With just a few games left in this season, the tournament field is really starting to take shape. However, one debate that will rage on for many years amongst college basketball fans, especially in the absence of the old Big East, surrounds the superiority of one conference over another. This season, the Big 12, the Big Ten, the SEC, and the ACC can all make claims to that crown, with the new Big East making a strong push to be put in that dark horse category. Thus, I set to thoroughly examine and settle, at least for now, the best conference of 2015.
It’s best to start at the top and this season that means the Kentucky Wildcats. The undefeated Cats look to be prime candidates to run the table in college basketball. However, the SEC this season runs much deeper than that. Arkansas is also ranked and still has a game to play against UK, while Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU, and Ole Miss all seem poised to make the tournament this season. The SEC has been more competitive than ever this year but not good enough to solidify it’s place as the best conference in the country.
Next on that list is the Virginia Cavaliers out of the ACC. While Duke has ridden the play of some stellar freshman at the top of most draft boards, UVA’s team defense has catapulted them to the top of the conference. Add top-10 Notre Dame, and top 25 teams like UNC and Louisville, and the ACC looks pretty tough. Additionally, the traditional powers like Syracuse, Pitt, and NC State can certainly be tough matchups, even in down years like 2015. While some of the ACC teams have struggled of late, this conference certainly deserves a nod in the best conference conversation.
Further down the ranking board you can find Wisconsin, the top team in the Big Ten. While there is only one other ranked team in the conference, Maryland, the likes of Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, Iowa, and Indiana all have given the Badgers tough games and should secure spots in the tournament this year. Illinois remains a bubble team for now but a good showing in the conference tournament could bode well for the Illini as the Big Ten looks to lead the nation with eight total tournament teams. While there may only be one top squad, the depth of the Big Ten makes it a force in college basketball.
Surprising to many experts, the Big East has asserted itself as one of the most powerful conferences in America led by the Villanova Wildcats, a team that largely feels they have not received the respect they deserve. Factor in ranked teams like Butler and Providence along with Catholic-school powerhouses like Georgetown, St. John’s and Xavier, and all of a sudden we’re looking at a pretty good conference that should receive six bids to March Madness. Look out for the Big East to spoil some hopes of bigger schools.
While all four of these previously mentioned conferences certainly have a claim to the throne, in my mind the best conference in America is the Big 12. Led by the Kansas Jayhawks, the Big 12 boasts a whopping five ranked teams and should realistically receive seven tournament bids, with West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas joining Kansas in the tournament. The Big 12 has it all from freshman talent on Kansas and Texas to veteran leadership on Iowa State. The conference has been an absolute pleasure to watch this season, and I look forward to a very successful March for the conference that I believe is the best in the country.