How we rank the top seven conferences in college basketball

The Big Ten has been great from top to bottom, but how realistic are its national title hopes? Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

It's disrespect season in college basketball. For the next month, coaches throughout college basketball will be complaining about how their league doesn't get enough respect from unnamed bracketologists, pundits and metrics systems, and exclaiming how their conference season has been a crucible just this side of the Battle of Stirling Bridge ("The English are too many!").

Conference commissioners will do the same. Fans will shout angrily into the Twittersphere.

There are, of course, lots of good, objective ways to measure conference strength, and we subscribe to them all. But there's also what we've been watching for the past three months, and that's the basis upon which ESPN.com college hoops experts Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello and John Gasaway have evaluated the leagues for you below.

In the interests of comparing apples to apples, we've ranked only the Power 5 leagues plus the American and the Big East. (Don't @ us, A-10 and Mountain West fans, just try to be better than the MAC and the SoCon next year.)

ACC (Overall ESPN.com experts' rank: 1)

What's good about the ACC: Pretty much everything. You want elite teams? Duke is the national title favorite right now, while Virginia and North Carolina are going to be Final Four contenders. Elite players? One word: Zion. If the projected No. 1 pick doesn't do it for you, his teammates RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish are there. Virginia has its own stable of stars led by Kyle Guy, De'Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome. There's Luke Maye. Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Every night, there's something to watch in this league. Chris Mack's first year at Louisville, Syracuse doing that thing where it backs into the NCAA tournament and then wins a bunch of games, two Duke-UNC games still to come. It's the best league in the country.

What's bad about the ACC: The bottom of the league isn't very good and the middle of the pack is well, middling. There's a significant gap between the nine teams fighting for an NCAA tournament bid and everyone else. Notre Dame and Miami have both fallen off this season, and Wake Forest isn't good at all. Pittsburgh showed signs of improvement early, but the Panthers are really struggling now. The bottom six teams have a combined six wins over teams in the top nine of the league. -- Jeff Borzello

Big Ten (Overall ESPN.com experts' rank: 2)

What's good about the Big Ten: No league in America has more depth than the Big Ten, which means it puts together competitive matchups most nights. Penn State, Northwestern, Indiana, Rutgers and Nebraska -- the bottom five teams in the league entering the week -- have 11 wins against teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom. Plus, the league boasts a strong collection of stars such as Ethan Happ, Carsen Edwards, Cassius Winston, Iggy Brazdeikis, Romeo Langford and Ayo Dosunmu to carry the brand. The Big Ten has put last season's four-bid season behind it.

What's bad about the Big Ten: This feels like another season where the Big Ten could send a bunch of teams to the NCAA tournament but come away without a national title, which a league rep hasn't won since 2000. The top of the conference is led by a pool of good teams (Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin and Maryland), but none great. And that reality is one of the reasons the Big Ten is a middle-of-the-pack viewing experience in college basketball. Sure, they're all chasing and scrapping with one another, but the league lacks that premier battle between juggernauts that's fueling the conference races in the ACC and the SEC. -- Myron Medcalf

Big 12 (Overall ESPN.com experts' rank: 3)

What's good about the Big 12: Watchability with a capital W. The Big 12 was ranked second overall among our top conferences for providing pure spectating pleasure. Is that high ranking linked in part to the edge-of-your-seat thrills provided by Kansas trying to extend its amazing streak? Absolutely, and this year about half the league is in on the title chase along with the Jayhawks. It makes for good viewing.

What's bad about the Big 12: Maybe this gets back to what's good about the league and that whole competitive title chase thing, but there's no clear favorite and thus no promising candidate to win a national title. The Big 12 placed a middling fourth in our polling for NCAA title likelihood, and that sounds about right. KU very well might keep the streak going, but the short-handed Jayhawks aren't packing the same punch they usually do. Texas Tech is phenomenal on D but iffy on offense. Iowa State has been hot and cold. -- John Gasaway

SEC (Overall ESPN.com experts' rank: 4)

What's good about the SEC: The national consensus is that the best teams in this league, Kentucky and Tennessee, could cut down the nets in Minneapolis at the Final Four. In the SEC, we might see two more matchups between the Vols and Wildcats before the NCAA tournament. Plus, the LSU squad that defeated Kentucky in Lexington last week has emerged as a possible sleeper in March. And Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and Tremont Waters are all vying for All-American honors.

What's bad about the SEC: Once you get beyond Kentucky, Tennessee and LSU, the league is a mess that lacks another team with bona fide second-weekend aspirations. Yes, the SEC might have seven NCAA tournament teams (or more), but its top-heavy vibe means it's not easy to get excited about watching the action in this league if the Vols, Wildcats or Tigers aren't involved. Plus, some of the SEC's best players, such as Vanderbilt's Simi Shittu and Arkansas' Daniel Gafford, play on its worst teams. That the same South Carolina team that lost to Wyoming in December is 8-4 in SEC play is really all you need to know about this league. -- Myron Medcalf

Big East (Overall ESPN.com experts' rank: 5)

What's good about the Big East: Stars, stars, stars. The Big East has two of the best individual offensive players in the country in Marquette's Markus Howard and St. John's guard Shamorie Ponds. Both players are capable of going for 40 points on a given night. Phil Booth is the latest star to blossom for Villanova and has played himself into All-American consideration, while Seton Hall's Myles Powell has hit the 30-point mark five times this season. Any time these guards get together in a head-to-head matchup, it's worth watching.

What's bad about the Big East: After sitting comfortably in the top tier of power conferences the past few seasons, the Big East has fallen back to the pack in terms of top-to-bottom strength and national contenders. The obvious reason is Villanova's "rebuilding" season. While the Wildcats still might win the Big East, they're not a favorite to cut down the nets in early April. And outside of Villanova and Marquette, there isn't a surefire NCAA tournament team in the league. No one else is more than one game above .500 in conference play -- and teams No. 3-No. 10 are all within three games. -- Jeff Borzello

American (Overall ESPN.com experts' rank: 6)

What's good about the American: It's better than the Pac-12. The dreadful top-to-bottom performance of the Pac-12 has enabled the AAC to sneak out of the top-seven cellar. Much of it can be credited to the performance of Houston and Cincinnati this season, as the Cougars are sitting in the top 10 nationally and Jarron Cumberland has emerged as one of the country's premier scorers. There is plenty of talent in this league, from Shizz Alston to Jeremiah Martin to Markis McDuffie to B.J. Taylor, even if they aren't true national names.

What's bad about the American: The bottom half of the league just isn't good. The Big East has zero teams outside the top 110 of the BPI; the American has five. And East Carolina and Tulane are truly awful, ranking as two of the three worst power conference teams in the country (along with California). When you can get Houston and Cincinnati together, or maybe UCF or Temple and the occasional Penny Hardaway or Dan Hurley or Gregg Marshall update, it's worth watching. Anything else? Not this year. -- Jeff Borzello

Pac-12 (Overall ESPN.com experts' rank: 7)

What's good about the Pac-12: This is the most difficult topical assignment a college basketball writer has been given by an editor since that short-lived "The case for adding more timeouts" idea we ended up spiking. Here goes. What's good about the Pac-12 is that it has Washington's Matisse Thybulle. The 6-foot-5 senior is quite possibly the best defender in the country and a pleasure to watch. His defensive box plus/minus at sports-reference.com clocks in at 9.5, an absurd number usually reserved for legendary shot-swatting 7-footers. Thybulle is a defensive master.

What's bad about the Pac-12: In our polling the conference ranked dead last for both NCAA title likelihood and star players. The future will have the last laugh on that first question, of course, but for now we can note that no Pac-12 team appears in the top 25 in the NCAA's NET rankings or, for that matter, on the top six seed lines of Joe Lunardi's updated bracket. By the same token, the league's lone projected 2019 lottery pick in Jonathan Givony's latest 2019 mock draft is Bol Bol, and the 7-foot-2 freshman appeared in just nine games before pulling the plug on his college career because of a foot injury. In terms of elite teams and players alike, it hasn't been the best season for the Pac-12. -- John Gasaway