Conference realignment is already making an impact on college sports before programs even begin to play in their new conferences. Realignment could affect recruiting, NIL, and coaching decisions.
As realignment approaches, some major basketball programs will join a new conference. What conference could be the best in college basketball in the future?
Since the ACC last expanded, the conference has been the best in college basketball. Duke, UNC, and Virginia lead the conference alongside great programs such as Syracuse and Louisville. The ACC has won six national titles since 2009.
The ACC also features some of the biggest rivalries in the sport. Duke and UNC’s annual matchups are among the most watched in the sport, and the two programs met in the Final Four last season.
Both teams’ rivalries with NC State also have a lot of history. In recent years, Virginia and Virginia Tech along with Miami and Florida State have emerged as important annual games on the conference schedule.
Last season the ACC performed incredibly well in the NCAA Tournament despite the SEC, Big 10, and Big 12 being considered stronger conferences during the regular season. The ACC had both Duke and UNC reach the Final Four. In addition, four of the five ACC teams that made the tournament reached the round of 32 and the conference had the most wins in the tournament.
Overall, the ACC has been extremely good over the last decade. Over the last several years the conference has continued to improve, but the expansion of the SEC and the Big Ten could see one of those two conferences become the premier conference in college basketball.
The Big Ten and SEC
The Big Ten and the SEC have both been incredibly good basketball conferences in the last several years. However, the SEC hasn’t won a National Championship since Kentucky won the title in 2012, and the Big Ten hasn’t seen a team win the national title since 2000.
Neither team had a program reach the Final Four last season. In fact, the SEC only saw one team reach the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight, and the Big Ten didn’t have a single team reach the Elite Eight.
However, conference realignment should strengthen both the Big Ten and the SEC. The SEC added both Texas and Oklahoma, while the Big Ten added USC and UCLA, all of those programs have had success in the sport in the past.
Texas has never won a National Championship, but the program went 22-12 in Chris Beard’s first season and finished in the Top 25. Oklahoma reached the Final Four in 2016, where they lost to Villanova, who went on to win the national title.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten added one of the best programs in the history of the sport, UCLA. The Bruins finished last season at No.11 in the polls, reached the Sweet 16, and finished the season at 27-8. USC, which joins its crosstown rivals in the Big Ten in 2024, has not lost more than 10 games in a season since 2019.
As a result, both conferences could become the best conference in college basketball. USC and UCLA will join Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, and others in a conference with some of college basketball’s most iconic programs. The SEC will add Texas and Oklahoma to Kentucky, Auburn, Florida, and Arkansas, among others, who have all had recent success within the sport.
Most of the dialogue and decision-making during the realignment process has surrounded college football. However, the Big Ten and the SEC have positioned themselves to be excellent basketball conferences every season. This could have a massive impact on revenue, television viewership, and further realignment as college sports potentially move into the superconference era, but no matter what, it will be interesting to see what conference is the best in college basketball in the future.
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