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College Basketball Conference Rankings: Sweet 16 Edition

By Stephen Douglas
LSU and Michigan played with conference supremacy on the line. Neither won.
LSU and Michigan played with conference supremacy on the line. Neither won. / Justin Casterline/Getty Images
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Every year, the NCAA basketball tournament offers a chance for fans from around the country to argue about the dominance of their favorite conferences. Right? Is that actually a thing that happens? It seems like it is, but I've never met anyone in person who cares. On the Internet though? People care about which conference is the best. That's why when Michigan held off LSU on Monday night to advance to the Sweet 16, they were actually defending the entire conference's honor.

So which NCAA college basketball conference is the best after the first two rounds? Ten different conferences still have teams alive in March Madness. They have been ranked by teams remaining with the conference's overall record acting as a tiebreaker. You cannot mask the results. These are cold hard facts.

10. Big Ten (6-7)

Remaining team: Michigan Wolverines

The impetus for this article. Is the Big Ten completely overrated and full of frauds? Or unlucky to have so many of their teams run into bad matchups? Would Michigan winning the title mean the Big Ten was actually good or actually lucky, which would negate all their bad luck earlier in the tournament? Or is it just dumb to make sweeping generalizations about an entire conference based on the results of a 68 team single-elimination tournament? Either way, they have one team left and the conference is the one of only two with a sub-.500 record. Michigan will need to make the Final Four to ensure they just get to .500.

9. Big 12 (7-6)

Remaining team: Baylor Bears

The Big 12 has a title more recently than any team in the Big Ten or Pac-12 (Kansas in 2008), but still hasn't won as recently as the American Athletic Conference (UConn in 2014).

8. American Athletic Conference (2-1)

Remaining team: Houston Cougars

Thanks to UConn (2014), Houston knows it is possible to win the whole thing.

7. WCC (2-1)

Remaining team: Gonzaga Bulldogs

The West Coast Conference is still searching for their first National Championship and, as usual, that rests on the broad Bulldoggy shoulders of Gonzaga. Maybe the most dominant college basketball program of the last two decades, the Zags have made the tournament every year it has been held since 1999. They've made 10 Sweet 16's, four Elite 8's and lost in the 2017 title game.

6. Missouri Valley Conference (3-1)

Remaining team: Loyola Chicago Ramblers

The results of the Ramblers during the Sister Jean era have been... how do you say, mixed? This is only their second tournament appearance since she arrived on campus in 1991. By comparison, they made five tournaments and won the national championship in 1963 when she was at Mundelein College (which would eventually become part of Loyola).

5. Summit League (2-0)

Remaining team: Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

The Summit League has never won a national championship. Don't expect this to change in 2021.

4. ACC (4-5)

Remaining teams: Syracuse Orange, Florida State Seminoles

The ACC has won three NCAA men's basketball championships in the last decade with Virginia in 2019, North Carolina in 2017, and Duke in 2015. So is the ACC still one of the best conferences in basketball? Doesn't matter what it says here because this is the Internet.

3. SEC (6-4)

Remaining teams: Arkansas Razorbacks, Alabama Crimson Tide

This is is pretty wild. The Southeastern Conference is actually quite well known for their football prowess, but they have won three NCAA men's basketball titles more recently than the Big Ten has won one thanks to Florida going back-to-back in 2006 and 2007 and Kentucky winning in 2012.

2. Big East (4-2)

Remaining teams: Villanova Wildcats, Creighton Blue Jays

The Big East has actually won four NCAA men's basketball championships in the last decade. Villanova in 2018 and 2016, Louisville in 2013 and UConn, before they left for the AAC, in 2011.

1. Pac-12 (9-1)

Remaining teams: Oregon State Beavers, UCLA Bruins, Oregon Ducks, USC Trojans

NINE and ONE! And even if none of those teams reach the Final Four, the Pac-12 will still finish with a winning record in the tournament. No wonder that one guy calls it the Conference of Champions. As long as you don't count actually winning the tournament, which no team from the Pac-12 has done since Arizona in 1997. That was so long ago it was still the Pac-10.

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