As the non-conference portion of Division 1 college basketball teams’ schedules are at or just beyond the halfway point it is interesting to see how the major conference are stacking up against each other so far. To make that judgment we’ll use three different methods – of varying degrees of subjectivity – to compare the Power 5 conferences:
- Winning percentage
- Percentage of conference teams ranked
- Average conference RPI
For good measure, we’ll throw in the Mountaineers’ former home conference – the Big East – for another data point just to compare the Power 5 conferences to another highly regarded men’s basketball conference.
First, the winning percentage of each conference’s teams (per ESPN as of Wednesday morning the 10th) is as follows:
Big 12 .835
Big East .795
Big Ten .762
PAC 12 .753
Winning percentage is heavily influenced by the quality of the opponent, and several schools load up on “patsies” in the non-conference portion of their schedules knowing that the rugged conference battles await. So, this isn’t necessarily the best metric to use.
Let’s now shift to the percentage of ranked teams from each conference in the polls. For this analysis if a team is ranked in either the AP or the USA Today poll they are considered to be a ranked team. The number of ranked teams for each conference, along with the percentage of teams ranked is below.
Conference No. of Ranked Teams % of Ranked Teams
Big 12 5 .500
ACC 6 .400
Big East 3 .300
PAC 12 3 .250
Big Ten 3 .214
SEC 1 .071
Clearly, the SEC is Kentucky and the 13 dwarfs! At least, at this point in the season, Kentucky is carrying the SEC’s torch with no help from its conference brethren. The Big 12 and ACC are 2 and 1 in the number of ranked teams with the closest conference pursuer at just 3 teams – a three-way tie between the Big East, PAC 12 and Big Ten.
However, using ranked teams as a conference strength indicator – particularly this early in the season – is a flawed metric. A case in point: Notre Dame is ranked 25th in the latest AP poll, but has an RPI of just 171 – by far the highest RPI ranking of any team currently found in the polls.
Speaking of RPI, let’s take a look at those numbers, which are (in this article writer’s opinion, anyway) the better metric – particularly since the RPI is rather heavily weighed in the annual NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s deliberations. The RPI rankings are generally regarded as an accurate gauge of a particular team’s record versus its strength of schedule. Using the RPI rankings on the ESPN website as of Wednesday morning the 10th, below are the average conference RPI rankings, computed by adding up each respective conference team’s RPI rank and dividing by the number of teams in the conference.
Avg. No. of No. of % of Teams % of Teams
RPI Teams in Teams in in RPI in RPI
Conference Rank RPI Top 50 RPI Top 100 Top 50 Top 100
Big 12 51.7 6 9 .600 .900
Big Ten 69.8 4 11 .286 .786
Big East 73.1 4 8 .600 .900
SEC 75.2 5 10 .357 .714
ACC 90.6 6 10 .400 .667
PAC 12 105.5 3 5 .250 .417
The Big 12 is the leader in terms of Average RPI Ranking and is tied for the top spot in terms of the quantity of RPI Top 50 teams, Percentage of RPI Top 50 Teams and Percentage of RPI Top 100 teams.
In summary, using the three metrics above, the Big 12 could legitimately claim superiority in the season’s early stages as being the nation’s toughest conference. However, the season is still young and once conference play begins the true strengths and weaknesses of each team will begin to emerge. Some teams will grow stronger, others will grow weaker, some will stagnate, but one thing is certain – the debate over which conference is the strongest will rage on, with legitimate proofs made that bolster any conference proponent’s arguments. Fortunately, we have March Madness to sort it all out and reveal not just the strongest conference, but a true champion (to borrow the now battered Big 12 football slogan).
With that, below is this week’s Big 12 Weekly [Men’s] Hoops Report.
Written by BlueGoldSports.com Data Analyst Mark Fought