Debating conference strength is one of college basketball's most treasured traditions, like wondering if Kentucky will run the table or claiming that officiating is worse than it's ever been. I am nothing if not a traditionalist, so let's get to it.
My ranking of Division I's top 10 conferences:
1. Big 12
Surprised? I can see your point. Surely when Kansas sneezes, the league catches cold, and the Jayhawks have looked anything but invincible while being ground into a fine powder by Kentucky or even when edging a No. 20-ranked Michigan State team by five points. Texas is playing without Isaiah Taylor, and the Iowa State talk trailed off considerably after the Cyclones lost on a neutral floor to (then) unranked Maryland by nine.
That being said, KU has both talent and experience, and the Jayhawks have earned a top-four seed in 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments. (That boggles my mind, by the way. It should boggle yours too.) Taylor will return at some point for the Longhorns; in the meantime, Myles Turner recorded five blocks in just 19 minutes on the road against Connecticut over the weekend. And recent history suggests that, whatever else transpires this season in Ames, Fred Hoiberg will find a way for ISU to score points.
Then keep in mind that Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Baylor could all turn out to be as good as or better than the Cyclones. In other words, the Big 12's depth, for now, projects to run deeper than the ACC's.
Just three conferences in Division I have a realistic shot at finishing the season with seven members in the top 30 nationally -- the Big 12, the ACC and the Big Ten. (Naturally, it's exceedingly unlikely that all three leagues will indeed do so.) But where the ACC has to fess up to having Virginia Tech and Boston College and the Big Ten has to admit that it includes Rutgers and Northwestern, the Big 12's cellar projects to be less ignominious. TCU may (repeat, may) be respectable this season. And while it's true that Texas Tech may be less so, even the Red Raiders have already taken LSU to overtime in Baton Rouge.
For the purposes of this discussion, however, the salient point about the Big 12's cellar is simply that it's very small. When we say seven Big 12 teams may finish in the top 30 nationally, we're conceding that 70 percent of the league may finish in the top 9 percent of Division I. No other league can make a claim anywhere close to that. If the term conference strength is to hold any meaning, the Big 12 is, for now, No. 1 in the nation.