In honor of the upcoming Big 12/SEC Challenge, it’s time to break down the relative strength of all 32 Division I men’s basketball conferences.
Let’s begin by noting that conference power rankings are an inexact science. Some rankings are designed to measure strength at the top of conferences, while others are designed to capture their depth. For this article, we took a simple approach by calculating every conference’s average ranking in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index.
By utilizing ESPN’s BPI, all the factors in the team rankings -- game result, score, pace, site, opponent strength and the absence of key players –- are accounted for in the conference ranks.
Although this is a highly simplified approach, no matter how the numbers are spliced, the Big 12 ends atop nearly every conference ranking for the 2015-16 season.
The Big 12’s depth
The Big 12 showed in nonconference play that it’s the deepest conference in the land. Entering Saturday’s challenge with the SEC, the Big 12 is 98-20 against nonconference opponents, the best winning percentage of any conference by a considerable margin.
A Big 12 representative has wins over the top team in the Big East (Oklahoma over Villanova), ACC (Texas over North Carolina) and Big Ten (Iowa State over Iowa), and the conference has a 30-17 record against BPI top 100 opponents in nonconference play.
With all 10 of its teams in the top 150 of ESPN’s BPI (including eight in the top 50), the Big 12 is the deepest conference in the country.
The ACC’s strength at the top
With top-25 teams falling left and right, no conference is truly strong at the top, but the ACC appears to have more teams that can win the title than any other conference.
The ACC has four teams -- North Carolina, Louisville, Miami and Virginia -– in the top 10 of ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, two more than any other conference. It also has eight tournament teams, according to Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology, with two more on the bubble.
The Pac-12’s parity
The Pac-12 does not have a team higher than 17th or lower than 135th in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index. Mathematically it is the most tightly bunched conference, which is reflected early in conference play.
Luckily for the Pac-12, it had enough success in nonconference play (.780 win percentage) that its overall conference strength is not affected by its parity. The Pac-12 has eight tournament teams in the latest Bracketology, the highest percentage (67 percent) for any conference in the country.
What to expect in Big 12/SEC Challenge?
The Big 12 and SEC will face off in a 10-game “tournament” on Saturday. ESPN’s BPI projects that the Big 12 will win on average 5.7 of the 10 games and gives it a 56 percent chance to win the challenge.
While the challenge provides a great opportunity to discuss the relative strength of various conferences, we should not read too much into the results; game site and competitiveness of matchups will have a much larger impact on the outcome of the tournament than true conference strength. That said, with Selection Sunday a mere 45 days away, a number of Big 12 and SEC teams have a chance to add another marquee win to their already strong résumés.