Commentary

The Hype Machine: America's best

Originally Published: January 25, 2012
By Myron Medcalf | ESPN.com

Perhaps the Hype Machine shouldn't be so surprised that one day, one Saturday, shifted the entire national landscape.

One conference maintained its "Best Conference in America" title. But it might be guilty of identity theft.

And a high-profile coach stood up for his conference and projected March Madness greatness for, well, just about every team in the league after a couple of weekend upsets. Is he watching old film?

On the West Coast, one team looks like the undisputed conference champ, and we haven't even reached February. Too bad the squad can't play every game at home.

The Past: The SEC "is as good as any league in the country"

DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE

During Monday's SEC teleconference, Kentucky's John Calipari boasted about his league. He said the SEC doesn't get as much praise it deserved.

[+] EnlargeJohn Calipari
Mark L. Baer/US PresswireIs there a coach in the nation better than John Calipari at preparing players for the NBA?

And then he jumped off the proverbial cliff by saying "this league is as good as any league in the country." Calipari claimed that "eight or nine" SEC squads could make the Big Dance, and that five or six squads in the league have Sweet 16 potential.

I get Calipari's point. He's sticking up for his conference.

But the SEC isn't underrated, and it's not as deep as Calipari suggested.

Many believe that Kentucky is the most talented team in America. And Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Alabama and Florida are all strong.

But Kentucky might be the only team in the conference with March Madness staying power.

A pair of weekend upsets -- Tennessee over UConn, Arkansas over Michigan -- didn't elevate the SEC over the Big Ten, the Big East or the Big 12.

That's because the SEC lacks depth, and question marks remain about its top squads.

Vanderbilt is finally playing up to its preseason potential. But that rocky nonconference slate dropped the entire league's national standing. Why did Florida lose at Rutgers and Tennessee? I get that it's tough to win on the road, but at what point should we expect more from Florida? Mississippi State lost at Ole Miss last week.

And what SEC teams look like locks for the NCAA tournament outside of those five?

Seems like everybody is losing right now, especially on the road. But with its lukewarm nonconference showing, limited depth and the inconsistency among its contenders, the SEC has earned an appropriate amount of respect.

One weekend won't put the SEC on the same level as the Big Ten, the Big East or the Big 12.

The Present: Big 12 will be best conference in March … when it matters

BELIEVE THE HYPE

Give the Big Ten the title right now. Credit its depth and parity.

[+] EnlargeRicardo Ratliffe
Tony Gutierrez/AP PhotoMissouri and Baylor help anchor the Big 12's claim to top conference.

But two months from now, the Big 12 will own the "best conference in America" tag … during the NCAA tournament, when it counts.

Here's my issue with the Big Ten: If there's no separation and the haves keep losing to the have-nots, does that fluctuation say more about the validity of the league's bottom half or prompt questions about the strength of the top tier? I think the latter is certainly a possibility. Perhaps the Big Ten possesses parity but doesn't feature as many elite teams as the conference's nonconference success suggested.

And shouldn't a league be judged according to its current progression?

Kansas and Missouri are two of the hottest teams in the country. And despite Baylor's recent underperformances, the Bears are top-three in terms of talent.

That's why I think the Big 12 deserves more consideration as the best conference in the nation. The fight for the league's crown -- the contenders that the league's teams must face to win the Big 12 -- is as contentious as any race in the country.

Missouri, Baylor and Kansas are on top. A once-nationally ranked Kansas State squad is gathering itself. Iowa State, a team full of transfers, and a young Texas team might make the field of 68, too.

No, it's not an eight-bid league like the Big Ten or Big East.

But the Big 12 has as many Final Four contenders as any league in America.

And if you don't want to consider the possibility that it's the best conference in the country right now -- again, based on the recent performances of its top squads -- don't worry, you'll have another opportunity to change your mind … in March, when this conference will stand out.

The Future: It's too early to crown Saint Mary's

BELIEVE THE HYPE

Gonzaga's hold on the West Coast Conference slipped away when Saint Mary's started 8-0 in league play, right? Wrong.

[+] EnlargeGonzaga/Saint Mary's
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireSaint Mary's beat Gonzaga earlier this season, but don't hand the Gaels the WCC yet.

Saint Mary's has a secret. The Gaels have been comfortable at home, where they've played five of their first eight WCC games. But a series of upcoming road matchups will determine whether they'll stay on top of the WCC.

Their nine-game winning streak has featured home wins over BYU and Gonzaga.

But the Gaels can't get comfortable. Their next four games (at Loyola Marymount, at BYU, versus San Diego and at Gonzaga) will really settle the WCC title race.

If they get through their next four games unscathed, crown the Gaels early.

But we're not there yet. Not with this league's perennial challenges on the road. Not with a four-game stretch that could alter the entire makeup of the WCC.

Saint Mary's might win the WCC. But it's too early to make that assumption right now, especially with the chaotic road challenges that seem to disrupt the national scene every weekend.

BYU and Gonzaga are still in the hunt.

The Hoopla: Bo Ryan will coach the Badgers back into Big Ten title contention (BELIEVE THE HYPE). … Syracuse needs Fab Melo's defense to reach the Final Four (BELIEVE THE HYPE). … Tyshawn Taylor's low-turnover mannerisms will continue (DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE). … The Pac-12 might end the season as a one-bid league (BELIEVE THE HYPE). … San Diego State is overrated (DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE). … UNLV is the best team in the West (BELIEVE THE HYPE). … Baylor will end the season as a disappointment (DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE).

Myron Medcalf covers college basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mmedcalf3030@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MedcalfbyESPN.