As conference play starts up all over America, a picture of where each conference in college basketball stands entering 2015 is emerging. Today, I’ve decided to rank the top 15 conferences in the country. It’s a tough ranking to do and weighing different factors (depth, number of elite teams, etc.) can make it even more difficult. It is certainly a totally subjective, nebulous ranking, but that’s part of why it’s so much fun to do. Ranking conferences always seems to engender emotion, discussion, and debate. So go ahead, let me know what I got wrong in the comments!
1. Big 12
The easy knock on the Big 12 is that its best teams aren’t that good. At least at this point in the season, it’s difficult to pinpoint a single dominant team in the conference and the highest ranked Big 12 team, Iowa State, clocks in at number nine. But the Big 12 is freaking deep. Six out of its ten teams are ranked. 13-0 TCU was ranked too before backlash against their weak schedule dropped them out. The Big 12 is going to put a lot of teams in the Dance.
When the ACC expanded, folks expected the ACC to be dominant. And the new-look ACC is undoubtedly great. But while the ACC has four teams in Kenpom‘s top 10, it also five sub-100 teams. Louisville, Duke, and Virginia are all legit national title contenders. Meanwhile, Wake Forest, Florida State, and Virginia Tech are all legitimately mediocre. The ACC is huge, so of course it has some stinkers. It also has a bunch of teams with potential for great success in March, including a surprising Notre Dame squad. It’s reasonable to think of the ACC as the opposite of the Big 12: loaded at the very top, but not super deep.
3. Big East
The new look Big East might not be quite ready to reclaim its status as the best conference in the land, but it’s certainly very healthy. Villanova is nasty and still hasn’t lost. St. John’s has emerged on the national scene. The defending conference champion Friars are again good and getting better. Georgetown appears to be back. Aside from DePaul, everybody in the Big East had at least reasonable success in non-conference play. The Big East has good top-to-bottom depth. Get ready to watch a lot of Fox Sports.
4. Big Ten
Maryland arrived just in time for the Big Ten, because the Terps are really tough and the conference as a whole has taken a small step back. Wisconsin and Maryland are great. The conference’s other big-time programs are all down a bit, if not out. Michigan State and Ohio State’s aren’t playing at the high level we’re used to seeing them play. They’re still searching. Iowa and Illinois have both been good but not amazing. Michigan is young and has had some bad losses (NJIT…). The Big Ten has a lot of solid teams. There’s a lot of potential there. But, aside from a strong showing in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the conference largely disappointed in non-conference play.
Everybody knows how good Arizona is. Don’t sleep on Utah though–the Utes are for real. Stanford and Washington have plenty of game as well. USC is going to be good soon; they’re young. The Pac-12 is better than it was a few years ago when it bottomed out. But there’s still more mediocrity there than Pac-12 fans would probably like. The conference isn’t overly deep. And UCLA remains a slumbering giant. Their embarrassing loss to Kentucky was a blow to the conference.
Kentucky, baby! The undefeated Wildcats are filthy. But after that… The conference’s next two best teams (LSU and Arkansas) both lost to Clemson so, umm, yeah. Florida’s a mess, albeit a talented mess, which leaves Kentucky without a surfeit of competition. The Gators lost to FSU yesterday by two after tipping the ball into their own hoop in the game’s waning seconds. Even if Florida figures things out (here’s guessing they will), the SEC won’t have much to brag about outside of ‘Tucky.
7. Atlantic 10
The A-10 has been on a high the past couple of years, but it’s taken a small step back this year. UMass has not been great. Saint Louis has not been great. St. Joe’s has not been great. But it’s not all bad news. VCU’s a terrific team. George Washington is a quality team. Davidson can score with anybody. The A-10 is still more major than mid-major.
I was hesitant to put the AAC so low. It’s the home of the defending champs, after all. But the conference has struggled this year. UConn’s still working out the kinks following their title run. There are other solid teams in the conference: Temple, SMU, and Cincinnati are not slouches. But no team in the conference is ranked and only two have managed double-digit wins thus far.
9. Mountain West
At 13-0, Colorado State has snuck into the top 25. But the truth is the Rams probably aren’t even the Mountain West’s best team. San Diego State is an elite defensive squad and is arguably the conference’s flagship program at the moment. UNLV grabbed a huge win over Arizona. Boise State’s got game. And Wyoming is a good squad too.
Gonzaga’s for real. It might be early, but they’ve looked like a final four caliber team. Gonzaga isn’t the only reason not to sleep on the WCC. Saint Mary’s, BYU, and Portland are all quality mid-majors as well.
11. Missouri Valley: UNI and Wichita State are great.
12. MAC: Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Western Michigan are all solid.
13. Ivy League: Harvard is supposed to be the favorite, but there’s a surprising amount of parity in the Ivy. Keep an eye on Yale.
14. Horizon League: Green Bay’s win over Miami was great for the conference.
15. Conference USA: A lot of teams here. One of them–Old Dominion–happens to be very good.