Ranking the Top 8 Conferences in College Basketball

PJ BernackiCorrespondent IFebruary 19, 2013

Ranking the Top 8 Conferences in College Basketball

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    There hasn't been this much parity in college basketball for a long time, and some people love it, while others hate it. Regardless of your opinion, this phenomena has been changing how we view these basketball conferences. The power conferences certainly hold more quality teams than lesser conferences, but the number is beginning to even out. 

    Schools in the ACC, SEC, Pac-12, etc. are producing less and less elite programs, which is giving way for conferences like the Mountain West, Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley and others. In this new college basketball landscape, how do these conferences rank?

1. Big Ten

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    Combined RPI of Top 4 Teams: 49

    Average RPI: 60

    Teams Below .500: 3

    Not only does the Big Ten have the No. 1 school in the country with Indiana, it is also considered the best overall conference in college basketball this season. Along with the Hoosiers, the Big Ten is home to No. 4 Michigan State, No. 7 Michigan, No. 18 Ohio State, No. 19 Wisconsin and tournament hopefuls Illinois and Minnesota.

    These teams make the conference outstanding, but another reason they rise above the rest is the play out of their superstars. Indiana has two players on Naismith watch in C Cody Zeller and G Victor Oladipo, and right in that mix with 20.1 points a game is the Ohio State forward, Deshaun Thomas.

    And then there’s Michigan’s dynamic guard Trey Burke. The 6’0” sophomore is averaging 18.6 points a game and brings the same intensity against tough competition by scoring 18.3 points per against ranked opponents. Burke has the Wolverines relevant again at the top of the premier basketball conference in the nation. 

2. Big East

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    Combined RPI of Top 4 Teams: 45

    Average RPI: 60

    Teams Below .500: 2

    Even though the Big East is dissolving in front of our eyes, it continues to pump out great basketball programs each year and this season is no different. Headlining the conference are powerhouses like No. 8 Syracuse, No. 10 Louisville and No. 11 Georgetown, and joining them in the Top 25 are No. 17 Marquette, No. 20 Pittsburgh and No. 25 Notre Dame.

    The Big East leads the country with six ranked teams and has the same average RPI as the Big Ten, but I can't put them first when the Big Ten has three Top 10 schools and more superstar talent. There are great players like Georgetown's Otto Porter Jr. and Syracuse's Brandon Triche, but overall the talent pool of the Big Ten is probably better.

    Barring major collapses by the teams already mentioned, if Cincinnati and possibly Villanova can finish the season strong, then we might see nine Big East teams in the big dance. 

3. Mountain West

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    Combined RPI of Top 4 Teams: 72

    Average RPI: 58

    Teams Below .500: 1

    With the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 suffering a down year, it has opened up room for the Mountain West to gain prominence in the national spotlight. No. 16 New Mexico leads this small-time conference with a surprising RPI of 3, and chasing them at the top is No. 22 Colorado State.

    The Mountain West has been a great conference from top to bottom this season, and this quality of play will most likely yield tournament bids for UNLV and San Diego State. Even though the teams are beating each other up in conference play, only two out of the seven teams have 10 or more losses. 

4. ACC

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    Combined RPI of Top 4 Teams: 102

    Average RPI: 81

    Teams Below .500: 3

    The ACC has been notoriously bad at football and exceptional at basketball, but this year we have seen poor quality around the board in both sports.

    Without No. 2 Miami and No. 6 Duke, the ACC would be one of the worst conferences in the country. While Virginia has been a pleasant surprise, North Carolina is going to have to fight to get into the tournament, while North Carolina State should get in despite a very disappointing year. After starting the season ranked No. 6, the Wolfpack sit unranked at 18-7. 

    A Florida State team that took a step back this year and a rebuilding Maryland program lie behind the mediocrity of the two Carolinas. And behind them we see awful teams like Virginia Tech and Boston College. In fact, half of the ACC has 11 losses or more, and expect them to only get four or five teams in the tournament.

5. Big 12

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    Combined RPI of Top 4 Teams: 97

    Average RPI: 85

    Teams Below .500: 3

    Overall, the Big 12 has a slightly better conference than the ACC this year, but with two potential No. 1 seeds in Miami and Duke, the ACC gets the edge. The Big 12 has seen a lot of change over the past few years, but one thing remains the same: Kansas is at the top.

    The ninth-ranked Jayhawks are accompanied by No. 13 Kansas State and No. 14 Oklahoma State, as well as tournament hopefuls Iowa State (17-8), Oklahoma (16-8) and Baylor (16-9). When it's all said and done, the Big 12 could have six teams in the dance, although half would receive poor seeds. 

    This conference has suffered this year with Texas and West Virginia playing awful basketball, not even in the discussion for March Madness. Essentially, the Big 12 holds many average tournament teams and a few good ones, but no truly great teams. One could argue for Kansas' sake, but the Jayhawks' sporadic play knocks them from being legitimate title favorites.  

6. Pac-12

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    Combined RPI of Top 4 Teams: 159

    Average RPI: 85

    Teams Below .500: 3

    Similar to the Big 12, the Pac-12 holds a few good teams, many mediocre teams and some dismal teams. It's nice to see No. 12 Arizona return to national prominence, but it doesn't even lead the conference. The top spot currently belongs to No. 23 Oregon, who is having a solid year under the radar. 

    Teams like UCLA, Arizona State, Colorado and California all have great chances to make the tournament, too, but the second half of the Pac-12 all have 11 losses or more. This season, the conference has not received much media attention and for good reason because even the good teams in the conference are not expected to make any kind of tourney run. 

7. Atlantic 10

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    Combined RPI of Top 4 Teams: 131

    Average RPI: 94

    Teams Below .500: 5

    Ever since its magical March Madness run with Gordon Hayward, Butler has been a team to look out for, and now its conference is catching up. 

    The Atlantic 10 is not only home to the No. 15 Bulldogs, but also to No. 24 Virginia Commonwealth. These two experienced teams have been challenged this year by much-improved programs within the conference. Teams like St. Louis (19-5) and La Salle (18-6) will most likely get at-large bids, and Temple (17-8) could even slip in with key wins, such as upsetting the No. 3 school at the time, Syracuse. 

8. SEC

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    Combined RPI of Top 4 Teams: 137

    Average RPI: 101

    Teams Below .500: 5

    For this basketball season, they should rename the SEC to Florida's Conference. It is the No. 4 Florida Gators and that's it...

    Kentucky finds itself sitting on the bubble as the talented freshman group has failed to live up to expectations. To make matters worse, the Wildcats just lost their best player, Nerlens Noel, for the season with an ACL injury. The absence of a dominant Wildcats squad has left Florida alone at the top, who has only dropped one conference game this season.

    Along with Kentucky, average teams like Alabama, Ole Miss and Missouri trail the Gators as they fight toward the last few at-large bids. The rest of the SEC, however, is an embarrassment. Five teams are below .500 and two of them (Auburn, Mississippi State) haven't even reached 10 wins yet. 

    I have to admit that it is kind of nice to see the SEC suffer in basketball after dealing with its football dominance over the past few years.