Many of college basketball’s greatest rivals are battling for in-state supremacy this week, making it a great time to ask: which state takes home the crown as the best in college hoops? Just like basketball teams, some states are relying on a single superstar to carry them, while others depend on an assortment of strong teams.
California, with its huge supply of Division I programs, has seen many of its most prominent teams improve in 2012-13 after the Pac-12’s disastrous showing last year. Even so, the biggest success story of the year for the Golden State has been mid-major San Diego State, a Top 25 team for most of the season.
Read on for more on California’s broad-based collection of roundball talent, along with the state’s place in the pecking order of the best (and worst) in the nation. Quantity is well and good, but one great team counts for more here than a few pretty good ones.
Alaska is the only state without a Division I hoops team, so please enjoy this picture of Anchorage native Trajan Langdon (the “Alaskan Assassin”) in his prime at Duke.
New Hampshire has rarely been a basketball hotbed, but this year has been a particularly dire one. Dartmouth is in rock-bottom last in a weak Ivy League, while 6-16 New Hampshire is just a game and a half out of last place in the America East.
The Black Bears are all Maine’s got, and that’s not much this season. Maine opened the year with a four-game losing streak and is still a disappointing 9-15 overall (4-7 in America East play).
It’s been a decade since the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors have made it to the Big Dance, but that could change this season.
The state’s lone D-I squad is 9-4 in its first year in the Big West and has already beaten conference-leading Long Beach State once.
Perennial March sleeper Princeton is challenging for the Ivy League title, but the Garden State is short on success otherwise.
Rutgers and Seton Hall are both getting pummeled in the Big East, though at least the Scarlet Knights have one impressive win (over Pitt) to their credit.
North Dakota State is one of many surprises in this year’s Summit League, having already won 19 games including a road victory at Towson.
The Bison—who aren’t getting much help in these rankings from 10-13 North Dakota—also deserve credit for eking out a home win over South Dakota State and superstar guard Nate Wolters.
In most years, West Virginia would hold a much higher spot in these rankings (not to mention much higher than its status as a two-school state would predict).
However, Marshall has been mediocre this year and WVU has been just this side of awful with the help of five wins over the Big 12’s bottom-feeders.
Both Delaware and Delaware State are slogging through the marshes of .500 ball this season.
The Blue Hens do rise slightly above their 13-12 record with a road win over Virginia and two superlative individual players (scoring star Devon Saddler and rebounding ace Jamelle Hagins).
Whether they’ll reprise their sometime role as bracket-busters remains to be seen, but the Vermont Catamounts have looked decent in the regular season.
A road win at Northeastern is the only highlight of a weak non-conference showing, but the Catamounts are 9-3 and sitting in second place in the America East.
Sadly for Georgia, Mercer (in the miniscule Atlantic Sun conference) is the closest thing the state has to a success story.
The Bears are 16-9 and stand in second place, a good deal more impressive than higher-profile Georgia (12-12 overall, even after a recent five-game winning streak) or Georgia Tech (13-9, but 10th place in the ACC).
Despite ample power-conference representation, South Carolina’s ranking isn’t getting much help from Clemson (12-11 and floundering in the ACC) or the South Carolina Gamecocks (tied for last place in the SEC).
The most successful team in the state has actually been the College of Charleston, which scored an upset at Baylor en route to 18 wins and a second-place spot in the Southern Conference.
Nate Wolters and South Dakota State haven’t been quite as impressive as their bracket-busting billing, but the Jackrabbits are still 19-7 behind the country’s fourth-leading scorer.
That figure includes a true road win at New Mexico and a neutral-site victory over Marshall, which is a good thing considering that South Dakota’s Coyotes are a mere 8-16 this season.
For the country’s smallest state, Rhode Island is surprisingly well stocked with basketball talent. Bryce Cotton and Providence appear to be coming out of their doldrums with a 12-11 record and a win over Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, surprising Bryant leads the NEC with a 9-2 conference record and scored a win over Lehigh—while C.J. McCollum was still healthy.
Montana State is largely a non-factor here, but that’s partly because of the sensational season the Montana Grizzlies are having.
The senior-laden Griz are 14-0 in Big Sky play and 18-4 overall, even if they don’t have any signature wins to help them with the selection committee.
After an outstanding 14-0 start, the Cowboys have fallen off badly in Mountain West action. They do have signature wins over then-No. 19 Colorado and then-No. 15 San Diego State, though, which is a lot better than most one-school states can do.
Unsurprisingly, Idaho’s fortunes here rest (as so often in any sport) on the Boise State Broncos. While Idaho and Idaho State flounder, the Broncos are 16-7 with wins over Creighton and UNLV.
Although the once-mighty Utes are in last place in the Pac-12, not every Utah program is having so dire a season.
Utah State and Weber State (both 17-5) are contenders in their respective small conferences, while BYU is a respectable 18-8, including 8-4 in the mid-major West Coast Conference.
Luckily for Maryland’s place in these rankings, 1-19 Maryland-Eastern Shore isn’t the state’s standard-bearer this season.
UM’s Terrapins are 17-7 with wins over N.C. State and at Northwestern, while Loyola (MD) is 17-9 and tied for second place in the MAAC.
Although most of Texas’ Big 12 representatives are fighting each other for last place, Baylor is headlining the state’s efforts with a 15-6 record and wins over Kentucky and Oklahoma State.
Of Texas’ innumerable small-conference programs, the one to keep an eye on is Stephen F. Austin, the national leader in scoring defense and the 20-2 frontrunners in the Southland Conference.
A few weeks ago, even woeful Mississippi State wouldn’t have dragged the Magnolia State this low.
Now, though, Southern Miss has gotten a rude awakening with back-to-back Conference USA losses and even celebrated Ole Miss has dropped three of four to fall to third place in the SEC.
Iowa is one of the few states whose power-conference schools are in better shape than its mid-major programs.
Both Drake and Northern Iowa are playing .500 ball in the Missouri Valley, whereas rising Iowa is now 15-9 overall with a win over Wisconsin. Iowa State tops the list, 1.5 games out of first in the tough Big 12 and holding wins over Kansas State and Baylor.
Although LSU has had its moments under first-year head coach Johnny Jones, the Tigers are far from being the class of Louisiana.
Southern is 17-8 and in first place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, while Louisiana Tech is 21-3 and the unbeaten leader of the WAC.
Unsurprisingly, though the state has plenty of mediocre teams to choose from, the only program that really matters for Connecticut is the Huskies.
16-6 and boasting wins over Michigan State and Notre Dame, Shabazz Napier and company keep the Nutmeg State relevant all by themselves.
With its assorted small-conference schools failing to impress this season, Alabama has to rely entirely on its SEC presence.
Auburn is limping to another sub-.500 finish, but Alabama is holding its own. The Crimson Tide have run up an impressive 8-3 league mark and earned a share of second place, beating Kentucky and Arkansas in the process.
The Nevada Wolf Pack isn’t having a fun time adjusting to the Mountain West, having lost six of their first nine conference games.
Even traditional MWC power UNLV isn’t exactly dominating this year, though wins over Iowa State, San Diego State and New Mexico do a lot to offset a 5-4 league record.
Minnesota can’t exactly fall back on quantity, but luckily the Golden Gophers are providing serious quality this year.
Andre Hollins and company may have fallen out of the Top 25 for now, but a 17-7 record (with wins over Memphis, Michigan State and Illinois) still marks them as a team to be reckoned with.
Arkansas’ satellite campuses are putting on a pretty good show in smaller conferences, with Arkansas-Pine Bluff sharing the lead in the SWAC and Arkansas-Little Rock topping a division of the Sun Belt.
The Razorbacks aren’t quite at that level yet, but an upset of Florida put Mike Anderson’s 14-9 team back on the national radar.
The Cornhuskers have been a mess as usual, but Nebraska gets a lot of mileage out of its lone mid-major powerhouse.
Omaha-based Creighton, even after a recent slump, is 20-5, holds a share of the MVC lead and owns victories over Wisconsin, Cal and Arizona State.
As usual, the Illini have to carry most of the weight here, and though their 4-7 conference record isn’t too pretty, their 17 total wins include Butler, Gonzaga, Ohio State, Indiana and Minnesota.
There’s also a bit of help from a surprising source, as the Western Illinois Leathernecks are 18-5 and in first place in the Summit League.
Virginia Tech, though it boasts the country’s leading scorer in Erick Green, has been a mess in conference play and does surprisingly little good for the state’s position here.
Norfolk State, on the other hand, is the undefeated leader of its conference (albeit in the tiny MEAC). Virginia, meanwhile, has already knocked off North Carolina and N.C. State in climbing to third place in the ACC.
Even the Cavaliers, though, take a back seat to mighty Virginia Commonwealth, the national leader in forcing turnovers and a 19-5 team tied for the Atlantic 10 lead.
The Bay State’s major-conference standard bearers at Boston College are having another wretched year, but the state’s mid-major teams are looking a great deal stronger.
UMass is 6-3 in a brutal Atlantic 10, Northeastern leads the CAA at 12-1 (and 17-8 overall), and both have wins over other mid-major powers (Ohio and Belmont, respectively).
Even Harvard is pitching in, holding onto first place in the Ivy League by half a game.
Road woes have knocked Missouri’s Tigers out of the Top 25, but Phil Pressey and company are still having a respectable year with 17 wins (including Stanford, Illinois and Ole Miss).
The pride of the Show-Me State, though, is the St. Louis Billikens, who share first place in the Atlantic 10 and have taken down UMass, New Mexico and Butler in an 18-5 start.
The Big West Conference consists almost entirely of California schools, so it’s little surprise to see one of them (Long Beach State) holding down first place.
The story in the Pac-12 is much the same on a larger scale, with UCLA sharing the top spot while Stanford and Cal are also turning in respectable seasons.
For the second year in a row, though, the pinnacle of California hoops is San Diego State, ranked for much of the year and still just a game out of first in the hotly contested Mountain West.
The Denver Pioneers, challenging for a rare first-place spot in the WAC, are emblematic of the surprising ascension of Centennial State hoops.
No. 24 Colorado State (also in second place, though in an impressive Mountain West) has cracked the Top 25 for the first time since the Eisenhower administration.
Even Colorado, for all its struggles in Pac-12 play, has a win over Oregon and sits just two games out of first place.
Portland, Portland State and Oregon State are all in the race for last place in their respective conferences.
Fortunately, the surprising Oregon Ducks can still carry their state’s banner with an impressive 19-5 record, a No. 23 ranking and a share of first place in the Pac-12.
Although New Mexico State is playing well enough in the WAC, the 17-8 Aggies are still two games out of first in a weak conference.
New Mexico, on the other hand, is alone in first place in the toughest Mountain West in years, a feat that has the Lobos ranked No. 19 nationally.
One of the real sleepers in these rankings, Tennessee has a lot going for it aside from the slumping Volunteers.
Belmont and Middle Tennessee are both leading their conferences and among the nation’s top mid-majors, with wins over the likes of Stanford and Ole Miss.
Meanwhile, Memphis—currently running away with Conference USA again—is back in the Top 25.
Oklahoma has a history of success outside the power conferences, but neither .500 Tulsa nor an uncharacteristically mortal (14-10) Oral Roberts squad is up to its usual standard.
Oklahoma State, on the other hand, has dazzled in climbing to No. 17 nationally behind Marcus Smart, and even the Sooners are a solid 16-7 with wins over the Cowboys, Baylor and Kansas.
After a slow start, No. 16 Pitt has found its groove to headline Pennsylvania’s hoops programs yet again.
The Panthers are getting a fair amount of support from smaller conferences, with Bucknell and Robert Morris both looking like potential bracket-busters and mid-major standout Temple already holding wins over St. Louis and Syracuse.
Neither Washington nor Washington State has been able to get much traction in Pac-12 play, but at least there’s one bright spot for the Evergreen State.
Gonzaga has soared all the way to No. 5 in the national rankings, overshadowing many deficiencies elsewhere.
Surprising Arizona State, coming off a 10-21 season, has battled its way to 18 wins and second place in the Pac-12.
Of course, one of the three teams ahead of the Sun Devils are the ninth-ranked Wildcats of Arizona, who have been hanging around in the top 10 most of the season and have already beaten San Diego State, Miami and Florida.
As often, Ohio is getting loads of impressive performances at the mid-major level, with Akron and Ohio U battling it out in the MAC and Xavier (which beat Butler early in the year) making noise in a tough Atlantic 10.
On the power-conference front, floundering Cincinnati hurt the state’s cause by dropping from the Top 25, but No. 13 Ohio State makes an impressive headliner.
While neither Iona nor LIU-Brooklyn is living up to last year’s standards, MAAC-leading Niagara and America East frontrunner Stony Brook provide some mid-major punch to go with New York’s Big East big names.
A young St. John’s team is turning in a solid season with wins over Notre Dame and Cincinnati, and No. 6 Syracuse just keeps rolling along in first place in that imposing conference.
The Tar Heels and Wolfpack may be down, but No. 2 Duke keeps North Carolina close to its usual prominence.
Of the state’s many successful small-conference teams, the most noteworthy is Southern Conference leader Davidson, 12-1 in the league and 17-7 overall.
Wisconsin’s fortunes are peaking this week, with both Marquette and the Badgers having battled their way into the Top 25.
Even with both of the state’s Horizon League representatives slumping, the string of upsets the Badgers have earned makes this one of the state's strongest seasons in a long time.
Order has been restored (at least for the moment) in the Bluegrass State with the Kentucky Wildcats rejoining Louisville in the Top 25.
You won’t find Murray State in this year’s polls, but the Racers are very nearly as good as last year’s squad. With Isaiah Canaan fueling an 18-5 record, they're on top of the West Division of the Ohio Valley Conference.
The Jayhawks left little doubt of their preeminence in the state after Monday’s demolition of Kansas State.
Of course, both KU and the Wildcats are ranked in the top 15, which is a win-win situation for the Sunflower State. Don’t discount Wichita State, either, as the Shockers (who spent their own stint in the national rankings) share first place in the MVC.
Michigan doesn’t have a lot of high-level programs to choose from, but with both Michigan State and Michigan ranked in the top 10, it needs little else.
Detroit has been by far the best of the state’s mid-majors, though the 17-9 Titans are only in second place in the Horizon League.
Not only has No. 3 Miami been the biggest surprise of the season, but No. 7 Florida is dominating the SEC for the first time since John Calipari arrived at Kentucky.
Those two can carry the Sunshine State’s load even without much help from Florida State, especially when another surprise, Florida Gulf Coast (one of three teams to beat the ‘Canes), is leading the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Considering the year Indiana has had, it’s amazing the race for the top spot was as close as it is. Still, with Nos. 1, 11 and 21 in the national polls (the only triply-represented state), the Crossroads of America has too much momentum to beat.
On top of Indiana, Butler and Notre Dame, don’t discount potential bracket-buster Valparaiso, 20-6 and in first place in the Horizon League.