With one week left in the regular season for college basketball, its time to start thinking about conference tournaments as well as the NCAA Tournament. When considering at-large teams for the NCAA Tournament, the Selection Committee puts little emphasis on giving conferences a set number of spots. Still, its clear that teams in tough conferences are more likely to make the tournament if they are on the bubble, than conferences that are not as tough.
Every year, the debate is which conference is the best. The answer, as every year, is: It depends on what metric is being used. Looking at overall records, the conference record of the top four in each conference, RPI, SOS, and record against the top 50 RPI, a better picture takes focus of where the major conferences – ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, SEC, and PAC-12 – currently stand.
All numbers used are current for games completed through February 22nd. To see my most recent projected NCAA Tournament bracket, click here.
1. Rather than focusing how teams have done in league play, which will be reviewed later, let’s take a look at overall winning percentage, with an emphasis on non-conference play.
The Candidates for Best Overall Winning Percentage are:
Big East – Syracuse was undefeated in non-conference play, posting 13 wins. Louisville went 12-1. The Orange had good wins against Florida and North Carolina State, while Louisville helped out the Big East with wins over Long Beach State, Vanderbilt, and Memphis, but lost at Kentucky.
Big Ten – Indiana and Ohio State paced the Big Ten in non-conference play. The Hoosiers were 12-0 outside the Big Ten, while the Buckeyes were 12-1. Indiana defeated North Carolina State, Notre Dame, and were the only team to date to beat Kentucky. Ohio State beat Florida and Duke, but fell at Kansas, without Jared Sullinger.
SEC – Not surprisingly, Kentucky had the best non-conference performance of any SEC team, at 14-1. Mississippi State was 13-2 in non-conference play. Kentucky’s lone loss was to Indiana on a buzzer beater, but the Wildcats have wins over Kansas, North Carolina, and Louisville. Mississippi State picked up wins over then-ranked opponents Texas A&M and Arizona and also beat West Virginia. The Bulldogs had an early season home loss to Akron, and lost to Baylor on a neutral court.
The Best Conference for Overall Winning Percentage is . . .The Big Ten.
The Big Ten won 81% of their games in non-conference; overall, Big Ten teams have won 64.35% of their games.
Runner up – SEC. The SEC won 73.6% of their games in non-conference play; overall, SEC teams have won 62.5% of their games.
Honorable Mention – Big East. The Big East won 77% of their games in non-conference play; overall, Big East teams have won 62.2% of their games.
2. Comparing conferences in terms of conference play isn’t helpful – all teams combined are 500. Instead, looking at the top four is probably the most helpful. In most of the major conference the top four teams will be NCAA Tournament-bound.
The Candidates for Best Conference Winning Percentage are:
ACC – For much of the season there has been a three-way tie at the top of the ACC between Florida State, North Carolina, and Duke. North Carolina now leads by one half game. North Carolina has good conference wins over Miami (FL) (twice) and Virginia, but lost to Florida State and Duke. Florida State has wins over North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, and Miami (FL) in conference play, but questionable losses to Clemson and Boston College. Duke has good conference wins against Virginia and North Carolina, but losses to Florida State and Miami (FL). Virginia is sitting in fourth place, a few games behind the leaders; they beat Miami (FL), but lost to Duke, Virginia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina, and Clemson.
Big 12 – Its become a two team race in the Big 12, between Missouri and Kansas, but Baylor and Iowa State aren’t far behind. With Missouri’s loss during the week and Kansas’s win, it looks like it’s the Jayhawks’ race to lose. Kansas has wins over Kansas State (twice), Iowa State, Baylor (twice), and Texas, but lost to Iowa State and Missouri. The Tigers own wins over Iowa State, Baylor (twice), Texas (twice), and Kansas, but have losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma State on the road. Baylor is three games behind the leaders, having been swept by both Missouri and Kansas; they also lost to Kansas State. The Bears do have wins over Kansas State, Texas, and Iowa State, though. Iowa State has put together a nice season, with wins over Texas, Kansas, and Kansas State. They do have losses to Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor, the later four of which were on the road.
Big East – Being in the top four in the Big East is big, as the top four teams receive a double-bye in the Big East Conference Tournament. Syracuse has been great all year, with their lone loss to Notre Dame. The Orange have beaten Seton Hall, Marquette, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Georgetown, Connecticut, and Louisville. Notre Dame holds the tiebreaker over Marquette; the Irish have also beaten Louisville, South Florida, Syracuse, Seton Hall, Connecticut, Marquette, and West Virginia (twice), but have losses to Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Rutgers. In addition to a loss to Notre Dame, Marquette has losses to Georgetown and Syracuse; the Golden Eagles do have wins over Louisville, South Florida, Seton Hall, Cincinnati, and Connecticut, though. Georgetown holds the tiebreaker over South Florida; the Hoyas have also beaten Louisville, Marquette, and Connecticut, but have lost to West Virginia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse.
The Best Conference for Best Conference Winning Percentage is . . .the Big East.
The top four in the Big East have won 78% of their conference games. North Carolina and Duke will try to make their argument for top seeds in the NCAA Tournament down the stretch; Florida State looks like a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament, while Virginia is trying to get to the four line.
Runner up – ACC. The top four in the ACC have won 81.7% of their conference games. Syracuse looks like a 1 seed, while Marquette, Notre Dame, and Georgetown are in the race to be protected seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
Honorable Mention – Big 12. The top four in the Big 12 have won 75% of their conference games. Kansas and Missouri are trying to get a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament, Baylor looks like a protected seed, and Iowa State could be in the top half of the NCAA Tournament teams when the bracket comes out.
3. RPI is a means of comparison for teams who may have little means to compare. Basically, RPI is based on wins and losses and where they occur. A home win is worth 0.6 wins, a home loss is worth 1.4 losses. A road win is worth 1.4 wins, while a road loss is worth 0.6 losses. The RPI is made up of a team’s winning percentage (25%), opponents’ winning percentage (50%), and opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage (25%).
The Candidates for Best RPI are:
Big East – Syracuse has the top RPI in the country, but Marquette and Georgetown have been great, as well. The Orange have wins over Marquette, Georgetown, and Connecticut. Marquette has wins over Louisville, Connecticut, and Seton Hall. The Hoyas have knocked off Marquette, Louisville, and Connecticut.
Big Ten – The Big Ten has five teams with an RPI below 40. Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan all have RPIs below 20. Michigan State has wins over Ohio State, Michigan, and Indiana. Ohio State has wins over Michigan, Indiana, and Purdue. Michigan has beaten Michigan State Ohio State, and Indiana once each.
SEC – Kentucky doesn’t have the best RPI, but they have been the most consistent team throughout the year. Florida and Vanderbilt have been good, as well. Kentucky has conference wins over Florida, Vanderbilt, and Alabama. Florida has wins over Vanderbilt, Alabama, and Mississippi State. Vanderbilt has wins over Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.
The Best Conference for Best RPI is . . .the Big Ten.
Big Ten teams’ average RPI is 58.17. Teams that will or have the potential to make the NCAA Tournament from the Big Ten include (with current RPI in parenthesis): Michigan State (2), Ohio State (7), Michigan (10), Indiana (19), Wisconsin (25), Northwestern (46), and Purdue (50).
Runner up – Big East. Big East teams’ average RPI is 70.56. Teams that will or have the potential to make the NCAA Tournament from the Big Ten include (with current RPI in parenthesis): Syracuse (1), Marquette (9), Georgetown (13), Louisville (20), Connecticut (23), Seton Hall (30), Notre Dame (34), West Virginia (42), South Florida (47), and Cincinnati (79).
Honorable Mention – SEC. SEC teams’ average RPI is 70.75. Teams that will or have the potential to make the NCAA Tournament from the Big Ten include (with current RPI in parenthesis): Kentucky (3), Florida (17), Vanderbilt (26), Alabama (37), and Mississippi State (58).
4. SOS (Strength of Schedule) measures a team’s strength of schedule comparable to other teams. Simply, SOS adds up a team’s opponent’s wins and losses and compares them to other teams.
The Candidates for Best SOS are:
Big East – The top half of the Big East certainly plays tough schedules, but the bubble teams are the ones that have felt the pressure. Connecticut has the top strength of schedule. Villanova has the fourth best SOS, while West Virginia’s is fifth.
Big Ten – No game has been easy in the Big Ten, especially on the road. Michigan State has the second best strength of schedule, while Northwestern’s and Michigan’s have been seventh and eighth, respectively.
SEC – Vanderbilt as played Kentucky and Florida once each, part of the reason why they have played the sixth toughest schedule in the country. Alabama and Georgia’s schedules haven’t exactly been easy, either, as they are 17th and 18th, respectively.
The Best Conference for Best SOS is . . .the Big Ten.
The average SOS for Big Ten teams is 29.92. The Big Ten has three teams among the ten toughest schedules, with Michigan State (2nd), Northwestern (5th), and Michigan (8th).
Runner up – Big East. The average SOS for Big East teams is 38.13. The Big East has three teams among the ten toughest schedules, with Connecticut (1st), Villanova (4th), and West Virginia (7th).
Honorable Mention – SEC. The average SOS for SEC teams is 42.83. The toughest schedules among SEC teams are Vanderbilt (12), Alabama (15), and Georgia (20).
5. Record against top 50 RPI is important measure for seeding purposes in the NCAA Tournament and ultimately can include or exclude teams from the Big Dance. Wins and losses against those important become important because many of the top 50 teams make the field of 68. Rather than look at which conference has the most wins against the top 50 RPI, its easier to look at winning percentage.
The Candidates for Best Winning Percentage against the Top 50 RPI are:
Big 12 – Missouri has been virtually flawless against the RPI top 50, winning eight of their nine, including a win over Kansas and two over Baylor. Kansas and Baylor are the only other teams in the Big 12 to have a winning record against the RPI top 50, with records of 9-4 and 7-5, respectively.
Big East (36.31) – Syracuse leads the Big East, and leads the conference in wins against the top 50 RPI, with seven. Both Georgetown and Notre Dame have six wins against the RPI top 50.
Big Ten – Michigan leads the Big Ten with eight wins against the RPI top 50, including wins over Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. Michigan State and Ohio State are 7-4 against the RPI top 50, and each have beaten Michigan once.
The Best Conference for Best Winning Percentage against the Top 50 RPI is . . .the Big Ten.
The average winning percentage against the Top 50 RPI for Big Ten teams is 39.3%. Michigan leads the conference with 8 wins against the Top 50 RPI. Michigan State has 7 wins against the Top 50 RPI, while Ohio State has 6.
Runner up – Big 12. The average winning percentage against the Top 50 RPI for Big 12 teams is 37%. Kansas leads all major conference teams, and all of Division I basketball, with 9 wins against the Top 50 RPI. Baylor has 7 wins against the RPI top 50 and Missouri has 6.
Honorable Mention – Big East. The average winning percentage against the Top 50 RPI for Big East teams is 36.31%. Syracuse and Notre Dame have the most wins against Top 50 RPI competition, with 8 wins apiece. Georgetown has 7 wins against the Top 50 RPI.
The real winner, obviously, is whoever wins the NCAA Tournament. Last season the six conferences combined for 36 bids in the NCAA Tournament (4 ACC, 5 Big 12, 11 Big East, 7 Big Ten, 4 PAC-12, and 5 SEC). Will the major conferences exceed that this season?