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Conference debate

| Tuesday, February 3, 2015

How easy is this year’s “Best Conference Debate”?

As it nears its halfway point in conference season, a common debate for college basketball every year is now open for discussion: which conference is most superior?

Though this debate has an inherent subjective quality to it, I like to believe that most years in college basketball there is a right answer (or, at the very least, an answer that narrows it down to two or three conferences) when discussing best college conferences.

So how about 2015? What conference (or conferences) seems to be deserving of the “nation’s best conference” accolade? To most people that affiliate themselves at all with college basketball, all signs seem to indicate that — if there were a debate to be had this year — it would be between the Big 12 and ACC.

While I’m not here to argue those that would suggest the Big 12 should be considered in the top two in the conference supremacy argument (though the Big Ten — which defeated the ACC in this year’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge — still might be a bit closer than some people might think), the best conference this year is pretty clearly the ACC.

Conference debates can be very complicated when it comes to college basketball. No one will argue the importance of having really good teams at the top of the conference when it comes to this debate. How much importance do we give to those top teams though?

When pitting the Big 12 against the ACC, the value of this question is immense. In terms of teams that are serious contenders for the final four at this moment, the ACC has at least three (no way that neither Notre Dame or Louisville is) and the Big 12 has really only one at best (and that would probably be Kansas, who is less talented and experienced than when their team won one tournament game last year). Obviously, I’m not accommodating for tournament surprises — which seem to happen annually these days — but with regard to elite teams, the ACC has a very clear advantage over the Big 12.

Conference debates have to be holistic to some extent, though. Last year the SEC had two final four teams (Kentucky’s ranking was falling steadily at this point last year, though they still were not too much of a surprise in the final four after being the preseason number 1), but no sane college basketball observer could have been taken seriously if they had argued that they were the nation’s best conference.

Any Big 12 advocates will probably argue in terms of a comprehensive conference approach. Coming into the week, the Big 12 had six of their ten teams ranked in the AP poll and eight legitimate NCAA tournament contenders. While the ACC also entered the week with six teams in the AP poll, four of its 15 teams currently boast sub-.500 records. By comparison the Big 12 has zero teams with more overall losses than wins.

One would be foolish, though, to point to the ACC’s inferior inferiority as sufficient evidence for Big 12 supremacy. The ACC not only has an incredibly potent top of its conference, but also has solid NCAA tournament contenders like Syracuse and North Carolina State that provide depth in its middle and lower half. Yes, the ACC has four undeniably bad teams, but no one will argue that TCU and Texas Tech are feared opponents in the smaller Big 12 either.

This year’s “Best Conference Debate” in college basketball is not very difficult. The ACC is a pretty clear number 1.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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