During the regular season, fans of every team try to compare conferences. Most of the arguments are hypothetical, comparing records or the amount of ranked teams the conferences have. These arguments don’t hold weight because teams from different conferences have few common opponents. It’s hard to make comparisons until the conferences get put in a setting where they have to play each other.
We call that setting the NCAA tournament.
Every team’s goal over the course of the regular season is to make the tournament. Some shoot to go in as a high seed. Some just pray to make it in at all. Being invited to the tournament is an extreme honor for the entire conference, but teams also have to prove they belong by winning games.
Now that the tournament is down to the Sweet Sixteen, proper assumptions can be made from the remaining field. I will use these assumptions, as well as statistics to rank the conferences. I did not count the qualifying round for the few teams that played in it, as that isn’t part of the tournament and skews the win-loss records I’m using for comparisons. I also did not count teams in the NIT when compiling these stats.
1. Big Ten
Remaining teams: 4/12 (.334)
Invited teams: 7/12 (.583)
Overall record: 10-3 (.769)
(1) Indiana, (2) Ohio State, (3) Michigan State, (4) Michigan, (5) Wisconsin, (7) Illinois, (11) Minnesota
Indiana’s Cody Zeller #40 goes against Temple’s Anthony Lee #3 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Jason Miller/Getty Images)
I hope you weren’t expecting anything different. Having one-fourth of the Sweet Sixteen teams is astonishing, especially when you consider that 7-seed Illinois lost by four points to 2-seed Miami. Also, 11-seed Minnesota played 3-seed Florida much better than anyone expected. Wisconsin was the only outright disappointment, as it lost to a lower seed and didn’t make it nearly as far as many thought.
The four remaining Big Ten teams are very good teams. Indiana is one of the trendy picks to get to the National Championship game and sports the third-highest scoring offense in the country (80 ppg). Ohio State stumbled against Iowa State’s strange combination of three-point shooting and offensive rebounding prowess, but stepped up when it mattered most (with the help of a controversial charge call). Regardless, Ohio State is on a 10-game winning streak and is now a member of a cushy bracket thanks to the early exits of Gonzaga, New Mexico, Kansas State and Wisconsin. Ohio State also has the highest scoring offense in the tournament so far (86.5 ppg) and leads the tournament in assists per game (18.5). Michigan has won both of its tournament games by an average score of 20 points. Defense eluded the Wolverines at times during the regular season, but they appear to have the hang of it now. Michigan also has the fifth-most efficient offense in the tournament, making 51.3 percent of its field goals. Michigan will play a very inconsistent Kansas team next. Michigan State is probably the most physical team in the country and provides a style mismatch for almost any team. So far in the tournament, Michigan State leads all teams in rebounding with an average of 49 per game. Michigan State will most likely have the toughest test of any Big Ten team when it plays 2-seed Duke.
2. Big East
Remaining teams: 3/15 (.200)
Invited teams: 8/15 (.533)
Overall record: 6-5 (.545)
(1) Louisville, (2) Georgetown, (3) Marquette, (4) Syracuse, (7) Notre Dame, (8) Pittsburgh, (9) Villanova, (10) Cincinnati
Louisville’s Peyton Siva #3 tries to score against Colorado State’s Wes Eikmeier #10 on March 23, 2012. (Photo by: John Bazemore/AP)
The Big East has nearly matched the Big Ten’s impressive tournament run, but the fact that the conference has three more teams hurts it in my rankings. Louisville is on a 12-game winning streak and has cruised through the first two tournament games, winning by 26 or more points in both. Louisville is probably written in the “National Champions” box on more brackets than any other team. The Cardinals lead the tournament in field goal percentage (5.69) and steals per game (15.5) and have scored a second-best 80.5 points per game. Syracuse has been a tale of two teams, one of the teams looking like one of the best in the country holding Montana to 34 points in the Round of 64. The other side of the team looks awful, losing seven of 12 games after starting the regular season 18-1. There were stretches of the game against California when it looked like the other Syracuse might be showing up, but the Orange fought it off. Syracuse at its best is certainly good enough to hang with Indiana, maybe even beat them. Marquette has been living on a prayer, winning its first two tournament by a combined three points. I’d like to say positive things, like how Marquette is the fifth-best free throw shooting team in the tournament, but I don’t think anything can save the Golden Eagles from Miami on Thursday. The other four Big East teams let the conference down by losing in the Round of 64, especially Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, who lost to lower seeds.
Remaining teams: 2/12 (.167)
Invited teams: 4/12 (.334)
Overall record: 5-2 (.714)
(2) Duke, (2) Miami, (8) North Carolina, (8) NC State
Duke’s Seth Curry #30 fights for a loose ball against Creighton’s Avery Dingman #22 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Michael Perez/AP)
Duke has also had an easy tournament so far with the help of the sixth-highest scoring offense in the country (78.3 ppg). Duke even had to go through annual upset-artist Creighton in the Round of 32. Duke will play a very physical Michigan State team next. This game might be the best match-up of elite basketball coaches to date, as Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo are both famous and have at least one National Championship under their belts. Miami is also having a heck of a year and has looked good in the tournament despite Illinois getting within four points of the upset in the second game. Shane Larkin has scored in the double digits both games and Durand Scott scored 21 points in the game against Pacific. North Carolina had an 11-point lead on Kansas at one point of that game, but Kansas outscored the Tarheels 49-28 in the second half to win by 12 points. NC State saw itself out of the tournament by losing to Temple in the first game.
Remaining teams: 2/12 (.167)
Invited teams: 5/12 (.417)
Overall record: 5-3 (.625)
(6) Arizona, (6) UCLA, (10) Colorado, (12) Oregon, (12) California
Arizona’s Nick Johnson #13 goes for a layup over Harvard’s Christian Webster #15 on March 23, 2013. (Photo by: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Pac-12 has had a chip on its shoulder in this year’s tournament, especially Oregon, the champion of the conference, who was given a slap in the face in the form of a 12-seed. Oregon has been playing well, posting back-to-back upsets of 13 and 17 points against Oklahoma State and Saint Louis. Oregon feels disrespected and will provide a much tougher match-up than any statistic can show. Its next opponent will be Louisville, the overall 1-seed, so the world might see the Duck magic finally sputter out. Arizona has gotten a lucky draw because of upsets and has played Belmont and Harvard in their first two games. Regardless, Arizona has crushed its first two opponents and will play 2-seed Ohio State next with all of the confidence in the world. Arizona is a solid, high-scoring team that is good enough to upset almost anyone on any day. In this tournament, Arizona is the fifth-highest scoring team (77.5 ppg), the fifth-best rebounding team (41.5 rpg), and it has the second-highest field goal percentage (.560). Yes, this team has played inferior competition, but those are impressive numbers. California upset 5-seed UNLV and then gave Syracuse a good fight before succumbing 66-60 in the Round of 32. UCLA was a letdown in the first round, being taken down by Big Ten punching bag Minnesota.
Remaining teams: 1/16 (.063)
Invited teams: 5/16 (.313)
Overall record: 6-4 (.600)
(5) VCU, (4) St. Louis, (6) Butler, (9) Temple, (13) La Salle
La Salle’s Rohan Brown #35 contests a shot by Ole Miss’s Murphy Holloway #31 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Charlie Riedel/AP)
La Salle has been the “Little Engine that Could” in this tournament, having to play in the qualifying round just to make it into the tournament, then taking down Kansas State and Ole Miss in back-to-back upsets. A person has to step back and appreciate the courage and determination for a team like La Salle to make a run like this. The team plays shoddy defense, but it has done enough to win. Its next opponent, Wichita State, will be tough but it is somewhat of a reward, as Wichita State is probably the easiest opponent of the remaining teams. Butler and Temple both won their first game and then took Indiana and Marquette to the brink, losing in very close games. VCU and St. Louis both impressively won in the Round of 64, just to be destroyed by the superior Michigan and Oregon.
Remaining teams: 1/10 (.100)
Invited teams: 5/10 (.500)
Overall record: 3-4 (.429)
(1) Kansas, (4) Kansas State, (5) Oklahoma State, (10) Iowa State, (10) Oklahoma
Kansas’s Travis Releford #24 celebrates a made three-pointer as North Carolina’s Reggie Bullock #35 walks away on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
The Big-12, a conference that looked very talented during the regular season, fell apart quickly in the tournament. Kansas State losing to 13-seed La Salle was almost unbelievable. Oklahoma State was unfortunate in getting the angry Pac-12 champion. 12-seed Oregon, who was seeded way below what it should have been. Oklahoma was beat down by San Diego State and looked awful. The only two teams to advance past the Round of 64 were Kansas and Iowa State. Kansas has struggled mightily so far in the tournament. It was hard to picture them as a true threat to the tournament until the second half of the North Carolina when they scored 49 points in just that half. Kansas is having trouble with the three-ball, only making 25 percent of its three-point attempts. To put it in perspective, no team that makes less of its three-pointers is still in the tournament and neither are the next 12 ranked above it until you get to Michigan State (32 percent). Kansas does bring things to the table, however. The Jayhawks are the second-best rebounding team in the tournament, grabbing 42.5 rebounds per game. Kansas also has the second-most blocks in the tournament (7 bpg). Michigan is next on the schedule an Kansas will have to step up their level of play severely.
Remaining teams: 1/14 (.071)
Invited teams: 3/14 (.214)
Overall record: 3-2 (.600)
(3) Florida, (9) Missouri, (12) Ole Miss
Florida’s Mike Rosario #3 is fouled by Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe #32 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Eric Gay/AP)
The SEC’s nickname during the regular season could have been “Florida and Friends” and that hasn’t changed much during the tournament. Florida has been dominant in the tournament, scoring a fourth-best 78.5 points per game. Florida’s defense lost track of Minnesota in the second half, but has played well over the two games. Florida looks like it could make the Final Four, but it will have to get through America’s favorite team, Florida Gulf Coast, and the winner of Kansas vs. Michigan. This won’t be an easy task. Ole Miss upset Wisconsin in a very impressive 57-46 victory right after winning the SEC title game and taking the crown from Florida. They used all of that momentum to lose to La Salle in the next game to effectively confirm that any noise the SEC makes in this tournament will be by the Gators. Missouri played awful in its loss to Colorado State. It’s hard not to expect more than this from a conference that has 14 teams.
Remaining teams: 1/10 (.100)
Invited teams: 2/10 (.200)
Overall record: 3-1 (.750)
(7) Creighton, 9) Wichita State
Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk #13 attempts a shot with heavy resistance by Wichita State’s Carl Hall #22 and Demetric Williams #5 on Saturday, March 23, 2013. (Photo by: George Frey/AP)
Many people thought Gonzaga was overrated as a 1-seed. Many people questioned just how far Kelly Olynyk could carry this team. The world watched and waited to see who would take down the Bulldogs. Would it be Wisconsin or Pittsburgh? Maybe Ohio State in the Elite Eight? Question answered. It was Wichita State. Wichita State is simply playing good basketball right now. After an 18-point win over Pittsburgh and the six-point upset of Gonzaga, things are looking good for the Shockers. Because of upsets, Wichita State will play 13-seed La Salle next. Their tournament run could come to an end in the Elite Eight, however, when the winner of Ohio State vs. Arizona takes the court. Creighton also had a good run for a mid-major, winning a close game against Cincinnati and doing all it could against monstrously talented Duke.
9. Atlantic Sun
Remaining teams: 1/10 (.100)
Invited teams: 1/10 (.100)
Overall record: 2-0 (1.000)
(15) Florida Gulf Coast
Florida Gulf Coast’s Sherwood Brown #25 takes flight in front of San Diego State’s JJ O’Brien #20 on March 24, 2013. (Photo by: Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Most small conferences like the Atlantic Sun are “One-and-done.” The winner of the conference gets a berth in the tournament, then that team loses in its first game. There is nothing wrong with that and it is a huge accomplishment to even make the tournament as a small school. That doesn’t seem to be the feeling in “Dunk City,” though. Florida Gulf Coast has taken over the country’s hearts and every second of Sportcenter it can with it’s vicious tempo, Denver Nugget-esque alley-oops, and nasty dunks. No 15-seed had ever made the Sweet Sixteen. Florida Gulf Coast did it with a double digit victory. The Eagles are the third-highest scoring team in the tournament (79.5 ppg) and the seventh most efficient team, making exactly half of its field goals. I would find it shocking if there was any other team Florida Gulf Coast would want to upset than Florida (except possibly Miami due to location) because of the Gators’ success in football and basketball over the last decade. Florida is tough, fast, talented, and physical under the basket. Florida is the favored team, and deservedly so, but I guarantee the Gators haven’t played a team with this much heart and energy. I expect a good game and Florida Gulf Coast could really become something special in sports if it can keep this run going for one more game.
10. West Coast
Remaining teams: 0/9 (.000)
Invited teams: 2/9 (.223)
Overall record: 1-2 (.333)
(1) Gonzaga, (11) Saint Mary’s
Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk #13 Leaves the court after a 76-70 loss to Wichita State on March 23, 2013. (Photo by: Harry How/Getty Images)
Gonzaga really outdid itself this year by only losing two games during the regular season. Regardless of who the competition was, that is an impressive feat and the Bulldogs deserve a huge amount of respect for it. In terms of ability, Gonzaga probably wasn’t a 1-seed over Duke and Miami, but the seed was good for it because it would allow Gonzaga a relatively easy path to the Elite Eight. Unfortunately for Gonzaga, after a closer than expected six-point victory over 16-seed Southern, it met its end against 9-seed Wichita State. It is definitely a disappointing and early exit for a team that was in position to do something magical. Kelly Olynyk should still be in the “Player of the Year” argument and people should show the team respect. Saint Mary’s had to earn its ticket in the qualifying round and then played a very close game with 6-seed Memphis, losing in a heartbreaking 54-52 slugfest.