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My Column: From Top To Bottom, The Big Ten Is The Best Basketball Conference

For the last few seasons, the Big Ten has boasted the best conference in college basketball. There have been some concerns about whether that would hold true in 2014-15, but early indications say yes.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Late Sunday night, KenPom officially released its 2015 preseason rankings.  Preseason predictions, rankings, and expectations have been coming out since the final buzzer between Connecticut and Kentucky last season, but the KenPom ratings boast some of the most specific projections out there.  Unlike many of the national publications, these aren't just "gut" projections about the season, but are created based on a specific group of factors.  No statistical system is perfect, but the KenPom projections are a little more significant than your average predictions.

The results were jarring.  Not only did the rankings support the Big Ten as the nation's best conference, but its placement of the Big Ten as a whole was very impressive even for the conference's most adamant supports.  Take a look at where the Big Ten teams ended up.

Big Ten Teams In 2015 KenPom Rankings:
  • #6 - Wisconsin
  • #12 - Michigan State
  • #14 - Ohio State
  • #15 - Michigan
  • #26 - Indiana
  • #32 - Iowa
  • #33 - Maryland
  • #34 - Nebraska
  • #37 - Minnesota
  • #38 - Illinois
  • #40 - Purdue
  • #56 - Penn State
  • #77 - Northwestern
  • #103 - Rutgers
If you don't follow KenPom, let me lay this out very simply.  Those Big Ten projections are very, very impressive.  Here are just a few of the basic statistical numbers on that performance.

Big Ten In 2015 KenPom Rankings
  • 4 teams in the Top 15
  • 5 teams in the Top 30
  • 11 teams in the Top 40
  • 13 teams in the Top 100
  • Every team in the Top 105
Again, these are impressive numbers.  Just take a look at how the conferences compared in Top 40 teams:

Now, clearly those numbers favor the Big Ten.  I mean, when you're talking about having 4 more teams in the Top 40 than any other conference, that's pretty significant.  Just think about this.  If you took the gap between the Big Ten and the ACC (2nd highest in Top 40 teams) in terms of teams ranked in the Top 40, it would have finished higher than the Big East, Pac 12, and the SEC.  The American, who won the national championship last year with UConn, would tie the gap from the Big Ten to the ACC.  That's not just a solid performance, that's borderline dominating.

But why is this significant?  Why should we cut off the teams at 40?  The great thing about evaluating teams that are ranked #40 or higher is that these teams are still good.  We're not comparing the bottom of the barrel here or arguing over CBI teams.  Teams in this range are generally good and actually capable of taking down national contenders.  Just take a look at least year's rankings.

2014 KenPom Rankings
  • #37 - Memphis (NCAA Round of 32)
  • #38 - Dayton (NCAA Elite 8)
  • #39 - Texas - NCAA Round of 32
  • #40 - Maryland
  • #41 - Florida State - NIT Final 4
  • #42 - Utah - NIT Round of 32
  • #43 - Kansas State - NCAA Round of 64
  • #44 - Nebraska - NCAA Round of 64
That's 8 teams placed right around #40 in the KenPom rankings last year.  Every team except Maryland in this group made either the NIT or the NCAA Tournament.  Plus, 5 teams advanced in their postseason tournaments and Dayton actually ended up make the Elite Eight.  My point here is that Top 40 teams are not bad teams.  These are dangerous teams with the capability to compete against national contenders.  The Big Ten is projected to have 11 of its 14 teams in this category.  That is incredible.

But what about the bottom?  The Big Ten did well at the top and the middle, but what about the bottom?  Last season, the Big 12 would have been able to make a great case for being the best conference, but they were stuck with TCU.  The Horned Frogs finished at a dreadful #234 overall on KenPom and failed to win a conference game.  Does the Big Ten have a TCU this year to void their success higher up?  The answer is no.
So not only does the Big Ten clearly dominate the KenPom ratings higher up, but they also do very well at the bottom.  In fact, Rutgers - the lowest ranked Big Ten team - sits 27 spots above the lowest teams in the American, ACC, Big East, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC.  So the Big Ten's "worst" team is still projected to be better than any other major conference's "worst" team.  That's saying something.
"If you really want to compare conferences, you need to compare all the teams, not just the ones you want to compare."
Despite these numbers, there is still some pushback regarding the Big Ten.  Many point to the top, where the ACC has 2 teams in the Top 5, 3 teams in the Top 10, 5 teams in the Top 20, and 6 teams in the Top 25.  Critics argue that even if the Big Ten is the best lower down, they can't compete at the top, which is all that people care about anyway.

This is a flawed argument for several reasons.  First, if you're going to compare conferences, you can't simply ignore half - or more - of the conference.  Fans and the media may not pay attention to teams like Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, but they still exist.  ACC supporters may want to ignore teams like Virginia Tech and Wake Forest because they're bad, but they certainly would want to claim them when they're good.  Think about if Big Ten fans had ignored Nebraska last season because they were projected to finish at the bottom of the conference.  The Cornhuskers ended up doing very well and making the NCAA Tournament.  If you really want to compare conferences, you need to compare all the teams, not just the ones you want to compare.

The other thing to point out is that it's not like the Big Ten is getting run over at the top.  They still have Wisconsin at #6, 4 teams in the Top 20, and 5 teams in the Top 30.  In terms of nationally competitive teams, perception is going to be based on the Top 25 rankings.  The rankings may be flawed, but people are going to look at those to tell them the top teams nationally.  Even if the ACC has an advantage here, it's going to be slight.  That hardly can outweigh the Big Ten's complete dominance in the middle and at the bottom.  The ACC is a good conference, but it just can't compete to that extent with the Big Ten and this is true with everybody else as well.

Many in the media and across the country will want to highlight certain teams or certain conferences, but make no doubt about it.  The Big Ten should be considered the best conference in the country entering the season.  This could easily change if certain teams raise or fall around the nation, but nobody can compete with the Big Ten from top to the bottom and that's really all that matters.


Thomas Beindit is the Editor-in-Chief and Manager of BTPowerhouse and a contributor at Wolverine247.  You can follow Thomas on Twitter at @tbeindit.