- MVC Beat
Ranking Every Division I Conference In College Basketball
The MVC has been a one-bid league since 2016, but it was not that long ago our league regularly got multiple invites to the dance. Right now the Valley is probably the toughest one-big league in the nation. However, I believe the league still has the tradition, resources and following to produce multiple NCAA teams in a season.
I wanted to examine where the Valley currently falls in the greater NCAA basketball landscape, so I put each DI hoops league into a spreadsheet and input where they ranked relative to each other by RPI every year since 2014. I averaged out the numbers to produce the final ranking. I chose 2014 for the cutoff because that is the year the Big East broke up, the American was formed, and the college basketball landscape emerged looking more-or-less how it does currently. I used the RPI as my metric because those were the numbers that were easily available, although I would love to see how this list would look using the current NCAA selection tool of choice: NET. I just wasn’t able to find enough conference info on NET to be able to do my work.
With that, lets see how each league stacks up.
32. Mideastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) -Strongest Programs: Norfolk State, North Carolina Central -Average RPI Ranking From 2014-2020: 31.57 (High: 31, Low: 32)
This conference ranked last or second-to-last in RPI each of the last seven seasons, including a last-place ranking in four of the last five. Right now the MEAC’s very existence is at risk, as it seems to be losing members quickly. Hampton and Savannah State already left the league in the last couple years. North Carolina A&T, Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman will be gone starting next year. That trend will need to be stemmed for the league to be viable long term. The fate of the MEAC and HBCU’s in general might be changing, however, as five-star recruit Makur Maker signed to MEAC member Howard last year. It may have started a trend. Four-star recruit Duncan Powell, of the class of 2021, signed with North Carolina A&T (who is currently in the MEAC but by next year will move into the SWAC). Despite its struggles, the MEAC has had a few memorable March moments including the 2012 win over 2nd seeded Missouri by 15th seed Norfolk State. Hampton was a member in 2001 when they beat 2nd seeded Iowa State.
31. Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) -Strongest Programs: Texas Southern, Prairie View A&M, Alcorn State -Average RPI Ranking: 31.43 (High: 31, Low: 32)
Unfortunately, the MEAC and SWAC lag behind the rest of the nation when it comes to RPI ranking. The two leagues held the bottom two spots in each of the past seven seasons (and more). It doesn’t help that they typically have to play a nonconference schedule full of buy games against Power Six schools. As far as I can tell, the current members of the SWAC have only won two non-First Four NCAA Tournament games ever, and none since 1993 when 13-seeded Southern beat Georgia Tech. Alcorn State also got a win in 1980 and finished the season 28-2.
30. Southland Conference -Strongest Program: Stephen F. Austin -Average RPI Ranking: 28.57 (High: 26, Low: 30)
With the success and renown that Stephen F. Austin has had, I was a little surprised to see the Southland so low on this list. It ranked 30th three times and never ranked above 26th since 2014. But when you take a closer look, a few truths reveal themselves. One, the current members of the Southland have little NCAA history with a total of nine NCAA wins between them. Only four (including this one) have happened in the last 35 years and one was a First Four game. The other thing you notice about the Southland is while there are typically some OK teams at the top, the league usually carries a lot of dead weight at the bottom. Last year, for example, there were five teams with 10 or fewer wins. There are also several recent D2 converts. Still, I am surprised the Southland is this low on the list. I would have had it several spots higher.
29. Northeast Conference (NEC) -Strongest Program: Mount Saint Mary’s -Average RPI Ranking: 27.43 (High: 26, Low: 30)
This is the league I would have presumed to be 30th above the MEAC and SWAC. The NEC is made up of small private schools, most of which would probably be more at home at the D2 level (and many recently were). In fact, last year’s regular season champion (Merrimack) was playing its first Division I season in its history when it raised the trophy. Robert Morris, probably its strongest program recently, just left for the Horizon League. Of the schools remaining there are only three NCAA wins between them, all as 16 seeds in the First Four. This is not a league that holds athletic success as its top priority.
28. Atlantic Sun Conference (A-Sun) -Strongest Programs: Liberty, Florida Gulf Coast -Average RPI Ranking: 26.14 (High: 21, Low: 30)
The Atlantic Sun is a conference on the rise, which is odd to say because it has lost solid mid-major programs the likes of Belmont, East Tennessee State and Northern Kentucky in the last 15 years. They do have two bona-fide brands in the controversial Liberty Flames (who won an NCAA Tournament game last season as a 12-seed) and the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (AKA “Dunk City”, who qualified for the Sweet Sixteen as a 15-seed in 2013). The A-Sun recently put out a bizarre press release explaining their plan to expand to enormous proportions and break into two leagues (with two automatic NCAA bids for each sport). They initiated the first steps of their plan by reportedly extending bids to Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State and Central Arkansas. Those moves could make them pretty big FCS football players, but don’t move the needle much anywhere else. This league’s shenanigans are worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
27. Big South Conference -Strongest Programs: Winthrop, UNC-Asheville -Average RPI Ranking: 25.29 (High: 23, Low: 28)
It isn’t surprising to see this league near the bottom of the list. The biggest brand name is Winthrop, who has more-or-less dominated this league historically but has not been quite as strong in the last decade. Winthrop has, as far as I can tell, the only round-of-64 NCAA Tournament win by a current member of the league that was a member at the time they won. They beat Notre Dame as an 11-seed in 2007. UNC-Asheville has probably been the second most successful team behind Winthrop but has only won two First Four games. Beyond that, this league is filled with programs like High Point, Presbyterian (the Blue Hose), South Carolina Upstate and Longwood. No surprise to see them closer to the bottom of the list.
26. America East Conference -Strongest Programs: Vermont, UMBC -Average RPI Ranking: 24.29 (High: 21, Low: 29)
While other teams have made some noise recently (most notably UMBC) this is absolutely the league of the Vermont Catamounts. In the last two decades Vermont has played in seven NCAA Tournaments and four NITs, packing their little high school-esque gym for some very solid teams. Their first-round win over 4th seeded Syracuse in 2005 is the stuff of legend. But as good as Vermont has been, the league’s biggest moment belongs to UMBC who snagged the first (and to date only) win by a 16-seed over a 1-seed when they beat Virginia in 2018. Despite these heroics, this is a league of small New England schools with small campuses and small athletics budgets. Most would probably rather put their resources into hockey (edit: that is mostly dumb as half the schools do not have hockey, but still it feels true). I am not surprised to see this league near the bottom of the rankings.
25. Big Sky Conference -Strongest Programs: Weber State, Montana -Average RPI Ranking: 23.71 (High: 17, Low: 28)
This league is unique in that it is mostly spread over large sparsely populated areas. Although there are a handful of flagship schools in the Big Sky, the league is still relatively weak overall due to the lack of humans in many of the states they cover. I would expect this league to come in just about exactly where it is. Montana and Weber State are by far the most decorated basketball programs in the league and between them they have over half of the league’s all-time NCAA bids, and nearly three quarters of its NCAA wins. Weber has six wins in its 16 appearances, and Montana has the league’s most recent NCAA win as a 12-seed over Nevada in 2006. Idaho State was one win from the Final Four in 1977! Who knew? But overall, this league does not have a ton of firepower and most programs have very little men’s basketball history.
24. Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) -Strongest Programs: Murray State, Belmont -Average RPI Ranking: 22.57 (High: 18, Low: 29)
This is another league with a surprisingly low ranking initially. At the top we find a couple programs that have made a lot of noise over the years. Murray State has been the class of the league for most of its modern existence, playing in 17 NCAA Tournaments and getting four wins in its history. The Racers have produced several NBA players and have finished a season as high as 12th in the AP poll (2012). They won an NCAA Tournament game as recently as 2019. Belmont has been a league member for only a short time, but also has an impressive pedigree. In only 22 DI seasons, Belmont has made eight NCAA Tournaments and has a First Four win (a “good” First Four win, not as a 16-seed) from when they got in as an at-large in 2019. The league has gotten at-large bids before due to the success of some of the teams at the top. However, while some of the other programs have had their moments, the rest of the league is mostly dead weight the likes of SEMO, SIUE, Tennessee Tech and Eastern Illinois. That is what brings this league down, despite the strength at the top.
23. Western Athletic Conference (WAC) -Strongest Programs: New Mexico State, Grand Canyon -Average RPI Ranking: 21.86 (High: 16, Low: 30)
To me, the biggest surprise of this entire list is that the WAC is not closer to the bottom. The league should be given props for simply continuing to exist. At one time the WAC counted the likes of Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, Utah, New Mexico, TCU, SMU and UNLV among its members. Most were in the league as recently as 1999, and many as recently as 2005. In 1999, several the league’s members split off to form the Mountain West, and by 2013 the league was so decimated it was forced to discontinue football. It now counts 29 schools on its list of former full members. Despite being the NCAA’s island of misfit toys and getting constantly raided by other leagues, the WAC has somehow managed to continue to exist. Today it is made up of mostly recent D2 converts and New Mexico State who has absolutely dominated the league in its current form. The Aggies haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1993, but they have won seven out of eight league tournaments. Grand Canyon has also made headlines for its student section and atmosphere, but the league mostly begins and ends with NMSU. That is why it is mind boggling that the WAC is this high on the list, as basically every other program has done next to nothing. Perhaps this is evidence of the weakness of the RPI. Or perhaps I am just wildly discrediting the WAC.
22. Big West Conference -Strongest Program: Long Beach State -Average RPI Ranking: 21.57 (High: 14, Low: 29)
The Big West’s relatively high ranking is also surprising considering a lack of any marquee programs. In fact the league, which is almost entirely made up of California public schools, has had nine different NCAA Tournament representatives in the last eleven seasons. It is quite balanced and there are not any standout programs right now (although Long Beach has the best history long term). The addition of Hawaii likely helped. My guess would be that their strength is in their depth. In their peak season of 2015, for example, all but two teams had at least 13 wins and four had at least 19. Last season only one team posted single digit wins. That’s the thing with these rankings, every team counts equally, and a high floor may often count for more than a high ceiling. But high ceilings are what get you multiple bids.
21. Patriot League -Strongest Program: Bucknell -Average RPI Ranking: 21.14 (High: 17, Low: 27)
The Patriot League is basically a JV version of the Ivy League filled with high achieving private schools located in the Northeast. These are schools where athletic success is rarely the top priority. For that reason, the league clocking in at #21 is a bit higher than I would have predicted. Bucknell has made a name for itself with six NCAA Tournament bids (they were PL regular season champs eight times in the last ten years) including a very memorable win over 3-seed Kansas in 2005. They were seeded as high as 9th in 2006. The Patriot League has had some solid NCAA showings in wins and near misses. In addition to Bucknell’s antics, Lehigh beat #2 Duke as a 15-seed in 2012. These are schools with strong academic reputations and some deep tradition, but not much success on the court recently. I am a bit surprised with how high the ranking is.
20. Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) -Strongest Programs: Iona, Monmouth, Siena -Average RPI Ranking: 20.29 (High: 15, Low: 29)
The MAAC (pronounced Maaah-ah-ack) is a league that I have a lot of respect for. It is filled with smaller private schools from the mid-Atlantic region, but it has nonetheless had some solid programs throughout the years. Iona (currently coached by Rick Pitino) has had the most success, with twelve NCAA Tournaments and a recent run of four straight. Siena also had a run in the 2000s under Fran McCaffery when they won NCAA Tournament games in consecutive years. But overall, the reason why this conference has avoided the bottom third is that it typically has a bevy of teams that are at least decent. Programs like Monmouth, Manhattan and Rider join your Ionas and Sienas in being consistently above average. So its no surprise this one-bid league finds itself in the top 20.
T-18. Summit League -Strongest Programs: North Dakota State, South Dakota State -Average RPI Ranking: 19.57 (High: 12, Low: 27)
Formerly known as the Mid-Continent Conference, the Summit League has morphed from a league of mostly regional midwestern schools (including Valpo, Northern Iowa and Missouri State at different points) into a league of mostly regional midwestern schools situated on I-29. No less than seven Summit League schools are located on the highway, including all four flagship Dakota schools. It is a bit surprising to see this league, thought of as relatively weak catch-all of midwestern D2 converts, rated this highly on the list. The Dakota schools have done some heavy lifting the last few years, which likely has helped. But I am still surprised to see a league that has sported the likes of Western Illinois, Fort Wayne, and IUPUI for most of the last seven years ranked this high. Fun fact: For nine straight years, a team with the word “Dakota” in its name has won the Summit League Tournament, and for eight straight years a Dakota school has won the regular season title as well.
T-18. Horizon League -Strongest Programs: Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky -Average RPI Ranking: 19.57 (High: 14, Low: 26)
The fascinating thing about the Horizon League’s ranking is not that it is in the middle of the pack. That is exactly what you would expect. What is fascinating is that the Horizon League is dead tied with the Summit League, another midwestern league perceived to be weaker. In fact the Horizon has poached several members from the Summit including Oakland, IUPUI, Fort Wayne and also Valpo (who they poached and then lost to the MVC). The Horizon has been falling in the rankings over the last seven years. In 2014 they were in the mid-teens, and by 2018 they started the first of three straight years in the 20s. The league does have a few well-thought-of programs like Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky and Wright State, but is a middle-of-the pack outfit overall. This is also the league that was once dominated by Butler before they left for the A-10 and later the Big East, and we all remember Bruce Pearl’s run at Milwaukee in the mid-2000s. All that said, the biggest takeaway from this is the surprising tie between the Horizon League and Summit League. It could be more evidence that the Valley should consider the Dakota schools if they expand again.
17. Southern Conference (SoCon) -Strongest Programs: North Dakota State, South Dakota State -Average RPI Ranking: 18.43 (High: 12, Low: 30)
The Southern Conference has experienced a meteoric rise from the 30th ranked conference in 2014, to a league that has been in the at-large conversation for the last couple years. The interesting thing about their rise is that the SoCon has lost several known brands since their low point in 2014. In 2014 the league featured the likes of Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Elon and most importantly Davidson. The 2020 SoCon was headlined by East Tennessee State, Furman and UNC-Greensboro. That came on the heels of a season in which Wofford ended the year in the top 25 and won an NCAA game, Greensboro was a 1-seed in the NIT after just missing an at-large, and Furman was an NIT 3-seed. The SoCon is going through a renaissance that kind of reminds me of the Valley in the mid aughts. And as a mid-major fan I enjoy watching it. I hope they continue to be a major player and continue to move up this list.
16. Sun Belt Conference -Strongest Programs: Little Rock, Georgia State -Average RPI Ranking: 16.86 (High: 13, Low: 20)
We start off the second half of the list with our first league that sponsors FBS football. This league’s relatively high rating really emphasizes the importance of having a strong football brand for college athletics departments. There is nothing remarkable about the league on its face, but football allows for the resources to be successful. The league has had its moments on the big stage (who can forget Georgia State’s upset win, and Little Rock had a big day recently too), but I really think what has separated this league from many of the other mids has been their ability to build off of football. Several SBC schools have built decent facilities, which garners fans and recruits. Because of this, and despite a strong focus on football, the Sun Belt has stayed consistently middle of the pack.
15. Conference USA -Strongest Programs: Louisiana Tech, Western Kentucky, UAB, Old Dominion -Average RPI Ranking: 16.57 (High: 13, Low: 23)
I expected C-USA to be higher on this list, probably right behind the MVC. But I suspect some of the league’s history is slipping into my brain. Growing up, the CUSA was a solid league with top teams and multiple bids every single year. The likes of Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, SLU, Memphis, Houston, SMU and Tulsa filled the league’s membership for its first decade starting in the mid-90s. For basketball fans of my age, that is the initial image that is conjured up when Conference USA is mentioned. A number of decent programs have made the jump to the league because of the strength of that brand, only to find it very similar to the place they left. The C-USA is still a solid mid major and a number of programs have had a lot of success historically (La Tech, Western Kentucky, Old Dominion, UAB, UTEP, Middle Tennessee, Charlotte, Marshall). You can expect the CUSA champion to typically be a 12 or 13 seed at least, but you won’t be seeing any CUSA teams in the Final Four anymore. It is now a slightly above average mid-major league built by football.
14. Ivy League -Strongest Programs: Princeton, Penn -Average RPI Ranking: 16.43 (High: 10, Low: 25)
Initially I put Harvard and Yale as the Ivy League’s strongest programs. After a closer look, I was surprised to see that the league has been dominated in basketball by Princeton and Penn. Princeton has played in 25 NCAA Tournaments, Penn 24, and the next closest is Dartmouth with seven. There doesn’t need to be a ton of explanation here. Everyone knows what the Ivy League is about. The league is made up of some of the oldest and academically strongest institutions in the land. It has more deep history than arguably any other league in the nation. That the Ivy continues to be relatively successful in today’s college athletics landscape is quite impressive. The Ivy League continues to be a strong mid-major (feels weird calling Harvard and Yale mid-majors) and sits firmly in the top half of these rankings.
13. Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) -Strongest Programs: UNC-Wilmington, James Madison, Northeastern -Average RPI Ranking: 14.29 (High: 9, Low: 19)
The CAA is one of my favorite leagues, but I honestly don’t know how in continues to be ranked this high. In the mid aughts the MVC and the CAA seemed to be partners in crime. Both leagues were at their peak, getting at-large bids, making noise, and frustrating the Digger Phelps’ of the world with their success. Seemingly all the best “bracketbusters” featured the MVC and CAA. At that time, the league boasted such basketball brands as VCU, George Mason and Old Dominion (and had recently lost Richmond). All of those programs are now gone, and the CAA is a one-bid league. Their last 5 NCAA bids have gone to Northeastern, Charleston, and Wilmington, and their only NCAA win since the mass exodus of all those programs has been a 16-seed First Four game. So how are they staying so close to the top of these standings? Frankly, I don’t know. But good on them.
T-11. Mid-American Conference (MAC) -Strongest Programs: Kent State, Buffalo, Ohio -Average RPI Ranking: 11.14 (High: 9, Low: 14)
From here we have a substantial jump in quality (the average jumps nearly three full points) to a cluster of four true mid-major leagues that are all within a point of one another. The first is the most surprising inclusion to me, the MAC. When I think of the Mid-American Conference, I think not of basketball but of Wednesday night football. I did not expect this league to be tied with the MVC and right up there with several other prominent mid major leagues. But when you take a closer look, we should not be surprised. The MAC seemingly has a standout program every year. Buffalo made a run recently, and Akron, Kent State and Central Michigan have all had strong programs this decade. Most importantly, the MAC is usually decent top-to-bottom. The lowest win total for a MAC team last year was 13, and only two teams have finished with less than that total in the last five years. That is what keeps the league consistently good. While conferences like the MVC and WCC have had teams in the bottom of third of the country, the MAC, for the most part, has not.
T-11. Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) -Strongest Programs: Northern Iowa, Loyola, Bradley -Average RPI Ranking: 11.14 (High: 8, Low: 14)
This is exactly where I figured the Valley would be, although I thought the difference between 11 and 12 would be bigger than the difference between 10 and 11. The MVC experienced a change during the run of these rankings when Valpo replaced Wichita. The league’s worst season came after Wichita left (14th in 2019), but its best season also came post Wichita (8th in 2018). The Valley actually averaged a slightly better finish in the three post-Wichita years (11) than the four Wichita years (11.25). Regardless, the MVC has always been one of the strongest mid-major leagues and fans can rest assured that will continue even after the loss of two of its biggest programs. This is not the first time the MVC has lost schools, and each time the league recovers to be one of the better leagues in the nation. The question remains; can the individual programs bring enough to the table to warrant multiple bids again? Everyone in the league has had an at-large caliber squad at some point and many have had long stretches where their programs were NCAA worthy. The resources, fanbases and facilities still exist in the MVC to make this a multiple bid league again. We just need the programs to be firing on all cylinders at the same time (again).
10. Mountain West Conference (MWC) -Strongest Programs: San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico -Average RPI Ranking: 11 (High: 9, Low: 15)
If I was discouraged by how close the MAC was in the rankings to the MVC, I am encouraged by how close the Mountain West is. I have personally considered the MWC to be better than the Valley, especially post-Creighton and Wichita. I have thought that the infrastructure, resources, fanbases and tradition of programs like San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico are above what the Valley can consistently offer. But even last season when San Diego State was 30-2 and destined for a top two seed, the MVC finished just one spot behind the Mountain West. That, in fact, was the difference in these rankings the leagues finished just one overall place apart over the seven years. This is a league that still has the expectation to get multiple bids regularly, and usually does, while the Valley is presumed to be a one-bid league. The closeness of the two in the rankings should give MVC fans hope. That said, fans of mid-major basketball should root for the teams of the Mountain West. They are one of our flagship conferences.
9. West Coast Conference (WCC) -Strongest Programs: Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, BYU -Average RPI Ranking: 10.29 (High: 8, Low: 14)
Finishing off this cluster of mid-major squads is the West Coast Conference, whose 10.29 average ranking puts it a total of six overall points ahead of the Missouri Valley. There can be no doubt what program keeps this league ranked highly. Gonzaga can hardly be called a mid-major program, as they are typically among the best teams in the nation, and can’t claim a recruiting, scheduling or resources disadvantage. But to say that Gonzaga is the only reason why the WCC is strong would be to sell the league short. St Marys and BYU are both very good programs that regularly garner at-large consideration and would be among the best programs in the MVC. It takes multiple squads to form an at-large resume, and the WCC has three solid ones. The rest of the league is nothing to scoff at either, as several have strong traditions and put together squads that could compete in the Valley’s top half. If you omitted Gonzaga from the WCC (and one day they might omit themselves….they recently flirted with the Mountain West for example), the league would probably slide behind the MWC, MAC and MVC, but not much further than that. I always thought an MVC-WCC challenge would be fun (with or without Gonzaga’s participation).
8. Atlantic-10 Conference (A-10) -Strongest Programs: Dayton, VCU, Davidson -Average RPI Ranking: 8.29 (High: 6, Low: 11)
Next, we make a jump to a league that is decidedly mid-major but appears to be a cut above the rest. There are several Valley fans that make comparisons between the MVC and the A-10 as similar leagues. But over the last decade, year in and year out, there really has not been a comparison. The A-10 has been decidedly better. Both leagues are mid-major, and both have programs that can do great things. The A-10 just has more programs that are good more consistently often than the MVC. They have more “bullets in the chamber” as Theo Epstein likes to say. I am looking at programs like Dayton, Saint Louis, VCU, Richmond, Davidson, Rhode Island, UMass and Saint Joes. Do I think most MVC programs could compete in the A-10? Yes. Do I think the programs in the MVC can compete at the level these programs compete at on a given year? Absolutely yes. Are these programs capable of bad years? Very much yes. But there are simply more good programs that compete more consistently over time than the Valley programs do. Last year, for example, the MVC had only UNI in the top 50. There were other strong programs, but UNI was the only nationally relevant team. The A-10 had Dayton, Richmond, Rhode Island, Saint Louis, Duquense, Davidson, and VCU ranked ahead of the MVC’s #2 team, Loyola. There is simply more volume. That is reflected in the A-10 being significantly higher than the MVC in these rankings, and the A-10 regularly getting multiple bids to the dance.
7. American Athletic Conference (AAC) -Strongest Programs: Cincinnati, Temple, Memphis, Houston -Average RPI Ranking: 7.29 (High: 6, Low: 8)
Situated somewhere between a power conference and a mid-major conference is the American. A remarkably consistent conference that has been ranked between 6th and 8th for its entire existence, the American has settled nicely into the spot just below the P6 and above the mid majors. The league was built for football, but most basketball programs in this league don’t want for resources like most mid-majors do, and many of them have a very strong tradition. Programs like Houston, Cincinnati, Memphis and Temple would instantly be among the best in the MVC every year. While the AAC is a little soft at the bottom (looking at you ECU, Tulane, and South Florida), there is no comparison between the Valley and the American right now. That said if the power leagues look to expand again, this conference will likely suffer the same fate as the C-USA of the early 2000s. It will be decimated, and the leftovers will likely find themselves in no better spot than the members of the MVC. It has already begun on some level with the departure of UConn this year. But for now, this is easily the strongest league outside the power six.
6. Southeast Conference (SEC) -Strongest Programs: Kentucky, Florida, LSU -Average RPI Ranking: 5.14 (High: 4, Low: 7)
We have now reached power conference territory. You all know what these leagues are and what they bring to the table, so I don’t think we need to go into too much detail on their history. Besides, this is not a power conference blog. But I will discuss their merits relative to each other. After all the talk about the Pac-12 and the issues the league is having I am surprised t it is not ranked as the lowest power 6 league. Instead it is the SEC, who at one point fell behind the A-10 into seventh place in 2014. Kentucky is the obvious class of this league, and the other programs seem to ebb and flow. It usually gets 3 or 4 bids, and occasionally a program other than Kentucky gets to the Final Four. There are some programs, like LSU and Florida, that are good more often than not. But this league is Kentucky’s, and if it weren’t for them it would be closer to the AAC than the other power leagues. None of this is surprising, as we all know this league was built for football.
5. Pac-12 Conference -Strongest Programs: UCLA, Oregon, Arizona -Average RPI Ranking: 4.71 (High: 3, Low: 7)
The other power six program to dip into seventh at one point is the Pac-12 who fell behind the American in 2019. Indeed, this league is held up a bit by the first three seasons tabulated when they finished 3rd, 5th and 3rd, before a run of 6th, 7th and 6th. They jumped back into third last year with solid programs throughout but still lacked a legit national title contender. The conversation around Pac-12 basketball recently has been about whether the league will get any at-large bids. They’ve gotten four at-large bids to the last two tournaments, but they were all seeded between 9th and 11th and three had to play first-four contests. Things were looking up a bit last year, but it seems the Pac 12 has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis, more than the other power leagues. It will be interesting to see how they handle themselves moving forward.
4. Big Ten Conference -Strongest Programs: Michigan State, Wisconsin, Maryland, Indiana -Average RPI Ranking: 3.71 (High: 1, Low: 5)
With all of its inherent advantages in resources and infrastructure one would expect the Big Ten to finish higher on this list. Not that it has much of an impact on their ability to compete for championships. Despite finishing 5th in RPI last season the Big Ten was looking at as many as ten teams in the tournament, and all but two were in the discussion. At the end of the day the Big Ten is always going to be solid and, often, a little overrated.
T-2. Big East Conference -Strongest Programs: Villanova, Xavier, Georgetown -Average RPI Ranking: 3.14 (High: 1, Low: 5)
By far the best league that doesn’t sponsor football and one of only three in the top sixteen (four if you count the MVC), the Big East is full of programs that have made the full commitment to basketball and it shows with this lofty ranking. Even new addition UConn was willing go through independent football purgatory to be in this league, while the other schools’ football programs compete at the FCS level or not at all. Every single program in this league has the capacity to be a Final Four contender in a given year (even Depaul I suppose). You will see multiple top 15 caliber programs each year with as much as 70 or 80% of the league competing in the big dance. The Big East Tournament at MSG is on my sports experience bucket list.
T-2. Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) -Strongest Programs: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia -Average RPI Ranking: 3.14 (High: 1, Low: 6)
When I think of the ACC, the first thing that comes to mind is 2006. That year the MVC and ACC got the same number of NCAA Tournament bids and Maryland’s coach threw a hissy fit. In the end the four ACC teams (who were seeded 1st, 3rd, 4th and 10th) matched the four MVC teams (seeded 7th, 10th, 11th and 13th) in Sweet 16 appearances with two, and none from either league made it past that round. Good times. Anyway, the ACC is one of the strongest leagues in the nation with multiple premier basketball brands. They will always be competing for national titles and top seeds. But 2006 man, that was fun.
1. Big 12 Conference -Strongest Programs: Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma -Average RPI Ranking: 1.43 (High: 1, Low: 2)
I knew the Big 12 was a solid league, but I am genuinely surprised by how dominant it has been over the last seven years. The league is a full point and a half ahead of the next closest competitor and has never had a season where it finished below second place. Not one. When you look at how the Big 12 is currently constructed it makes sense. It starts with Kansas, who is perennially one of the best programs in the country (although it has a tendency to lose to mid majors in the dance). But beyond the Jayhawks there really isn’t a single program in the Big 12 (with the possible exception of TCU) that doesn’t have a very strong and proud basketball tradition. So I’ll allow it. Congrats to the Big 12, kings of college basketball.
And that will do it. The Valley ended up right where I expected them to be in a cluster of mid major leagues. With leagues like the WCC and MWC as their contemporaries, the MVC is still in position to be a multi-bid league. But individual programs now must step up and make it happen.