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Ranking The Power Conferences & NCAA Tournament Prospects

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Daniel Benjamin examines and ranks each NCAA conference. The following looks at the conferences considered High-Major Leagues.

With the 2022-23 NCAA Basketball season winding down, I examine each one of Division I 32 conferences. Starting with the nine high major conferences, I rank each conference and break down each team’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. 

 

Each conference team is broken down into six postseason categories: Locks for the NCAA Tournament, Likely in the NCAA Tournament, On the Bubble, Need to do work, Possible Other Postseason Tournaments, and Wait To Next Season. Locks and Likely in the NCAA Tournament mean they will be among the 68 teams in the Big Dance. On the bubble means there is a chance that the team will get in though the team needs to continue to win. 

 

Need to do work means that the team needs to win a lot down the stretch and possibly need help from teams on the bubble to struggle down the stretch. Possible other Postseason means the team could land in the NIT, CBI, or the Basketball Classic. The final designation of Wait to Next Season is self-explanatory. 

     

No. 1  Big 12

 

The Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball in both NET and RPI. The conference went 100-19 in the nonconference for an 84% win percentage, which was nearly 10% higher than anyone else. The Big 12 is also the home to the last two national champions, Kansas and Baylor. 

 

While the conference only has 10 teams, the fewest among higher major basketball teams, their members are 41-48 in Quad I games. All 10 teams have a winning record, with nine members earning multiple Quad I victories. More importantly, six Big 12 teams are virtual locks for the NCAA Tournament, and all of those teams are National Championship contenders. 

 

NCAA Tournament Locks: Kansas State, Kansas, Texas, Iowa State, TCU.

Bubble: None 

Need To Do Work: Oklahoma State, WVU, Oklahoma 

Always Next Season: Texas Tech

 

No. 2 SEC 

The SEC is a top 3 conference for a third straight year, finishing third in NET rankings a year ago and No. 2 in 2021. The conference posted the nation’s most nonconference wins and a 75.58% winning percentage. Their winning percentage of 66.2% is second best overall, behind the Big 12’s 71.4%.

 

Tennessee, Alabama, and Auburn are all locks for the NCAA Tournament. Those three squads also have an excellent chance of snatching up three of the top eight Tournament seeds or, at least the very least, three of the top 12 seeds. 

 

 The conference could get up to eight teams in the Tournament, with Kentucky inching closer to “likely in” status. All 14 teams have at least one quad I win, although just four have multiple Quad I victories, and two teams possess a losing record. 

 

Locks: Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn

Likely In: Arkansas,  Missouri

Bubble: Kentucky, Mississippi State, 

Need To Do WorK; Texas A&M, Florida,

Long Shot: Georgia, Vanderbilt

Other Tournament: LSU

Next Season: South Carolina, Mississippi

 

No. 3 Big Ten

It is splitting hairs between the Big Ten and SEC this year. I am going with the Big 10 as the third conference, with every team having won at least one conference game and Minnesota being the only member to have a below .500 record. 

 

Purdue is a legitimate title contender and a  likely No. 1 seed. Ten of the conference’s 14 teams are still alive for an NCAA Tournament berth, with Rutgers, Indiana, and Illinois almost assured of earning a berth. Iowa and Northwestern are on the next tier, with Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State still having to do a little work.

 

Locks: Purdue 

Likely In: Rutgers, Indiana, Illinois,

Bubble:  Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Penn State.

Need to Do WorK:  Maryland, Ohio State

Other Postseason Possibility: Michigan

Next Season: Nebraska, Minnesota

 

No. 4 Big East

The Big East has been one of the most consistent conferences in college basketball. While Villanova has been the standard bearer for the conference over the last decade, Xavier was the 2022 NIT Champions.

 

This year, the Big East is ranked No. 4 in NET and No. 5 in the RPI. Xavier, Marquette, Providence, and UConn have been good all season long. Eight of the league’s 11 teams have an above .500 record though Georgetown is one of the worst high-major teams this year.  

 

Locks: Xavier, Marquette, UConn 

Likely In: Providence

Bubble: Seton Hall

Need To Do Work: Creighton,  St. John’s,

Possible Other Postseason: Villanova

Next Season: Butler, DePaul, Georgetown

 

No. 5 Mountain West Conference

Last year was a breakout season for the Mountain West as they got four teams in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years. The conference looks poised to get that many teams again. San Diego State, New Mexico, Boise State, Nevada, and Utah State are all making solid cases of getting invited to the Big Dance.  

 

Locks: New Mexico

Likely In: San Diego State, Boise State

Bubble: Nevada, Utah State

Need To Do Work: UNLV 

Possible Other Postseason: San Jose State,

Next Season: Colorado State, Wyoming, Fresno State,  Air Force

 

No. 6 Pac-12 

While the Pac-12 may be a long way from being one of the best basketball conferences in the country, UCLA and Arizona will be teams to watch come tournament time. Arizona State has also been solid. One-third of the 12 teams have losing records, and Cal is one of the worst high majors in the nation. 

 

Locks: UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State

Likely In: Utah,  USC 

Bubble: None

Need To Do Work: Oregon, Colorado

Possible Other Postseason:  Washington,

Next Season: Washington State, Stanford, Oregon State, Stanford

 

No. 7 Atlantic Coast Conference 

This is the third straight year that the ACC has been a major disappointment. The conference did have two Final Four teams a year ago, UNC and Duke, and they may end up with that many this year as well. But the league is not as strong 1-15 as it once was. 

 

Virginia, the last ACC team to win the national championship (2019), has been the conference’s best team all season. Clemson has been a huge surprise, and the ACC will likely get at least six teams into the NCAA Tournament. They got five berths a season ago. 

 

One-third of the league’s 15 members have a losing record, with four teams earning one or fewer league victories. Louisville, which  has just two wins all season, is winless in the ACC. The Cardinals are not only the worst high-major team but one of the worst squads in the nation, as they are No. 334 in NET.

 

Locks: Virginia, Miami (Fla.) Clemson,

Likely In: UNC 

Bubble: Duke, Wake Forest, Pitt 

Work To Do: Syracuse, Virginia Tech

Possible Other Postseason:?

Next Season: Georgia Tech, Florida State, Notre Dame, Boston College, Louisville

 

No. 8 West Coast Conference

For a long time, the WCC was seen as the best conference outside the power 7, as Gonzaga and St. Mary’s were the only consistent programs. While the Zags and Gaels are still the marquee names, the league earned three NCAA bids last season and should get that many this season, with Santa Clara joining Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.

 

BYU and San Francisco, who reached the NCAA Tournament for the first this century last season, have been solid the past decade. The Cougars and Dons are two of six conference teams with at least 14 victories. Seven teams own a .500 or better record, and each of the 10 league members has at least five wins over D-1 programs.   

 

Locks: Saint Mary’s College, Gonzaga

Likely In: 

Bubble: Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara

 

Need To Do Work: BYU

Possible Other Postseason: San Francisco 

Next Season: Portland, Pacific, San Diego, Pepperdine

 

No. 9 American Athletic Conference

The American Athletic was assembled from its Big East football counterparts to be one of the FBS’ Group of five. While football has performed well with Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF, basketball hasn’t equaled that success. The conference has gotten just two teams in the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons and hasn’t gotten more than four in the previous 10 years. 

 

Houston is a lock to make its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance under Kelvin Sampson. However, Memphis is the only other team that looks likely to earn a berth, with UCF and Cincinnati needing to do some work over the last six weeks. Eight of the conference’s 11 members have a winning record though the league has just eight Quad I wins.

 

NCAA Tournament Locks: Houston

 

Likely In: Memphis 

 

Bubble: Cincinnati,  UCF, Temple

 

Needing to Do Work: Tulane

 

Other Postseason Tournament Possibilities: East Carolina, Wichita State

 

There’s always next season:  USF, Tulsa, SMU

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