Conference power rankings: ACC has big lead over Big 12, Big East and Big Ten
Non-conference play is nearly done, so here's how we rate the top conferences
Now that January has arrived, let's take on long gaze at the college basketball landscape and determine an order of the best leagues in the sport. College hoops has completed about 95 percent of its non-conference regular-season competition to this point (there are random interleague games peppered throughout January), so we've got almost a complete diagnosis on how these conferences did vs. each other.
How am I power-ranking out the leagues? I'm going by win percentage, good wins, bad losses and teams listed in the top 50 in every single one of these widely used ranking systems: KenPom, RPI, Sagarin, Massey and KPI. Consensus top-50 teams, in other words. (There are 33.) Within this way of deducing consensus top-50 teams, there are still a few surprises. Wisconsin, for instance, does not qualify because it lands outside the RPI's current top 50. Yet another example of why I do not and will never trust the RPI. But I did include it here because, alas, the NCAA selection committee still uses it as a guidepost.
For reference to top-50 wins, I'm only using KenPom's rankings, in an effort to get a wider base of teams that are projected as at-large quality. (Plus, it's the one I trust most.) With all of this, I sorted the leagues into statistical and pragmatic tiers.
While the Missouri Valley and Mountain West are ranked, by some systems, to be top-10 leagues, they're not here. I'm only looking at conferences with legitimate cases to be multi-bid. Unfortunately, the Valley and Mountain West did not break through in non-league play.
In order, from 9 to 1, here are the top leagues in college basketball this season. All records and stats are as of Monday, Jan. 2.
9. ATLANTIC 10 (112-72 record, .609 win pct.)
- Top-50 teams (1): Dayton
- Sub-100 losses (22): vs. Georgia Tech (VCU), vs. Little Rock (St. Bonaventure), vs. Canisius (St. Bonaventure and Duquesne), vs. Old Dominion (Richmond), at Bucknell (Richmond), at Oral Roberts (Richmond), vs. UT-Martin (Duquesne), vs. UMBC (Duquesne), vs. Robert Morris (Duquesne), vs. Texas Southern (La Salle), vs. Towson (George Mason), vs. Mount St. Mary's (George Mason), vs. UAB (George Washington), vs. Sacred Heart (Fordham), at Harvard (Fordham), at Manhattan (Fordham), vs. Rutgers (Fordham), vs. Ball State (Saint Louis), vs. Samford (Saint Louis), at Southern Illinois (Saint Louis), vs. Winthrop (Saint Louis)
- Big games in January: Dayton-St. Bonaventure (Jan. 3); Rhode Island-Dayton (Jan. 6); Dayton-VCU (Jan. 27)
This is jarring. The A-10 has just one win over a team reasonably projected to make the NCAA Tournament. The conference will need the standings to break the right way in order to garner three bids. Dayton, the best team, lacks a legitimate win. Not a good sign at all for the A-10, which is facing an undeniable down year. The conference put five into the NCAAs in 2013 and six in 2014. The past two years: three apiece. This season, three is the absolute best outcome, I'm afraid.
8. WEST COAST (88-55 record, .615 win pct.)
- Top-50 teams (2): Gonzaga, Saint Mary's
- Top-50 wins (4): vs. Florida (Gonzaga), vs. Iowa State (Gonzaga), vs. Arizona (Gonzaga), at Dayton (Saint Mary's)
- Sub-100 losses (23): Utah Valley (BYU), Portland State (Portland, Pepperdine and San Francisco), Cal State Fullerton (Portland and Pacific), Eastern Washington (San Francisco), UC Davis (Santa Clara), Tennessee State (Santa Clara), UC Irvine (Santa Clara and Pacific), San Jose State (Santa Clara), Washington State (Santa Clara), UConn (Loyola Marymount), UMass (Pacific), Rider (Pacific), Fresno State (Pacific), Samford (San Diego), New Mexico State (San Diego), Central Michigan (Pepperdine), Belmont (Pepperdine), Long Beach State (Pepperdine), Montana (Pepperdine)
- Big games in January: BYU-Saint Mary's (Jan. 5); Saint Mary's-Gonzaga (Jan. 14)
You can see here why I opted not to put in conferences like the Missouri Valley and the Mountain West. Those leagues rate higher than the West Coast in some metrics, but they don't have two viable at-large candidates. The WCC does, but after that, it gets dicey in a hurry. (It's also why I'm putting the WCC ahead of the A-10; Gonzaga and Saint Mary's alone make the case well.) Bad losses stain the land, certainly, and GU and Saint Mary's are carrying this league's reputation. BYU, which has flirted with top-50 status this season, will need to finish with two losses or fewer to have a hardened chance at an at-large bid.
7. THE AAC (95-59 record, .617 win pct.)
- Top-50 teams (2): Cincinnati, SMU
- Top-50 wins (6): at Iowa State (Cincinnati); vs. West Virginia (Temple); vs. Florida State (Temple); vs. TCU (SMU); vs. Rhode Island (Houston); vs. South Carolina (Memphis)
- Sub-100 losses (23): at LSU (Houston); vs. Harvard (Houston); vs. Penn (UCF); at George Washington (UCF); vs. Jacksonville State (Tulsa); at Little Rock (Tulsa); at Charlotte (East Carolina); vs. Mercer (East Carolina); vs. New Hampshire (Temple); at UMass (Temple); vs. George Washington (Temple and South Florida); vs. Wagner (UConn); vs. Northeastern (UConn); vs. Elon (South Florida); at Florida Atlantic (South Florida); vs. Northern Illinois (South Florida); Tulane has six more.
- Big games in January: Cincinnati-Houston (Jan. 7); SMU-Cincinnati (Jan. 12); Houston-UCF (Jan. 14); Memphis-Temple (Jan. 25); SMU-UCF (Jan. 25); Xavier-Cincinnati (Jan. 26)
Interesting league. Behind Cincinnati and SMU, Houston, Memphis and Temple all make for potential spoilers come tournament play. UCF is a legitimate sleeper. UConn is a mess, but that's now because of a lot of injuries. Good news for the AAC is, due to a complete lack of at-large candidates from leagues ranked eighth and lower, it's got a good and likely opportunity to land three bids.
6. SEC (122-55 record, .689 win pct.)
- Top-50 wins (8): vs. Michigan State (Kentucky); vs. North Carolina (Kentucky); vs. Miami (Florida); vs. Michigan (South Carolina); vs. Houston (Arkansas and LSU); vs. Virginia Tech (Texas A&M); vs. Texas Tech (Auburn)
- Sub-100 losses (5): vs. Bucknell (Vanderbilt); vs. North Carolina Central (Missouri); vs. Eastern Illinois (Missouri); vs. Lipscomb (Missouri); vs. Boston College (Auburn);
- Big games in January: South Carolina-Georgia (Jan. 4); Arkansas-Kentucky (Jan. 7); Florida-South Carolina (Jan. 18); South Carolina-Kentucky (Jan. 21); Georgia-Texas A&M (Jan. 21); Florida-Oklahoma (Jan. 28); Kansas-Kentucky (Jan. 28); Georgia-Kentucky (Jan. 31)
The SEC hasn't been elite, but it hasn't gotten caught in the gutter too much either. For a 14-team conference, having only eight wins against top-50 competition is below standards. But just five sub-100 losses is impressive. What's happening here is the SEC's going to be big in the belly. No one's going to challenge Kentucky, and spots 4-10 in the league are going to feel pretty interchangeable. Expect at least four bids, but Kentucky's probably going to be the only team with a 4 seed or better.
5. PAC-12 (119-52 record, .696 win pct.)
- Top-50 wins (9): at Kentucky (UCLA); at Texas A&M (USC and UCLA); vs. Michigan (UCLA); vs. Ohio State (UCLA); vs. SMU (USC); vs. Texas A&M (UCLA); vs. Michigan State (Arizona); vs. Xavier (Colorado)
- Sub-100 losses (16): vs. San Francisco (Utah); vs. Loyola Chicago (Washington State); vs. San Jose State (Washington State); vs. New Orleans (Washington State); vs. Northern Iowa (Arizona State); vs. New Mexico State (Arizona State); vs. Colorado State (Colorado); vs. Yale (Washington); vs. Lamar (Oregon State); at Tulsa (Oregon State); vs. Fresno State (Oregon State); at Mississippi State (Oregon State); at Charlotte (Oregon State); vs. Savannah State (Oregon State); vs. Long Beach State (Oregon State); vs. Portland (Oregon State)
- Big games in January: Arizona-USC (Jan. 19); Arizona-UCLA (Jan. 21); UCLA-USC (Jan. 25)
There's a top four, and then there's a moat separating the rest of the league from that top four right now. I'm as surprised as you might be that the conference only has three marquee games throughout January, but the reality is that Arizona, USC, Oregon and UCLA all take on bigger games -- vs. each other -- later in the season. So the trend to watch in the Pac-12 over the next four weeks is 1) The standings battle between these teams, but really will it be Oregon or UCLA that becomes the best in the conference, and 2) Will Cal be able to join the fold? It's a tough ask. The Bears have road games against three of the top four teams in the next three weeks. My guess is the Pac-12 winds up with four bids on Selection Sunday. Also, literally half of the conference's bad losses have come from one team -- Oregon State.
4. BIG TEN (150-55 record, .732 win pct.)
- Top-50 wins (14): vs. Notre Dame (Purdue); vs. Arkansas (Minnesota); vs. Wake Forest (Northwestern); vs. Dayton (Northwestern and Nebraska); vs. Kansas State (Maryland); vs. Oklahoma State (Maryland); vs. Iowa State (Iowa); vs. Kansas (Indiana); vs. North Carolina (Indiana); vs. Marquette (Michigan and Wisconsin); vs. SMU (Michigan); vs. Wichita State (Michigan State)
- Sub-100 losses (8): vs. Winthrop (Illinois); vs. Omaha (Iowa); vs. Albany (Penn State); vs. George Mason (Penn State); at Fort Wayne (Indiana); vs. Florida Atlantic (Ohio State); vs. Northeastern (Michigan State); vs. Gardner Webb (Nebraska)
- Big games in January: Minnesota-Northwestern (Jan. 5); Wisconsin-Purdue (Jan. 8); Indiana-Maryland (Jan. 10); Michigan-Illinois (Jan. 11); Wisconsin-Minnesota (Jan. 21); Purdue-Michigan State (Jan. 24); Indiana-Northwestern (Jan. 29)
Confusing conference as we step into 2017. Entering Tuesday Michigan State and Nebraska are the only two 2-0 teams. According to the metrics, Rutgers is the only team that's outside the races for either NCAA or NIT tournaments. It's been a solid year, but there's a lot left to figure out with the league. Purdue losing at home to Minnesota and Indiana losing at home to Nebraska were big twists to kick off league play. And Minnesota, which is 13-2, is the surprise of the league. Given the stain of some pretty remarkable sub-100 losses by otherwise good teams, and the fact it only rates three squads as consensus top-5- teams, the Big Ten is solidified as the No. 4 conference at this point in the season.
3. BIG EAST (105-38 record, .734 win pct.)
- Top-50 wins (14): at Purdue (Villanova); vs. Wake Forest (Villanova and Xavier); vs. Notre Dame (Villanova); vs. Clemson (Xavier); vs. Northwestern (Butler); vs. Arizona (Butler); vs. Cincinnati (Butler); vs. Indiana (Butler); vs. Wisconsin (Creighton); vs. Cal (Seton Hall); vs. South Carolina (Seton Hall); vs. Oregon (Georgetown); vs. Rhode Island (Providence)
- Sub-100 losses (11): vs. Old Dominion (St. John's); vs. Delaware State (St. John's); vs. LIU Brooklyn (St. John's); at Indiana State (Butler); vs. Stanford (Seton Hall); vs. Arkansas State (Georgetown); at Boston College (Provience); vs. Rutgers (DePaul); vs. UIC (DePaul); vs. Wyoming (DePaul); vs. Missouri State (DePaul)
- Big games in January: Villanova-Butler (Jan. 4); Xavier-Villanova (Jan. 10); Seton Hall-Marquette (Jan. 11); Xavier-Butler (Jan. 14); Creighton-Xavier (Jan. 16); Cincinnati-Xavier (Jan. 26); Virginia-Villanova (Jan. 29); Creighton-Butler (Jan. 31);
The Big East has four teams with legitimate chances at landing 5 seeds or better. The top five teams in the league performed as well in non-conference play as any other league except the ACC. Plus, Marquette might wind up playing into the at-large picture as well. To me, the Big East is a clear-cut No. 3. It's a lock for four bids, with five very much attainable and six being on the table. Villanova being the still-undefeated, No. 1 team in America goes a long way to lifting up the league as well, but Creighton's only loss it to Villanova, and Xavier's still not using a full roster, yet it's ranked and looking eager to show why it's got Final Four aspirations.
2. BIG 12 (102-26 record, .797 win pct.)
- Top-50 teams (4): Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia, TCU
- Top-50 wins (9): at Virginia (West Virginia); vs. Duke (Kansas); vs. Michigan State (Baylor); vs. Louisville (Baylor); vs. Oregon (Baylor); vs. Xavier (Baylor); vs. Miami (Iowa State); at Wichita State (Oklahoma State); vs. Clemson (Oklahoma)
- Sub-100 losses (2): vs. Northern Iowa (Oklahoma); vs. Kent State (Texas)
- Big games in January: Iowa State-Baylor (Jan. 4); Baylor-West Virginia (Jan. 10); Iowa State-Oklahoma State (Jan. 11); Iowa State-TCU (Jan. 14); Kansas-Iowa State (Jan. 16); West Virginia-Kansas State (Jan. 21); Kansas-West Virginia (Jan. 24); Kansas-Kentucky (Jan. 28); West Virginia-Iowa State (Jan. 31)
The fewest bad losses of any league in America. The Big 12 has a blend of balance throughout the league while still providing a national title contender in Kansas and, really, another one in Baylor -- who is still undefeated. There is some system-gaming going on here too, though. Kansas State, Texas Tech, TCU all racked up good non-conference records against really weak schedules and didn't land one notable win. Keep an eye on how all those teams do in the league. To me, they seem like bottom-half squads, while KU, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State and Oklahoma State will finish as the top half of the conference. The Big 12's win percentage is best in the country as well, but again, some of that is due to a number of teams playing unacceptably poor interleague schedules.
1. ACC (163-44 record, .787 win pct.)
- Top-50 teams (9): Louisville, Virginia, Florida State, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Notre Dame, Wake Forest
- Top-50 wins (17): vs. Minnesota (Florida State); vs. Florida (Florida State); at South Carolina (Clemson); vs. Northwestern (Notre Dame); at Michigan (Virginia Tech); vs. Ohio State (Virginia); at Cal (Virginia); vs. Michigan State (Duke); vs. Rhode Island (Duke); vs. Florida (Duke); vs. Oklahoma State (UNC); vs. Wisconsin (UNC); vs. Wichita State (Louisville); vs. Purdue (Louisville); vs. Kentucky (Louisville); vs. Indiana (Louisville); vs. Marquette (Pittsburgh)
- Sub-100 losses (8): vs. Ohio (Georgia Tech); vs. Nicholls State (Boston College); vs. Richmond (Boston College); vs. Harvard (Boston College); vs. Hartford (Boston College); vs. Fairfield (Boston College); vs. Duquesne (Pittsburgh); vs. UConn (Syracuse)
- Big games in January: UNC-Clemson (Jan. 3); Louisville-Notre Dame (Jan. 4); Duke-Florida State (Jan. 10); UNC-Wake Forest (Jan. 11); Virginia-Clemson (Jan. 14); Duke-Louisville (Jan. 14); Louisville-Florida State (Jan. 21); Miami-Duke (Jan. 21); Virginia-Notre Dame (Jan. 24); UNC-Miami (Jan. 28); Virginia-Villanova (Jan. 29); Duke-Notre Dame (Jan. 30);
By far the most consensus top-50 teams (more than double any other league), and the most top-50 wins makes the ACC the runaway champ here. The conference is a mortal lock to land at least eight teams in the NCAA Tournament. Getting 11 in is not out of the question this season. Every night in league play is going to be interesting because there will be good teams playing on the road with a chance to enhance their resume or, if they lose, slip in the standings. A lot of results are going to seemingly not mean all that much, but on closer inspection you'll see how tournament seeding will be constructed. January's going to be quite an experience in the ACC. No one's really sure what to expect, especially with the Duke factor/Mike Krzyzewski's back surgery.
Villanova, which is expected to lose four starters, is No. 7.
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