We’re breaking down which teams have risen to the top of their leagues early on before taking a look at whether our supercomputer’s NCAA basketball predictions say if they’ll stay there.

It happens every year right around this time.

We turn our attention to college basketball and begin perusing the conference standings to get a post-holiday update about the state of things as we move closer to March Madness. And then, it doesn’t take long for the same thought to pass once, twice, maybe three times.

What is that team doing at the top?!

One of those teams is Minnesota, which was dead last in the media’s preseason Big Ten college basketball picks. But the Golden Gophers have won seven in a row, including conference victories over Nebraska, Michigan and Maryland.

Off to an improbable 12-3 start, Minnesota sits just a half game behind first-place Wisconsin (3-0) heading into Wednesday’s action.

And how about North Carolina State and Seton Hall? NC State and Seton Hall were both voted to finish seventh in the ACC and Big East, respectively. Now the Wolfpack are tied for first with North Carolina and Wake Forest at 3-0, while the Pirates have a half-game edge on defending national champion UConn, St. John’s and Villanova at 4-1.

Seton Hall already has won marquee matchups with No. 5 UConn, No. 23 Providence and No. 7 Marquette.

But do these fast starts mean these surprising teams have now earned contender status? Not necessarily.

Our TRACR-powered supercomputer is trained on data points accumulated over the past 15 years of college basketball games and produces insight into how teams have performed so far and will perform over the rest of this season.

What about on the women’s side you ask? We have those projections as well on our college basketball rankings and predictions page.

Below, we’re breaking down which men’s teams have risen to first place early on (entering this week) and taking a look at whether any of them are projected to be on top by the end of the 2023-24 regular season.

Who’s on Top: North Carolina (3-0), NC State (3-0)

We mentioned NC State’s eye-opening start, but our model projects the Tar Heels (11-3), No. 7 in the AP Top 25 and fifth in our TRACR rankings, to win the ACC regular-season crown. RJ Davis leads Hubert Davis’ squad with 20.6 points per game, while Armando Bacot averages 14.9 points and 11.1 rebounds – fifth in the nation. The Tar Heels are one of the best defensive teams in the country, ranking sixth in defensive TRACR. The supercomputer expects Wake Forest, Duke and Miami (FL) to finish in the top four.

How It’ll Finish: Projected ACC Standings

ACC projected standings

Who’s on Top: Baylor (2-0), Texas Tech (2-0), Kansas State (2-0)

We told you in our season preview that the Big 12 was the best conference in the nation, and it has certainly lived up to expectations. Eleven of the league’s 14 teams entered the week with an 11-3 record or better. The Houston Cougars (14-1) are still the best bets despite suffering their first loss at Iowa State on Tuesday night. They’re No. 2 in the AP Top 25, but No. 1 in TRACR behind the country’s best defense. Kelvin Sampson’s team has a minus-31.87 defensive TRACR, well ahead of the next-best team, Tennessee, at -22.88. Texas Tech (13-2), Iowa State (12-3), Baylor (13-2) and BYU (12-3) round out the top five. Where’s Kansas? Sixth.

How It’ll Finish: Projected Big 12 Standings

Big 12 Projected Standings

Who’s on Top: Seton Hall (4-1)

Our supercomputer doesn’t envision Seton Hall (11-5) making too much of a push at the top despite the team’s early success. The defending champion Huskies (13-2), who are fourth in the AP poll and 16th in TRACR, are projected to keep the top spot. Behind Tristan Newton (15.1 points per game), Cam Spencer (15.1), Alex Karaban (14.8) and Donovan Clingan (13.9), UConn ranks third in offensive TRACR. Clingan has been sidelined since suffering a sprained ankle in a 75-60 upset loss to the Pirates on Dec. 20, but the Huskies have won three straight without him. St. John’s (11-4), Creighton (12-4) and Marquette (11-4) make up the top four in our projected finish.

How It’ll Finish: Projected Big East Standings

Big East projected standings

Who’s on Top: Wisconsin (3-0)

There’s nothing fluky about Wisconsin’s strong start, and our supercomputer projects that the Badgers (11-3) will win the Big Ten regular-season title. Wisconsin has jumped over Purdue in our projections after the Boilermakers fell to 3-2 with Tuesday night’s loss at Nebraska (13-3). With big man Zach Edey (21.8 points, 10.4 rebounds per game) leading the way, the Boilermakers are No. 5 in TRACR overall and fourth in offense. The Badgers have won 10 of their last 11 with their only loss in that stretch coming to No. 1 Arizona.

How It’ll Finish: Projected Big Ten Standings

Big Ten Projected Standings

Who’s on Top: Oregon (4-0), Arizona State (4-0)

Arizona (12-3) has bounced back with wins over Colorado and Utah after its stumble at Stanford (100-81 on Dec. 31). The Wildcats, No. 8 in the AP Top 25 and fourth in TRACR, are projected to have enough firepower to overtake Oregon (12-3) and Arizona State (10-5) atop the Pac-12 by nearly five wins. As expected, North Carolina transfer Caleb Love has been quite the addition with a team-high 17.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.  

How It’ll Finish: Projected Pac-12 Standings

Pac 12 standings

Who’s on Top: Auburn (2-0), Kentucky (2-0), Alabama (2-0), LSU (2-0)

Yes, it’s early in the SEC race, but Alabama (10-5) has moved ahead of Tennessee (11-3) in our projections. The Crimson Tide, No. 2 in our TRACR rankings, has won four straight behind the best offense in the country per our model. Mark Sears leads the team with 20.2 points per game while shooting 49.4% from 3-point range. The Vols did suffer three straight losses in November, though they came against No. 2 Purdue, No. 1 Kansas and No. 17 North Carolina. Tennessee, which has since won seven in a row, is second in defensive TRACR and third in our rankings overall. Kentucky (12-2), which opened the conference slate with wins over Florida and Missouri, is tabbed to finish second. Auburn (13-2) was voted to finish sixth in the SEC preseason poll, but our supercomputer now has them finishing fourth. Texas A&M (9-6) has slipped from a second-place preseason media ranking to ninth in our projections, while Arkansas (9-5) has dropped from third to eighth.

How It’ll Finish: Projected SEC Standings

Projected SEC standings

America East

  • Who’s on Top: UMass Lowell (1-0), Vermont (1-0), Albany (1-0), Bryant (1-0)
  • Projected Winner: Vermont (Projected Conference Record: 12-4)

American Athletic Conference

  • Who’s on Top: Memphis (2-0), UAB (2-0), North Texas (2-0)
  • Projected Winner: Memphis (15-3)

Atlantic 10

  • Who’s on Top: Rhode Island (2-0), Dayton (2-0) Richmond (2-0)
  • Projected Winner: Dayton (16-2)

Atlantic Sun

  • Who’s on Top: Stetson (2-0), Eastern Kentucky (2-0)
  • Projected Winner: Stetson (12-4)

Big Sky

  • Who’s on Top: Weber State (2-0), Eastern Washington (2-0)
  • Projected Winner: Weber State (15-3)

Big South

  • Who’s on Top: High Point (2-0), Winthrop (2-0), UNC Asheville (2-0)
  • Projected Winner: High Point (12-4)

Big West

  • Who’s on Top: UC Irvine (4-0)
  • Projected Winner: UC Irvine (17-3)

Coastal Athletic

  • Who’s on Top: Drexel (3-0)
  • Projected Winner: Drexel (15-3)

Conference USA

  • Who’s on Top: Western Kentucky (1-0), Jacksonville State (1-0), Sam Houston (1-0), New Mexico State (1-0)
  • Projected Winner: Liberty (11-5)


  • Who’s on Top: Purdue Fort Wayne (4-1)
  • Projected Winner: Purdue Fort Wayne (15-5)

Ivy League

  • Who’s on Top: Princeton (1-0), Penn (1-0), Cornell (1-0), Yale (1-0)
  • Projected Winner: Princeton (12-2)

Metro Atlantic Athletic

  • Who’s on Top: Saint Peter’s (4-0)
  • Projected Winner: Saint Peter’s (15-5)


  • Who’s on Top: Akron (3-0), Toledo (3-0), Western Michigan (3-0)
  • Projected Winner: Akron (16-2)


  • Who’s on Top: North Carolina Central (2-0), Delaware State (2-0)
  • Projected Winner: North Carolina Central (12-2)

Missouri Valley

  • Who’s on Top: Indiana State (4-0)
  • Projected Winner: Indiana State (18-2)

Mountain West

  • Who’s on Top: Utah State (3-0), San Diego State (3-0)
  • Projected Winner: Utah State (14-4)


  • Who’s on Top: Merrimack (2-0), LIU (2-0)
  • Projected Winner: Merrimack (13-3)

Ohio Valley

  • Who’s on Top: Morehead State (3-0), Western Illinois (3-0)
  • Projected Winner: Morehead State (16-2)

Patriot League

  • Who’s on Top: American (2-0), Colgate (2-0), Lafayette (2-0)
  • Projected Winner: Colgate (15-3)


  • Who’s on Top: Samford (2-0), Western Carolina (2-0), UNCG (2-0)
  • Projected Winner: Samford (14-4)


  • Who’s on Top: McNeese State (2-0), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (2-0), Lamar (2-0), Nicholls (2-0)
  • Projected Winner: McNeese State (15-3)

Southwestern Athletic

  • Who’s on Top: Southern (2-0), Alabama State (2-0), Alabama A&M (2-0)
  • Projected Winner: Southern (14-4)

Summit League

  • Who’s on Top: St. Thomas (2-0)
  • Projected Winner: St. Thomas (13-3)

Sun Belt

  • Who’s on Top: Troy (3-0), Marshall (3-0)
  • Projected Winner: James Madison (14-4)

West Coast

  • Who’s on Top: Gonzaga (2-0), Saint Mary’s (2-0), Santa Clara (2-0)
  • Projected Winner: Gonzaga (14-2)

Western Athletic

  • Who’s on Top: Grand Canyon (4-0)
  • Projected Winner: Grand Canyon (17-3)

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