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Paul Sabin, ESPN Analytics 304d

Conference power rankings according to BPI

Insider Men's College Basketball, Kansas Jayhawks, Baylor Bears, West Virginia Mountaineers, Kansas State Wildcats, Texas Longhorns, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, TCU Horned Frogs, Iowa State Cyclones

Not long ago, the ACC stood alone as the top conference in college basketball. This season has caused some to wonder whether another conference, such as the Big 12 or the new-look Big East, has made the leap to be the best conference in the country.

We attempt to rank all 32 conferences in the country using objective analytics, trying to avoid any bias such as perceived strength or the size of the fan base of each conference's respective schools. The difficult part is defining the criteria to which one conference should be considered better than the other.

Using ESPN's Basketball Power Index and other analytic tools developed here at ESPN we use a hybrid approach to equally weigh three metrics to evaluate the strength of each conference, and subsequently rank them 1-32.

  • Average conference BPI: The average BPI rating for each team in the conference.

  • Top quartile conference BPI: This is a proxy for how good the conference is at the top by taking the average BPI of the top half of each conference and seeing where that compares to the other conferences.

  • Teams in the top 50 of SOR: ESPN's strength of record describes which teams have the most impressive win-loss records. Our analysis shows that if in a typical year, a team is in the top 50 of SOR on Selection Sunday, it deserves to make the NCAA tournament.

On to the rankings:

Major conferences

1. Big 12
Avg. BPI rank: 1st
Top-quartile BPI rank: 1st
Top 50 SOR rank: T-2nd

The Big 12 has the highest average BPI, and its top teams also rate better than the collective top teams of any other conference. West Virginia leads the pack ranking second overall in BPI despite three losses (two in overtime). The Big 12's worst team according to BPI is Texas, but even the Longhorns project to be a top-80 team in the country. The Big 12's biggest weakness is the size of the conference. With just 10 members overall, it is possible that the ACC could send more teams to the NCAA tournament than the Big 12 has in its conference.

2. ACC
Avg. BPI rank: 2nd
Top-quartile BPI Rank: 2nd
Top 50 SOR rank: 1st

The ACC is as deep as it has ever been, but there are a couple of weaker teams (Georgia Tech and Boston College) at the bottom hurting its overall average BPI. A total of six teams still have at least a 10 percent chance of winning the ACC regular-season title according to BPI. The ACC has 10 teams in the top 50 of SOR plus Pittsburgh at 51, making the conference a legitimate threat to tie the old Big East's record of 11 teams in one NCAA tournament.

3. Big East
Avg. BPI rank: 3rd
Top-quartile BPI rank: 3rd
Top 50 SOR rank: 4th

The Big East has the reigning national champion and current No. 1 in BPI in Villanova. In addition to the champs, Creighton, Butler, Xavier and Marquette are all formidable teams that are in the top 35 in BPI and could do damage in March. Georgetown and Providence are having down years compared to recent history, but the future is bright for the Big East.

4. Big Ten
Avg. BPI rank: 4th
Top-quartile BPI rank: 4th
Top 50 SOR rank: T-2nd

The 14-team Big Ten has seven teams in contention for an NCAA tournament bid with two or three more that are in striking distance if they can put together some key wins in conference play. Caleb Swanigan and Purdue are lots of fun to watch and currently project as the best team in the conference (according to BPI), but the Big Ten does not seem to have a dominant team that looks the part of a national championship contender.

5. SEC
Avg. BPI rank: 5th
Top-quartile BPI rank: 5th
Top 50 SOR rank: T5th

Using any of our three metrics, the SEC is the fifth-best conference. As usual, Kentucky leads the way in the SEC, and as long as De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk continue to play the way they have, the Wildcats are a dangerous team. Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina all look to be NCAA tournament teams right now, but it appears unlikely to have more than two SEC teams playing deep into the tournament as Arkansas, the third-strongest SEC team is just 46th overall in BPI.

6. Pac-12
Avg. BPI rank: 6th
Top-quartile BPI rank: 6th
Top 50 SOR rank: T5th

Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf are defining what the term "West Coast offense" means in college basketball. BPI views UCLA  as having far and away the best offense in college basketball, but the Bruins have a defense that BPI ranks below the Division I average. The Pac-12 appears to be a top-heavy league this year with Oregon and Arizona also in the top 20 of BPI, but after that, Cal, USC and Utah are struggling to have much of an impact on the conference race.

Other conferences

7. American
8. Missouri Valley
9. Atlantic 10
10. West Coast
11. Mountain West
12. Mid-American
13. Colonial Athletic Association
14. Sun Belt
15. Horizon League
16. Ivy League
17. Summit League
18. MAAC
19. Conference USA
20. Southern
21. Atlantic Sun
22. Ohio Valley
23. America East
24. Patriot League
25. Big West
26. Big Sky
27. Big South
28. WAC
29. Northeast
30. Southland
31. SWAC
32. MEAC

For more of ESPN's College Basketball analytics rankings including BPI, visit espn.com/bpi and espn.com/analytics.

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