Monday, March 21, 2005

What's the Best Conference?

No matter what the regular season brings, most people will tell you that the NCAA Tournament is the true indicator of how strong a conference is. Well, after the first weekend of the Tournament, it's time to take a look at how each of the leagues are doing. The ACC is performing as expected, placing three teams in the Sweet 16. However, it was not the three that most people projected. Wake Forest and their weak defense finally caught up to them, while NC State finally hit their stride to be the third ACC team. All season, the Big East bragged about their depth and how they were the best conference in America. After the first 48 games, that could not be more wrong. Their top three teams, as well as another all lost in the first two rounds. Boston College, Syracuse, Connecticut, and Pitt were supposed to make some noise in the bracket, but they were all bumped early. West Virginia and Villanova are the lone Big East teams remaining. The biggest surprise in a conference? By far, the Big Ten. During Illinois' run, there were skeptics about their weak schedule and the horrendous Big Ten that had Illinois, two aobve-average teams and seven medicore squads. That horrendous Big Ten is tied with the ACC for most teams in the Sweet 16, at three. Although Wisconsin and Michigan State did not have to beat any single-digit seeds, and Illinois beat a #16 and a #9, they did what the had to do, and are now looking like a legit conference. The Big 12 placed two teams, a disappointment given that they had three top 3 seeds. Kansas bowed out to Bucknell, and Oklahoma was dominated by Utah. Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are the two teams left. The Pac-10 was a conference that, some said, had two NCAA Tournament-quality teams. Those people turned out to be right. UCLA and Stanford gave a poor showing in the first round, while Arizona and Washington have easily coasted to the Sweet 16. The SEC was no surprise, but they only had one Sweet 16 team in Kentucky. Alabama and LSU were upset in the first round, while Florida and Mississippi State were gone in the second round. The SEC was definitely in the midst of a down season. Conference USA looked better than the SEC, but was no major player. Other than Louisville, no one made much noise. Cincinnati was bounced in the second round, while Charlotte had an awful second half to fall to NC State. UAB was a pleasant surprise, pulling off an upset. In what was supposed to be a year with mid-majors wreaking havoc, there were two disappointments outside the power conferences. The Missouri Valley and West Coast Conferences talked all season how they were overlooked and disrespected. After two rounds, those two leagues combined for a total of 0 Sweet 16 teams. That's not much way to gain respect. Utah showed their winning was not the result of an easy schedule and the medicore Mountain West, while Horizon winner UW-Milwaukee is doing a nice job carrying the flag for their league. So, back to the original question--What's the Best Conference? I would have to say the ACC. Although the Big Ten has the same amount of Sweet 16 teams, the ACC is just better and has more quality clubs and could conceivably field three Elite Eight teams.

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