Conventional wisdom has it that three conferences (the ACC, Big East and Big Ten) have separated themselves from the rest of the pack.
Bleacher Creatures appear to see it differently, clearly tiering the conferences into just two at the top and three more a significant step behind. Read ahead to find which conferences fall where in the first installment of the Conference Rankings, compiled from lists submitted by fans from coast to coast.
If you would like to read the original version of Conference Rankings (which were my own rankings only), you can read the long version here or the short version here. If you like a good background story, it will get you up to speed on most of what happened in November and December.
Points are awarded by giving one point to a tenth-ranked conference up to ten points for the top-ranked conference. It couldn't have been any closer for the top spot, which belongs to the...
1. Big East [104 points, (6) first-place votes, Nathan's Ranking: 1]
(note: Louisville's loss to UNLV occurred after the writing of this article)
I have stabbed my conference in the back, and I've got some "splainin" to do. Why has the Big East jumped the Big Ten and ACC? Well, obviously, because Daniel Damico got his rankings in just in time.
No, I can't blame it on him. Unlike earlier in the season, they have been winning the games they are supposed to, while some teams in the ACC (notably, Miami, FL and Georgia Tech) have been disappointing of late.
Lew Wright suggested the only way to argue against the Big East is to "shout louder than anyone else in the room." The point is they received a ton of preseason hype and have generally failed to live up to expectations. Until the last couple of weeks, teams at the top of the Big East were winning by small margins over inferior teams and losing games they weren't supposed to.
Lately, however, they have won key games against non-conference foes, including West Virginia's (10-2) upset over Ohio State, and Marquette's (11-2) buzzer-beater victory over N.C. State. Pittsburgh (12-0), though playing as a favorite, came back from a second-half deficit to beat a good Florida State team on the road.
There are a few bad apples at the bottom of this behemoth's barrel, but that can be said for the Big Ten (Iowa and Indiana) and the ACC (see below) as well. The emergence of West Virginia as a ninth potential tourney team and the presence of seven teams in the top-20 is enough for me to (very) precariously place them at No. 1 for at least a week, anyway.
2. Atlantic Coast [103 (5), Nathan's Ranking: 2]
They lost the top spot by the hair on Rick Majerus' head. Garnering the rest (five) of the first-place votes, the ACC placed no lower than third, and that was only on one ballot.
With Oklahoma's loss, the ACC will likely have three of the top five teams in the nation. Unanimous No. 1 North Carolina (12-0) continues to crush all comers, No. 5 Duke's (11-1) only loss is to a ranked team it had already beaten (Michigan), and No. 6 Wake Forest (12-0) is steamrolling its competition. No. 20 Clemson (13-0) also remains undefeated, though it is the only other team that the ACC places in the top-25.
Voters continue to cite the stigma of being "top-heavy" as a major reason for voting the ACC behind the Big East. Georgia Tech (8-4) didn't help by blowing a game to CAA foe Virginia. Don't write hate mail; I know Virginia's still in the ACC...for now.
Three teams are now entrenched in the basement (Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and Virginia). N.C. State and Boston College are not far behind, looking mostly unimpressive in recent victories over weaker competition.
The ACC is nipping at the heels of the Big East. One major loss or victory can easily turn the tide, both for me and, it appears, the B/R voters.
3. Big Ten [84 points, Nathan's Ranking: 3]
In the previous rankings (which were only my own), I placed the Big Ten at "1a," just behind the ACC. The perception of the Big Ten by B/R voters is not nearly as positive, with one voter calling them, "the most overrated conference in the NCAA."
I disagree wholeheartedly, but many of you do not, placing them on the same tier as the Big XII and the Pac-10, rather than on par with the Big East and the ACC.
The fact remains (as has been played out today) that the teams at the top of the Big Ten are simply not as good as those at the top of the Big East and ACC. It is still difficult for voters to place Minnesota (12-0), Illinois (13-1), or Ohio State (9-1) in the same league as Duke, UNC, Wake Forest, Georgetown, Syracuse, or Pittsburgh.
It appears the Big Ten will either have to garner even more non-conference victories or that some teams will have to emerge as "elite" before the voters are convinced.
In non-conference play, Illinois hammering Missouri was impressive; Ohio State getting punted by West Virginia was not.
The Big Ten ranked as high as second on two ballots, but also as low as sixth on one ballot and fifth on another.
4. Big XII [77 points, Nathan's Ranking: 4]
Unlike the Big Ten, voters agree on what they think of the Big XII, as the conference ranked fourth on all but two ballots, one of which placed them at third and one of which slotted them fifth.
Keep in mind No. 5 Oklahoma's (11-1) stunning loss to SEC opponent Arkansas did not factor into the votes for this set of rankings; Missouri's (11-2) thrashing at the hands of Illinois did, however.
There is a significant schism between the top half of the Big XII, which includes No. 8 Texas (10-2), No. 19 Baylor (11-1), and Texas A&M (11-1), and the bottom half, which includes a disappointing Kansas (9-3) team.
Although all of the Big XII's teams are at least two games above .500, many in the bottom half of the conference have already taken bad losses, most recently Colorado's (7-5) back-to-back losses to Vermont (really) and Buffalo (no, really).
5. Pac-10 [68 points, Nathan's Ranking: 5]
There are a wide variety of opinions on the Pac-10, with some believing Stanford (10-0), USC (9-3), and California (11-2) will join UCLA (10-2) and Arizona State (11-1) in the national rankings before all is said and done. Like the SEC, the Pac-10 has had a generally weak out-of-conference schedule, which has inflated the records of several teams, and several have already suffered bad losses.
Several voters noted the talent level in this conference is higher than the teams' results thus far indicate. Lew points out that while recruiting scorers is about "as tough as finding a price marked down at Wal-Mart," he also believes that the defensive-minded coaches and toughness of the Pac-10 players will have them winning "when it counts, in March."
Not surprisingly, West Coast voters tended to rank the Pac-10 higher, as they placed as high as third on two ballots, and as low as seventh on one other.
6. Southeastern [50 points, Nathan's Ranking: 6]
It should be pointed out almost all votes were in (including mine) before Arkansas' (10-1) monumental upset of Oklahoma. The Razorbacks may have single-handedly saved the SEC West, as LSU (10-1) is nowhere near as good as their record, most recently escaping with a 81-79 home win against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Tennessee (8-3), like many of the SEC teams, is inconsistent but extraordinarily athletic, and Florida (11-2), like LSU, has not beaten a single ranked (or even decent) team. Right now, the SEC has just three tournament-worthy teams (Tennessee, Kentucky (11-3), and Arkansas).
The entire SEC (Schedule Easy Cupcakes) is at least three games above .500, which means absolutely nothing, given their pathetically weak out-of-conference schedules.
The SEC ranked as low as ninth on one ballot and no higher than fifth.
7. Atlantic 10 [38 points, Nathan's Ranking: 7]
This conference may be fading. After being embarrassed by Duke on a national stage, Xavier (9-2) fell to Butler at home. Dayton (12-1) has a gaudy record but only one quality win (over Marquette) and an 18-point loss to Creighton. The upsets and close losses to highly-ranked teams seem to have been an anomaly, rather than a trend.
Only half of the A-10 is better than a game above .500 and it looks unlikely that more than two teams will be dancing come March.
Fourteen teams in the A-10? They may want a recount, considering the dead weight at the bottom that's dragging down the conference's RPI.
On ballots that named at least eight conferences, the A-10's ranking fell between fifth and ninth.
8. Mountain West [30 points, Nathan's Ranking: 8]
The MWC doesn't have any ranked teams (yet), but it still has a lot of dangerous teams that either have nabbed some surprising wins or close losses to ranked teams. BYU (12-1) is a one-point loss to Arizona State from being undefeated, and the entire conference is above .500, with the exception of Colorado State (5-9).
The Cougars and UNLV (11-2) are clearly the cream of the crop, but nearly every other MWC team has been impressive against quality opponents at various times.
Of ballots that ranked at least seven teams, the MWC was unranked on only one, showing as high as sixth on multiple ballots.
9. West Coast [16 points, Nathan's Ranking: 9]
The WCC is lucky to still be in the rankings after Gonzaga's (8-3) loss to Portland State. Voters likely remembered the near-miss to UConn and the continued upswing of St. Mary's (12-1), though the bottom of this conference is nothing less than putrid.
The WCC ranked no higher than eighth on any ballot, and went unranked only on ballots that ranked nine conferences or less.
10. Conference USA [8 points, Nathan's Ranking: NR]
Almost all rankings (including my own) were submitted prior to Houston's (8-2)drubbing of Massachusetts, Tulsa's (8-5) near-miss against BYU, and UAB's (8-5) four-point loss to No. 25 Butler.
These teams, as well as UTEP (7-5), Tulane (6-6), and East Carolina (8-4), hold the key as to whether Memphis (8-3) USA, er, Conference USA, has any chance of moving up the board.
Conference USA ranked no higher than ninth and went unranked on several ballots.
Others Receiving Votes: Missouri Valley (4 points), Summit (3), Horizon (1)
Fell Out: N/A, first week