College Basketball Conference Power Rankings at Week 16

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2013

College Basketball Conference Power Rankings at Week 16

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    If this seemed like a strange week in college basketball, that is because only five of the 10 teams ranked in the AP Top 10 lost. Instead of complete chaos, we only had half-chaos.

    With less than one month remaining until Selection Sunday, conference strength becomes more important than ever. From the top squads in the country that seem to fall every week to those living precariously on the bubble, teams will rely on their strength of schedule numbers as a tool to impress the committee.

    Read on to see which leagues have stronger arguments than the others.

No. 10: Missouri Valley

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    Creighton may have received the majority of the preseason love, but with only four games remaining in the regular season, the Missouri Valley Conference is Wichita State’s to lose.

    The Shockers emerged from a recent three-game losing streak with two straight victories over Drake and Illinois State. The win over the Redbirds was a one-point thriller that saw Cleanthony Early drill a go-ahead three with five seconds left.

    As for the Bluejays, they have not dominated league play like many thought they would. A loss to Northern Iowa marked their third straight before they clawed out a comeback against Evansville.

    Speaking of Northern Iowa, the Panthers stretched their winning streak to five this week and now sit two games behind Wichita State. It is probably too little too late in terms of the conference race, but UNI will be a tough out in the league tournament.

    The roughest week in the MVC belonged to Indiana State. The Sycamores had ideas of a conference crown and still have notions of an at-large bid, but two straight losses to Bradley and Missouri State make each significantly more difficult.

No. 9: West Coast

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    Valentine’s Day was supposed to mean a special date between the West Coast Conference’s top two programs. But Gonzaga spoiled the league’s marquee matchup of the year by walking into Saint Mary’s and eviscerating the Gaels.

    The Zags will now set their sights on a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, as the WCC crown is all but wrapped up.

    The Gaels did bounce back nicely against Loyola Marymount and probably have enough on their resume for an at-large bid, but the perpetual battle with Gonzaga for conference superiority was a losing one this season.

    Newcomer BYU won its only game of the week against Portland, but that did nothing to quell the criticism that the Cougars have no quality wins. Selection Sunday will be fairly nerve-racking if they can’t do any damage against Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga in the next two weeks.

    Santa Clara won both of its games this week and will be a difficult matchup for one of the league’s top teams in the WCC tournament.

No. 8: Atlantic 10

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    The jumbled mess that is the Atlantic-10 race is slowly becoming a more exclusive club. Xavier, Charlotte, Temple and Massachusetts all lost at least once this week and are no longer legitimate threats to the top of the pecking order.

    That still leaves four squads within one game of each other. After beating UMass and George Washington this week, VCU extended its winning streak to five and currently sits atop the standings by a half game over Saint Louis. The Billikens beat Charlotte in their only game of the week and welcome VCU next.

    Butler looks a bit more vulnerable now than it did earlier in the season when it beat Indiana. The Bulldogs fell at home to Charlotte and barely squeaked out a road victory over lowly Fordham. Butler will still be dangerous in March, but it’s difficult to imagine another Final Four run.

    La Salle may be the surprise team of the league in the A-10, as it won two more games again this week. The next two are on the road, so we will know much more about the Explorers in a few days.

No. 7: SEC

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    No matter what you think of Kentucky or John Calipari, an injury like the one Nerlens Noel experienced against Florida is sickening.

    While his health is significantly more important in the long run, it leaves the Wildcats looking for answers after getting blown out in both games this week. Selection Sunday may not be an enjoyable day in Big Blue Nation.

    The SEC has been Florida’s to lose all season, and it did nothing to change that with wins over Kentucky and Auburn. Alabama is the closest thing to a challenger, and the Crimson Tide still sit two games back in the standings, even after two wins of their own over Georgia and South Carolina.

    Next in the pecking order is Ole Miss, but the Rebels took a difficult loss to Texas A&M and needed overtime to survive a trip to Athens.

    Despite what the standings say, Missouri probably has the most talent of any SEC team outside of the Gators. But the road struggles continued this week at Arkansas. Fortunately for the Tigers, the NCAA tournament will take place on neutral floors.

No. 6: Pac-12

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    There may not be as much depth in the Pac-12 as other leagues, but it will be one of the more entertaining races to watch in the season’s final month.

    Arizona has enough talent to be considered a Top 10 team, but it is currently looking up at Oregon after the Wildcats suffered a Valentine’s Day loss to Colorado. They did narrowly bounce back against Utah, but Arizona fans have to be concerned with the lack of dominating play lately.

    As for the Ducks, an overtime thriller against Washington State marked their third straight victory after a three-game losing streak. The team could really use point guard Dominic Artis back if it hopes to win the conference crown.

    The inconsistency that is UCLA continued this week, as the Bruins split two in-state games against California (loss) and Stanford (win). There are three road contests and a home date with Arizona in the final five games of the year, so UCLA has its work cut out for it in terms of a Pac-12 title.

    Arizona State and California are both tied in that second-tier of teams. Neither squad is a threat to win the conference, but both are dangerous enough to put a scare into any of the contenders.

No. 5: Big 12

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    Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State separated themselves from the rest of the Big-12 pack after this week.

    The Jayhawks bounced back from a recent skid with a monumental win over the Wildcats and a beatdown of Texas. Meanwhile, the Cowboys extended their impressive winning streak to seven after an overtime thriller against Oklahoma. Kansas State also picked up a win over underperforming Baylor after losing to Kansas.

    The second tier of teams all swallowed difficult losses this week. Iowa State fell to a terrible Texas team, marking the second bad loss the Cyclones have suffered at the hands of a Lone Star state team (Texas Tech). Oklahoma blew a golden opportunity to get a road win at Oklahoma State, and Baylor was crushed by Kansas State.

    The Big 12 can get anywhere from three to six bids in the NCAA tournament, meaning these next few weeks will be critical (and entertaining).

No. 4: ACC

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    The ACC has two elite teams and a number of other squads that are talented enough to beat nearly anyone in the country but inconsistent enough to lose any game on the schedule.

    One of those elite teams, Miami, has a three-game lockdown on the conference race over Duke after the Blue Devils fell at Maryland in front of a raucous crowd. The two-point win at Clemson may give some people who aren’t necessarily Hurricane believers doubts, but it would take an absolute collapse for Miami not to win the ACC crown.

    As for Duke, a win over rival North Carolina is important every year, even in a down season for the Tar Heels. Coach K’s squad picked up that victory, but it is becoming clearer by the week how badly it needs Ryan Kelly back.

    UNC did get a bubblicious win over Virginia (who beat Virginia Tech earlier) this week and still appears to be headed towards the tournament. The Cavaliers have a daunting matchup at Miami next and could use another significant win on a resume that is loaded with nice victories and questionable losses.

    NC State averted disaster in overtime against Virginia Tech in its only game of the week and avoids Duke and Miami the rest of the year. A solid finish should be expected (although not guaranteed).

No. 3: Mountain West

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    It is time to start recognizing the Mountain West for what it is: a very deep conference that is loaded with good teams even if it doesn’t have a single great team. After all, it is second in the country in conference RPI Rating, which is an accomplishment that requires more than just a couple elite squads.

    Colorado State made good on its appearance in the Top 25 this week with two victories over dangerous San Diego State and Air Force teams. But it is New Mexico that stands atop the conference after beating Boise State and Fresno State.

    Preseason favorites UNLV and San Diego State come next in the pecking order. The Rebels pulled even with the Aztecs by defending home court in a head-to-head matchup on Saturday after losing earlier in the week to Air Force.

    The Falcons have lost three of their last four and will need a strong stretch run to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Road trips to Boise State and San Diego State, along with a home game against New Mexico, will not be easy.

No. 2: Big East

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    The Big Ten has received much of the love this year, and rightly so, but the Big East is also loaded.

    Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette sit on top of a logjam at 9-3 in conference play following a week that saw the Orange lose to Connecticut and beat Seton Hall, the Hoyas stretch their winning streak to seven by knocking off Cincinnati and Marquette and the Golden Eagles bounce back by defending home court against a dangerous Pittsburgh squad.

    Louisville is nipping at their heels after a two-win week over St. John’s and South Florida, and Pittsburgh’s failure to win at Marquette knocked them back a notch.

    Notre Dame decided it didn’t get enough overtimes against the Cardinals last week and needed an extra period to knock off DePaul. Perhaps out of steam by the weekend, the Irish were crushed at Providence Saturday.

    That leaves Cincinnati, Villanova and St. John’s (UConn is ineligible for tournament play) as three teams that are talented enough to scare anyone in the league but are mired in inconsistency right now. The Bearcats and Wildcats each split two games this week, while the Red Storm fell to Louisville in their only contest.

    Once the logjam sorts itself out, there should be a number of NCAA tournament spots to be had.

No. 1: Big Ten

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    The nation should buckle up for the Indiana versus Michigan State showdown this week. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It was still an entertaining past few days in the nation’s best conference.

    The Spartans made a statement against archrival Michigan with a 33-point beatdown, meaning the country may finally start paying attention to Tom Izzo’s squad. The Hoosiers followed suit by destroying Purdue and Nebraska, setting up one of the best games of the year.

    Elsewhere, Wisconsin lost in heartbreaking fashion at Minnesota, but eviscerated Ohio State over the weekend. With only one difficult game remaining on the schedule, it would be wise for the rest of the conference to be on the lookout for the Badgers.

    Illinois is back in the good graces of the bubble with four straight wins, and Iowa may be joining it if a recent resurgence continues (the Hawkeyes knocked off Minnesota, marking three straight wins).

    There are now some questions surrounding Michigan and Ohio State after rough weeks, although things appear a bit more dire for the struggling Buckeyes. Still, three losses in five contests for the Wolverines and an ugly home win over lowly Penn State is somewhat concerning.