College hoops debate: Top 5 conferences
by Nicole Auerbach and Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
Conference play is underway, and the jousting has begun as the path toward March Madness continues. This is a good time to assess which conferences are the best in the country, with rankings from USA TODAY Sports’ Nicole Auerbach and Eric Prisbell.
The Big Ten has five teams in the top 14 of the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll. The Big East has two in the top 7, No. 4 (Louisville) and No. 7 (Syracuse). The Atlantic Coast Conference has the near-unanimous No. 1 in Duke.
But judging the best conference is about more than the teams on top. It also needs to include a discussion of the depth from top to bottom. A year ago, the Big East received nine NCAA bids, with the Big Ten and Big 12 each getting six and the ACC getting five. How will those numbers stack up come March?
Prisbell’s top five:
1. Big Ten
No other league has more of the best players. No offense to other conferences, but none from top to bottom is filled with better coaching. And, without question, no league is stronger competitively than the Big Ten this season.
It’s not only that the league is laden with more legitimate national championship contenders than any other — Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State. But what really distinguishes the Big Ten are teams such as Illinois and Minnesota, which have overachieved in piecing together noteworthy bodies of work.
Minnesota and Illinois have Ratings Percentage Indexes (RPI) around the top 10. If they continue to win, those positions will solidify and both teams can expect extremely high NCAA tournament seeds come March. If they falter, then other Big Ten teams will start benefiting from beating two teams with those high RPIs, which would significantly strengthen their tournament résumés.
In other words, the Big Ten wins either way. And expect the Big Ten to win on Selection Sunday: No league will have more teams earning top-five seeds in the NCAA tournament.
2. Big East
The Big East, at least for the few remaining minutes that it remains what we know of as the Big East, is always going to be … [For more on College hoops debate: Top 5 conferences in the country, click here.]