As we begin the 2012-13 campaign it's clear to me that the gigantic, super-cranial neuroplasticity of The Bilastrator's mind could be of great assistance in gauging how the season's conference title races will play out. Rather than simply providing a road map for the selection committee regarding the nation's true 68 top teams, as the Bilas Index will do later this fall, we're starting with the teams I believe will claim the regular-season championship. Consider it an amuse-bouche prior to the intellectual feast provided for you in the season ahead.
I realize this exercise in clairvoyance could rob some of the joy from the season, making games anticlimactic given that these teams are now preordained for glory. However, it is The Bilastrator's solemn duty.
We (and by that we mean the Royal "We") do not condone using this distinctive and matchless service for gambling purposes, but if it is used in such a way, you're welcome for putting you on Easy Street and into the One Percent.
Without further ado, the Bilastrator gives you the ultimate Conference of Champions -- my projected regular-season champ for all of the nation's conferences.
America East: Stony Brook
The Seawolves won 22 games in 2012 and return a younger squad. The safer pick in some circles is Vermont, but the winning pick is Stony Brook because it rebounds and defends, and the Seawolves possess depth and athleticism, along with the stellar defense of Tommy Brenton. Don't overlook the Brook.
Atlantic Coast Conference: North Carolina State
The Wolfpack are new to this whole bull's-eye and expectations thing, I know. But N.C. State has the most talent (Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie are two of the best in the nation at their positions) and an outstanding coaching staff. Duke and North Carolina are both good enough to win the league, and I expect N.C. State to have some struggles. But The Bilastrator knows talent, and N.C. State has talent. Plus, don't sell short the knowledge gained by Mark Gottfried in sitting next to The Bilastrator after leaving Alabama. You're welcome, Mark.
Atlantic Sun: Mercer
With Belmont out of the league, the Sun opens up for Mercer, winner of 27 games and the CIT last season. Bob Hoffman has done a great job of building the program and has a potential player of the year in big, strong point guard Langston Hall. He has the talent and game to someday play in the NBA.
Atlantic 10: Saint Joseph's
While Saint Louis was the trendy pick, The Bilastrator was a bit skeptical even before Rick Majerus' unfortunate exit for the season to focus on his health (and another shout out of well wishes to our friend, Rick the Pick). VCU and Temple will provide a fight, but Saint Joseph's has the best frontcourt in the league with C.J. Aiken blocking shots, and two terrific guards in scoring point Carl Jones and shooter Langston Galloway. It's the Hawks.
Big East: Louisville
This was, by far, the toughest call. Louisville has talent, experience and numbers. Syracuse has talent, depth and size. One could flip a coin, but the Bilastrator is going with Louisville because of overall defense, the dynamic play of Peyton Siva at point and the inside strength of Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng. If everyone stays healthy, it's the 'Ville.
Big Sky: Montana
Will Cherry, if healthy, is the best player in the league, but he is not alone. Kareem Jamar is an outstanding all-around player. Wayne Tinkle, who has won 20 or more three straight seasons, knows how to coach offense and will allow Cherry and Jamar to play with great flow.
Big South: Charleston Southern
This is the best Charleston Southern team since Eric Burks and Brett Larrick played for the Buccaneers. With the backcourt of Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper, Charleston Southern will be the best team. But for the NCAA tournament, the Bucs have to win the Big South Tournament. High Point and Asheville will be the biggest obstacles.
Big Ten: Indiana
The Hoosiers have been building toward this season, and Tom Crean finally has the horses -- and he has them well trained to run in a crowd. The Big Ten will be a crowded field, with Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all capable of winning the league. But Indiana has Cody Zeller, the most efficient big man in the country on the offensive end. With more depth, size and athleticism, Hoosier practices will be better, and the finished product will be better as well.
Big 12: Kansas
The Jayhawks have the most talent, and have Bill Self. You don't need the Bilastrator for this one. But if any team were to dethrone Kansas, it would be ... oh, come on. Next!
Big West: Long Beach State
Dan Monson lost three accomplished seniors, which is usually a death knell at the mid-major level. But The Beach returns the athletic James Ennis and had some high-profile and very good transfers sitting out. The 49ers will be at the top of the league again in 2013.
Colonial Athletic Association: Delaware
The Bilastrator held the Drexel Dragons in high regard last October and was, as always, correct. This year, with VCU and ODU out of the picture, Drexel should be in line to be the best team. However, the super-analytical brain of The Bilastrator has determined that Delaware, with the duo of Devon Saddler and Jamelle Hagins, will hang the CAA banner. If Delaware takes care of the pill, the Tail-Kickin' Chickens will win the league.
Conference USA: Memphis
While Marshall has DeAndre Kane and Dennis Tinnon, Josh Pastner has three players who could be player of the year in the conference. Adonis Thomas is the best player, but Chris Crawford, Joe Jackson and Tarik Black can all make the credible claim to be the Tigers' best player. Memphis has talent and experience and the Tigers will win the league.
Horizon League: Valparaiso
Bryce Drew has everybody back from a 22-win team that won the league last season. Ryan Broekhoff is versatile and productive, and is also Drew's best player. Broekhoff could challenge Detroit's Ray McCallum for Horizon Player of the Year. Detroit is the main challenge to Valpo, but expect the Crusaders to hang another Horizon banner.
Ivy League: Princeton
Even before Harvard lost Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey, Princeton was the selection here. Ian Hummer will be the Ivy League Player of the Year, and the Tigers have the size up front to compete with any frontcourt in the nation.
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference: Loyola
Jimmy Patsos has taken a team that couldn't win a game and turned Loyola into an NCAA tournament program. The Greyhounds will have a fight from Iona and Manhattan, but Erik Etherly and Dylon Cormier are All-MAAC players who will lead this team to another MAAC title.
Mid-American Conference: Ohio
This was a tough call for The Bilastrator's gigantic, super high-functioning intellect. Akron is really good, and a fair choice to win the MAC crown. But even though the Bobcats lost their coach, The Bilastrator is going with Ohio. Jim Christian is outstanding, and this team won the MAAC tournament last year. Even though Ohio hasn't won the league title since Bill Clinton was president, D.J. Cooper, Walter Offutt and Nick Kellogg form the best backcourt trio in the league, and will carry the title to Athens if the Bobcat frontcourt plays Akron's to a draw.
Mid-Eastern Athletic: Delaware State
The Hornets won only 15 games last season, but have two outstanding scorers in Marques Oliver, a consistent inside threat and solid rebounder, and Tahj Tate, a sophomore who attacks in transition. Delaware State has size and talent, but needs to be stable at the point of attack.
Missouri Valley: Creighton
With Doug McDermott leading the way, Creighton will have to fight off Wichita State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa for the league title, but with better attention to defense, which The Bilastrator expects, the Jays will win the MVC. This isn't the best league in the country, but it may very well be the toughest title to win.
Mountain West: UNLV
Dave Rice will have a better conditioned team this season after running low on fuel at the end of last year. Mike Moser is the league's best player (along with Jamaal Franklin of San Diego State), and with guards Anthony Marshall, Justin Hawkins and Bryce Dejean-Jones, the Rebels have very good guards. Add in Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch and you have tremendous size and talent across the frontcourt.
Northeast: Long Island
The Blackbirds won the league last year with a 25-9 overall record and only two losses in league play. Julian Boyd, Jamal Olasewere and Jason Brickman form a dynamic trio that any team would start, with Boyd and Olasewere both capable scorers and rebounders, and Brickman is an elite passer who will consistently deliver the ball to them. LIU will win the NEC again.
Ohio Valley: Murray State
The OVC has a newcomer in Belmont, but the league is still owned by Murray State and Isaiah Canaan. While the Racers lost some talent -- including to a recent bizarre incident and resulting suspension -- one player to keep in mind is Ed Daniel. Daniel is a fighter and worker, and The Bilastrator absolutely loved him at the LeBron James Skills Academy. Murray State will lose a few games, but will win the OVC crown again.
If the NCAA would make a decision on the eligibility of Shabazz Muhammad, perhaps one wouldn't need The Bilastrator to straighten out whether UCLA does indeed have the goods in the Pac-12 this season. But it is clear that Arizona does. Sean Miller has an all-around performer in Solomon Hill and some new size and talent to make Arizona the favorite, and the choice of The Bilas Index here.
Patriot League: Lehigh
The Mountain Hawks have four starters back, and the best player in the conference in C.J. McCollum. While Bucknell can win the league, Lehigh will win the league.
Southeastern Conference: Kentucky
Florida will be able to challenge Kentucky this season, but the Wildcats have the most talent. While The Bilastrator was surprised that John Calipari could take such young talent and blend it together into an unselfish, knit-together unit -- and do it three years in a row with three different collections of talent -- the data has been inputted into the system. It spits out Kentucky every time.
Bob McKillop has everybody back, and has the best team in the conference by a wide margin. Don't be surprised if Davidson takes down a big shot in the Old Spice Classic or gives Duke fits in Charlotte. De'Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen will lead the team, but there are capable players at every position who need to be guarded. Davidson is physical and tough.
Southland: Oral Roberts
Scott Sutton has another very good team, but will have to win in a new league, which can complicate things. Every away game will be a new experience. The Titans have good size, and should get consistent production from Steven Roundtree and Warren Niles.
SWAC: Texas Southern
Mike Davis was fired at UAB and landed at Texas Southern. Davis has a solid group of veterans, including Omar Strong and Fred Sturdivant, both of whom were among the better players in the SWAC last season.
Summit: South Dakota State
With Oral Roberts out of the league, it opens up for South Dakota State and Nate Wolters. Wolters led the Jackrabbits to 27 wins last season, and is a high-scoring, high-assist guard who controls the game. He has some good shooters spreading the floor for him, and he can go to work on the Summit League and lead South Dakota State to the league title.
Sun Belt: North Texas
Kermit Davis' Middle Tennessee squad won 27 last year and was the best team in the Sun Belt, but Tony Mitchell will make the difference for North Texas this year. Mitchell needs to be more consistent at the highest level, but he is the league's best player. The play of Jordan Williams and Chris Jones will be critical. If they are there all season, the Mean Green will win the Sun Belt.
West Coast: Gonzaga
Mark Few has experience back with guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. in the backcourt, and versatile big Elias Harris up front. The Zags have depth, size and offensive efficiency, and the best chance to win the league title again. Saint Mary's has the best player in Matthew Dellavedova, but Gonzaga has the league championship team.
WAC: New Mexico State
The Aggies lost three productive starters, but return Daniel Mullings, who is ready to be an all-conference performer. Denver is probably the biggest challenge to New Mexico State, and the Aggies have a lot to replace, but this team should be good on the glass again, and should win the league again.