Big East, SEC separate selves from pack

All season long, e-mails have poured in complaining that neither I nor the NCAA Selection Committee "respects" or "shows any love" for whatever league the e-mail's writer follows.

I've been accused of showing some form of bias for and against the Big East, ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-10.

Truth be told, bracketology sees all conferences as equals. East Coast, West Coast, from the mountains to the prairies (don't worry I won't sing), all leagues are the same in the eyes of the selection process. In a system that has some subjectivity involved, I (and the committee) stay objective, almost to a robotic state. We try to be like the Tin Man before he visited the Wizard of Oz.

That being said, which is the best conference?

Here in the merry ole land of brackets, the focus is always the NCAA Tournament, so that will be our measuring stick. What better way could there be, anyway? The success and failure of programs these days is judged by, more than on anything else, what happens in March.

To keep it current and relevant, let's look at the previous five NCAA Tournaments and start with some basic statistics from 2000-04:

Conf. Teams Wins Sweet 16 Fnl Four Titles
SEC 34 65 15 5 0
Big 12 32 49 15 2 0
Big East 29 61 13 7 5
Big Ten 27 37 8 3 0
ACC 22 26 8 2 0
Pac-10 16 12 3 0 0

Based on these numbers, it seems pretty clear that the Big East and SEC have separated themselves from the pack. But let's look deeper.

Most should be aware by now that four of those five championships belong to Connecticut (Notre Dame's title in 2001 is the other). But what about the rest of the Big East? Without UConn, the Big East's win total drops to 35, and Rutgers and Notre Dame are the only other Final Four representatives. Notre Dame (three times), BC, Villanova and Rutgers have also made the Sweet 16. In all, Connecticut has 43 pcercent of all Big East NCAA Tournament wins since 2000.

(A quick sidebar: UConn's cut of the wins in the Big East isn't even close to the largest among the major conferences. Duke has 17 of the ACC's 26 wins (65 percent). Without the Blue Devils, the ACC has just a .346 winning percentage in the NCAA Tournament over the last five years. Now back to our regularly scheduled Big East/SEC debate.)

To be fair, let's also look at how the SEC holds up when subtracting Tennessee from the equation. The SEC has 44 wins without the Lady Vol factor. Ten times has an SEC team other than Tennessee reached the Sweet 16 (LSU, Georgia and Vanderbilt each three times and South Carolina once). But only LSU in 2004 was good enough to win two more games and get to the Final Four. The SEC gets 32 percent of its tournament victories out of Knoxville.

So while the SEC and Big East have been the dominant tournament teams of the last half decade, both leagues make a pretty shallow case without Tennessee and UConn.

Which of the two is better? That's very difficult to say. The Big East's overall winning percentage of .718 is the best. The SEC's is .657.

However, when the Husky/Lady Vol factor is removed the two leagues have an equal .603 winning percentage.

Verdict: Largely inconclusive. Give the SEC the nod for depth. Go with the Big East for top-line success, although let's not get carried away giving the entire conference credit for UConn winning national titles.

And as the NCAA Tournament gets under way Saturday, perhaps 2005 will cast the deciding vote.

Charlie Creme is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at cwcreme@hotmail.com.