College Basketball Handicapping: Conference Rankings
by Robert Ferringo - 2/12/2014
I still hate the fact that the classic Big East has been dismantled in college basketball. But the one silver lining of having my beloved Syracuse Orange head to the ACC was that I knew they would absolutely demolish this pathetic, overrated, candy-ass conference.
So far, so good as the Orange have started ACC play 10-0 and are dominating their maiden voyage through the league. Syracuse is No. 1 in the country and 23-0, and their domination is really casting a spotlight on the fact that this league is not nearly as good as the conference that the Orange defected from.
Also, former Big East comrade Pittsburgh is presently No. 3 in the ACC during their first trip through as well. The Panthers are swatting away teams despite the fact that this is one of the weaker Pitt teams of the past decade.
Syracuse and Pittsburgh are exposing the ACC. In a way it reminds me of the way in which Texas A&M and Missouri – two former Big 12 also-rans that are suddenly powerhouses in their new overrated league – have somewhat exposed the SEC in football.
The ACC is weak. And it has been for the past three seasons. But its descent into mediocrity has been covered by a few exceptional seasons from top-tier programs like Duke and North Carolina; much the same way that Syracuse and Duke are carrying the conference this season. I am currently only projecting five teams from the ACC to make the NCAA Tournament, and that includes SU and Pitt.
Understanding how the conferences stack up with one another will be a key component to betting college basketball through March Madness. Although the leagues still have their stretch runs and tournaments, I feel like I have a strong grasp on the hierarchy of the conferences. Here is my ranking, one through 32, of each college basketball conference:
1. Big 12
I’m giving the Big 12 the nod over the Big Ten mainly because I feel like there are far fewer dud games in the Big 12. TCU is fodder. But even Texas Tech is pretty spry, beating Oklahoma State and Baylor and throwing scares into teams like Iowa State, Texas and West Virginia. There is a chance that the other eight teams in the league will end up in the NCAA Tournament. And most of those teams could do damage once they get there. Kansas is a true national title contender and one of the best teams in the nation. Kansas State, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Oklahoma State are each potential Sweet 16 teams. Texas is as hot as anyone, and West Virginia and Baylor have shown that they can go toe-to-toe with other top teams across the country. There are no off nights in this league. Well, except for against the Horned Frogs.
2. Big Ten
I won’t knock the Big Ten. This is a solid conference with some exceptional teams. But one of my biggest problems is that I am still not sure how good any of the top-tier teams are. Three of the top-tier teams; Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan; combined to do jack in the nonconference portion of the season. And all three have been hit or miss against the top of the Big Ten. Michigan State has a lot of talent but can’t stay healthy. And Wisconsin has come back down to earth – hard – after posting the most impressive nonconference resume of anyone in the league. There is some quality in the middle of this league and no true duds.
3. Pac 12
I’m a big fan of the Pac-12, and this perpetually underrated league is still on the way up. Arizona has spent the lion’s share of this season ranked No. 1 in the country, and they are a title contender. The second tier of this league is strong. UCLA is a potential Sweet 16 team, and California is right there as well. Arizona State, Colorado and Stanford are all making strong NCAA Tournament cases. And teams like Utah and Oregon will be on the bubble come Selection Sunday, too. This league has seven teams rated in Ken Pomeroy’s Top 45, more than either the Big 12 or Big Ten.
4. Big East
Suck it ACC – the Big East is still better than you! Like with the Big 12, I favor the Big East’s talent density. Sure, the ACC has Syracuse and Duke. But Villanova and Creighton are no slouches, and I would be surprised if one or both weren’t still around in the Elite Eight. After that is a drop off. But teams like Xavier, Georgetown, Providence and Marquette are much better than their records suggest. St. John’s is surging, and when Butler is the second-worst team in your conference you are pretty good.
Syracuse and Duke are potential champions. Virginia and Pittsburgh are great regular season teams (although both have “first-round upset” written on their foreheads). And North Carolina has righted the ship and is one of the hottest teams in the country. After that? Nothing. The middle tier of the ACC is a wasteland of Clemsons, Marylands, FSUs and N.C. States. Five of the 15 teams in the league are at or below .500 on the season, and only six of the 15 teams in the ACC have a winning record in league play. This league is basically the American Athletic (more on them in a minute) if the AAC had five more mediocre programs. The CBI and NIT are going to be a haven of crappy ACC teams this year.
This conference is what the old Big East would look like if none of the teams in the conference cared about basketball. Florida is a Final Four contender and one of the best teams in college basketball. Kentucky is overrated but improving. Beyond that the second tier of this conference is as shaky as it gets. Tennessee hammered Virginia but lost to N.C. State. Ole Miss is currently third in the league but lost to Mercer. LSU can beat Kentucky and Butler but lost at home to Rhode Island. Missouri and Arkansas can beat anyone in the nation at home – but can’t win on the road (at all). And those are the better teams in the league. I will admit one thing: the bottom of this barrel has improved from recent seasons. But considering how putrid teams like Miss State, Auburn and South Carolina have been, that is faint praise.
7. American Athletic
I think that the top half of this league is stronger than the SEC’s top half. But the American is one of the most lopsided in the country. Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut have all been ranked in the Top 12 in the country at some point this year. And SMU has been one of the most undervalued teams in the nation all season. That’s five teams that each have legit potential for an Elite Eight or Final Four run. But the bottom half of the league (Houston, Rutgers, USF, Temple, UCF) is worthless. The top five teams have gone 28-2 straight up against the bottom half of the league. Lopsided.
8. Atlantic 10
This has been an awesome conference for true college basketball fans to follow the past few years. This league has as much parity in its top half as any league in the country. St. Louis is cleaning up right now at 9-0 in league play. The Bilikens and VCU are currently in the Top 25, and Massachusetts had been a staple of the rankings for the majority of the year. But I wouldn’t be surprised if any one of five other teams won the conference title. George Washington is legit. Richmond and St. Joseph’s may not have the juice for a title run, but they are perfect spoilers. Dayton has wins over Gonzaga and Cal this season, and LaSalle has the core of last year’s Sweet 16 team still intact. The bottom of the league – with respectable programs like George Mason and Duquesne pulling up the rear – is even competitive. From top to bottom this group can ball.
9. Mountain West
Despite the incredible success of San Diego State, this has to be considered a down year for the league. Especially after the success it enjoyed in 2013, when five of the nine teams went to the NCAA Tournament. This year the 11-team league has dropped from No. 5 to No. 10 in the RPI. Newcomers Utah State and San Jose State have gone 4-18 in league play and are certainly dragging down the metrics of this league. However, UNLV, Boise State and Colorado State have also had disappointing years. San Diego State and New Mexico appear to be locks for the NCAA Tournament. But beyond that there isn’t a lot to get excited about here.
10. West Coast Conference
The bottom of this conference is still pretty disgusting with the bottom four teams all struggling to stay at or above .500 on the year. Pepperdine and Portland make up the middle of the league, with San Francisco just above them. Gonzaga rules the roost, and the Bulldogs have a three-game lead for the division title with six games to play. This still looks like a one-bid league, as BYU and St. Mary’s lack the nonconference resume to garner serious consideration.
Here is a breakdown of the rest of the mid-major conferences:
11. Missouri Valley
12. Horizon League
14. Conference USA
15. Sun Belt
16. Metro Atlantic
17. Ivy League
18. Summit League
19. Big West
21. Ohio Valley
22. Patriot League
25. Big Sky
26. Atlantic Sun
28. America East
30. Big South
Robert Ferringo is a lead writer for Doc’s Sport and one of the top college handicappers in the country. Robert has posted 9 of 12 winning college hoops weeks and 16 of 19 winning college hoops months. He has banked nearly $8,000 in profit with his side plays this year and nearly $15,000 in profit since Nov. 11, 2012. Robert is a profit machine and you can take advantage of our free, no-strings-attached $60 credit to use toward a purchase of Robert’s college basketball selections. CLICK HERE for $60 absolutely free!
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