Coach Tom Izzo and Michigan State are always a factor in the Big Ten and on the national stage.
Only in College athletics could a conference named the Big 12 consist of 10 teams and the Big Ten Conference consist of 12.
As screwy as that seems, what can you expect in an NCAA Basketball world where Syracuse now plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Wichita State, at 29-0, is the No. 2-ranked men's basketball team in the country?
Indeed, March Madness looms just around the corner and the craziness is already setting in.
Before we get to the NCAA Tournament, however, it's ramp-up time for all the wonderful conference tournaments that are about to commence. And that always opens up the debate of which college basketball conference is best.
The Big East is no more, sadly. And despite the addition of Syracuse and others, the ACC isn't quite what it used to be, either. Same for the Pac-12 and even the SEC, where Florida is up but Kentucky and others are down this season.
What is the best men's college basketball conference in the country?
The two superior conferences this year top-to-bottom obviously are the Big Ten and the Big 12—and the Big Ten remains the best.
While it's true the Big Ten doesn't even have a single team ranked in the top 10—actually in the top 13—in either of the current Associated Press or USA Today Coaches polls, that's in large part a byproduct of the fact that these teams have to constantly beat up on each other. There are no sure wins within the conference (see TCU in the Big 12, where the Horned Frogs are bringing up the rear at 0-15 in conference play).
Thad Matta, coach of Ohio State, recently lamented the dangers of the Big Ten that lurk around every corner to the Columbus Dispatch, saying: "I don't think there's a coach in the Big Ten who feels good going into a game like, 'Hey, chances are if we just play basketball, we're going to win this game.' ... Every night is a war. What you see in this league now is a bad three-minute stretch, a bad four-minute stretch, can cost you."
In the same Dispatch article, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery added: "Every other league has bad teams. We don't have bad teams."
Wisconsin is currently the Big Ten's top-ranked team nationally at No. 14 in both polls, and they're in third place in the conference with a 9-5 record. The Badgers are 22-5 overall, meaning they went a spiffy 13-0 in non-conference play with wins against the likes of now top-ranked Florida, Virginia, Saint Louis, West Virginia, St. John's and Marquette.
Wisconsin trails both Michigan (19-7 overall, 11-3 in conference) and Michigan State (22-6, 11-4) in the Big Ten standings. Those three schools are joined by Ohio State (22-6, 9-6) in the top 18 in the country in RPI, which is the more accurate index of who's been doing what at a high level throughout the course of the season. In fact, Wisconsin currently owns the fifth-best RPI in the country.
It's true that the Big 12 has Kansas—ranked fifth in the AP poll, sixth in the USA poll and currently first in the nation in RPI. It also has Iowa State (21-5, 9-5), whose RPI is 12th.
But overall, the Big 12 has just those two teams ranked in the AP's Top 25 and only those two plus Oklahoma (20-8, 9-6) at No. 25 in the USA poll.
The Big Ten has a total of five teams ranked in both polls and seven within the top 48 in RPI. The Big 12 counters with only six in the top 48 in RPI, including underachieving Oklahoma State (18-10, 6-9) at No. 47.
That's the other deal. In Baylor (18-9, 6-8) and Oklahoma State, the Big 12 has two teams that were supposed to be powerhouses that have faltered miserably. The Big Ten has some lower-end teams that usually are better such as Indiana (15-11, 5-8), but this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Hoosiers and, as stated previously, there simply are no easy outs like TCU on the Big Ten schedule.
Take Nebraska, for instance. The Cornhuskers were supposed to be Big Ten bottom-feeders and began the season looking every bit the part. But now they've won five games in a row to improve to 16-10 overall and 8-6 in the conference, and are suddenly looking very much like a capable NCAA Tournament team instead.
How did this happen at a school that used to be known more for football? Well, first-year coach Tim Miles has had a whole lot to do with it, but so has Terran Petteway—who not only leads the Huskers in scoring, but also the entire conference. He's averaging 18.4 points per game overall, and 22.2 during the five-game winning streak.
By the way, it's worth noting that Petteway transferred from Texas Tech, a Big 12 school.
So forget who's ranked where when the regular season ends shortly. It might not even matter if a couple of the top Big Ten teams get knocked off early in the conference tournament.
Come NCAA Tournament time, the boys from the Big Ten will be the most battle-tested, having played the most challenging schedules. They thus will be better prepared than their counterparts from the Big 12 or anywhere else to advance deep into the month of March when it matters most.