ACC or Big Ten? Claim to CBB's Best Conference Hinges on Talent vs. Depth

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2019

Virginia guard Kyle Guy, left, drives around Maryland guard Aaron Wiggins during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

After the unveiling of the 2019 men's NCAA tournament bracket, two main takeaways emerged: The ACC earned three of the four No. 1 seeds, and no conference sent more representatives to the Big Dance than the Big Ten and its eight schools.

The claims for "best conference in the nation" immediately swept the social media landscape, using those facts as the foundation.

Both arguments are sensible, too.

After all, per ESPN Stats & Info, only once before had a particular conference had three No. 1 seeds in the same tournament. The ACC, which joins the 2009 Big East in that special group, has the best collective likelihood to celebrate a national title.

According to B/R Betting, Duke owns the most favorable odds at 2-1. Virginia follows at 6-1, and North Carolina is tied with Gonzaga for the third-best chance at 8-1. For good measure, Florida State and Virginia Tech check in at 50-1 and 60-1, respectively.

In B/R's 68-team power ranking, the Seminoles are 11th, and the Hokies are 18th. Louisville (27th) and Syracuse (29th) aren't far behind, either. That puts all seven ACC qualifiers in the top 30 of the field; both the Big Ten and SEC have five in the top 35.

While it's only one measurement, the ranking illustrates the ACC's top-end talent in the March Madness field.

As the confetti falls in Minneapolis, it could be Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, De'Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy, or Coby White and Luke Maye highlighting the celebration on stage.

Simultaneously, those in support of the Big Ten as the premier league can point out a simple mathematical truth: 8 > 7.

Looking at volume is a straightforward way to measure a conference's depth, regardless of the team's position in the bracket.

Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio State are double-digit seeds, but the conference has a pair of No. 2s in Michigan and Michigan State and a No. 3 seed in Purdue. Fifth-seeded Wisconsin and sixth-seeded Maryland round out the group.

That volume is a reminder of how tightly contested the Big Ten has been.

During the regular season, 12 of the Big Ten's 14 teams won at least seven conference games. Of the six programs that missed the NCAA tournament, they still combined for 13 wins against AP Top 25 competition. The ACC's seven others mustered five.

And while the ACC's Clemson and North Carolina State both sat on the bubble, it was the Big Ten's Indiana as one of the first programs to miss the field, per David Worlock of the NCAA.

The Big Ten's dearth of "easy" opponents was a key appeal to Michigan State potentially earning a No. 1 seed. The Spartans racked up 19 wins against Quadrant 1 and 2 teamsmore than Duke (17), Virginia (16) and North Carolina (16). Michigan and Purdue compared favorably with 19 and 16, respectively.

So, both arguments are logical. Let March Madness decide the winner, right?

If you want the NCAA tournament to shape the answer, great! College basketball is built for entertainment, and adding "number of Sweet 16 teams" and "Final Four teams" to the subjective formula adds to individual intrigue of watching the games.

Ultimately, the results are less indicative of league excellence because it's a smaller sample size than the regular season. Advancing through March is a test of surviving randomness; the roughly 30 games in the regular season are a better measure of success. On that basis, the Big Ten has a slight edge on the ACC.

That method is less fun, though. And fun, believe it or not, is good.

Numbers say one thing. The eye test suggests the other conference is more likely to celebrate a national title. Let your personal bias decide the answer, and be sure to use every minute detail of the NCAA tournament to bolster the argument.

          

Statistics courtesy of KenPom.com or Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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