Power Ranking Every Conference in College Basketball

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistNovember 8, 2012

Power Ranking Every Conference in College Basketball

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    The debate on which conference in college basketball is the best is one that fans of the sport have on not only a yearly basis, but also a daily and weekly basis.

    This season is no different with the Big East, ACC and Big Ten fielding multiple teams that are worthy of national championships.

    With all the conference expansion at all the major and even the minor conferences, it is difficult to keep track of what teams are in what conferences now.

    All of that expansion has affected the rankings to an extent, but here they are, the ranking of all 32 conferences in college basketball.

32. Great West

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    Most people do not even know that there is a conference called the Great West.

    For those of you who do not know about the new conference, it was formed in 2004 and consists of five teams.

    Those five teams are located nowhere near the west with NJIT, Chicago State, Houston Baptist, UT-Pan American and Utah Valley being the five teams spread across the nation.

31. SWAC

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    The SWAC is one of those conferences that gets attention once every season during conference tournament time.

    Usually, the winner of the SWAC tournament earns a trip to Dayton for the First Four and if they are lucky enough to win that game, they would face the top seed in their bracket.

    In the past four seasons, the conference has had four different regular-season champions and three different representatives sent to the NCAA Tournament.

    Mississippi Valley State earned both titles last season and ended up losing to Western Kentucky in the First Four by a point in the NCAA Tournament.

30. MEAC

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    The MEAC is another conference that barely gets any attention and has its winner get eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

    However, that was not the case in 2012 when Norfolk State pulled off the upset of the century against Missouri in the West Regional.

    Norfolk State were not the winners of the conference last season as Savannah State won their first conference title in their first season in the MEAC.

29. Northeast Conference

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    The Northeast Conference is yet another conference that is known for having teams become No. 16 seeds in the NCAA Tournament and losing to the top seed in their bracket.

    Last season was more of the same for the NEC as Long Island University earned the automatic berth, but lost to top seed Michigan State in the West Regional.

    LIU did face a tough run for the regular-season championship last season as they only finished one game ahead of Wagner.

    Of the 12 teams in the conference, eight have made it to the NCAA Tournament, but none of them have won a game.

28. Big South

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    The Big South may be best known for having one of the oddest nicknames in all of college sports in the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.

    Other than that, the best product to come out of Big South basketball has been Winthrop, who has made the NCAA Tournament 10 times out of the conference with the last time being in 2010.

    The past two seasons, UNC Asheville has been the representative for the conference at the NCAA Tournament.

    Last season, UNC Asheville made it as a No. 16 seed and only lost by seven to top-seeded Syracuse.

27. Big West

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    The Big West is a conference that is not known for their basketball, with baseball being the prime focus in the conference.

    Cal State Fullerton is a baseball powerhouse with three former Golden Spikes Award winners that include Tim Wallach, Phil Nevin and Mark Kotsay.

    As for basketball, Long Beach State has had the most NCAA Tournament appearances, including the one that they made last season.

    The 49ers were given a No. 12 seed and were picked by many, including myself, to upset New Mexico, but that was not to be.

26. Atlantic Sun

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    The Atlantic Sun gained plenty of attention over the past few seasons after Belmont won the automatic berth from the conference for the past two seasons.

    Belmont was a favorite to upset Wisconsin in 2011 and Georgetown in 2012, but the team could not win a game either year in the NCAA Tournament.

    Before that, East Tennessee State had featured in the NCAA Tournament for two straight seasons.

    This season, the stock of the conference has dropped with Belmont leaving for the Ohio Valley Conference.

    Replacing Belmont as the 10th team in the conference is Northern Kentucky, whose nickname for those wondering is the Norse, which adds to a conference that already contains Ospreys (North Florida), Hatters (Stetson) and Dolphins (Jacksonville).

25. Summit League

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    The Summit League has produced two teams that earned automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament that have provided challenges for two Big 12 teams in the past two years.

    Oakland was the first team to do it in 2011 when they scared Texas in the first round while South Dakota State was the feel-good story of the 2012 tournament before barely losing to Baylor in their first game.

    This season, the Summit League will be looking for its first NCAA Tournament win since the conference rebranded itself from the Mid-Continent in 2007.

24. Southland

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    The Southland Conference is one you would not think of when it comes to expansion, but the conference is experiencing a big amount of change.

    Three Texas-based teams, UT San Antonio, UT Arlington and Texas State, all left the conference, which is down to 10 teams with only Oral Roberts coming in from the Summit League as a replacement for the three departed members.

    The best team left in the conference is Lamar, who won last season's conference tournament, but lost in the First Four to Vermont.

23. Southern Conference

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    The Southern Conference is still best known for the great season that Davidson had in 2008 under the leadership of Stephen Curry.

    Curry is now with the Golden State Warriors and coach Bob McKillop is still with the Wildcats. He actually led them to the 2012 NCAA Tournament, but lost to Louisville in the first round.

    Along with Davidson, look for UNC Greensboro and Wofford to contend for the conference title this season.

22. Sun Belt

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    The Sun Belt has received a ton of publicity this season in the football department with UL-Monroe beating Arkansas and Auburn, but not much attention is on the basketball department at the moment.

    That is not expected to change as the Sun Belt are not too strong in the basketball department.

    If there is one team to watch in the Sun Belt this season, it is perennial power Western Kentucky, who has earned three of the last five conference tournaments.

    The Hilltoppers have only won one regular season title in those past five seasons as five different teams have won that title, including Middle Tennessee State last season.

21. America East

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    Most people still recognize the America East from Vermont's big win over Syracuse in the 2005 NCAA Tournament.

    The Catamounts took some time off from the being at the top of the conference before coming back in the past few years by winning the conference's automatic berths in 2010 and 2012.

    However, winning the conference is not guaranteed for Vermont as Boston University and last year's regular-season champions Stony Brook will contend for the America East automatic berth as well.

20. Big Sky

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    The Big Sky conference has been mostly dominated by Montana in the past decade.

    The Grizzlies have only won one regular-season title in the past decade, which came last season, but when it comes to earning the automatic berth for the Big Sky, Montana have earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament in four of the past eight seasons, including 2012.

    Whether or not Montana makes it five tournament appearances in nine years is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure, new members North Dakota and Southern Utah probably will not impact the title race this season.

19. MAAC

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    The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) is one of the underrated mid-major conferences.

    The most recognizable team in the MAAC over the past few seasons has been Siena, who won three straight regular-season and tournament titles from 2008 to 2010.

    Over the past few seasons, parody has taken over the league with four different teams taking titles in the regular season and the conference tournament.

    Last season, Iona won the regular season title while Loyola (MD) won the conference tournament title.

    To some people's surprise, Iona was awarded an at-large berth, marking the first time two MAAC teams made the NCAA Tournament since 1995 when St. Peter's and Manhattan both made it to the NCAA Tournament.

18. Ohio Valley

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    The Ohio Valley Conference was in the spotlight for most of last season due to the Murray State Racers.

    Murray State went 30-1 and earned the sixth seed in the West Regional, where they beat Colorado State before losing to Marquette.

    Two years ago, it was Morehead State who caught the attention of the national viewing public with their upset of fourth seed Louisville in the 2011 version of the NCAA Tournament.

    This season, the OVC adds another mid-major powerhouse in Belmont, who comes over from the Atlantic Sun.

    With the move of Belmont to the OVC, it creates a rivalry between the Bruins and Murray State as the two will fight for the conference title this season.

17. Horizon League

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    The Horizon League has been one of the mid-major conferences getting the most attention over the past few seasons with the success of Butler in the NCAA Tournament.

    This season, the Horizon will not have Butler, who left for the Atlantic 10, in the conference lineup.

    The defection of Butler to the A-10 weakens the strength of the conference and leaves them with an uneven amount of teams, nine, with no one coming into replace the Bulldogs.

    The good news for the Horizon League is that they can use 2012 as an example of surviving without Butler as Detroit made the NCAA Tournament last season.

    The remaining members of the Horizon League will have to find some way to survive without Butler and avoid all the press that will focus on the exit of Butler for most of the season.

16. Patriot League

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    The Patriot League is one of the smallest conferences in college basketball, but it still packs a big punch when it comes to their play on the court.

    Last season. Lehigh scored the biggest upset of the NCAA Tournament over Duke in the second round as a No. 15 seed.

    The Mountain Hawks became the second Patriot League team to win a NCAA Tournament game with Bucknell winning in 2005 and 2006.

    Lehigh will get an early chance to prove their worth this season when they open the season at Baylor in Waco on Friday.

15. Ivy League

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    The Ivy League is not only known for their academics anymore, but also known for their strong basketball competition in recent years.

    Last season, it came down to a three-way battle for the Ivy League championship, which has its automatic berth determined by the regular-season champion, between Harvard, Penn and Princeton with Harvard winning the title.

    The Ivy League has been one of the most entertaining title races to follow over the past few seasons, especially with the automatic berth on the line during the regular season.

14. WAC

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    The WAC has become the biggest casualty of the conference expansion movement.

    The conference has seen its football competition cease its existence and the basketball competition could go in the same direction due to all of the teams going in and out of the conference at will.

    Nevada and Fresno State left the conference this season while six members will leave for different conferences in 2013 and Idaho will leave in 2014.

    With the members of the conference being in doubt, all the WAC can hope for is a competitive basketball season while they have 10 members.

13. MAC

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    Last season, the profile of the MAC was boosted even more thanks to the success of Ohio.

    The Bobcats reached the Sweet 16 after beating Michigan and South Florida before falling to North Carolina.

    The scary thing about last season's MAC tournament champion is that they are returning most of their starters and will be one of the top mid-majors all season.

    With Ohio leading the conference, look for the rest of the teams in the conference to try and take down the Bobcats.

    However, if Ohio does dominate in the regular season but fails to earn the automatic berth, the MAC would most likely get two teams into the NCAA Tournament.

12. Mountain West

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    The Mountain West was struggling for quite some time until San Diego State not only brought the conference into relevance, but also into the spotlight.

    Unfortunately for the Aztecs, they do not have much competition in the conference other than New Mexico at the moment.

    While the games between New Mexico and San Diego State are sure to be great this season, the rest of the conference has yet to catch up to the top two teams.

    UNLV and Colorado State are close to becoming title contenders, but they are not there yet.

    As for the two newcomers, Nevada and Fresno State, they should not worry the Lobos or Aztecs this season either as the Mountain West belongs to those two teams at the moment.

11. Conference USA

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    The strength of C-USA has not been the same since the mass exodus of teams, including Louisville, in 2005.

    The conference is also very top-heavy with Memphis being the dominant force since the departure of Louisville and Cincinnati.

    Memphis has won six of the last seven automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament with Houston being the only exception after their miracle run in 2010.

    The Tigers are once again the favorite to win the conference, but the real question in C-USA this season is will anyone even come close to Josh Pastner and company?.

10. CAA

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    The CAA suffered a big blow this offseason as VCU left for the A-10, but they have plenty of star power still left in the conference.

    That star power starts with the most underrated coach in college basketball, Bruiser Flint and his Drexel team.

    The Dragons will be a team to watch this season after being left out of the NCAA Tournament last season.

    Drexel will face challenges from George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion in their quest to prove that they are a team that could earn an at-large berth this season if they do not earn the automatic berth again.

9. Missouri Valley

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    The Missouri Valley Conference has been one of the best mid-major conferences over the past decade.

    Creighton was the original team to bring the MVC into the spotlight, but the tradition of mid-major powerhouses was continued by Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa and Wichita State.

    Now, the Bluejays are back in the spotlight this season and have one of the top players in the country in Doug McDermott.

    Creighton will be the favorite to win the conference, but if there is anything we have learned about the MVC, it's that a team from this conference can pop up out of nowhere and not only be a contender in the conference, but also a contender to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament.

8. West Coast Conference

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    The West Coast Conference came to prominence in the same way that the Missouri Valley did, through one team who jumped onto the national stage.

    That team in the WCC was Gonzaga and they have been joined by St. Mary's as the top two programs in the conference.

    Added to the mix last season was BYU, who finished third behind champions St. Mary's and second-place Gonzaga in their first season.

    The three teams should be involved in a fight for the regular-season championship and there is no doubt that the WCC should get at least two teams into the NCAA Tournament.

7. Atlantic 10

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    The Atlantic 10 are one of the few winners of conference expansion as they have brought in Butler and VCU this season.

    The two teams will add to the perennial favorites, Temple and Xavier, as well as a few up-and-coming teams like St. Joseph's and Saint Louis.

    Last season, four teams from the A-10 made the NCAA Tournament and that total could grow with the addition of the two new teams.

    The addition of Butler and VCU will also to the quality of the product on the court with more high-profile games during the conference season.

6. Pac-12

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    The Pac-12 is getting plenty of attention in preseason thanks to two teams looking to get back on the national stage.

    At UCLA, the Shabazz Muhammad saga is still going on as Ben Howland is still looking to turn that program around, while at Arizona, coach Sean Miller has his team poised for a breakout season.

    The teams up in the Pacific Northwest like Washington and Oregon are the two teams that are looking to improve on last season's regular-season finish.

    The overall goal for the whole conference is to earn more than two bids into the NCAA Tournament, as Colorado and Cal were the only two teams to represent the Pac-12 last season.

5. Big 12

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    The Big 12 may have added two quality programs with two proven head coaches during the offseason, but they lost a top team in Missouri.

    West Virginia and TCU will not make life easy in the Big 12 season for anyone, but they could be a part of a group of teams sitting behind Kansas and Baylor all season in the standings.

    Kansas and Baylor will be the favorites to win the regular-season title this year, but do not be surprised if a team like Iowa State makes a run at the title either.

    At the end of the season, the goal of the conference is to not be the Pac-12 of last year and have a good amount of teams make the NCAA Tournament along with Kansas and Baylor.

4. SEC

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    Expansion has helped the quality of SEC basketball with Missouri playing in its first season in the conference along with Texas A&M.

    Mizzou could be a legitimate threat to both Kentucky and Florida for the SEC title this season.

    Although the SEC basketball season will not be as dramatic as the football season that the conference is having at the moment, there will be plenty of big matchups that will decide the title.

    In the final few weeks of the season, all three of the preseason favorites to win the conference will square off against each other in games that should decide the winner of the conference.

3. ACC

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    The focus of the ACC will once again be on the state of North Carolina this season.

    Duke, North Carolina and even NC State will be the favorites to win the title.

    There will be one other challenger in the ACC as Florida State could make a case to win the regular-season title as well.

    Both the Wolfpack and Seminoles will look to break the duopoly of Duke and UNC, who have won at least a share of the ACC regular season title since 2004.

    If that duopoly is not broken this season, it surely will be next year when Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame enter the ACC.

2. Big Ten

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    The Big Ten may have three of the top five teams in the nation, but they lack the overall product that is seen in the Big East.

    Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan will have their way this season against most of the teams in the conference.

    The trio of teams will battle it out for the regular-season title while Wisconsin and Michigan State will be tough opponents and should both make it to the NCAA Tournament as well.

    With the Big East weakening next season, the Big Ten could jump into the position of top conference then.

1. Big East

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    There is no doubt that the Big East is still the best conference in all of college basketball.

    This may be the final time that the Big East can earn this title as the conference will weaken significantly next season.

    Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame will depart for the ACC while Memphis, Temple and three other schools will replace them.

    As for this season, fans of the Big East will get one final chance to enjoy the countless rivalries between all 16 teams and the high quality in basketball that almost every game in the conference possesses.