The college basketball season is one week into conference action across the country. A few games have been played. Teams have mostly gone on the road and played home games, though a few teams have not yet played a conference game at home. This is a transitional period, and the makeup of each conference’s power structure is almost certain to change in the weeks ahead. Accordingly, the larger world of college basketball will also change in the coming weeks. Right now, though, how do the various college basketball conferences stand in relationship to each other?
There is simply no better or deeper conference in the country than the Atlantic Coast Conference. This is one thing that’s not likely to change over the course of the season. The best teams in the country might reside in other conferences, but no conference is likely to get more NCAA Tournament teams than the ACC.
The relentlessly competitive nature of the ACC has been borne out and then reaffirmed in just one week of conference play. Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville, Syracuse – they’ve all lost. Virginia Tech pulled an upset of Duke and then lost to North Carolina State. Miami beat North Carolina State and then lost to Syracuse. Florida State and Notre Dame are the only teams which have not yet lost an ACC game. So many things pundits thought about the ACC have been shaken, if not turned upside-down, in a very short time. North Carolina nearly fell to 0-2 on Tuesday but managed to survive Clemson. Boston College beat Syracuse, a big surprise for a team which was unable to win a single ACC game a season ago. Nearly every team in the conference has a shot at the NCAA Tournament.
2) Big Ten
The Big Ten is the second-deepest conference in the country. Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue, and Indiana are all very solid, as expected, but Nebraska, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Illinois have gained meaningful conference wins thus far. There isn’t likely to be an easy out in this conference. Penn State is losing a lot, but the Nittany Lions are still challenging opponents more often than not. Rutgers is not a total pushover, even though the Scarlet Knights are likely to finish near the basement in the league. This will be a hard league to deal with on a nightly basis. It should get at least seven NCAA Tournament teams.
3) Big East
The Big East has only 10 teams, but of those 10, a majority are doing very well right now: Villanova, Creighton, Xavier, Butler, Providence, Seton Hall, and St. John’s, which shrugged off a bad start to its season and is finally playing at or near expectations relative to the start of the season. Georgetown, Marquette and DePaul are struggling, but with most of the league trending in the right direction, the Big East has to be given a lot of credit, especially since most of its athletic programs do not have Division I football revenue to help their development.
This is not a deep conference, with teams such as California and Utah struggling, but the top three teams in the league could go up against the top three teams of any league in the country. UCLA won at Kentucky and has been sensational this season, powered by Lonzo Ball, a dynamic point guard who has totally remade the Bruins’ offense. Oregon just beat UCLA and previously unbeaten USC, looking every bit like the team which got a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed last year. Arizona swept Cal and Stanford on the road and is doing really well without Allonzo Trier, who has been prevented from playing by the NCAA. If Trier is allowed to play, most people think Arizona becomes a Final Four-level team. The Pac-12 could have three Final Four squads in Phoenix.
5) Big 12
The Big 12 is a little bit down because Texas and Oklahoma have fallen to the bottom of the league and will almost certainly not make the NCAA Tournament this year. Baylor and Kansas are still great college basketball teams, West Virginia and Iowa State are good, but beyond that, there aren’t too many certainties in the conference. It is still waiting to sift good teams from below-average ones in the middle tier.
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