In recent weeks, the Rise & Fall series has chronicled the progress (or regress) of college basketball's major conference teams. But if I equated each team to a civilization, I was mistaken. It is really the NCAA conference that equates to a burgeoning civilization or nation, each with its sometimes stable and sometimes rotating member states. Like civilizations, the prestige and power of conferences wax and wane..
Today, we finish with the status of the BCS "power" conferencess. (Check out the Rise & Fall: Data article to see how the league groupings were made).
ACC - STATUS QUO
For four of the past five years, the ACC has led the nation in RPI.. and it should be in the running for that title once again in 08-09. UNC is obviously loaded, and Duke could arguably finish 2nd in the league and 2nd in the country. The ACC hasn't had a bad season since 2000, and that trend should continue regardless of how schools like BC and Virginia struggle. Bad teams in the ACC are really just mediocre teams in other leagues. For example, last place finisher BC had a non-conference RPI of 132, which was 26 spots higher than 2nd place Big Ten finisher Purdue.
BIG EAST - STATUS QUO
The Beast is hard to judge because league membership has changed a lot since taking on the CUSA expats in 2005. Its also the largest league in the country with 16 teams. Its conceivable that 9 teams make the Dance in 2009, but its also conceivable that bottom-feeders like DePaul, USF, and St. John's finish with sub-200 RPIs. Though this should be the Big East's best season (perhaps finishing 1st in RPI for the first time since the 90's?), it merely makes up for the past two sub-par seasons.
BIG TEN - DECLINING
Outside of a freak 2006 season (1st in RPI), the Big Ten has been rather weak in recent seasons.. hovering around 5th or 6th in the RPI. Last year was certainly the worst in recent memory with an RPI of 6th and a non-league RPI of 8th (worse than the A10 & MVC). This year should continue this recent trend of mediocrity. Indiana is obviously decimated, perennial doormats Northwestern and Penn State will fill their usual roles, while the recent decline of Illinois continues with the suspension of Jamar Smith. Things aren't all bad.. Michigan State has legitimate Final Four hopes, Wisconsin should pull off its usual surprise success, Purdue is on the right track, and Ohio State brings in another monster class. But whatever success those schools have will be offset by the four or five teams that end up being absolutely awful.
BIG 12 - STATUS QUO
Despite being home to the reigning national champs, the numbers suggest that it was basically an average season for the Big 12 (3rd compared to an average of 4.3 over since 1999). Kansas and Texas have dominated the league for the last decade, with '04 Oklahoma State being the only other Big 12 team to lead the league in RPI. This trend should continue as Texas looks to be the heavy favorites ahead of Oklahoma. Overall, there aren't any major trends to note in the Big 12. Baylor is a team on the rise, but those gains are offset by the decline of Oklahoma State and the recent struggles of Iowa State.
PAC-10 - RISING
Just a handful of years ago, the Pac-10 was the ugly step-child of BCS leagues. From 2000 to 2007, the league was arguably no better than the likes of the MWC or A10. It hit an all-time low in 2004 when the Pac-10 finished 9th in overall RPI. However, the league has regained its lost stature in the last two seasons, in large part due to coaching changes in SoCal. Ben Howland has rejuvenated UCLA, while Tim Floyd has brought back a bit of swagger (and NBA talent) to USC. After being 2nd in the RPI last year, I expect a fall back to the 4-5 range, which is still solid considering the lows a few years back.
SEC - DECLINING (SLOWLY)
From 2000 to 2003, the SEC led the nation in RPI each season. Since that impressive four-year run, things have taken a step back and last season's RPI (4th) is the new norm. While the top could be even better than last year (Florida should rebound and Tennessee should once again be great), it is the bottom tier teams holding the league back. Georgia's been plagued by personnel issues, South Carolina's mired in mediocrity, LSU can't find stability, Auburn is going nowhere, while Arkansas recently lost every talented player on its roster.
- Note that league power isn't quite as fluid as team power, so seemingly small baby steps end up counting more..