February 1, 2013
With the turn of the calendar, it’s time to put an ancient myth to bed. Despite what the pundits at ESPN tell you, the highest quality D1 men’s hoops are played right here in the Midwest. I say this not because I’m a homer; the numbers back it up. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the criteria the NCAA Tournament committee uses to make at-large selections: Ratings Percentage Index (RPI; who you beat plus who they’ve beaten), Strength of Schedule (SOS), and performance against the RPI’s top 50. Six Big Ten teams rank in the RPI top 32: Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State and Illinois. Compare that with only five from the Big East and four from the ACC; Big Ten 1, Others 0. Nine of the league’s twelve teams are in the top 50 in SOS; also nine from the Big East, but only five from the ACC. We’ll call that a halved point for the Big Ten and ACC; Big Ten 1 ½, Big East 1 ½, ACC 0. Turning toward performance against the RPI top 50, we’ll settle on winning percentage as determining factor. The Big Ten is 29-54 (35%), and the Big East 31-54 (36%), while the “vaunted” ACC is 27-36 (43%), albeit with fewer top 50 games played. Where does that leave us? Big Ten 1 ½, Big East 1 ½, ACC 1. Moving on, let’s break down how each league fared in road and neutral site games; this is often a sticking point for the committee. The Big Ten is a combined 48-47 in those games, while the Big East is 65-59 and the ACC 45-56. Later ACC; Big East up by 1. However, the Big Ten holds the trump card. Win streaks are the Tourney committee’s favorite stat, and the Big Ten owns three teams with a current win streak over two games (Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State), while the Big East can only manage two. Still not convinced? The ultimate determinant of conference strength is Conference RPI, and the Big Ten is #1 by a comfortable margin over the Big East. No, the Big Ten doesn’t have the mezmerizing starpower of Duke, North Carolina or Syracuse, but its teams play grind-it-out defense, rebound, and defend the home court. Shove it, Doug Gottlieb.