Conference power rankings according to BPI

Updated: January 18, 2018, 12:09 PM ET
By Paul Sabin | ESPN Analytics

Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SportswireBPI predicts that the ACC will get three teams to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Which college basketball conference is the strongest?

Answering that question is dependent on how you define a conference's success. Best competition from top to bottom? Most powerhouse teams? NCAA tournament entries? Final Fours? National titles?

For our purposes, we believe the definition involves objective analytics, avoiding any inherent biases or perceptions about the leagues. Using the Basketball Power Index and ESPN's other analytic tools, we used a hybrid approach to equally weigh three metrics and evaluate the strength of each conference, and we subsequently ranked the leagues from No. 1 to 32.

  • Average conference BPI: The average BPI rating for each team in the conference.
  • Top quartile conference BPI: This is a proxy for how good the conference is at the top by taking the average BPI of the top half of each conference and seeing where that compares to the other conferences.
  • Projected Sweet 16 teams: ESPN's 10,000 simulations of the remainder of the season using BPI allow for an objective look at how many teams, on average, a conference will send to the Sweet 16. Sometimes a good conference has bad luck (see ACC, 2017), while in other years a conference exceeds expectations.

On to the rankings:

Top conferences

1. Big 12

Avg. BPI rank: 1st
Top-quartile BPI rank: 1st
Projected Sweet 16 rank: 2nd

Having only 10 teams works in the Big 12's favor when it comes to its average BPI, as there are no true bottom-feeders in the conference. BPI views Iowa State as the worst team in the Big 12 but the 88th-best in the country. The downside to the Big 12 is that every team plays a full round-robin against stellar competition, which results in more blemishes on each team's résumé. BPI projects the Big 12 with 6.8 teams in the NCAA tournament (second among leagues), but due to worse seeding, the model gives the Big 12 collectively an only 11 percent chance (fourth) of having a school win the whole thing.

2. ACC

Avg. BPI rank: 2nd
Top-quartile BPI rank: 2nd
Projected Sweet 16 rank: 1st

The ACC boasts the most teams projected to reach the second weekend in March, with 3.2 according to BPI. While the 10th-best team in the Big 12 is 88th in BPI, the 10th-best team in the ACC, Syracuse, is 51st in BPI. The overall strength of the ACC is damaged, though, when considering Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, which lag at 110th and 249th in BPI, respectively. Accounting for future games, BPI gives only six teams at least a 10 percent chance of getting a No. 1 seed in March, and three of those teams (Virginia, North Carolina and Duke) play in the ACC.

3. Big East

Avg. BPI rank: 3rd
Top-quartile BPI rank: 4th
Projected Sweet 16 rank: 4th

Villanova spent most of last season and most of this season as the best team in college basketball, according to BPI, before being temporarily surpassed by Purdue earlier this week. Villanova is the only team in the nation that BPI has favored in every game so far and gives at least a 50 percent chance to win each game going forward. Besides the Wildcats, there are three teams in the Big East (Xavier, Seton Hall and Creighton) that BPI gives at least a 25 percent chance of reaching the Sweet 16.

4. Big Ten

Avg. BPI rank: 4th
Top-quartile BPI rank: 5th
Projected Sweet 16 rank: 3rd

Although the Big Ten is projected to get only 4.7 teams into the field of 68, according to BPI, it has the best chance to feature the national champion. That is largely due to Purdue's being No. 2 in BPI and having a 20 percent chance of winning the title. BPI views Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan as top-20 teams going forward, each with at least a 99 percent chance of making the tournament. Last season, Maryland's strength of record (SOR) masked what BPI viewed as a fringe top-50 team, but this season, BPI views the Terps more favorably, as the 37th-best team in the country.

5. SEC

Avg. BPI rank: 5th
Top-quartile BPI rank: 3rd
Projected Sweet 16 rank: 6th

Kentucky is typically the team to beat in the SEC, but not this year. BPI gives Florida a 51 percent chance and Auburn a 45 percent chance of winning at least a share of the conference title. While Florida and Auburn are the favorites, Tennessee is the top team in the SEC, at 20th in BPI. While both of those teams have been a pleasant surprise, the relative struggles of the teams BPI liked heading into the season are a culprit in the SEC's No. 5 ranking. Alabama, Kentucky and Vanderbilt were all top-30 preseason BPI teams, but none has lived up to its preseason ranking.

6. The American

Avg. BPI rank: 6th
Top-quartile BPI rank: 7th
Projected Sweet 16 rank: 5th

With the addition of Wichita State, the American legitimately has a case for consideration as a major conference in basketball. The top of the conference is very strong, led by the Shockers and Cincinnati, both top-15 BPI teams. Houston and SMU also have at least a 50 percent chance to make the NCAA tournament, according to BPI. What hurts The American is the depth of the conferences ranked higher. Half of the American is outside of the BPI top 100, with two of its teams, South Florida and East Carolina, falling outside the top 250.

7. Pac-12

Avg. BPI rank: 7th
Top-quartile BPI rank: 6th
Projected Sweet 16 rank: 8th

Before the season, I made the bold prediction that the Pac-12 and the WCC would both get three teams in the NCAA tournament. Halfway through the season, the WCC getting as many as three teams in appears very unlikely, but the Pac-12 getting only three appears more and more likely. BPI expects only 2.8 Pac-12 teams on average to be selected by the committee after the rest of the regular season plays out. Arizona and Arizona State seem to be headed to play in the NCAA tournament, while USC, UCLA and Oregon have a lot of work to do. None ranks better than 49th in Strength of Record or BPI.

Other conferences

8. Mountain West
9. Atlantic 10
10. Missouri Valley
11. Sun Belt
12. Conference USA
13. West Coast
14. Summit League
15. Mid-American
16. Western Athletic
17. Colonial Athletic
18. MAAC
19. Ivy League
20. America East
21. Southern
22. Horizon
23. Ohio Valley
24. Big South
25. Big Sky
26. Patriot
27. Big West
28. Southland
29. NEC
30. Atlantic Sun
31. SWAC
32. MEAC

For more of ESPN's College Basketball analytics rankings including BPI, visit espn.com/bpi and espn.com/analytics.

Paul Sabin

ESPN Analytics

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