I was recently asked my opinion of the toughest conference in men's college basketball through the first month and a half of action. It's a worthwhile question without a simple answer.
Bragging rights are always important. You see conferences battle in special events such as the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Big East-Big 12 Battle and next month's SEC/Big 12 Challenge and it helps you form impressions of the leagues.
Outside of those events, there have been a number of great contests this season, and all of the top conferences have several teams in the hunt with league action ahead.
For me, my VBDI (Vitale Bald Dome Index) says my fabulous four are (drumroll please!) ...
1. Big 12
It all starts with Baylor, the nation's top-ranked team. Scott Drew lost a lot of talent, including Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell, but the Bears have reloaded and not missed a beat. Arizona transfer James Akinjo has stepped in and been a factor. Kendall Brown has been a dynamite diaper dandy for a team that is unbeaten and a legit contender to win back-to-back national championships.
Texas is loaded with transfers, and though Chris Beard's team stumbled early vs. Gonzaga and Seton Hall, the Longhorns will get better and better as they become more familiar with each other.
The league also has arguably the nation's biggest surprise in Iowa State, which won just two games last season. Coach T.J. Otzelberger has done an incredible job and the transfer portal has helped. Izaiah Brockington (ex-Penn State) and Gabe Kalscheur (ex-Minnesota) have led the revival.
Then look at Texas Tech, Oklahoma and TCU, and realize this league is loaded.
This conference is full of talent, too, led by an LSU squad that is undefeated. The presence of Cincinnati transfer Tari Eason has been a plus for the Tigers.
Kentucky added several transfers and diaper dandy TyTy Washington Jr., who have all helped last year's disappointment in Lexington to be pushed aside. The blowout win over North Carolina was a huge effort. Sahvir Wheeler has been a scorer and assist machine, while Oscar Tshiebwe is a force on the glass.
Tennessee has Kennedy Chandler impressing as a diaper dandy. Alabama and Arkansas have slipped a bit recently but will contend. And don't forget about teams like Florida, which will compete.
3. Big Ten
Purdue has been the best team in this very strong top-to-bottom conference so far. Michigan and Illinois have had disappointing bumps in the road, but they have big men to dominate in Hunter Dickinson and Kofi Cockburn, respectively.
Michigan State started slowly but has come on under Tom Izzo. Indiana has one of the league's premier players in Trayce Jackson-Davis. Minnesota has been a pleasant surprise, though the schedule has been one of the easiest in America.
The B1G will remain a prime candidate to have the most teams when the NCAA tournament bracket is revealed on Selection Sunday.
4. Big East
This league is much deeper than some expected -- Providence showed that by winning at UConn.
Villanova was the preseason favorite, but a rugged schedule has been challenging. Back-to-back 20-point losses have raised questions about this veteran-laden team. Danny Hurley's UConn squad will be tough when healthy and can still compete for a conference title.
Xavier, Creighton, Marquette and DePaul have put up good nonleague records. St. John's has Julian Champagnie but few big wins.
Night in and night out, this conference will be competitive.
There you have it, my top four conferences so far this season. Other leagues that have been hot and cold early this season -- including the ACC and Pac-12 -- will have a chance to break into the VBDI top four before all is said and done in 2021-22.
The 17th annual Dick Vitale Gala, benefiting the V Foundation, will be May 6, 2022, at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Florida. For more information visit dickvitaleonline.com.