.
Big South - Coastal Carolina
I have a soft spot for VMI as they consistently play faster than anyone, but Coastal returns 4 starters from a team that dominated the Big South regular season.
Big Sky - Montana
The coaches and media both love Weber State, but they have underachieved in recent years, leading me to pick the perennial powerhouse Grizzlies, who only lost one Senior, North Dakota native Brian Qvale.
Big 10 - Wisconsin
Ohio State is probably the better team, but I can't pick favorites everywhere. Plus, Wisconsin has the better guard play and Bo Ryan >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> That Matta.
Big West - Long Beach State
Last year's runaway conference champs have four Senior starters back. They also shot just barely over 33% from three, meaning they're probably the first round opponent everyone will want to face in the tournament.
CAA - George Mason
They lose Cam Long, but virtually everyone else is back. Their biggest question is can they win under Paul Hewitt, who hasn't done a ton of winning yet. Drexel should be a sleeper as well.
Great West - North Dakota
Last year's tournament champs, and 2011 KU opponent, won the conference tournament despite having four Freshmen in the starting lineup last year.
Horizon - Butler
No Matt Howard, no Shelvin Mack, no Shawn Vanzant. But the rest of the Horizon contenders lost a lot of talent, Butler brings back Ronald Nored, Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall, and they have one of the better coaches in the country. Good enough for me.
Ivy - Harvard
Harvard has never been to the NCAA tournament. That changes this year. They were a buzzer beater away from being Ivy champs last year and bring back all five starters. Senior Oliver McNally had the 3rd best true shooting percentage in the country last year.
MAAC - Iona
The Gales lose just one starter, but he played in less than 60% of the minutes last year. Iona had the 28th best adjusted offensive efficiency in the country last year and also lost by only 6 points at Syracuse last December. Assuming they don't get tripped up in their conference tournament they should be on your radar as a first round upset special, possibly against (gulp) Kansas.