There’s a common sentiment going around college basketball that the Big Ten is “Wisconsin and everybody else” going into the 2015 March Madness Tournament.
Understandable, considering the Badgers have virtually had their way with the conference all season long.
Not to mention, Wisconsin and Maryland have been the only Big Ten teams consistently ranked in the Top 25 week in and week out.
Unfortunately, most college basketball fans think the polls dictate the free world.
Within the algorithmic madness, there are countless systems that try and gauge how “good” a college basketball conference is, and thus – which one is the “best.”
The most straightforward of the bunch is CBS Sports’ Conference RPI, which measures a conference’s strength using their non-conference record as the key component.
Depending who you ask, the Big Ten is anywhere from the 2nd to 5th best men’s basketball conference this season. My theory provided similar results with far simpler analysis: it’s an absolute crapshoot.
This is college basketball we’re talking about. Nobody gives a shit what you do from November through February if you don’t do it in March.
So with March Madness right around the corner, let’s look at some numbers that actually matter.
Ergo, how many teams each conference has sent to the Big Dance in the past five seasons.
Things are a little complicated with the Big East, which completely re-arranged itself prior to last season. In the four seasons before that, they had a ridiculous 16 total teams – at least four more than every other major conference.
Count them out.
That leaves the Big Ten having a slight edge on the Big 12 – which happens to be the conference everyone can’t stop talking about this season. Naturally, it’s the same story when it comes to this year’s tournament, with the Big Ten currently holding a slight lead in projected bids.
But while sending a bunch of teams to the Dance every year is nice – it doesn’t mean much unless you do something once you get there.
As you can see, the Big Ten makes the most of their trips to the Dance, sending more teams to the second weekend than any other conference. And speaking of doing something when you get there – the SEC (aka Florida and Kentucky) beat both the Big East and Big 12 in total Sweet Sixteen teams, despite having far less teams in the tournament each year.
More than anything else, the Sweet Sixteen is the ideal barometer in determining what conference is the deepest each year.
It verifies how many bids your conference receives from the tournament committee, and data from beyond the Sweet Sixteen often ends up skewed towards the National Championship teams – resulting in an inaccurate sign of conference strength.
Why does the SEC lead the pack in Elite Eight teams (nine) since 2010?
Because Kentucky and Florida have been title contenders every year since then (the Big Ten and Big East are tied for second with seven each). And nobody is buying that the SEC is the best conference in college basketball.
Going one step further to Final Four appearances, the SEC and Big Ten are tied at four each since 2010 – with the Big East first at five total. But considering those five appearances are from teams no longer in the conference, that number becomes rather worthless.
Furthermore, the Big Ten has sent four different teams to the Final Four since 2010, a much clearer sign of conference depth than Kentucky and Florida carrying the SEC.
All this data lends clarity to this year’s situation with the Big Ten being viewed as a hodgepodge of teams behind Wisconsin. While it may not be pretty or dominate the polls, the conference has proven its strength is showing up in March. So don’t be surprised if you see teams like Iowa, Michigan State, Purdue or Ohio State make a run to the second weekend.
And if they do, the Big Ten will confirm that history is the most accurate tool for determining college basketball’s deepest conference.
Remember that when you fill out your bracket.