Who’s the best player who we don’t know about?

JJ: St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson would be garnering first-round lock talk by now if he was in the Big East instead of being hidden in up-state New York with the Bonnies. But the 6-9 forward has been putting up monster numbers for three years now (21 points, 7 boards, almost 2 blocks last season).

DC: Even with Villanova, Pittsburgh and Temple shaping up to be potential top-25 teams, the best player in the state of Pennsylvania is Lehigh’s CJ McCollum. After averaging 19.1 ppg his freshman season, McCollum got even better last year, finishing with 21.8 ppg and 7.8 rpg. The 6-3 junior could lead the nation in scoring this season.

CB: The best player who no one knows about is Andre Roberson from the University of Colorado. The 6-7 wing flew under the radar as a freshman last year playing on a team with lottery-pick Alec Burks and 2,000-point career-scorer, Cory Higgins. Roberson got just 22 minutes of action a night, but still led the Buffs in rebounding (with 8 per game) and showed some flashes of brilliance for what was a pretty damn good team. This year, Roberson will be immediately launched into “The Man” status in Boulder and his name might be a hot one if he has as successful of a PAC-12 season, as I think he will have.

What’s the deal with the PAC-10 (12)? Why is it so bad?

JJ: I don’t think it’s bad at all. The conference just hasn’t produced dominant teams at the same rate as the Big East or ACC in the past few seasons. But Arizona’s program is rising, Washington continues to bring in top-flight classes, UCLA is starting to get its mojo back, and there is a nice group of schools sitting in the middle of the conference (Oregon, Cal, Stanford) that are in position to make upward moves this season. The only schools I’d expect to take major steps back are USC (especially after losing stud point guard Jio Fontan to a season-ending knee injury) and Washington State.

The additions of Colorado and Utah to the conference and the whopper of a television deal Commissioner Larry Scott struck this summer has the conference’s stock way up.

DC: The last few seasons, the Pac-10 (or Pac-12 as it will be called next year) has really been hit hard by early entrants to the Draft. This year has been no different with Derrick Williams, Klay Thompson, Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Honeycutt all jumping to the NBA. There is talent in the conference, but it’s just not sticking around too long.

CB: The PAC-10 (or 12) has struggled recently because they have not been able to keep their NBA talent for more than a year or two. No other conference has been hit by the “one/two and dones” like the PAC-10. Just ask Ben Howland at UCLA. If there was actually something majorly wrong with the conference there would not be guys taken in lottery year after year after year. The league will be just fine and by adding two more programs of quality, it’s likely to see more of these types of players. Again, just ask Ben Howland.

Which conference do you think is the toughest? Who do you expect to win that conference? And do you think that playing in a tough conference helps, or hurts a team?

JJ: The Big East will once again be the toughest conference. It’s not as top-heavy as it has been in recent seasons, but the depth in that league is once again insane. Syracuse and UConn are probably the only elite teams in the Big East, and even with Andre Drummond’s recent commitment, I expect the Orange to come out on top.

Playing in a tough conference has potential to both damage and bolster a team’s resume. Losses can pile up quickly in monster conferences like the Big East, and before you know it, you’re already on the bubble mid-way through February. The flip-side is that each of those roadblocks can also be quality wins. And we all know how every quality win (especially head-to-head edges over fellow conference members/bubble teams) is gold come March.

DC: The toughest conference is and always will be the Big East. With anywhere from 8-12 tournament-quality teams each season, it is an impossible road to navigate without tripping up a few times.

The conference title should come down to Louisville and Syracuse this season, with the Cardinals having the slight edge due to their depth.

But as we saw last season, you don’t need to win the Big East regular-season title to be a championship contender in March. Connecticut’s run last season shows that the rigorous conference waters can only be a benefit when the postseason rolls around.

CB: The toughest conference is still the Big East, based on size of league and quality of top teams. I never feel that there is anything negative about playing in a top-flight conference—it can only help. While there may be an exhaustion factor with the length of the conference tournament (although UConn dealt just fine with that last year), getting challenged will always bring out the best. With all that they have returning from last year’s national title team, UConn should be the best team in the Big East this season, but there are so many games, yet to be played.