By Matt Norlander

How do the best alliances in college basketball line up against each other? Which league is at the top of the sport this season? Which has collectively underachieved? Overachieved? College sports fans in general do enjoy boasting on behalf of their conferences (albeit much, much more in college football than college hoops). So with that in mind, I'm coming to you with a load of information today on the best of the best and how they align.

As we turn to February, we're getting a really good grasp on which conferences can expect how many bids. The picture is getting clearer while at the same time, detail only increases our perceptions of programs and conferences. Today's piece isn't a true bubble forecast or bracketology session, but since SOE college hoops/Illinois basketball/Georgia basketball devotee Will Leitch will take those reins after his return from Sochi, I figured we'd start to define the pool or programs this year's NCAAs will draw from.

The number of forecast bids (and teams selected) below isn't anywhere near setting in cement, but no question a general sense has been established now, since most teams have played approximately 20 games -- or two-thirds of their season.

I've ranked what really are the consensus top 10 leagues in college hoops this year. Whether you agree or disagree about where the Big East should fall is up to you, but there seems to be a firm line of demarcation that's separated this upper third within the sport. I've ordered the leagues in accordance to their average ranking among the three biggest metrics: KenPom.com, Jeff Sagarin and the RPI. Now, I'm not an advocate of the RPI (OK, I want to kill it with lava), but it is still the primary tool of judgment for the NCAA selection committee for the big tourney, so we have to keep that in mind when projecting inclusion and seeding for the Field of 68.

Maybe one day down the road the RPI will be an afterthought. Like Macklemore. But in the here and now, that is not a world any of us, sadly, can envision. Let us live on hope, then.

You'll see the Missouri Valley doesn't fall among the top 10 leagues this year. I do think Wichita State will lose prior to Selection Sunday. I'm slotting WSU as a No. 2 seed for the time being. I think it loses one game, and that will put it on the second line. I'm projecting teams I think will wind up with a No. 6 seed or better. Before we get going, two notes: 1) I am going to be so very wrong on most of these seeds predictions; 2) Anything prognosticated at a 7 seed or lower is bubble territory, as far as I'm concerned. If you're that low right now, certainly there's a decent possibility you could play yourself out of the field.

BIG TEN

KenPom: 1st
Sagarin: 1st
RPI: 2nd

Probable locks getting in and best guess at their final seed:
Michigan State (No. 1)
Iowa (No. 3)
Wisconsin (No. 3)
Michigan (No. 5)
Ohio State (No. 6)

Bubble bunch: Minnesota

Record against the RPI top 25 and top 50: 4-13, 11-15

Five best players in the conference: Keith Appling (Michigan State), Sam Dekker (Wisconsin), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), Nik Stauskas (Michigan).

Synopsis: Very interesting to watch the Big Ten push and pull this season. It's not the league it was a year ago, but it probably is the best conference in the country, still. That's weird to think when you see Indiana down, Illinois down, Purdue still trying to tread water and Nebraska/Penn State guarding the basement, as usual. The Hoosiers could become a bubble team, but it's going to take some serious victories inside the league.

MSU is probably the only true national title contender, but I think Iowa and Wisconsin are legitimate Final Four threats. OSU and Michigan I think have Elite Eight ceilings. Big Ten ball is a blast to watch at the top, and it's high time most started crediting this league for being rock-solid in hoops yet again.

Ultimately, how many bids will this conference get? Six. (Average from past three seasons: 6.6)

BIG 12

KenPom: 2nd
Sagarin: 2nd
RPI: 1st

Probable locks getting in and best guess at their final seed:
Kansas (No. 1)
Oklahoma State (No. 4)
Iowa State (No. 4)

Bubble bunch: Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas

Record against the RPI top 25 and top 50: 6-11, 12-16

Five best players in the conference: Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), Joel Embiid (Kansas), DeAndre Kane (Iowa State), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas).

Synopsis: It's really, really close between the Big 12 and Big Ten for best conference in the sport. I think you can make the fair case for the Big 12 in stating that 70 percent of its league has a really good shot, today, of making the NCAAs. The Big Ten can't claim the same -- but does have more teams. Kansas has become must-watch TV, and really is on pace to get that No. 1 seed because the Jayhawks are undefeated in the conference and are going to win a 10th straight Big 12 title under Bill Self.

Oklahoma State and Iowa State can absolutely make a Final Four. Oklahoma is the best team nobody knows about; Lon Kruger's club is fast and scores in bunches. Baylor is Baylor and underachieving, but it's going to talent its way into the field. K-State is an unknown, but the Wildcats have wins over Gonzaga, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. They're most likely getting in.

Ultimately, how many bids will this conference get? Seven. (Average from past three seasons: 5.3)

PAC-12

KenPom: 5th
Sagarin: 3rd
RPI: 3rd

Probable locks getting in and best guess at their final seed:
Arizona (No. 1)

Bubble bunch: Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA

Record against the RPI top 25 and top 50: 4-10, 9-12

Five best players in the conference: Kyle Anderson (UCLA), Jahii Carson (Arizona State), Aaron Gordon (Arizona), Nick Johnson (Arizona), Joseph Young (Oregon).

Synopsis: It's Arizona -- then a massive drop -- then a cluster of clubs that need to make sure they beat the dreck out of the league. The Pac-12 is a huge step up from where it was two years ago, when it only nabbed two bids to the NCAA tourney. Still crazy to think about that. A major conference being so terrible, it could only send two teams into a field of 68. It's on its way back. Steve Alford has UCLA on the brink of being a No. 6 seed right now.

Arizona is so fun to watch. I think Arizona State is playing for Herb Sendek's job. Washington is the sleeper team to watch for. I think it's got the talent to make a run and get into that bubble bunch, but as of now it's still a few nice wins from entering the fray. Colorado is going to be hard-pressed to get into the field. The Buffaloes are 1-4 since losing point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was one of the most valuable players of any in the nation. He's a future pro, and without him Tad Boyle's team is dropping by the day.

Ultimately, how many bids will this conference get? Five. (Average from past three seasons: 3.6)

BIG EAST

KenPom: 3rd
Sagarin: 4th
RPI: 4th

Probable locks getting in and best guess at their final seed:
Creighton (No. 3)
Villanova (No. 4)

Bubble bunch: Providence, Xavier

Record against the RPI top 25 and top 50: 2-13, 8-21

Five best players in the conference: James Bell (Villanova), Semaj Christon (Xavier), Bryce Cotton (Providence), Doug McDermott (Creighton), D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (Georgetown).

Synopsis: Outside of the four teams mentioned, everyone has eight losses or more at this point. This is a new Big East, of course. I think it's a solid league, a league that will expect/get at least three bids per season going forward, but really, thank God for Doug McDermott and a Villanova team that's been so much better than everyone thought they'd be.

Creighton's basically must-watch TV on the heels of that game where it sank 21 3-pointers at Villanova a week ago. Providence is 15-5 and has four of its next five on the road, so there's a lot to learn there. Xavier is returning to the fold but has work to do. This will be a very interesting race to watch play out. If PC and X aren't careful, one of them could play their way out, and yes, we could have a Big East with just three teams in the NCAAs.

Ultimately, how many bids will this conference get? Four. (Average from past three seasons: 9.3)

ACC

KenPom: 4th
Sagarin: 5th
RPI: 5th

Probable locks getting in and best guess at their final seed:
Syracuse (No. 1)
Duke (No. 2)
Pittsburgh (No. 5)
Virginia (No. 6)

Bubble bunch: Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina

Record against the RPI top 25 and top 50: 7-14, 15-29

Five best players in the conference: Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Jabari Parker (Duke), Lamar Patterson (Pittsburgh), T.J. Warren (N.C. State).

Synopsis: Seven teams in the NCAA conversation right now, but this league is a disappointment this year. There was an expectation for the ACC to be the best league, and you look at that record against top-25 clubs; see how UNC has been erratic; glance at mediocre Maryland; nod toward a Notre Dame team that's on a spill. It's just not the conference I and many others expected.

That said, SU, Duke and Pitt all can make a Final Four. And if those three teams even just make the Elite Eight, the conversation will be about how "the ACC's done all right for itself after all." Well, that really won't be the case. This league has like 37 teams this year, and just because a few are really good doesn't mean the rest didn't bring it down. The evidence is there. Virginia, by the by, is always one horrible offensive performance away from losing a bad one. Hasn't yet, but it's coming.

Ultimately, how many bids will this conference get? Five. (Average from past three seasons: 4.3)

SEC

KenPom: 6th
Sagarin: 6th
RPI: 7th

Probable locks getting in and best guess at their final seed:
Florida (No. 2)
Kentucky (No. 3)

Bubble bunch: Missouri, Ole Miss, Tennessee

Record against the RPI top 25 and top 50: 4-13, 12-25

Five best players in the conference: Jabari Brown (Missouri), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Casey Prather (Florida), Julius Randle (Kentucky), Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee).

Synopsis: Same ol' SEC. The league is just so bad in the bottom half that teams on the bubble, like Ole Miss and Tennessee, are not going to be helped much by beating the likes of Auburn, A&M, Arkansas and Vandy. And losing those games will dent profiles. At least Florida and UK are Final Four threats. These two programs have carried the flag for the league for the past decade, essentially. When is this going to change?

Let's face it. If UK, UF or Marshall Henderson isn't involved, the SEC is not going to be worth the watch for casual college hoops fans. I will say that Jordan Mickey is having the best freshman campaign (13 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.6 BPG) that no one outside the league is talking about.

Ultimately, how many bids will this conference get? Four. (Average from past three seasons: 4.0)

ATLANTIC 10

KenPom: 8th
Sagarin: 7th
RPI: 6th

Probable locks getting in and best guess at their final seed:
Saint Louis (No. 5)
UMass (No. 5)

Bubble bunch: Dayton, George Washington, VCU

Record against the RPI top 25 and top 50: 3-12, 9-20

Five best players in the conference: Dwayne Evans (Saint Louis), Treveon Graham (VCU), Cedrick Lindsay (Richmond), Jon Severe (Fordham), Chaz Williams (UMass).

Synopsis: A lot of guys could be placed in that top five right there. I think Williams is the only no-brainer, and it's why he'll win league POY, so long as UMass doesn't crumble. How great has it been to see that program finally relevant again, by the way? Been a decade and a half, and the drought is finally going to end. I think SLU and UMass could make cases to be No.3 and No. 4 seeds right now, respectively, but I expect each to get beat up a little in an underrated overall A-10, and so I'm forecasting 5s for both.

I think this league, again, will have the chance to send five to the NCAAs -- but unlike last year, it'll probably fall just short. Still, even after losing Temple and Butler and Xavier and Charlotte, this conference is still in the conversation as one of the six or seven best in the country. Impressive. SLU and UMass can win three in March, too. VCU is of course very dangerous, as always. GW is probably the best smaller-team surprise story you missed to this point in the year.

Ultimately, how many bids will this conference get? Four. (Average from past three seasons: 4.0)

AMERICAN

KenPom: 7th
Sagarin: 8th
RPI: 8th

Probable locks getting in and best guess at their final seed:
Louisville (No. 4)
Cincinnati (No. 6)

Bubble bunch: Connecticut, Memphis, SMU

Record against the RPI top 25 and top 50: 3-5, 5-10

Five best players in the conference: Joe Jackson (Memphis), Justin Jackson (Cincinnati), Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Shabazz Napier (UConn), Russ Smith (Louisville).

Synopsis: We weren't sure what to expect with this league. Well, to a point. If I told you that Louisville, Cincinnati, UConn and Memphis were in the NCAA picture at this point, you'd have thought that be right. But SMU is now 16-4 and streaking toward a bid. It still needs to beat the big boys in this league to ensure a spot, but give Larry Brown credit. It really is a nice story, and so far as we can tell, Brown is happy and actually building a program there in Dallas.

The rest of this league is still in a state of transition, and remember that Louisville and Rutgers will leave the AAC for the ACC and B1G next year, respectively. It's going to be a fun chase, and I think placing this conference at eighth overall is right on the money. Cincinnati is the best team right now, but its weak strength of schedule is still an issue the team is trying to overcome by basically winning every game. The Bearcats haven't lost since Dec. 14.

Napier, by the way, will have a chance at being an All-American First Team pick if UConn makes the NCAAs and the Huskies avoid bad losses in February.

Ultimately, how many bids will this conference get? Four. (Average from past three seasons: N/A)

WEST COAST

KenPom: 9th
Sagarin: 9th
RPI: 9th

Probable locks getting in and best guess at their final seed:
Gonzaga (No. 6)

Bubble bunch: Saint Mary's

Record against the RPI top 25 and top 50: 0-6, 2-13

Five best players in the conference: Gary Bell, Jr. (Gonzaga), Cole Dickerson (San Francisco), Tyler Haws (BYU), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Brad Waldow (Saint Mary's)

Synopsis: The West Coast is down, and you're seeing what happens when Gonzaga isn't challenged. You could argue SMC doesn't deserve to be bubble-bunched above. Gonzaga, a No. 1 last year, is now 18-3 and can earn as high as a No. 3 if it runs the table in this league, but I don't think that's happening. It's non-con wins (Arkansas, West Virginia, New Mexico State) aren't near the caliber Mark Few normally nabs.

Fun for a late-night watch on Thursday nights, and Tyler Haws can fill it up with BYU (so underachieving this year), but I was hoping there'd be more from San Diego and San Fran as well.

Ultimately, how many bids will this conference get? One. (Average from past three seasons: 2.0)

MOUNTAIN WEST

KenPom: 10th
Sagarin: 10th
RPI: 10th

Probable locks getting in, and best guess at their final seed:
San Diego State (No. 2)

Bubble bunch: New Mexico

Record against the RPI top 25 and top 50: 3-14, 3-21

Five best players in the conference: Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico), Khem Birch (UNLV), Deonte Burton (Nevada), Kendall Williams (New Mexico), Xavier Thames (SDSU).

Synopsis: The MWC put five into the NCAAs last year, in a banner year for the conference. Now it's only clinging on to this top 10 thanks to the totally-out-of-left-field 18-1 San Diego State Aztecs who, yes, can make a Final Four. New Mexico is a group that will probably be considered a lock by Valentine's Day. I was hoping the MWC could use last year's run as means to really up the ante and claim to be one of the six or seven best leagues in 2013-14, but undeniably that has not been the case.

Boise State, UNLV, Colorado State: these are teams with the talent to play into the Big Dance, but they'll all be in the NIT this year, I'm afraid.

Ultimately, how many bids will this conference get? Two. (Average from past three seasons: 4.0)

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Matt Norlander is a contributor to Sports on Earth and a writer at CBSSports.com. He lives in Connecticut and is equal parts obsessed with sports and music. Follow him on Twitter: @MattNorlander