For the first two months of every college basketball season, it feels as though the sport is in preseason mode. While there are some marquee non-conference matchups during the early part of the season, many of these teams simply don’t compete well with one another. Fans of the game know that once the New Year comes, the real action begins. Big-time rivalries renew, and the real run toward March Madness begins.
Throughout this week, we get our first taste of this year’s conference play with a couple of big games, leading to what should be the best weekend of college basketball since last season’s Final Four. To prepare for the conference action, we bring you the team in each of the top conferences with the most combined wins over the past five seasons. It all begins with the most dominant club in the Big 12.
Big 12: Kansas
Conference record since 2010: 71-17
The Kansas Jayhawks have been the standard of excellence in the Big 12 for a long time, possessing a ridiculous winning percentage of nearly 81% in conference games since 2010 and owning at least a share of the conference regular-season title in every season since 2005. Since 2010, the Jayhawks have won the Big 12 tournament three times and qualified for the Final Four back in the 2011-12 season (losing in the national championship).
Kansas will look to continue its conference excellence when they open up Big 12 play against the 23rd-ranked Baylor Bears on Saturday at home — where the Jayhawks almost never lose. Ranked No. 2 in the nation currently, Kansas should be a favorite to win the Big 12 and compete for a spot in the Final Four.
Big 10: Michigan State
Conference record since 2010: 59-31
Tom Izzo’s Spartans are always contenders in the Big 10 and on the national stage. The team’s impressive conference record over the past five seasons proves it. Since 2010, Michigan State has captured at least a share of the Big 10 regular season title twice and has also won the conference tournament twice. Once they get past the Big 10 season and into March, the Spartans may actually be better, as they have made it to at least the Sweet 16 in each of the past four seasons (including a Final Four berth last season).
Big 10 competition is always tough with the likes of Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and others aside from Michigan State. However, ranked No. 1 in the nation, the Spartans are poised to uphold their high level of play this season and make a run at another conference title (although they had a tough outing against Iowa to open up conference play on Tuesday).
Conference record since 2010: 58-18
Since the arrival of coach Mike Krzyzewski in 1980, few schools have been as consistently excellent as the Duke Blue Devils. The case has been no different over the past five seasons, as Duke has been consistent in ACC play since 2010 — despite not winning a single regular season title (they have won the tournament title once during that time span). Virginia has been great in the conference over the past couple of seasons, and North Carolina was at the top awhile ago, but Duke has never fallen out of the top three since 2010.
This season, the Blue Devils have their hands full in capturing the regular season title that eluded them in recent seasons. Virginia looks very good once again, as does North Carolina, Miami, and Louisville (to name a few). Duke has shown signs of vulnerability with two losses in non-conference action, so it’s up for debate as to how the defending national champs will fare over the next few months. They open up ACC play with Boston College on Saturday.
PAC 12: Arizona
Conference record since 2010: 69-21
Arizona has seemingly owned the PAC 12 for most of the past five seasons. During that time, their terrific in-conference record has led them to three regular season titles and one tournament title. The Wildcats have translated that success to the NCAA tournament as well, as they own three appearances in the Elite 8 and four appearances in the Sweet 16. Head coach Sean Miller has never pushed his team into the Final Four, but there’s no doubt that he has done an excellent job since taking over in 2009.
This season, the Wildcats are pretty heavy favorites to win the PAC 12, as they are currently ranked No. 8 in the nation. Teams like Utah, UCLA, and Colorado may give them a run, but if Arizona is on their A-game, they will be tough to dethrone in the conference. The Wildcats begin conference play with a road test at Arizona State on Sunday.
Big East: Villanova
Conference record since 2010: 56-34
The Big East has changed a lot since 2010, with several teams leaving the conference following the 2012-13 campaign and then several joining later. With that, Villanova is the best team in the conference over the past five seasons — despite having a couple mediocre campaigns. Still, the Wildcats have won the Big East regular-season title two times since 2010 and captured the tournament title last season. This hasn’t translated to the NCAA tournament, however, as Villanova has failed to reach the Sweet 16 since their Final Four appearance in 2008-09.
This season, a bevy of up-and-coming teams in the Big East stand between the Wildcats and a third consecutive regular season title. Butler, Providence, and Xavier are all currently ranked higher than No. 16 Villanova; they should give the Wildcats fits throughout conference play. To open conference games, an exciting matchup between Villanova and Xavier is on tap for New Year’s Eve. (Providence and Butler will also play each other that day.)
Conference record since 2010: 68-18
Kentucky has not only been the best team in the SEC over the past five seasons, but they’ve also potentially been the best team in the entire nation. With a winning percentage of nearly 80% in conference play over that time span, the Wildcats have won the regular season title twice (both with unbeaten records in conference play) and have won the conference tournament twice. Coach John Calipari has led Kentucky to four Final Four appearances since 2010, winning the title back in 2011-12.
One reason for the Wildcats’ dominance in the SEC is the fact that the rest of the conference is usually pretty mediocre. This season, South Carolina and Texas A&M have started out strong in the conference, but only time will tell how those teams will hold up against Kentucky. The Wildcats open up their conference schedule against Ole Miss on Saturday.
Statistics courtesy of SR/College Basketball.