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Joe Boozell | | January 13, 2016

Which basketball conferences have been the best?

  Kansas and Oklahoma showed why it's easy to love the Big 12 this season.

About midway through the college basketball season, it’s getting more and more clear which conferences stand above the rest.

Based on record, strength of schedule and the old-fashioned eye test, here are the nine strongest conferences in college basketball this season. *Note: All rankings are based on KenPom rankings as of Jan. 13

Big 12

Top teams:

Kansas (14-2, No. 2)
Oklahoma (13-1, No. 3)
West Virginia (15-1, No. 5)
Iowa State (12-4, No. 23)
Baylor (12-3, No. 27)

At this point, it would come as a surprise if two Big 12 teams didn’t receive a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Kansas and Oklahoma recently played such a high-level game that the losing Sooners maintained their No. 2 spot in the AP Poll, and on Tuesday night, West Virginia defeated Kansas with ease.

The league has as much star power as it does depth. Seven Big 12 teams are in the top 44 of KenPom rankings, and that doesn’t even include Texas, which has a few huge upsets under its belt already. Seniors Georges Niang, Buddy Hield and Perry Ellis are giving it their all in their last college season, and it’s been a joy to watch.

Bottom line: There is no such thing as a night off in Big 12 conference play.


Top teams:

Virginia (13-3, No. 6)
Duke (14-2, No. 7)
North Carolina (15-2, No. 8)
Louisville (13-3, No. 9)
Miami (13-2, No. 11)
Pittsburgh (14-1, No. 26)

Flip a coin to determine what the best conference in college basketball is, because not much separates the Big 12 and the ACC. The Big 12 occupies three of the top five spots in KenPom; the ACC holds five of the top 11.

Everyone expected Virginia, Duke and North Carolina to be in the mix for a conference title prior to the season, but someone else always seems to pop up unexpectedly in this league.

This year, those teams have been Pittsburgh and Louisville. The Cardinals sport the No. 7 defense in the country, while the Panthers’ No. 4 offense might be the least talked about surprise in college basketball this season.

RELATED: How Pittsburgh is defying expectations thus far in the ACC

Big Ten

Top teams:

Michigan State (16-1, No. 4)
Iowa (12-3, No. 12)
Purdue (14-3, No. 13)
Maryland (15-2, No. 14)
Indiana (14-3, No. 21)

The Big Ten got off to a bit of a rocky start this season, but given Iowa’s fast start and Indiana’s resurgence after a rough November, this league is about where we expected it to be in mid-January.

Five schools reside in the top 21 of KenPom, and if Michigan gets Caris LeVert back soon, Michigan could easily jump into that conversation.

Big East

Top teams:

Villanova (14-2, No. 1)
Xavier (15-1, No. 10)
Butler (12-4, No. 35)
Providence (15-2, No. 36)

KenPom rankings are significantly lower on Providence than the standard polls would suggest, but the Friars have fared quite well in their games against quality competition. They beat Arizona on a neutral court, topped Butler on the road and hung with Michigan State until the final seconds.

The Big East was a non-conference darling this season, as the four teams mentioned above combined to go 45-4 in non-league play. They’ve beaten up on each other as conference play has started – Butler has gone 0-3 against the Big East’s elite, while Villanova crushed Xavier at home without Edmond Sumner for most of the tilt.

Outside of DePaul, perhaps, there is still no such thing as an easy night in the Big East. And even the Blue Demons are looking friskier in 2015-16.


Top teams:

South Carolina (15-0, No. 19)
Texas A&M (14-2, No. 20)
Kentucky (13-3, No. 22)
Vanderbilt (9-7, No. 28)
Florida (10-6, No. 29)

Credit teams like Vanderbilt and Florida for scheduling tough non-conference opponents. Neither group is going to crack the AP Top 25 any time soon, but they’re both battle tested. Meanwhile, South Carolina is one of two undefeated teams left in the country, and Kentucky teams generally peak later on in the season.

The SEC isn’t as formidable as it was last year, but there is still depth at the top worth monitoring.


Top teams:

Arizona (13-3, No. 16)
USC (14-3, No. 24)
California (12-5, No. 32)
Oregon (13-3, No. 33)
Utah (12-4, No. 43)

Anyone can beat anyone in the Pac-12 on a given night. UCLA represents the conference perfectly – this season, the Bruins have wins over UNLV, Arizona, Gonzaga and Kentucky. They have losses against Monmouth, Washington and Washington State. This conference is extremely tough to predict, and while there are no elite squads, several should make some noise in March.


Top Teams:

SMU (15-0, No. 15)
Cincinnati (12-5, No. 34)
Connecticut (11-4, No. 37)
Memphis (10-5, No. 64)
Houston (13-2, No. 68)

MORE: Midseason college basketball awards

The AAC lacks the depth that some of the power conferences have, but SMU, Cincinnati and UConn can play with anyone in the country. And Memphis, for its part, took Oklahoma down to the wire earlier this season.

West Coast Conference

Top teams:

Saint Mary’s (14-2, No. 17)
Gonzaga (13-3, No. 38)
BYU (12-5, No. 45)

How about the Gaels? Head coach Randy Bennett has his team playing outstanding basketball right now, notching quality wins over Stanford, UC Irvine and BYU. St. Mary’s ranks first in the nation in effective field goal percentage.

Missouri Valley Conference

Top teams:

Wichita State (10-5, No. 25)
Evansville (15-3, No. 40)
Northern Iowa (10-7, No. 80)

The Shockers have five losses this season because they challenged themselves in non-league play, but more importantly, they had a ton of injuries during a rough patch in their schedule. Losing a player of Fred Van Vleet’s caliber is going to hurt any team immensely, and Wichita State has reeled off five wins in a row with a healthier cast of characters.




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