Which NCAA Conference Is The Best: A Look At All 32 D-I Leagues

Feb 20, 2014; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) reacts in the second half. The Tar Heels defeated the Blue Devils 74-66 at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 20, 2014; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) reacts in the second half. The Tar Heels defeated the Blue Devils 74-66 at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the best debate each year is which conference is truly the best?

The ACC brought in Syracuse and Pittsburgh to form the first basketball super-conference and while they tied with several other conferences  with six NCAA bids, they  underachieved during the NCAA tournament going 6-6. The Big 12 received the most bids with seven though it was the American Athletic and SEC that ended up with the most success.

The SEC sent just three teams to the tournament but achieved a 12-3 record and sent two teams to the Final Four while the American Athletic posted a 9-3 record with four teams, including the National Champions UConn Huskies.

Here is a look at my conference power rankings, which will be updated periodically through the season.

1. ACC: The ACC should be better this year than the year before with the addition of Louisville though the conference remains at 15 teams with the departure of Maryland to the Big Ten. North Carolina is a potential title contender while Duke and Virginia are just slightly below that level. Louisville is a lock to make their 41st NCAA tournament appearance while North Carolina State, Florida State and Syracuse have the talent to get in as well. Notre Dame, Miami, Pittsburgh and Clemson are bubble teams.

2. Big 12: The Big 12 will be hard pressed to match last year’s bid total. Kansas and Texas are legitimate top-15 squads while Iowa State and Oklahoma are likely to finish in the Top-25. Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State are on the bubble.

3. SEC: The SEC is an interesting case as they have two top tier teams in Kentucky, the odds on favorite to claim the national championship, and Florida. However, LSU, Georgia, Arkansas and Missouri will have to make giant leaps for the conference to maintain such a lofty ranking.

4. Big Ten: The Big Ten keeps growing and growing. They are at 14 teams with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers (American Athletic) and while neither one of those programs are likely to make any noise this year, they add to the conference profile. Wisconsin is a title contender, Michigan State and Ohio State will likely finish anywhere between No. 5- No. 15 in the polls. Nebraska is a top-30 squad while two of the following four teams will likely be in the discussion of receiving a tournament bid – Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois.

5. Pac-12: The PAC-12 received five bids in 2013 and six in 2014. But the conference lost a lot of talent. Arizona is a championship caliber team. Colorado and Utah are the next teams in conference pecking order and are shoo-ins for the tournament. Stanford, UCLA followed by California and Washington are next in line and are bubble teams.

6. A-10: The A-10 got a record six NCAA bids last year and will unlikely do so again this year. The conference added Davidson and while it will be a few years before they are able to contend, the Wildcats are a good get. VCU and Dayton are Top-25 teams. George Washington and UMass should get an invite but after that it is wait and see.

7. Big East: The Big East got four invites to the tournament but the conference was done by the Round of 32. Villanova is the prohibitive favorite. St. John’s has a fabulous backcourt unit while Georgetown, Providence and Xavier have a bunch of talented youngster who need to produce for them to sniff the NCAA Tournament. Seton Hall is the wildcard due to the youth of their talented roster.

8. American Athletic: Only league to have two 30-win teams last year. However, the conference will take a step back with Louisville’s departure. The conference added Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina. The conference now has five above average to upper echelon programs to compete for the conference year – UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis and SMU (at least as long as Larry Brown is there).

9. Mountain West: Mountain West is usually a two or three bid league with San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico the usual powers. SDSU should take the conference again this year but then it is up in the air who joins them in the “Dance.” Boise State, UNLV and New Mexico are in the mix.

10. West Coast: The West Coast has three major players in Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s. San Francisco, Pacific and San Diego are mid-tier programs in the league that would likely bottom feeders in the top eight conferences.

11. Conference USA: Conference USA is massive, although they did lose three schools. Louisiana Tech is the clear cut favorite while UTEP could be first at large selection since Southern Miss in 2012.

12. Missouri Valley: Wichita State is the conference favorite once again. All the Shockers have done the last two years is advance to their first Final Four and then produce a historic season. Northern Iowa is the only candidate to possibly steal an at-large bid for the MVC.

13. Mid-American: Has the power in the MAC shifted west? Three of the Conference’s five 20 win teams came from the West last year. And it appears like the bulk of the conference power this year will again be in the west starting with Toledo.

14. Ivy: Harvard is ranked in most preseason polls and seems to reload its roster annually.

15. Horizon: Cleveland State, Valparaiso and Wisconsin-Green Bay will likely battle for conference supremacy.

16. MAAC: Iona and Siena are at the head of the class.

17. Big West: Can the Big West earn multiple tournament bids this year? Four teams – UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach State and Cal State Northridge – have upperclassmen-laden teams and each returns four starters.

18. Colonial: No clear cut favorite but Northeastern could make a run at conference crown.

19. OVC: Murray State earned an NCAA bid in what was considered a down year. This year the Racers return four starters .Morehead State and Belmont are expected to push the Racers.

20. Sun Belt: Georgia State’s backcourt makes the Panthers scary. Louisiana is expected to contend for conference title as well.

21. WAC: New Mexico State should make the NCAA tournament for the fifth-time in the past eight years.

22. America East: Hartford and Stony Brook looks to dethrone two-time conference tournament champion Albany this year.

23. Patriot: The Patriot League is wide open this year. American, Boston University, Bucknell and Holy Cross are expected to contend.

24. Atlantic Sun: Florida Gulf Coast (aka Dunk City) should rule the roost but watch out for Lipscomb.

25. Summit: North Dakota State won the Summit’s first NCAA game last year when the Bison downed Oklahoma. Oral Roberts returns to the league it after a two-year hiatus. Denver, South Dakota State North Dakota State and IPFW also expected to vie for title as well.

26. Big Sky: The Big Sky added charter member Idaho back the fold to bring their membership to 12. Weber State and Eastern Washington are the favorites though Sacramento State could have its best team since entering D-I two decades ago.

27. Southern: Big changes occurred this year as four schools departed and three joined – Mercer, East Tennessee State and VMI. Wofford has enough talent to make it four NCAA bids in six years.

28. NEC: The NEC has been very unpredictable over the past several years and things are unlikely to change this year. St. Francis (NY) and Central Connecticut State are the favorites out of the gate but don’t discount Robert Morris.

29. Big South: The league dropped to 11 teams with VMI’s withdrawal. Coastal Carolina battled Virginia hard in the tournament last year and is the favorite once again.

30. Southland: Stephen F. Austin looks to return to the NCAA Tournament this year after going 32-3 a year ago.

31. MEAC: North Carolina Central made their first ever NCAA tournament appearance and looks to repeat feat despite losing several key backcourt members.

32. SWAC: Alabama State is the conference favorite.

Next: College Basketball Rankings: Preseason Top 25 for 2014-15 Season