I am continuing Top-10 Tuesday’s by looking at the Top-10 Conferences in College Basketball. I am looking at this based on what each of these conferences has done since the big conference realignment back in 2013. This also takes into account what programs are still in each conference, which is one of the reasons the Missouri Valley is down further on the list, as they lost one of the premier basketball schools in Wichita State. Combining these two things I have made my ranking of the Top-10 Conferences in College Basketball.
1.Atlantic Coast Conference
The ACC takes the top spot on this list, as it consistently produces the most Final Four teams, as well as it has produced two of the last four National Championships. Duke and North Carolina are always in contention for a National Championship, while Virginia has shown to be dominant in the past few years. Other great programs in the Conference include Louisville, Syracuse, and NC State. Looking past those, teams like Miami, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Notre Dame have been consistently making the NCAA Tournament. The league generally has two to three teams seeded either one or two in the NCAA Tournament, while 9 to 10 teams generally make the NCAA Tournament from the ACC. This amount of consistency is the main reason why the ACC is considered the best conference in College Basketball.
The Big 12 has been great over the past few years, as they are consistently a top two conference in RPI and KenPom. While the Big 12 is won by Kansas every year, the depth of the league behind Kansas is off the charts. Last year, for example, nine teams thought they had a chance of making the NCAA Tournament at the time of the Big 12 Tournament, while only 7 did that still meant 70 percent of the league made the NCAA Tournament. The league has also seen a mixture of teams challenge at the top, such as Iowa State, Oklahoma, or West Virginia. One of the most impressive parts is that all 10 teams have made the NCAA Tournament in the past two seasons, which something no other conference can say. This year the Big 12 will follow the same path, as Kansas will be the favorites to win the league but all 10 teams will have a legitimate chance to make the NCAA Tournament.
The new Big East is nothing like the old Big East, however, it is still a very good basketball Conference. Villanova gets most of the recognition, as they have won two National Championships in the past three years, that being said the league is pretty good around them. Xavier, Butler, Creighton, Seton Hall, and Providence have all been really good and consistent programs. While programs like Georgetown, Marquette, and St. John’s have struggled since joining the Big East, each has good basketball history and could easily be back at the top of the league in a couple of years. I think this league, a lot like the Big 12 is pretty good top to bottom, which is why they consistently get 6 or 7 teams into the NCAA Tournament. This year should be more of the same, as Villanova will probably be atop the league but with this leagues depth, 6 or 7 teams could find themselves playing in the NCAA Tournament.
The SEC has never been a great basketball conference in years past but that changed starting in the 2017 NCAA Tournament when three SEC teams made it to the Elite Eight. That momentum carried over into this past season when a record eight SEC schools made the NCAA Tournament and while no teams made it to the Elite Eight, the conference was recognized as one of the best in basketball. Kentucky is the best program in the conference but every other program from the SEC can do damage. The SEC recently has seen a lot of great coaching hires which is part of the reason why it has improved of late. Next year the SEC should continue to make strides as 6 to 8 SEC schools will probably make the NCAA Tournament and the conference looks to have two to three teams make the Elite Eight next season.
The Big Ten Conference has consistently been a good conference, however, it has seen a dropoff in the past few years, which is why it is down at 4 on this list. Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, and Wisconsin are the headline programs in the conference. Each of whom having won a conference title within the past five seasons. In years past the Big Ten was right up there with the ACC competing for best conference in the sport but in the past couple years that has seen a big hit, as less and less Big Ten schools find themselves making the NCAA Tournament. In 2018 only 4 of the 14 schools from the Big Ten made the NCAA Tournament, which is a terrible ratio. This next year the Big Ten should see 6 to 8 teams make the tournament, however, on paper none of the Big Ten teams look capable of winning the National Championship.
The Pac-12 can be a good major conference for many sports but basketball is not one of those. The Pac-12 consistently has shown to be the worst Power-six league in the NCAA, which is not a good label to have. While the conference has had some good teams, this league consistently puts the fewest teams into the NCAA Tournament and has only seen one Final Four team in the past ten years, which to put into context is behind the Missouri Valley which has two. Arizona and UCLA are the most recognizable basketball brands in the league and while both have had some good teams, none of them have made it to the Final Four. The only team who has is Oregon who has been one of the best programs in the conference over the past five seasons. Other teams in the conference have made the NCAA Tournament but not consistently enough to get any recognition. Next year the Pac-12 should once again be the worst Power-six league as they might only get three or four teams into the NCAA Tournament and none of the teams look capable of making the Final Four.
7.American Athletic Conference
The American Athletic is a weird conference, as it has too good of programs to be considered a mid-major, however, it is not good enough to be put into as a power league. Those things lead to its ranking of number seven, which is in between both of those. The AAC has some good programs who are struggling right now in Memphis and Uconn, which is not a good thing for the league. With those teams down, teams like SMU and Cincinnati have risen to the top of the league standings. The conference also adds another good program in Wichita State, which helps improve their conference. Next season the league should be in a rebuilding year but starting in 2020 I would expect to see this league get some more attention as new coaching hires start to build their programs up. By the year 2021, I think this league could potentially be better than the Pac-12 on a consistent basis.
8.West Coast Conference
The West Coast Conference only has three programs that are actually good at basketball but because of how good Gonzaga is, this league is rated this highly. Gonzaga is consistently a top program in the sport, including making the Sweet 16 each of the past four seasons and being a one seed twice since 2013. The Bulldogs backed that up in 2017 by going to the Final Four and coming one minute away from winning a title. St. Mary’s and BYU are also good basketball schools that can make the NCAA Tournament pretty consistently but neither has accomplished anything at the level of Gonzaga though. This year the league will probably see one or two teams make the NCAA Tournament, while Gonzaga will probably be seeded highly and they should be one of the favorites to win the National Championship.
9.Mountain West Conference
The Mountain West Conference was a really good conference in the early 2010s but saw a steep dropoff of late, however, it could make a return shortly. The league has been won by Nevada the past couple of seasons, who has emerged as the best team in the conference, taking that spot away from San Diego State. Boise State, New Mexico, Colorado State, and UNLV are all good programs that have the ability to make a comeback and make the NCAA Tournament in the next couple of years. Right now the league is hurting as only one team is good on a consistent basis but that could easily change and make this league return to the top of the mid-majors. This next season will likely see Nevada win the league and they could potentially be the only team from the Mountain West to make the NCAA Tournament, that being said Nevada should be considered to be one of the favorites to win a National Championship.
The Atlantic-10 has been a decent mid-major conference, most of the time getting three NCAA Tournament bids, which is decent. VCU and Dayton are probably the best programs in the conference, as they pretty consistently are atop the league standings, however, any program can show the ability to make the NCAA Tournament. I think this year should see a couple of Atlantic-10 teams make the NCAA Tournament, which is pretty regular.
Just Missed Out: Missouri Valley Conference, Conference USA