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Conference Comparison: Big 10 vs. Big 12

Many college basketball enthusiasts argue over which conference is the best in college basketball, though it is difficult to find a unanimous favorite. Different teams don't always meet up with one another, so it can be tough to judge, but we can compare two conferences head-to-head and how they performed in the non-conference slate of the season to get a better picture. Let's take a look at the Big Ten and the Big 12.

Maryland's Jake Layman shoots over Iowa State's George Niang in Maryland's 72-63 victory back in November
Maryland's Jake Layman shoots over Iowa State's George Niang in Maryland's 72-63 victory back in November
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten is often argued to be one of the best conferences in college basketball. With a number of powerhouse schools performing at a high level yearly, it is undeniable that the Big Ten has some impressive talent. That being said, the Big 12 is often right in the mix with the Big Ten in conversation for best conference in college basketball.

As it is often difficult to decide if one particular conference is better than another, we can take a look at how two conferences compare with one another, so let's see how the Big 10 and Big 12 compare in head-to-head match ups, KenPom rankings, and Bracketology projections.

Head to Head Non-Conference Games:

  • Texas 71 - Iowa 57, 2K Classic Semifinals, 11/20
  • Kansas State 88 - Purdue 79, Maui Invitational Quarterfinals, 11/24
  • Iowa State 63 - Maryland 72, CBE Hall of Fame Classic Championship Game, 11/25
  • Oklahoma 56 - Wisconsin 69, Battle 4 Atlantis Championship Game, 11/28
  • Baylor 54- Illinois 62, Las Vegas Invitational Championship Game, 11/28
  • Kansas 61 - Michigan St. 56, Orlando Classic Championship Game, 11/30
  • Iowa State 90 - Iowa 75, at Iowa, 12/12
  • Oklahoma State 64- Maryland 73, atOklahoma State, 12/21

Upon a closer look at this year's non-conference match ups between the two conferences, it becomes clear that it is a fairly even battle. Neither side had an edge as the two conferences split 4-4. It also can't be forgotten that these games weren't negligent games, but rather season-impacting match ups between top-tier teams in the early going. Six out of these 8 games contained at least one team ranked in the top 25. It is also difficult to judge which side has the edge on winning at home or on the road because we once again have a tie. Only two match ups were true road/home games, and those were split 1-1 between the Big Ten and Big 12. The rest of the match ups were neutral court games in preseason tournaments in which the conferences once again split 3-3. One other important note to mention is the fact that 4 of the 8 head-to-head match ups between the two conferences came in the championship games of early season tournaments over the holidays. The only advantage either team gets is the fact that the Big Ten led in number of head-to-head championship wins 3-1.

KenPom Rankings

KenPom is a college basketball ranking site that ranks teams based on their wins, margins of victory, strength of schedule, and a variety of other factors. Since it seems to be too close to call based on pure head-to-head match ups, we could use this site to find a combined ranking for each conference. If we were to find the average KenPom ranking for each conference by looking at all the teams as a whole, we could get a rough estimate of which conference ranks higher thus far.

KenPom Big Ten Rankings vs. KenPom Big 12 Rankings

#5 Wisconsin - #9 Oklahoma

#18 Ohio State - #12 Kansas

#25 Michigan State -  #13 Baylor

#32 Maryland -  #17 West Virginia

#47 Iowa - #23 Iowa State

#49 Minnesota - #26 Texas

#50 Indiana - #28 Oklahoma State

#57 Purdue - #48 TCU

#74 Illinois - #73 Kansas St

#79 Michigan - #182 Texas Tech

#97 Penn State

#113 Nebraska

#124 Northwestern

#172 Rutgers

Average Big Ten Ranking: 67.2 vs. Average Big 12 Ranking: 43.1

The results don't match up very closely with the equity in head-to-head match ups between the two conferences. The Big 12 blows the Big Ten out of the water in terms of actual rankings. Probably the most impressive aspect of their rankings is that they manage to have 7 of their 10 teams in the top 30 while the Big Ten finds only three of their teams in that category. KenPom does not describe his site as purely a ranking system, but rather a tool for predicting how well a team is going to play on a given night. So at this point in the season, you could expect teams in the Big 12 to, on average, play better than teams in the Big 10. Whether or not this implies that the Big 12 is better is up for question, but it certainly hints at the strength that the conference possesses. If we were to look at ESPN's RPI ranking system, commonly referred to for NCAA Tournament Selection, we see similar patterns.

Big 12 Average RPI ranking: 48.5 vs.  Big Ten Average RPI Ranking: 66.6

These college basketball rankings point to the Big 12 as the better conference based on the body of work that they have accomplished thus far and how good they would be if they were to take the floor tonight.


Big 12 Teams' Seeds vs. Big 10 Teams' Seeds

#2 Kansas - #2 Wisconsin

#4 Iowa State - #4 Maryland

#5 Baylor - #7 Ohio State

#5 West Virginia - #7 Indiana

#6 Oklahoma - #11 Michigan State

#9 Texas - #11 Iowa

#9 Oklahoma State

Average Big 12 Seed: 5.7 vs.  Average Big Ten Seed: 7

Not only does the Big 12 sneak in one more team than the Big Ten does, but it also has an average seeding 1.3 spots better than the Big Ten. Though head-to-head match ups have shown relative equity between these two conferences, it seems that at this point in the season, the Big 12 may be a little bit stronger than the Big Ten. We must keep in mind that it is very difficult to judge which side is better based on the information we're given, but as far as tournament potential and current ranking, it seems the Big 12 has the upper hand. This does not mean that the any one team in the Big 12 is more talented than another in the Big Ten, but it does point to a little bit more depth in strong tournament teams. Of course, this is college basketball, and anything can happen, and some may argue that Big Ten team's are tougher and better equipped, but that's for the NCAA tournament to dictate.


I think that it is safe to say that these two conferences matched up fairly equally with one another, but the Big 12 conference might have a slight edge over the Big Ten. Overall, the Big 12 is likely to get more teams into the tournament come March. That being said, if various Big 12 and Big Ten teams meet in the NCAA tourney, it is difficult to give either side an edge. Though the Big 12 may be a little deeper as far as solid teams goes, the Big Ten surely has some teams of its own that can put up a fight. As the Big 12 looks to be a little bit better on paper, there is no telling what will happen when these teams go head-to-head, as shown by the 4-4 record in non-conference play. Don't be surprised if you see teams from either one of these two conferences making deep tournament runs and battling it out with one another in March.