Which Conference Is Tops?, Pt. 1
Polls and rankings are nice, but nothing beats a Tournament.
Let’s be honest, when the discussion of best conference in college basketball has come up this season, it has been a two-dog race between the Big East and the ACC. When the experts rank ‘em, they use fancy formulas to determine RPI based on strength of schedule and overall record, so the outcome provides bizarre results like the Big Ten being ranked as the second-best conference. Sometimes though, all it takes is a couple of teams toward the bottom of the conference to drag an RPI score down, skewing the ranking system at times.
What is the best way to determine which conference reigns supreme? Is it fair to use regular season records? Probably not, since there are vast differences in strength of schedule among the conferences and not everyone plays mutual opponents. Using NCAA Tournament bids as a benchmark doesn’t always work since the Big East absolutely dwarfs every other conference when it comes to sheer numbers, and most of the “mid-major” conferences are one-big leagues.
Ultimately, the players are left standing at the end of this debate. The ones who determine the outcome on the court each and every night should determine which conference stands alone at the top. With that in mind, I devised a tournament featuring the top-12 conferences in the country according to RPI rankings obtained from the folks at RealTimeRPI.
Each team will consist of eight players, not necessarily the eight best in the conference, but the best combination of players to create a team capable of winning. The top-four seeds will receive a bye in the first round and all games will be simulated at the venue chosen by the higher seeded conference. Today is an introduction to the teams and their coaches before the games get underway. Starters are marked with an asterisk (*).
|1 Seed: ACC|
|* Ty Lawson||G||North Carolina|
|* Jeff Teague||G||Wake Forest|
|* Gerald Henderson||G/F||Duke|
|* Kyle Singler||F||Duke|
|* Tyler Hansbrough||F||North Carolina|
|Al-Farouq Aminu||F||Wake Forest|
|Coach: Roy Williams (North Carolina)|
The ACC may be able to boast the most athletic and well-rounded team in this entire bracket. Coach Williams is the perfect choice to lead the squad, taking his run and gun approach with the Tar Heels and point guard Ty Lawson and adding to it All-American candidate Jeff Teague and the super athletic Gerald Henderson as running mates. Kyle Singler is versatile enough to spread the floor offensively but grab rebounds on the defensive end as well. Hansbrough and Trevor Booker provide all the muscle this team will need in the frontcourt.
There were obviously a tremendous number of players who could have been selected for the final two spots on this roster, but McClinton and Aminu were the eventual choices. McClinton is best perimeter shooter in conference history and will be a major spark plug coming off the bench, able to provide instant offense. Aminu was chosen because his ability to run in transition as a freakishly long 6-9 player makes him a perfect fit for this high-octane offense.
|2 Seed: Big Ten|
|* Talor Battle||G||Penn State|
|* E’Twaun Moore||G||Purdue|
|* Evan Turner||G/F||Ohio State|
|* Robbie Hummel||F||Purdue|
|* DeShawn Sims||F||Michigan|
|Kalin Lucas||G||Michigan State|
|Coach: Tom Izzo (Michigan State)|
The Big Ten isn’t going to blow anyone away with athleticism, save for maybe Lucas and Harris coming off the bench. With that said however, this is a very fundamentally sound team that if it can slow down the tempo of the game, is going to be tough to beat. What the starting five lack in size (Sims is the tallest at 6-8) it more than makes up with the ability to spread the floor with four of five starters connecting on better than 35 percent of their shot attempts from beyond the arc. Talor Battle is a perfect fit for the point guard position as the sophomore has been doing everything for Penn State this season, averaging better than 18 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Evan Turner could be the focal point of this offense as the super talented swingman is capable of scoring in a variety of ways, and is one of the best pro prospects in the conference.
The bench provides speed, athleticism and a scoring punch with Lucas, Harris and Landry averaging at least 13 ppg. Tom Izzo is a no-brainer to lead this team as few active coaches have appeared in as many big games as this head Spartan.
|3 Seed: Big East|
|* Jonny Flynn||G||Syracuse|
|* Jerel McNeal||G||Marquette|
|* Terrence Williams||G/F||Louisville|
|* DeJuan Blair||F||Pittsburgh|
|* Hasheem Thabeet||C||Connecticut|
|Luke Harangody||F||Notre Dame|
|Coach: Rick Pittino (Louisville)|
Despite its RPI ranking as the three seed in this tournament, the Big East has to be considered an early favorite to win the whole thing. There is no doubt that the most intimidating frontcourt in all the land resides here, with a three man wrecking ball of a rotation in Thabeet, Blair and Harangody banging around in the lane. Blair gets the nod over Harangody as a starter because he brings a little more athleticism which will work great in Rick Pittino’s up-tempo 40 minutes of hell game plan.
The rest of the roster is absolutely loaded with freakish athleticism. Terrence Williams, Sam Young and Earl Clark are absolute specimens, and Williams in particular has been playing like the Conference Player of the Year as of late. Flynn and McNeal are fantastic complements to one another with the ‘Cuse point guard being one of the best playmakers in the county and McNeal standing as one of the best on ball defenders in the country.
|4 Seed: Big 12|
|* Sherron Collins||G||Kansas|
|* A.J. Abrams||G||Texas|
|* Damion James||G/F||Texas|
|* Craig Brackens||F||Iowa State|
|* Blake Griffin||F/C||Oklahoma|
|Obi Muonelo||G/F||Oklahoma State|
|Coach: Bill Self (Kansas)|
The Big 12 certainly has a couple of question marks on its roster, but it also sports some tantalizing ability. Blake Griffin is the most dominant player in the country and the pairing him with such a scoring force as Craig Brackens in the frontcourt is almost unfair to opposing defenses. Throw in the super long Damion James and towering Cole Aldrich off the bench, this team should seemingly never lose a battle on the boards. A.J. Abrams and LaceDarius Dunn are likely the linchpins of this team, with both players proving to be streaky shooters during the year. Abrams when he is on is one of the most dangerous players in the conference and Dunn has flat out shoot when he gets it going.
The choices of head coach and point guard were easy ones to make. Self and Collins are coming off a national championship season and with many pundits expecting a drop off, the Jayhawks are just a game out of first in the conference. Collins has also really stepped into his role as team leader and done big things with it.
|5 Seed: Pac-10|
|* Darren Collison||G||UCLA|
|* James Harden||G||Arizona State|
|* Chase Budinger||G/F||Arizona|
|* Jeff Pendergraph||F||Arizona State|
|* Jordan Hill||F||Arizona|
|Coach: Ben Howland (UCLA)|
The Pac-10 always produces tremendous individual players and this year is no different. The starting five features great athleticism at all five positions. Collison is a tremendous defender and one of the fastest players in the country. Hill and Pendergraph are both long frontcourt players that move very well for their size, and Budinger has been wowing crowds for three years with Arizona. James Harden, the best player on the roster, is actually the least athletic of the starters, but he makes up for it with a highly skilled game and great basketball IQ.
The bench has a little bit of everything. Jon Brockman is an undersized force in the lane who is an absolute double-double machine and will bring hard nosed play to the floor. Cal’s Randle is a nice scoring punch and Josh Shipp is a veteran player who has played in his fair share of big games during his time in Pauley Pavilion. Ben Howland…well the three Final Fours should speak for themselves.
|6 Seed: SEC|
|* Nick Calathes||G||Florida|
|* Jodie Meeks||G||Kentucky|
|* Marcus Thornton||G||LSU|
|* Tyler Smith||F||Tennessee|
|* Patrick Patterson||F||Kentucky|
|Devan Downey||G||South Carolina|
|Jarvis Varnado||F||Mississippi State|
|Coach: Billy Donovan (Florida)|
What the SEC has lacked in team success this season, it more than makes up for with individual talent; at least half of the roster will one day be wearing a jersey in the League. Nick Calathes is a tremendous point guard but has gotten overlooked with Florida outside the top-25 this season. Meeks and Thornton may be the best one-two scoring punch in this entire tournament and the combination of Tyler Smith and Patrick Patterson down low gives the pairing of length with power.
The bench is another eclectic mix of talents. Jarvis Varnado is the best shot blocker in the country and will be a great defensive stopper for Billy Donovan coming off the pine. Devan Downey is a scoring machine and the surprise player in the conference, freshman Courtney Fortson, fills up stat sheets in nearly every department on a nightly basis.
|7 Seed: Mountain West|
|* Brandon Ewing||G||Wyoming|
|* Lee Cummard||G||BYU|
|* Jonathan Tavernari||G/F||BYU|
|* Lorrenzo Wade||F||San Diego State|
|* Luke Nevill||C||Utah|
|Kyle Spain||G/F||San Diego State|
|Coach: Dave Rose (BYU)|
The Mountain West will not be able to match a lot of the bigger conferences in athleticism, but they more than make up for it with efficiency. Lee Cummard, Jimmer Fredette, Kyle Spain and Lorrenzo Wade are all threats to connect from beyond the arc, especially the two gunners from BYU. Luke Nevill with provide plenty of size in the middle at 7-2, and what he lacks in a highly developed post game, he more than makes up for with a soft touch around the rim. Head coach Dave Rose is the perfect fit for the job after putting together a very impressive first three years with the Cougars, compiling a record of 72-26 and earning two NCAA Tournament births.
|8 Seed: Atlantic 10|
|* Chris Lowe||G||UMass|
|* B.J. Raymond||G||Xavier|
|* Dionte Christmas||G/F||Temple|
|* Derrick Brown||F||Xavier|
|* Ahmad Nivins||F||Saint Joseph’s|
|Jimmy Baron||G||Rhode Island|
|Coach: Sean Miller (Xavier)|
The A-10 may be one of the most complete teams in this field of 12. Derrick Brown has been one of the best power forwards in the country over the last few weeks and Ahmad Nivins has been absolutely dominant in the conference and has more than proven he can hold his own against the very best. Dionte Christmas is the big scoring punch in the starting lineup and with UMass’s Chris Lowe running the point it is a safe bet that Temple’s top dog will get plenty of good looks at the basket.
URI’s Jimmy Baron is one of the best deep threats in the country and will be a nice addition to the line up coming off the bench. Chris Wright is still a raw player but his athleticism is off the charts and will allow him at the very least to be a defensive presence on the floor. Xavier’s Sean Miller is one of the brightest young coaches in the country and gets the nod over Saint Joseph’s Phil Martelli as the head man.
|9 Seed: Missouri Valley|
|* Clevin Hannah||G||Wichita State|
|* P’Allen Stinnett||G||Creigton|
|* Osiris Eldridge||G||Illinois State|
|* Shy Ely||F||Evansville|
|* Jonathan Cox||F||Drake|
|Coach: Dana Altman (Creighton)|
There is a definite lack of size on the MVC’s roster, but the quickness on the floor should be able to counter that to a certain extent. The backcourt in particular is pretty small with Osiris Eldridge and P’Allen Stinnett both shorter than 6-3, but they are excellent hustle players who provide help in a lot of different departments. Clevin Hannah isn’t a tremendously explosive player but has a solid assist to turnover ratio and is steady enough to run the show at point. Shy Ely and Jonathan Cox are likely the X-factors for this team. Both will be giving up several inches to opposing frontcourts but are great rebounders, particularly the undersized Ely. Josh Young and Booker Woodfox will provide plenty of firepower off the bench.
|10 Seed: Conference USA|
|* Tyreke Evans||G||Memphis|
|* Stefon Jackson||G||UTEP|
|* Jermaine Taylor||G||Central Florida|
|* Robert Dozier||F||Memphis|
|* Jerome Jordan||C||Tulsa|
|Coach: John Calipari (Memphis)|
Some people would say that Conference USA should just trot Memphis out to represent the very best the conference has to offer; that would leave out some outstanding talent. Stefon Jackson is an NBA talent and the conferences all-time leading scorer as of this season and Jermaine Taylor is one of the leading scorers in the country and a very efficient shooter. Robert Dozier and Jerome Jordan pair up to make a formidable pair down low, with 7-footer Jordan looking more and more like a potential pro prospect each time he takes the floor. Evans, who recently has been playing more point for Memphis, may be the most talented freshman in the country.
Shawn Taggart is another long athletic body off the bench to provide the frontcourt a rest when needed. Vaden and Coleman are a couple of strong guards who can fill up the basket, particularly Vaden who has fantastic range on his shot. John Calipari is a perfect fit for this team as a coach. Think about three offensive weapons like Evans, Jackson and Taylor playing in a dribble drive offense. Kind of scary.
|11 Seed: Horizon League|
|* Josh Mayo||G||Illinois-Chicago|
|* Gordon Hayward||G||Butler|
|* Matt Howard||F||Butler|
|* J’Nathan Bullock||F||Cleveland State|
|* Scott VanderMeer||C||Illinois-Chicago|
|Cedrick Jackson||G||Cleveland State|
|Ryan Tillema||G||Green Bay|
|Troy Cotton||G||Green Bay|
|Coach: Brad Stevens (Butler)|
The Horizon League is surprisingly one of the biggest teams in the entire bracket. Butler’s Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard (6-8 and 6-7, respectively) are both very talented youngsters who can bang inside when necessary, but are true backcourt players. UIC’s pint sized scoring machine Josh Mayo will wreak havoc with his lightning fast quickness and massive 7-foot teammate Scott VanderMeer will provide the necessary bulk inside.
|12 Seed: WAC|
|* Armon Johnson||G||Nevada|
|* Jahmar Young||G||New Mexico State|
|* Roderick Flemings||F||Hawaii|
|* Luke Babbitt||F||Nevada|
|* Gary Wilkinson||F||Utah State|
|Adrian Oliver||G||San Jose State|
|Wendell McKines||F||New Mexico State|
|Coach: Mark Fox (Nevada)|
The key to the WAC’s success will be in their frontcourt with freshman Luke Babbitt and the versatile Gary Wilkinson be relied on heavily to set the tempo offensively. Babbitt was the biggest recruit in Nevada history and has lived up to the billing so far, while Wilkinson has a soft touch from anywhere on the floor and hits the glass hard. Armon Johnson is a solid point guard and quick enough that he should be able to penetrate and quick to lights out perimeter shooter Jahmar Young who will be waiting to light it up from deep.
So there you have it, your field of 12! Check back tomorrow to see how the tournament plays out and who will be crowned top conference when the best players do battle.