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The Best Conferences in College Basketball Since 2002

A complete season by season ranking of the Top 10 College Basketball Conferences.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing the work that I began in this post, I used my Glicko ratings to evaluate the best conferences in college basketball over time.

To review, Glicko ratings are a measure of team strength that take into account the teams playing, the outcomes, and (eventually) other issues like margin of error and home court advantage. They are preferable to Elo ratings because they also include a measure of uncertainty, which provides a more realistic estimate of team strength than a simple point estimate.

To understand the ratings, use the following signposts:

  • A rating above 2400 is very good
  • A rating below 2000 is very bad
  • The Median Conference Season Rating is around 2144

Ranking conferences also requires that a choice be made with regards to conference changes. Where do you put Maryland, Rutgers, and other teams that have moved conferences? Do you go by year, or do you go by current affiliation? Following the NCAA, I decided to place relocated teams in their current conference. Congratulation B1G on the 2002 National Championship. I made this decision for two reasons. First, the moves do not dramatically affect conferences averages in a season (one team does not move the needle). Second, it simplifies the accounting going forward.

Who's the Best?

Table 1 shows the Top 10 Conferences by Average Rating over the last 14 seasons.

Rank Conference Average Rating
1 ACC 2397
2 B12 2367
3 SEC 2366
4 Big East 2362
5 B10 2337
6 P12 2326
7 AAC 2286
8 MWC 2265
9 Atlantic 10 2250
10 WCC 2230

The ACC remains the dominant basketball conference over the last 14 seasons, though this ranking is likely boosted by the additions of Louisville, Syracuse, and Notre Dame. All told, the ACC has six of the last 14 championships.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Big Ten does not crack the Top 5, even with the addition of Maryland. Personally I blame Rutgers for this embarrassment. Less facetiously, the early years of this rating were not tremendously kind to the Big Ten. Our own Golden Gophers were abysmal, and the B10 includes perennial awful teams like Northwestern and Penn State. Moreover, the BIG still does not have a championship (not including the Maryland add) since 2000.

The B12 and the SEC are highly top heavy, but those top teams are each fantastic. Kansas has dominated the B12, but Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor, and West Virginia (conference add) have also been decent programs over the last decade. In the SEC, Kentucky and Florida have each won championships and been in multiple Final Fours.

Connecticut is heavily inflating the AAC's ratings over time. UCONN has three championships in the period under consideration.

Sure that's great, but Can I See A Picture?


Next post, I'll look at the worst conferences in college basketball and give some thoughts about how to use them to evaluate strength of schedule. A complete season by season ranking of the Top 10 College Basketball Conferences.