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Conference Rankings

January 8, 2004 Columns No Comments

Ranking the Conferences

by Zach Van Hart

Ahh, conference play. The time we have all been waiting for. Just about the time college football is finished; non-conference games, preseason tournaments all over the country and horribly unfair home team classics are finally wrapping up. So as we tip-off conference games, which conference is the best? Well since I’m bored, just like Michael Ermitage was when he broke down teams, top to bottom in each conference, I’m breaking down the top ten conferences, top to bottom.

No. 1 – ACC

Does the ACC really have to expand to 12 teams? Nothing against Miami, Boston College or Virginia Tech – wait a minute, yeah I got something against all three of those teams playing basketball in the ACC. This is a basketball conference. My bad, this was a basketball conference. So I guess it’s fitting that in the final year of top notch basketball in the ACC, it may have its best season ever.

Last week, three of the top four teams in the country were ACC teams – Duke, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. That just doesn’t happen. North Carolina was also ranked No. 10, although they likely will fall after its lost to Kentucky. Still, four teams in the top fifteen or so is pretty darn good. But that’s not all.

Florida State, Maryland and NC State all have been ranked in the Top 25 at some point in time this season. The Terrapins won at then No. 1 Florida, the Wolfpack is always steady and the Seminoles are the best they have been in years. Then there is Virginia, who is ho-hum, 9-2 and Clemson, who is in the cellar at 7-5.

March Madness is always amazing, but I might be looking forward to the ACC Tournament just as much this season. Honestly, when you have a possibility of North Carolina and Maryland playing in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, you know this conference is sick.

No. 2 – Big XII

Oklahoma is the top team in the conference after the first six weeks of the season, going 10-0 and currently ranked No. 7 in the country. After a breakout season with half of the Final Four teams hailing from the Big XII, the conference will send six teams to the big dance.

Last year’s two Final Four teams – Kansas and Texas – have struggled at times and looked strong during other times. The Longhorns are still adjusting to life without T. J. Ford, but are still very talented. Their two losses are against tough competition, Arizona and Duke, but they were blown out against the Blue Devils. Kansas looked bad in its lost to Nevada, but is very talented on the inside. They could still very likely win the conference.

Texas Tech is solid, possible the best team during the short Bobby Knight era. Missouri has struggled mightily so far, possibly the biggest disappointment so far. Still, the Tigers are a NCAA Tournament. Look for Eddie Sutton’s Oklahoma State Cowboys to make an even half-dozen Big XII teams in the tourney.

No. 3 – Big East

Connecticut is finally starting to look like the No. 1 team in the nation. They have the best one-two combination in Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon. They will finally get to play some tough teams with a brutal six-game stretch coming, playing likes of Oklahoma and North Carolina, not to mention Big East games against Pittsburgh, Providence, Georgetown and at Rutgers. Once the stretch is done, look for the Huskies to take charge out east (unless they lose all six games).

Pittsburgh is looking very tough, one of the biggest surprises of the season. Their only problem? Out of fourteen games, twelve have been on their home court and only one has been an away game. Syracuse is also starting to look good, but are still a bit shaky without Carmelo.

The rest of the conference is a question mark. Georgetown is still undefeated, Notre Dame was ranked earlier this season and Providence scored a big win against Illinois. Two of these three teams will find its way into the Big Dance.

No. 4 – SEC

Kentucky and Florida have both been ranked No. 1 this season, and promptly lost the ranking by losing at home. Both teams are tough and play great defense. But like several top teams this season, they sometimes play a bad 40 minutes. The Wildcats showed this by barely defeating Austin Peay at home last week.

Outside of these two, there are several teams that have played a great first six weeks of the season, even though it was against sub-par competition. Vanderbilt and Mississippi State are undefeated, while LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee all have one loss. Somewhere in this mess, five teams will advance to the tournament.

No. 5 – Pac 10

Stanford, yes Stanford, is the best team in the Pac 10 right now. Five players are averaging in double digits, and they go ten deep every game. After years of being ranked high but being accused of being soft, this may be the best Cardinal team in memory.

Arizona has struggled all season. They beat Saint Louis by one. They beat Saint Mary’s by six. They beat Louisiana Lafayette by three. But, but, they are a very talented bunch. They are a team no one would want to face at any point in the NCAA Tournament.

Besides these two teams, the Pac 10 is not very deep. Arizona State has one of the best players in the country in Ike Diogu, Oregon is always a tough place to play and UCLA is an underrated bunch, but they are weak on the bottom. Their position in the top five is not very secure.

No. 6 – Conference USA

Cincinnati and Louisville are two of the best teams in the country. The Cardinals have already demonstrated this, defeating two No. 1 teams during the first six weeks of the season. Francisco Garcia looks like one of the premier players in college basketball and his supporting cast is looking better and better each game.

The Bearcats have not received much media attention, rightfully so with its weak non-conference schedule. But Cincinnati is also one of the deepest teams in the country. Jason Maxiell will challenge Garcia for C-USA Player of the Year honors. Both teams are Final Four contenders.

Speaking of the Final Four, Marquette was there last year. This year, the Golden Eagles are not going that far but could be a big time spoiler to any team out there. Syracuse found out first hand that Charlotte is also a tough team that can beat almost anyone. Look for four C-USA teams to advance to the tourney.

No. 7 – Big Ten

This is looking like a disappointing season in the Big Ten, but there is potential for the conference to make a big leap up in this ranking. Wisconsin and Illinois are right now the top two teams in the league. The question is – where is Michigan State?

The Spartans started the season No. 7 in the country. But their non-conference schedule has been sick and as of now, its appeared to have backfired. They scheduled early season games against Kansas, Duke, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and lost them all. Then, their confidence wavered. They lost on the road to UCLA. They barely escaped Coppin State at home. They lost to Syracuse. All of a sudden they are 5-6 and looking for a win anywhere.

Indiana and Ohio State are two more disappointing teams, although not to the extreme as Michigan State. But there are a few surprises. Purdue shocked the nation with its win against Duke. Michigan is poised to crack the Top 25.

When its all said and done, the Big Ten will place five teams (including the Spartans), possibly even six, into the Big Dance. Just do not expect any Final Four teams for the second straight season.

No. 8 – Atlantic 10

For the past few seasons, this has been Xavier and David West’s conference. Not anymore, now it’s Jameer Nelson and Saint Joseph’s property. Nelson is well known throughout the country, even though few have seen him play. His numbers are outstanding – 19.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists – but it’s his leadership and court savvy that really make the difference. But do not go thinking the Hawks are a one-man team; they are a legit top ten and Sweet Sixteen unit.

Dayton came crashing down with three loses in its last four games, including a spanking by Cincinnati and a loss at home to Saint Louis. Still, the Flyers are tough and a tournament team. Speaking of Xavier, the Musketeers are not the same team without West, but count on them to become the third A-10 team to make the Big Dance.

No. 9 – Missouri Valley

Kyle Korver is gone you say? Who cares, because Creighton is tough once again. Even without its star from a year ago, the Blue Jays are still the top in the league. But without playing some power conference teams during the early going like some mid-major teams (Gonzaga) do, they are not going to get respect from the national media. Maybe that’s fair, maybe not, but they will advance to the tournament nonetheless.

Southern Illinois is tough again this season and likely will contend for the league title. While there are several mid-level teams throughout the MVC, expect the two regulars to battle for the crown. The second team may slip into the tourney once again.

No. 10 – WAC

No dominate teams, but plenty that can cause damage to many of the power conference schools out there. Anyone catch Nevada’s handling of Kansas last month? Well the Wolf Pack is currently fifth in the conference, if that lets you know the WAC is deep. In fact, its usual dominant team, Tulsa, is in the basement

UTEP is looking like the teams it fielded during the early 90s. Rice just played No. 1 UConn very tough before losing by nine. SMU and Hawaii have also played looked good. There is no doubt one or two of these teams could create some WAC-kiness come March Madness time.


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