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Nation's best conference? Big 12

Q: What do you think will be the best conference in college basketball this season? -- Tyler (Knoxville, Tenn.)
-- I give the edge right now to the Big 12. From top to bottom, I believe the league will be dynamite. There are some heavyweight teams like Kansas, Missouri and Texas capable of cutting down the nets in San Antonio. Oklahoma has the potential to make some noise. Oklahoma State certainly has talented personnel and won't be an easy opponent. Texas Tech, despite losing in the Preseason NIT championship game, is certainly very athletic. Colorado has junior center David Harrison up front and a competitive squad. These Big 12 teams will be tough. But there are lots of other good conferences competing.

Julius Page
Guard Julius Page and the Panthers are soaring this season in the Big East and nationally.
Q: What do you think of Pitt guard Julius Page? He's been overshadowed by Brandin Knight in the past, but now that Knight has graduated, do you think this will be a breakout season for Page? -- Justin (Buffalo)
-- Page, now a senior, can be as good as he wants to be. He's so explosive and athletic. Page teams with sophomore guard Carl Krauser, making Pittsburgh dangerous. Page was bothered by some preseason injuries, but if he stays healthy, watch out. He defends exceptionally well. Page could work some on his 3-point game. He has mental toughness and he's a winner, and this should be a big-time year for him.

Q: What challenges do you see for new coach Bruce Weber at Illinois this season? -- Tom Schumacher (Champaign, Ill.)
-- The challenge is to achieve credibility and establish himself. He is replacing a popular guy, Bill Self, but Weber certainly has his own solid credentials. Weber has trained diligently for years, waiting for this opportunity, serving for many years at Purdue under Gene Keady. He did a terrific job at Southern Illinois, taking the Salukis to one Sweet 16. He's ready for the task.

I feel Weber has the challenge of finding post presence inside. Illinois has an outstanding perimeter game, and sophomore Dee Brown rates with any point guard in America. Sophomore forward James Augustine can run the court well and step out and hit the 3-pointer. I expect Illinois to contend for the Big Ten title with Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Q: I believe Cincinnati sophomore Armein Kirkland will be one of the most improved players in all of college basketball. He is showing Kenyon Martin-like flashes. Watch out for coach Bobby Huggins and the Bearcats from Cincinnati! -- Dan Welch (Cincinnati, Ohio)
-- Cincinnati will be tough to beat, especially at home. When the Bearcats get sophomore forward James White eligible, he should fit in nicely alongside junior center Robert Whaley and junior forward Jason Maxiell. I feel Maxiell will have a breakout year. Kirkland is just one piece of the puzzle. This is an athletic team, and with White's explosiveness, this will be a dynamite club that will get better and better as the season progresses.

Q: What do you think about the prospects for BYU this season? After almost beating UConn in the NCAA Tournament, can they go farther? -- David Hall (Long Valley)
-- Coach Steve Cleveland's Cougars are 6-1, and they will compete in the Mountain West. The Cougars' only loss came at California 47-46 earlier this season. BYU lost guard Travis Hansen to graduation, who was a key contributor last season (16.8 ppg). Last March in the Big Dance, BYU played UConn tough in the first round before falling 58-53. Time will tell if the Cougars dance next March.

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