College Basketball: Power Ranking the 6 Power Conferences

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 2012

College Basketball: Power Ranking the 6 Power Conferences

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    It almost feels wrong doing a power ranking of conferences and immediately disqualifying the “non-power” leagues.

    After all, there are seven squads who are not in BCS conferences (I know BCS is for football, just work with me here) in the Sporting News preseason Top 25. Every season we see teams such as VCU, Gonzaga, Butler and even Ohio make deep runs in the NCAA tournament.

    Alas, if you are fan of the non-power leagues, this article is not for you. As fun as it is to watch these Cinderella teams every March, the national champion is more than likely coming from one of the six big conferences.

    So, which power conference is the best heading into the 2012-13 season? While the question may not mean as much as it does for football because 68 teams make the tournament, it still matters for seeding and the perennial bubble.

    As much as I would like to flatter myself and say this is the be-all end-all list, this is obviously a subjective exercise. Therefore, feel free to leave your own take below in the comments section.

    Here is my power ranking of the six power conferences for the start of the 2012-13 season.

No. 6: Pac-12

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    Not to be blunt, but the Pac-12 was terrible last season, so it has a lot of making up to do.

    In fact, the perception of the league was so dismal that the regular season champion (Washington) didn’t even earn a bid into the NCAA tournament’s field of 68. The two teams that did make the field found themselves slotted as an 11 and 12 seed and were quickly dispatched (to be fair Colorado did beat UNLV).

    However, the Pac-12 should be much better this year (you could certainly convince me the league could be rated higher—feel free to try).

    Ironically, it will be a two team race in 2012-13, and neither of the contenders was in the tournament last season. UCLA and Arizona, thanks largely to the recruiting efforts of Ben Howland and Sean Miller, will battle each other on the top of the standings all year.

    The Wildcats are No. 8 and the Bruins are No. 11 in the Sporting News preseason Top 25, and their underrated and intriguing rivalry should be even better this year.

    Washington, California and even Colorado could also make the middle of the conference interesting.

    Considering where the Pac-12 was a year ago, even sixth place on this list isn’t that bad. The future certainly looks a lot brighter.

No. 5: Big 12

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    The Big 12, otherwise known as Kansas’ practice run before the NCAA tournament, suffers from the loss of Missouri, who was a dark horse national championship contender last year before they forgot to show up against Norfolk State.

    The Jayhawks are the only Big 12 team in Sporting News’ rankings (No. 12), despite the losses of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.

    Behind the defense of Jeff Withey and the coaching of Bill Self, it’s hard to imagine anyone knocking off the eight-time defending conference champions, especially with Missouri gone.

    Nevertheless, Baylor, Kansas State and new kid on the block West Virginia might have something to say about that. In fact, the overall depth of the conference is the only reason I gave the Big 12 the nod over the Pac-12.

    If only Baylor could borrow Brittney Griner there could maybe be some more competition for the Jayhawks on the top.

No. 4: SEC

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    When it comes to Missouri, the Big 12’s loss is the SEC’s gain.

    Sporting News slots the Tigers in its No. 10 slot, thanks in large part to an impressive group of transfers headlined by Alex Oriakhi of Connecticut. Moreover, the lightning-quick backcourt combination of Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon should give plenty of teams fits.

    Even Kentucky.

    However, the SEC is still the Wildcats’ conference to lose, and it probably will be as long as John Calipari is stockpiling loaded recruiting classes year after year.

    After all, how many teams could lose almost all its production from a season ago and still be considered a top five team?

    While Nerlens Noel and company will have their hands full with the Tigers and the Florida Gators (who will also be a preseason Top 25 team), expect another crown from Kentucky.

    The strength of the SEC's top three teams was enough to overcome its lack of depth when compared to the Big 12 and Pac-12.

No. 3: Big East

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    There was a time not that long ago that a list like this would start with the Big East and work its way down from there.

    That’s clearly not the case anymore, but the league should enjoy its status as a top three conference in 2012-13 because it won’t stay there for long.

    In fact, my Bleacher Report colleague Josh Schoch thinks that the Big East will fall so far following the departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame that he will consider it the eighth best conference behind even the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West.

    But for the time being all those teams are still members of this league which claims four teams in Sporting News’ Top 25.

    Syracuse, behind a decent recruiting class and the leadership of Jim Boeheim, and Louisville, who returns most of the key contributors from its Final Four team, should battle on top of the conference standings for the entire year.

    Look for Peyton Siva and the Cardinals to ultimately come out on top.

No. 2: ACC

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    The Big East has four teams in Sporting News’ Top 25 and the ACC has three, but I think the collective group of Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State is slightly better than Louisville, Syracuse, Cincinnati and Notre Dame.

    However, that says more about my opinion of the Bearcats and Irish than it does the Cardinals and Orange.

    Still, the presence of the Wolfpack is why I have the ACC as the number two ranked conference on my list.

    Finally the Blue Devils and Tar Heels will have a formidable challenger on the top of the conference standings, and it is one that could realistically take the conference crown.

    North Carolina State, fueled by the addition of freshman Rodney Purvis and the return of Lorenzo Brown, has arguably the best starting five in the entire league and will have the perennial “little brother” chip on their shoulder.

    Nevertheless, if the rest of the conference after these three doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain, the ACC could very well fall on this list come midseason.

No. 1: Big Ten

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    This may be a shock to people who are only familiar with college football this year, but the Big Ten is the best at something in the 2012-13 athletic season.

    And that something is college basketball.

    The conference boasts five Top 25 teams on Sporting News’ list, and a reasonable case could be made to include Tubby Smith’s Minnesota squad as well.

    What’s more, Indiana (No. 1), Michigan (No. 5) and Ohio State (No. 3) all find themselves in the top five in those rankings and are formidable Final Four, if not national championship, contenders.

    Strangely enough, thanks to the strength of the Hoosiers, Wolverines and Buckeyes, Michigan State probably enters this season a bit underrated. Tom Izzo’s squad returns a number of key contributors and adds highly-regarded freshman Gary Harris to the mix.

    It would not be a surprise if as many as eight or nine teams from this deep and talented conference made the NCAA tournament, and many of them should find themselves with top three seeds.

    Who knows, maybe even Northwestern can sneak in this year.