Candid Coaches: Which conference will be the best college basketball league after realignment?

Candid Coaches: Which conference will be the best college basketball league after realignment?

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed roughly 100 coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, the coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting the results of the questions asked.

The Big 12 has, according to KenPom.com, rated as the best basketball league in seven of the past nine seasons — but, soon enough, the conference will change. Oklahoma and Texas will be off to the SEC. Houston, Cincinnati, BYU and UCF are incoming. From a football perspective, it’s obviously not good considering Oklahoma and Texas are massive football brands. But it’s reasonable to argue that the Big 12’s basketball product will remain elite given that Houston, Cincinnati and BYU are all strong hoop programs.

But will the Big 12 remain, more often than not, the best?

That’s debatable given that A) the Big 12’s losses will make the SEC stronger, and B) the Big Ten is adding UCLA and USC from the Pac-12 in August 2024. So, with all of this in mind, we asked roughly 100 coaches the following question:

With Oklahoma and Texas headed to the SEC, and UCLA and USC headed to the Big Ten, which conference do you think will be the best basketball league going forward?

1. Big Ten 41%
2. DRY 28%
3.Big 12 15%
4.VAC 14%
5.Big East 2%

Quotes that stood out

On the Big Ten

  • “I’m in Big East country — and it’s not even close. The Big Ten is a monster from top to bottom.”
  • “I don’t want to discount the Big 12 because it should be a monster — but who the hell knows who will be in that league in two years? Because of that, I’ll say the Big Ten. It is the most consistent right now, and adding UCLA and, to an extent, USC can only help.”

On the SEC

  • “The SEC, recruiting-wise the last five years, is out-recruiting everyone in the country. Duke and UNC are getting their guys, but there’s seven teams in the SEC getting high four-stars and five-stars. The talent is ridiculous in the league. Lot of NBA players in the SEC every year”
  • “It’s the SEC just in terms of their aggressiveness in recruiting with NIL. That, combined with the already natural athleticism, physically, top-to-bottom. Even a team that’s not as skilled, watching them play, that was a different kind of athlete. When they have football-type athletes that play basketball, that’s difference-making. That discrepancy is there and it’s really hard. As a mid-major coach, we play better against Big 12 teams than SEC teams just because of the athletic discrepancy .”

On the Big 12

  • “The last two natty champs have come from the Big 12. If Texas Tech closes out Virginia, they would have the last three — and they are arguably only losing two of the bottom-five teams.”
  • “According to all the metrics that last (few) years, the BIG 12 has been the best league (most seasons). Gaining schools like Houston, which will be a top 10 team every year, will help. I just think the league will keep getting better and better. There are no easy games in that league. Most of these teams are all set up NIL wise. It’s just the toughest league. Nothing is easy.”

On the ACC

  • “I think the ACC will always be the best. It has tradition and love for basketball from fanbases to administrators. That league invests and knows basketball is king.”
  • “Even with the amount of money pouring into the SEC and Big Ten, I think the ACC will focus more on basketball and continue to be successful — much like the new Big East has. That is … until they all move to the new SEC /Big Ten.”

The takeaway

Bruce Pearl famously said in a postgame interview last January that his school is an “everything school” in the sense that there’s no reason Auburn can’t be good at everything — football, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, you name it. Broadly speaking, that’s also now true for the Big Ten and SEC in general because those conferences are adding gigantic brands that will allow them to create the kind of revenue the other leagues simply cannot create.

This poll reflects that reality.

Sixty-nine percent of the coaches we polled said that, going forward, either the Big Ten or the SEC — two conferences mostly known for high-quality football — will become the nation’s best basketball league. For what it’s worth, I agree. They’re both going to be so big and deep and strong and wealthy that they’ll largely have the best facilities, the best television exposure, a lot of the best coaches — and the most money to spend on name, image and likeness and whatever else they choose. In time, the Power 5 will become a Power 2. And though all of this is obviously and undeniably motivated by football — the Big Ten, for instance, wanted USC football way more than it wanted UCLA basketball — the byproduct of adding significant brands that increase revenue (and diminish the competition) will elevate the Big Ten and the SEC in a myriad of ways, among them ways that make their basketball products, on the whole, bigger and better than ever.

In professional sports, big-market teams often enjoy success in part because they have more money than everybody else. In college sports, that’s about to also be more true than ever. It doesn’t mean Big 12 programs like Kansas and Baylor, or ACC programs like Duke and North Carolina, won’t continue to flourish in basketball because they almost certainly will. But the majority of college coaches believe there will soon be more good and great programs in the Big Ten and SEC than there will be anywhere else, and there’s really no logical reason to think their thoughts on this topic are misguided or misplaced.

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