Which Conference Is Best Represented in the NCAA Tournament?
It's a debate as old as college sports, and one that will likely never be settled.
Which conference is the best?
One the ways college basketball analysts and fans try to assess conference strength is through the placement of teams in the NCAA Tournament field. Which conference can claim to have the strongest group of teams in the field this year?
Well, in true debate fashion, the answer isn't exactly clear, though two conferences have the best argument, according to our nERD power rankings. The ACC and Big 12 both placed seven teams in the field.
And the average nERD ranking of the teams in both conferences is exactly equal.
Here's a closer look at the teams representing our choice for the country's two most powerful conferences.
The Case for the ACC
The ACC is highlighted by its two 1 seeds, North Carolina and Virginia. Our power rankings have the Tar Heels second and Cavaliers fourth, agreeing with their placements on the top seed line. The two combined for 12 wins against the top 25 and 31 wins against the top 100, with no sub-100 losses. Both North Carolina and Virginia are also inside the top 15 of our Offensive Efficiency ratings. And while Virginia isn't quite as good defensively as they've been the last two years under Tony Bennett, they still rank inside our top 30 of Defensive Efficiency.
Just outside the top 10 of our rankings are two more ACC teams that were seeded highly in the tournament. Miami, the 3 seed in the South, is the 12th-rated team in our rankings. Miami is rated as our 19th-best offensive team in the country, and picked up 16 top-100 wins against the 16th-toughest schedule in the nation. Just ahead of them in our ratings at 11th is Duke, the 4 seed in the West. Led by offensive stars Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen, Duke ranks third in our offensive ratings.
Rounding out the field from the ACC are three teams in the 30s of our ranks. Notre Dame, a 6 seed in this year's tournament, is the 37th-ranked team in our power rankings and owner of our sixth-best offense. The Fighting Irish picked up five wins against top 30 teams despite a defense that we have ranked 230th. Pittsburgh, our 31st-ranked team, picked up nine top-100 wins and earned a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Lastly, Syracuse, a controversial selection to NCAA Tournament because of their 13 losses and the suspension of coach Jim Boeheim, is our 39th ranked team. Their resume was good enough for a 10 seed, highlighted by wins over Texas A&M, Duke, St. Bonaventure, Notre Dame, and Connecticut.
The Case for the Big 12
The top-ranked number 1 seed, Kansas, calls the Big 12 home, and rode their 12th-straight Big 12 regular season title to the top of the NCAA brackets this season. Kansas compiled an incredible 15 top-50 wins en route to winning the Big 12 Tournament. The Jayhawks are the seventh-best offensive team in our ratings and 27th-ranked defensively.
The Big 12 can also claim two more of our top-10 teams: Oklahoma and West Virginia. Oklahoma, the 2 seed in the West, is our 7th-ranked team. Buddy Hield's crew won seven games against the top 25, and is ranked inside our top 25 offensively. West Virginia, a 3 seed in this year's tournament, is slightly ahead of the Sooners at fifth overall in our power rankings. They're highlighted by what they've always been as long as Bob Huggins has been their coach, defense, placing as our ninth-best defensive team this season.
Iowa State and Baylor are also inside our overall top 25. Iowa State is ranked 21st in our power rankings, and is also our 21st-best offensive team. Led by Georges Niang and Monte Morris, the Cyclones notched eight top-50 wins, and earned a 4 seed in this year's brackets. Baylor comes in just a few spots behind Iowa State at 24th. The Bears are our 18th-ranked offensive, but a much slower-paced team than Iowa State. Baylor picked up five top-50 wins inside the Big 12 to help them earn a 5 seed.
Completing the field for the Big 12 are Texas and Texas Tech. Texas, behind new coach Shaka Smart, ranked 34th in our ratings, and picked up a 6 seed in the tournament despite 12 losses. Their resume was highlighted by six top 25 wins, four of which came against teams ranked inside the top 10 of RPI. Texas Tech, led back to the NCAA Tournament by coach Tubby Smith, ranks 44th in our overall rankings. The Red Raiders won six games against the top 50 en route to earning an 8 seed.
So, Who Wins?
With the numbers being a bit too close to call, we'll have to let the performance of these 14 teams in the NCAA Tournament help us determine which team has bragging rights for the 2015-16 season. The East, Midwest, and West regions all have four teams from this group in their brackets, so fans of either conference will know where to look when searching for ammunition in the battle for conference bragging rights.