College Basketball Conference Power Rankings: Big 12 Best Among Big Conferences; ACC is struggling
The ACC has only one team inside this week, tied for the least among all leagues considered included in the top seven conferences in college hoops. The Big 12, Big Ten and SEC lead the way with five teams in the AP Top 25. One could use this simple metric to argue that, based on the poll, the ACC is the worst power conference and the Big 12, Big Ten, and SEC — in some order — are the best.
And maybe if you used that argument, you’d be right.
But there’s more to it than meets the eye if you really want to roll up your sleeves and rank the lectures. Context is needed – like which league teams have played, save margins, injuries and more.
I am here to deliver exactly that. So, behold, a full ranking of the top seven college hoops leagues can be found below. This ranking takes eye testing into account to some degree, but it was compiled primarily based on efficacy data from KenPom.com and BartTorvik.com, as well as a deep dive into how each team from each conference performed during non-conference play.
OKAY. Enough talk. Let’s enter.
1. Big 12
- The 12 big teams in the AP Top 25: 5 (#1 Baylor, #9 Kansas, #15 Iowa State, #19 Texas Tech, #21 Texas)
- Record against ranked teams in non-conference play: 7-6
- Key Big 12 wins out of conference: Baylor on Michigan State (Nov. 26) and Villanova (Dec. 12); Oklahoma over Florida (December 1) and Arkansas (December 11); Kansas over Michigan State (November 9); Texas Tech over Tennessee (December 7); West Virginia on UConn (December 8); Iowa State on Xavier (November 24), Memphis (November 26) and Creighton (December 4)
Breakdown: The Big 12 is No. 1 with a ball and I’m standing on a pretty solid limb with that proclamation – no-tempo stats from BartTorvik.com and KenPom.com rank the league as the best based on their own data from efficiency. In non-conference games, it has proven itself worthy of wearing the crown, too, with seven wins over ranked opponents and two of its league members — Baylor and Iowa State — earning two of those wins over top-10 teams. What’s more impressive is that while No. 1 Baylor and No. 9 Kansas really help earn the respect of the conference as a whole, league depth has held up well with unranked teams like the West Virginia and Oklahoma picking up victories over quality powerhouse opponents. Good.
2. The Big Ten
- Big Ten teams in the AP Top 25: 5 (No. 7 Purdue, No. 10 Michigan State, No. 13 Wisconsin, No. 16 Ohio State, No. 25 Illinois)
- Record against ranked teams in non-conference play: 7-7
- Key Big Ten wins out of conference: Michigan State over Loyola Chicago (Nov. 24) and UConn (Nov. 25); Ohio State on Duke (November 30); Wisconsin over Houston (November 23); Purdue on North Carolina (November 20) and Villanova (November 21); Maryland over Florida (December 12)
Breakdown: There is an unfair perception out there that Big Ten basketball, perhaps because of Wisconsin and Michigan football, is all about hard defense and offense. But let’s say it now: it’s a misconception that needs to be thrown at the moon. This league ranks No. 1 among all major conferences in adjusted offensive efficiency this season with a 109.6 rating according to BartTorvik.com and its seven wins over ranked opponents in non-conference games for most among seven listed. It’s a clear No. 2 on this list for me and anchored by a quartet of Final Four contenders at Purdue, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
- SEC teams in the AP Top 25: 5 (#4 Auburn, #12 LSU, #18 Kentucky, #22 Tennessee, #24 Alabama)
- Record against ranked teams in non-conference play: 6-4
- Key SEC wins in non-conference play: Alabama on Gonzaga (Dec. 4) and Houston (Dec. 11); Auburn on Loyola Chicago (November 25); Kentucky over North Carolina (December 18); Tennessee over North Carolina (November 21) and Arizona (December 22); Georgia over Memphis (December 1)
Breakdown: Six wins over ranked teams in non-conference games for the SEC is pretty misleading — one was a Georgia win over a once-dead Memphis team and two were Kentucky and Tennessee who swept a team Slightly overrated UNC – but the league still deserves its No. 3 ranking. title to Alabama last year, led by a top-10 defense and a potential No. 1 pick in Jabari Smith. So it’s good. And when you take into account that LSU and Kentucky appear to be the top 15 mainstays, the top of this league justifies this position just behind the Big Ten.
4. Great East
- Big East teams in the AP Top 25: 4 (#14 Villanova, #17 Xavier, #20 Seton Hall, #23 Providence)
- Record against ranked teams in non-conference play: 7-10
- Key Big East wins out of conference: Villanova on Tennessee (Nov. 20); Providence over Wisconsin (November 15) and Texas Tech (December 1); Xavier on Ohio State (November 18) and Virginia Tech (November 26); Seton Hall over Michigan (November 16) and Texas (December 9); Marquette over Illinois (November 15) and West Virginia (November 19); UConn on Auburn (November 24); Butler on Oklahoma (December 7)
Breakdown: BartTorvik.com has a stat called Wins Above Bubble (WAB) which aims to quantify how a bubble team would potentially perform against a comparable schedule. The WAB stat also applies to conferences, and the Big East ranks second on BartTorvik.com with a WAB of 4.7 which sits well behind the Big 12 but ahead of the Big Ten as one of three leagues to do not hold a negative WAB. If those fancy numbers don’t convince you of the Big East’s placement here ahead of the Pac-12, ACC and American, well, here’s just a small list of teams that have been defeated by the Big East programs: Tennessee , Wisconsin, Ohio State, Illinois and Auburn — all teams that have been or are currently ranked in the top 15 in the AP Poll. (Voice of David Fizdale: take that for data!)
- Pac-12 teams in the AP Top 25: 3 (#3 UCLA, #5 USC, #6 Arizona)
- Record against ranked teams in non-conference play: 2-10
- Key Pac-12 wins in non-conference play: UCLA on Villanova (Nov. 12); USC over San Diego State (November 26); Arizona over Michigan (November 21) and Illinois (December 11);
Breakdown: The Pac-12 was more than most affected by the disruptions of COVID-19 – and its overall data was not helped much by the fact that the top dog UCLA missed almost a month earlier this season before falling to Oregon 84-81 in OT at home on Thursday. So that’s factored into my super secret formula here. But outside of the top three of UCLA, USC, and Arizona, there really isn’t much reason to put the Pac-12 higher than No. 5 (although I like some of the Colorado and Stanford plays). Could be a three-candidate league that has no other teams even on the bubble. yuck.
- ACC teams in the AP Top 25: 1 (No. 8 Duke)
- Record against ranked teams in non-conference play: 4-15
- Key ACC wins in non-conference play: Duke over Kentucky (Nov. 9) and Gonzaga (Nov. 26); North Carolina over Michigan (December 1); Notre Dame on Kentucky (December 11); Syracuse over Indiana (November 30)
Breakdown: It’s not quite a “There’s Duke and then there’s everyone else.” situation in the ACC, but when it comes to comparing other top dogs from the other respective conferences, Duke definitely carries a heavier bucket of water than anyone. Admittedly, right now we feel like we’re tipping towards a situation where there’s Duke and then everyone else – at least as far as the relevant suitors go. It’s the only team currently ranked in the polls and the rest of the ACC is down many compared to recent years. Maybe Miami’s recent surge could regain some respect for the league, but Virginia has struggled, Louisville is hot and cold, Florida State looks unusually flawed and I’m still not sure what think of UNC. We will see. Overall, the verdict is still out — I’m not ready to write the ACC eulogy just yet — but the conference has been a terrible season so far. At least there’s Duke.
7. American Athletic Conference
- AAC teams in the AP Top 25: 1 (#11 Houston)
- Record against ranked teams in non-conference play: 2-5
- Key AAC wins in non-conference play: Houston over Oklahoma State (December 18); Memphis over Virginia Tech (November 24) and Alabama (December 14); UCF over Michigan (December 30); Cincinnati over Illinois (November 22); Wichita State on Oklahoma State (December 1);
Breakdown: Houston is the No. 3 team on KenPom.com and BartTorvik.com despite ranking outside the top 10 in the latest AP poll. Analytics to like them a few cougars. But Kelvin Sampson’s club really could be the crown jewel of a (potential) single-candidate American; Jerry Palm in Houston and Memphis barely as it stands in its final installment. The league outside of Houston really isn’t strong.