Ranking the Conferences in the Tourney
by Trevor Whenham - 03/14/2007
These few days between when the bracket comes out and the start of the tournament are torture. On one hand you have all the time you could possibly want to handicap the first round games and prepare yourself for their start. On the other hand, the seconds just tick by so slowly that it seems like tip-off will never arrive. Once we have filled out as many brackets as we can find, and we have identified the playable first round games and made our plays, all we can do is find other ways to analyze these 65 teams - we're already completely obsessed with this tournament, so we might as well fuel that obsession in as many ways as we can. In that spirit, let's pass some time before the tournament by ranking the six major conferences as they get ready to play.
6) Big Ten - This conference has no problems at the top. Ohio State is a No. 1 with a legitimate shot at winning it all, and Wisconsin deserves their two spot even if they are vulnerable due to a key injury to Brian Butch. Beyond that, though, there isn't a lot to get excited about. With six teams, the Big Ten has quantity, but it is decidedly lacking in quality. Indiana is higher than they should be as a No. 7. Purdue and Michigan State are uninspiring as No. 9 seeds. They could win their first round games, but they won't even make the second round interesting if they do. The spot given to Illinois, a No. 12 seed, could definitely have gone to a team more deserving. The Buckeyes pretty much have to carry the pride of this conference by themselves.
5) ACC - This conference has the most teams in the tournament with seven, but that doesn't mean that they are the best by any chance. North Carolina is one of the small handful of teams that has to be considered a favorite. The quality of the teams from the conference drops significantly after them, though. Maryland is an interesting pick as a No. 4, and they could go reasonably deep. Another No. 4, Virginia, is probably ranked higher than they should be. Virginia Tech is solid at No. 5, but they haven't been to the tournament in over a decade, so it's uncertain how they will react to the situation. Duke and Boston College are flawed, and Georgia Tech is about where they deserve to be as a No. 10.
4) SEC - The quality of this conference is helped considerably by the fact that they have the team, Florida, which is the unquestioned favorite to win it all. The next highest ranked team is only a No. 5, though - Tennessee. Bruce Pearl's boys are intriguing, but a loss at any point, starting with the first round, wouldn't be a shock. It's hard to get too excited about Vanderbilt, and Kentucky will surely be distracted to some extent by the mess surrounding Tubby Smith's job security. Arkansas is the most questionable at-large team in the entire tournament. As is the case in the Big Ten, the best team in the conference will single handedly have to defend the pride of the whole conference.
3) Big East - Though the Big East has no teams at the top of the brackets, their six teams provide more potentially dangerous spots than the three conferences that have preceded them. Some would argue that Georgetown could be a No. 1 seed, and they are certainly among the most dangerous in the tournament. Roy Hibbert is growing into his humungous body, and Jeff Green is poised to be a household name. Together they can impose their tempo and their will on opponents. Pittsburgh is another very solid team, and their potential showdown against UCLA is one I have circled. Notre Dame is solid, though perhaps slightly overseeded. Louisville played well down the stretch, and they have the added advantage of playing close to home. Marquette is also lightly lower seeded than they could be, and Villanova, with their great guard play, could win a game.
2) Pac-10 - This conference started out strong, and they maintained their high showing despite the fact that the teams all beat each other up in conference play. Besides Florida, no team is as well situated to win it all as UCLA. Washington State is the biggest surprise on the whole board - they were expected to be terrible to start the season, but they are a legitimate and dangerous No. 3 seed now. Oregon's another No. 3 seed, and they are as hot as any team in the country over the last couple of weeks. USC can win against almost anyone if they are able to establish their tone. Arizona has been inconsistent, but they have as deep a lineup as anyone, the almost infinite experience of Lute Olson behind the bench, and youngsters like Chase Budinger who could rise up and find a new level under the spotlight of the biggest stage. Only Stanford is unimpressive from the conference.
1) Big 12 - The conference has the fewest teams in the tourney of any major league with four, but they earn the top spot because three of them are legitimate contenders to reach the Final Four. Kansas is playing fantastic down the stretch and, provided they can finally break their first round curse, they seem poised to continue that trend. They are well set up to reach the Elite Eight and a likely showdown with UCLA. Texas A&M, a No. 3 seed, has become a fashionable pick to go deep. They seem well set up to challenge Ohio State and Memphis for the spot at the top of the South Regional. Texas has struggled in big games at times, but they have the deadliest weapon in the tournament in Kevin Durant, and he and fellow frosh D.J. Augustin are just the type of players that can lead a team deep. Their Sweet Sixteen game against North Carolina is the most exciting game on the board. Texas Tech doesn't deserve to be in the tournament, but their presence doesn't diminish the power and potential of the Big 12.