In this week’s PJ 2 CJ blog, CJ and Pat will rank the six BCS conferences in college basketball.
By CJ Matson and Pat Strathman
Two philosophies exist when ranking the best BCS conferences in college basketball. One of them is ranking conferences based on its depth, and the other is ranking them based on its top teams. I am an advocate for both because they are strong indicators of a conference’s strength.
1) Big Ten
The level of play in the Big Ten has been severely ridiculed and rightfully so. There is nothing pretty about watching teams struggle to score 40-50 and put a bigger emphasis on defense lulls people to sleep, but match these teams up against quality schools in other BCS conferences and the Big Ten teams would fare well. The Big Ten clinched its second consecutive ACC/Big Ten Challenge title early this season.
As many as eight Big Ten teams could potentially dance when March stroll around. Ohio State is in the hunt for the national championship, but winning the conference isn’t a guarantee. Teams giving Ohio State all they want – Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois – are solid squads that can beat anyone. Minnesota and Purdue are also teams looking to make noise and create more havoc during conference play. If there is one word to describe the Big Ten, it’s parity. Any team can win on any night, and winning on the road is a monumental challenge. Five teams were ranked in the latest AP Poll.
The games are notoriously rugged because the Big Ten prides itself in its defensive play, but during the non-conference schedule and NCAA Tournament, their offenses can produce. The Big Ten has the top RPI and has 27 victories against AP top 25 teams.
2) Big 12
Losing Colorado and Nebraska has enhanced the Big 12. Only Texas Tech is a guaranteed victory in this tough conference. Its top teams – Kansas, Missouri and Baylor – are on a mission to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. They are ranked in the top 10 in the latest AP Poll.
The Big 12 is heavy at the top. Besides its top three teams, only three other teams – Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas – are viable candidates to join the madness in March. Iowa State is the strongest of the bunch and has shown enough to the NCAA Tournament Committee that they belong in the Big Dance, but Kansas State and Texas are bubble teams that still have much to prove.
Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are essentially at the bottom of the Big 12, but they are competing hard against the upper echelon of the conference. Just like the Big Ten, winning on the road in the Big 12 is brutally tough.
Big 12 teams are incredibly talented. They can play and excel at any style of basketball. The Big 12 isn’t as deep as the Big Ten, but their top teams are better. The Big 12 has 15 win against the AP’s top 25 teams and has the third best RPI.
3) Big East
In recent years, the top spot in the conference rankings would be owned by the Big East, but the Big East is noticeably down this season. It’s easy to say that the Big East has depth because the conference consists of 16 teams, but traditional powers such as Villanova, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and West Virginia are not performing at their customary level.
Four Big East teams – Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville are ranked in the recent AP Poll and are virtually locks to make the NCAA Tournament. The Big East could have as many as nine teams in the Tournament, but none of them are playing as though they could be potentially dangerous come tournament time. We’ve seen in the last few seasons that the Big East produces a myriad of tournament teams, but they fell early.
Syracuse is a legitimate national title contender. Georgetown and Marquette are capable of going far in the tournament, but these teams are also capable of losing in the first weekend of the Big Dance.
The bottom of the conference is putrid. DePaul and Providence are lousy. St. John’s is an incredibly young, inexperienced team that is a work-in-progress. The Big East has 27 victories against the AP’s top 25 and the second best RPI.
The ACC isn’t the usual ACC that America has come to know. Duke and North Carolina are the typical top dogs leading the conference, but Florida State is looking to end Duke and North Carolina’s run of dominance. Florida State already beat Duke and North Carolina. Even though Florida State has shown that they can lose to the ACC’s worst, they have also shown that they can beat the best.
Four ACC teams are ranked in the recent AP Poll. It’s likely that the ACC will get five teams in the Tournament, but seven could potentially make the field. Just like the Big 12, the ACC “middle of the pack” teams are solid, but inconsistent.
Florida State and Virginia are well on their way to making the Big Dance, but teams like Miami, North Carolina State and Maryland are living on the bubble uncomfortably. They could be NCAA Tournament teams, but they have a lot of work to do and haven’t convinced prognosticators that they belong.
Boston College, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are not only at the bottom of the ACC, but at the bottom of the NCAA. These teams can barely win on their home court. The ACC’s RPI is ranked sixth, and the conference only has 12 victories against the AP top 25 teams. North Carolina and Duke alone put the ACC fourth. If one of those two were down this year, the ACC would be ranked lower.
To say that the SEC isn’t a basketball conference is an understatement. Kentucky is as strong a basketball program as any in the country and clearly the best team in the country, but the SEC is weak.
Vanderbilt was a preseason top 10 team this season, but has underachieved. They’ll make the tournament, but they probably will fall early in the tournament like they usually do.
Florida is the second best team in the SEC, but it’s a distant second. They can compete with most teams, but to say that they can compete with the best would be egregious of me.
Three SEC teams are in the AP top 25. Five teams could be dancing in March. Mississippi State and Alabama are good, but I don’t like their chances against teams Big Ten, Big East or Big 12 teams.
The SEC teams in the middle and bottom of the standings simply cannot compete with other teams at their level. Other than Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt, SEC teams simply don’t commit to basketball. The conference lacks depth, and the top of the conference is dominated by one team: Kentucky. The SEC’s RPI is ranked fourth, and it has 17 wins against AP top 25 teams.
6) Pac 12
The entire Pac 12 has zero victories against the AP Top 25. That’s pretty bad. Teams at the top of the conference do have decent records, but match these teams up against squads outside the conference and they will lose. Those records are deceiving.
Three teams have a realistic shot of making the Tournament: Washington, California and Arizona. Other than those teams, there are a bunch of teams – Oregon, Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA – that are simply not that good.
If you thought that the bottom of the SEC was bad, just take a look at the Pac 12. Utah, USC and Arizona State make the SEC’s bottom look like NIT teams.
The conference simply has no depth and no top teams that could possibly compete the best mid-major teams, let alone the best BCS schools. The conference’s RPI is ranked tenth, which is below the Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, Conference USA and Mountain West.