So much has happened in college basketball since we have been gone that I am not even sure where to start. Come tournament time, one of the important things to look at is the strength of each conference so you can tell the difference between a 10-7 Big East team, a 10-6 ACC team and a 11-5 Big 12 team (in conference). Conference record is not everything, but it shows you who can win the tough games and lets you look at the competition the teams face on a weekly basis. Ranking time.
- Big East
- Big Ten
- Big 12
- Mountain West
- Atlantic 10
- The rest are just conferences with a few good teams
The first thing to know about these rankings is that all the major conferences are not better than the Mid-Majors. Case in point: The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 are about 20 times better than the Pac-10. Now that we have that taken care of, let’s take a look at each conference in a little more depth, starting at the bottom.
I never thought I would see a day where the Pac-10 was so abjectly horrible. The best team in the conference is California and while I will probably have Cal winning their first game, I will absolutely not put them in the Sweet 16. They have not been tested in eons and the majority of their conference is floating around .500 in overall record. This is the conference that UCLA, Lute Olson’s Cats, and Stanford once called home. How far it has fallen. Do not put any Pac-10 teams anywhere relevant in your bracket.
This usually deep conference is a shell of its former self. With North Carolina in the doldrums, Wake Forest being a very middling team, Florida State being way too hot and cold to put together a good resume, the conference is just not deep like usual. Maryland and Duke are clearly very good and should be taken seriously in the tournament, but the rest should be taken with a grain of salt the size of Coach K’s last name. Clemson, GT, Florida State, and VT all have looked good at times but are inconsistent in the worst of ways. All are talented enough to catch your eye but all are fool’s gold. Apart from Maryland and Duke, the once-proud ACC has lost its luster.
An argument could definitely be made that they are better than the SEC, but the depth of the conference is horrible and apart from the top few teams they just are not very good. I like Kansas (obviously), K-State, and Baylor quite a bit, but the rest of the conference is weaker than Mayweather and Mosley’s pre-fight scuffle. Texas, Texas A&M, Mizzou and the rest are pretty weak. Oklahoma State is capable of an upset with the incomparable James Anderson (NBA sleeper anyone?), but otherwise the conference is trash compared to what it could have been going into the year. I still think Kansas is the best team in the country and the favorite to win the tournament, but other than them I cannot get too excited about the Big 12.
This is a Jekyll and Hyde conference. The East (Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia) is an outstanding conference. Kentucky, Vandy and Tennessee are dangerous tournament teams, Florida is a bubble team, South Carolina is respectable and Georgia has scared really good teams all year. If the conference stopped here it might jump the Big Ten. HOWEVER, the ugly cousin, better known as the SEC West drags it down. Mississippi State is a good team and Mississippi was a bubble team for a while, but Auburn, LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are C minus teams at the very best. However, to keep up the hot girl and ugly cousin analogy, just because the ugly cousin is there does not make the duo unacceptable, you just have to use a little logic when picking. Also, look for Georgia to knock off a realy good team in the SEC tournament.
With Robbie Hummel out, the conference will not have a #1 seed, but they are phenomenally deep. Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan State are all top ten caliber teams with outstanding performers capable of beating anyone in the tournament on their day. Purdue was Final Four quality before Hummel’s injury, Evan Turner is the best player in the country this year and Kalin Lucas, with his supporting cast, is really really good. But what separates the Big Ten from the Big 12 or SEC is its depth. Apart from those top 3, there is still a very well coached and very good Wisconsin team, and a couple of dangerous bubble-sitters in Illinois and Minnesota. Any of these teams could beat a handful of the top 10 on their best day and are all well coached (Bo Ryan, Bruce Weber, and Tubby Smith). Illinois and Minnesota are going to have to do some damage in the Big Ten tournament to get in, but much crazier things have happened. Ignore the Big Ten haters and feel secure putting them in advanced positions in your bracket.
Just like every year, the Big East is a beast. As of today, they have three top 10 teams, five top 25 teams and a handful of bubble teams that are dangerous. Syracuse, West Virginia, Villanova and Pitt are the class of the conference, but with their incredible depth, the list does not stop there. Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, and Louisville are all very good teams that you definitely do not want to draw in the tournament. Below them are Cincinnati, UConn, South Florida, Seton Hall and St. John’s, all of which are teams that would be in the top half of most conferences, but currently fall in the bottom half of the Big East. The only really abjectly horrible team in the conference is DePaul with Providence and Rutgers grading in at just bad. Like last year, you should have no qualms about putting a Big East team deep in your bracket. The best conference in the country, hands down.
BYU and New Mexico are the most commonly mentioned teams in the conference, and they deserve it, but the conference is far more than a bipolar conference (in the sense of two poles or influence, not the disease). San Diego State and UNLV sit squarely on the bubble, and while there are a few horrible teams in the conference I would feel comfortable putting the MWC just below the ACC as far as overall quality. They are not as deep, but you had better have the two big ones in the sweet 16 if not deeper with due consideration to the other two if they make it into the field. On every athletic level, the MWC is getting to the point where we cannot write them off. They have made strides in football and it looks like the basketball is on the rise too. Props to the MWC.
This conference is going to either boom or bust in the tournament. They are very deep and good, thus the respect in this column, but I have a bad feeling about the conference. Temple is the most highly ranked, but Richmond, Xavier, Dayton, Charlotte, and Rhode Island all have shots at the tournament, though some have a much better shot than others. All the teams are more or less on the same level and it has made for some outstanding basketball to watch, but I am not sure how much I like their chances in the tournament. They are a very good conference, but buyer beware on the conference as a whole.
One Team Conferences
Butler- Horizon League
As an Indianapolis native, I love me some Butler basketball. They are ranked highly and deserve it. Do no write them off just because they play in the Horizon League. They are undefeated in conference, crushed, and I mean absolutely crushed, Siena in their BracketBuster, and lost close games to Georgetown, Minnesota and Clemson earlier in the year. Matt Howard is finally playing like the defending Conference Player of the Year and the Bulldogs will be a force in the tournament. You do not get cheap wins against Butler so any team that beats them is going to have to really earn that win.
Old Dominion- Colonial
They are not as good as Butler or anything but should not be taken lightly. I have never been a fan of the nickname “The Monarchs” but I have no choice but to be a fan of the Monarch’s basketball. Do not do anything crazy with ODU, but they are a team that will not go down easily
Northern Iowa- Missouri Valley Conference
The usually sleeper-filled MVC is down this year, but UNI is still pretty good. I personally think they are getting a little bit of credit for being atop the MVC that is undue as the MVC is way down, but they still held a top 25 ranking for much of the year. Still worth keeping an eye on in the tournament even though they will likely get upset as a result of getting a seeding that is higher than they are ready to handle. Depending on their rank I could see them being the annual 5-12 or 6-11 upset.
Utah State- WAC
Do not sleep on the Aggies. Again they are not on the level of the Butlers of the world, but do not write them off just because you never hear about them. I do not have a ton to say about them other than do not sleep on them.
I should also mention Saint Mary’s but Gonzaga is clearly the best team here and the only one you should give any thought come bracket time. They have become one of the big dogs as of late, as compared to the usual lovable little guy, but that should not change your picking of them too much. They might get ranked too high, in which case you should be cautious, but the Zags are legitimately a very good team.
Cornell and Harvard- Ivy League
I have said it before, but do not sleep on Cornell. Harvard is a much lesser threat than Cornell, but is worth noting here because they are not the bunch of nerds they are depicted to be. Cornell is a sweet 16 team potentially and could really make some Big Red noise in the tournament. I will pick them against a lot of the bigger conference bubble teams and I will be rewarded for it. Join me.
It feels good to get back on my College Basketball grind, and with Championship Week on the verge you can be sure that bubbles will be bursting. I cannot wait.