When the ACC added Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville it was assumed that the conference would easily reclaim its title of “Best Basketball Conference” but that hasn’t necessarily been the case. Yes, the ACC is one of the strongest conferences in the country. Four teams currently ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll, an undefeated Virginia squad and a rapidly improving North Carolina squad give the ACC the strongest collection of top-tier schools in the county….but do teams like Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech bring down the perception of an otherwise great league?
Argument for the ACC:
At the top, this is one of the most competitive and compelling conference races in the entire country. Virginia, Notre Dame and North Carolina all have realistic chances of taking home the regular season crown. Combine the top three teams in this league with Louisville, Duke, Miami, NC State and Syracuse and you have a recipe for one of the best ACC Tournaments in a long time. Greensboro will surely be rocking this year (at least Thursday through Saturday) and any one of six to seven teams have a realistic shot to win the title. Don’t forget about the success that the league had in the non-conference this season. Wins over teams like Maryland, VCU, Ohio State, Indiana and Wisconsin highlight the success that the ACC had out of conference this season.
Case Against the ACC:
While the ACC is extraordinarily impressive at the top, it is equally disappointing on the bottom. Georgia Tech started the season with promise but dropped seven straight to start conference play. Virginia Tech lost to Appalachian State. Clemson lost to Gardner Webb. Florida State to Mississippi State. The list goes on and on. The ACC needs a more well-defined middle to keep its title as “Best Conference” in the years ahead but with coaches like Buzz Williams and Leonard Hamilton, I have little doubt that the ACC will have 9 to 10 tourney teams on a regular basis fairly soon.
Argument for the Big 12:
8 of the Big 12′s ten teams have a realistic shot of making the NCAA Tournament, the most of any league this season. Kansas has improved tremendously since being demolished by Temple. Iowa State, West Virginia and Texas are all poised for deep runs in the tournament this year and with six teams currently ranked in the Top 25 of the AP Poll, it is hard to argue against the Big 12 being one of the best conferences in the country. Even the league’s worst teams, TCU and Texas Tech, have been competitive this season. TCU came into Big 12 play undefeated and Texas Tech is coming off a big win over Iowa State. It’s the depth of this league that sets it apart from everyone else.
Case Against the Big 12:
The Big 12 has 8 teams that have a very realistic shot of making the NCAA tournament, which would put 80% of the league in the field this March. That’s a very high percentage and something that Big 12 fans have been sure to point to as a signature of the best league in the nation but where are the signature non-conference victories? West Virginia’s win over UCONN? No longer impressive. Iowa State over Arkansas? Oklahoma over UCLA? The fact is, Big 12 teams came into conference play by beating up on a bunch of terrible teams; Kansas is the only team that can claim wins over out-of-conference opponents that still rank in the Top 25 (Utah & Georgetown). That’s it. So while the Big 12 may have plenty of “good” teams, the conference truly lacks the multiple National Championship contenders that the ACC has.
Verdict: The ACC
The ultimate issue for the Big 12 is its lack of a true “elite” team this year, while the ACC can lay claim to at least three if not more legitimate top ten teams. People remember teams and conferences for how they perform in March not for how many teams they get in the NCAA Tournament. The ACC has multiple teams that have a realistic shot of cutting down the nets in Indianapolis this April and the Big 12 is too unproven in the non-conference to say they have the same number of elite teams. As of right now, the ACC is too strong at the top to be ignored as the best conference and if the league doesn’t have at least one team in the final four this season I would call that an upset.