Kansas men's basketball coach Bill Self stands on the sidelines with his right hand holding his face in concern.

Columnist Sam Lance argues that the Big 12 has been dethroned as the best conference in college basketball, replaced instead by the Big Ten.

Column

With the madness that March brings and conference tournaments right around the corner, it’s crunch time for many teams across the college basketball landscape.

Each conference this year has been competitive and five include teams that have held the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press Poll. But, as the question that usually arises this time of year begs, which league is the best in the country?

The Big 12, ACC, SEC and Big Ten all have great teams at the top. However, the Big Ten separates itself as the deepest and best conference all around. 

There are currently 11 Big Ten teams projected to be in the NCAA Tournament, according to Joe Lunardi’s bracketology from Feb. 7. That is five more teams than any other conference and six more than both the Big 12 and Pac-12. 

Granted, there is no clear dominant force at the top. Michigan State, the preseason No. 1 team in the AP Poll, has been streaky all season and dipped out of this week’s AP Poll. The highest ranked team in the Big 10 is the young Maryland Terrapins at No. 9, and three other Big 10 teams join them in the top 25 (Penn State, Iowa and Illinois).

The Associated Press Top 25 basketball poll for week 13 reveals Kansas at No. 3 for the second week in a row. The Jayhawks have been consistent this season and hope to continue to be after their Saturday game against Texas Tech, who fell out of the ranking this week. 

The only conference with more teams in the poll is the Big East with five. The only other conference with four squads ranked in the top 25 is the Big 12.

Teams like Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan have all been ranked in the top five this season. Recently, these teams have started to struggle because conference play has been so competitive. This shows how good the Big 10 is from top to bottom.

Leadership at the point guard position is widespread throughout the league. Cassius Winston of Michigan State, Xavier Simpson of Michigan and Anthony Cowan Jr. of Maryland are all senior guards leading their teams in points or assists. The guard depth across the conference is unique and will be key come March when elite guard play is essential.

Strong and skilled big men are also a feature of the Big Ten this year. Iowa’s junior center Luka Garza is currently leading the conference with 23.1 points and adds 9.9 rebound per game. Other notable big men include Michigan’s senior center Jon Teske (12.9 points), Penn State’s senior forward Lamar Stevens (17.6 points) and Minnesota's sophomore center Daniel Oturu (20.1 points).

The Big Ten also holds four teams (Penn State, Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue) in the top 20 of strength of schedule and six teams in the top 25 of BPI. With talent oozing around the conference, there’s no doubt that the Big Ten has been the best in the land this year.

—Edited by Emma Bascom