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Ranking the Best Conferences in College Basketball, Part 1

Posted on February 28, 2011 by Ray Thompson

Jimmer Fredette has been the face of college basketball this season and has the BYU Cougars poised for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

If you are paying attention at all to this year’s division I basketball season, you know how crazy things are.  This year is wide open, and for the first time it is a true statement to say that anyone can win it all.  Of course, there are the usual players like Duke, Ohio State, and North Carolina (who is in the top 20 but is usually in the top 5 year in and year out), but there are also teams like BYU, Xavier, Vanderbilt, and Missouri in spots normally occupied by teams from the ACC and SEC.  My boys from Harvard by the way are close to cracking the top 30 and are in a dog fight with Princeton for the top spot in the Ivy league and their own spot in the dance.

It is for this reason that I thought it would be fun to rank the top 10 conferences since this year has been so wide open, and so fun to watch.  My criteria for making this analysis was focused on how many teams are represented by that conference in the top 50 as well as quality wins by those teams against other top opponents.  For reference, there are currently 32 division 1 conferences (33 if you count the independents) with 346 teams in those conferences.  Those teams are vying for 68 spots in the NCAA tournament.

So as we come out of February, and head into March Madness, here is my ranking of the top conferences.  I am breaking this article into two parts, Part I being conferences 10 – 6.  Here goes:

Top Conference #10: Conference USA

The list starts with CUSA ranked at 10 in my top ten.  This conference has two viable teams who will go dancing from this conference in Memphis and UAB.  This conference boasts five teams with 20 wins, (UAB, Memphis, UTEP, Southern Miss, and Marshall).  That said, they are a combined 2-5 against top twenty five talent.  CUSA will be well represented in the NIT with a log jam of teams with impressive season win totals.  When you look at the early brackets, Memphis will come out of the West while UAB will be the 12 seed out of the southeast.

Top Conference #9: Horizon Conference
The home of Milwaukee and Butler and Cleveland State, this is a conference that has made news the last few years with Butler becoming the Gonzaga of sorts for this conference.  Butler used to be an unknown team who has since had some marquis appearances in past tournaments.  This conference will likely send two, potentially three teams to the dance, with Milwaukee and Butler likely coming out of the southwest.  This is a conference of giant killers and will play spoiler to a team like Cincinnati, Kansas or even Duke.  Given how this season has gone, it would not be a surprise to see both Milwaukee and Butler win their early round games, and potentially play each other which is possible given current brackets having both these teams coming out of the same region.  

Top Conference #8: The Pac-10 Conference

Derrick Williams has been a standout for Arizona this season.

The Pac-10 has Arizona, UCLA, and Washington all looking like they will be dancing come tournament time.  Arizona is ranked 10 in both the AP and ESPN poll while UCLA is ranked in the top 30.  Washington is unranked but having a strong season and need some wins down the stretch.  That said, when you look at quality wins by the teams in this conference against top talent, all three of these teams are a combined 1-8.  Not too impressive and if that says anything, it could be a quick tournament for the Pac-10 conference teams.   There is always solid individual talent in this conference with Derrick Williams, a sophomore from the University of Arizona putting up 19 points per game and grabbing 8 rebounds and Isaiah Thomas putting up a solid season with 16.7 ppg.

Top Conference #7: The Atlantic 10 Conference
The Atlantic 10 has Xavier, Richmond, and Temple vying for spots in the tournament.  Temple is ranked 24th and Xavier ranked 25th respectively in the current AP polls while Xavier is still on top in the conference.  Xavier has no wins against top ranked teams but is on a 6 game win streak, while Temple is 1-1 as is Richmond against ranked teams.  Rhode Island is putting together a solid season with 18 wins but could find themselves on the outside looking in on the tournament.  Xavier is looking like a 7 seed out of the southeast while Richmond will likely get in as a 12 seed.  Temple is looking like a 7 seed as well coming out of the East.

Top Conference #6: Mountain West Conference
BYU (#7) and San Diego State (#4), vying for the top spot in the conference, played a tight game today with BYU coming out on top.  BYU now has 2 wins over teams in the AP top 25 while SDSU is 1-1 vs. top ranked teams. UNLV has an impressive overall record (21-7) but is only 1-5 vs. top ranked teams.  Colorado State also has a great overall record with 18 wins on the season.  You can’t mention the Mountain West Conference and BYU without mentioning Jimmer Fredette, averaging 27 points per game, just over 4 assists per game, and pulling in 3 rebounds per game, he is simply a sensation.  San Diego on the other hand is getting this done by spreading the wealth with Kawhi Leonard leading in both points and rebounds.  This conference likely sends 3 teams (BYU, UNLV, and SDSU), potentially a fourth (Colorado State), who are on the bubble.

Check back later this week to find out who I ranked as the top 5 conferences in the country.

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