The inane conference debate

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If spending the last few nights in a hotel with talking heads to help put me to sleep instead of whatever book I’m happening to read taught me anything, it’s that everyone wants to argument about whether the Big East or ACC is better.

Of course, I knew that debate existed well before this week, in part because Gary Williams makes mention of it at some point or another each week.

Which is a bore to me on several levels:

* The argument cannot be fully complete until (at the very least) the end of the regular season

* Everyone has a different definition of “best”

* There are inherent difficulties in comparing a 16-team league and a 12-team league

There’s plenty more, of course (including league RPIs, where the ACC is now No. 1 and the Big East is No. 3). But the last one bears some analysis, since there are ways to account for that set of difficulties.

Some folks who can crunch numbers better than a blogging sportswriter probably could come up with a more formidable system that what follows. But this is at least a somewhat easy-to-follow idea that attempts to equalize things.

Obviously, you have to eliminate some teams on the Big East side of things. You wouldn’t want to ditch the best teams nor the worst teams. Instead, you’d want to shed above average and below average teams.

This is the point where you set up an S-curve, much like the NCAA committee does. And sure enough, the numbers in this chart naturally match up to the quadrants in a bracket:

1234
8765
9101112
1615 
14 
13 

Theoretically, each column is balanced (they do each add up to 34). So in order to excise a representative portion of the league, you’d probably want to take out the teams that adhere to those numbers.

And since 4-5-12-13 keeps the best and worst teams in play, that’s how the following chart will be set up. Because the order of Big East teams is based on RPI, there’s no actual cherry picking involved.

The RPI, of course, is not the arbiter of this discussion. It is a tool, but there’s also some common sense in play as well.

So here’s how things look through yesterday’s games:

Big East team
RPIACC team
RPIAdvantage
Pittsburgh (16-1)
2Duke (16-1)
1Even
Georgetown (12-4) 
6North Carolina (16-2) 
8ACC
Connecticut (15-1)
7Clemson (16-1)
10Big East
Marquette (16-2)
18Wake Forest (16-0)
11ACC
West Virginia (13-4) 
26Florida State (15-3)
20Even
Villanova (13-3)
32Miami (13-4)
30Even
Notre Dame (12-5)
61Virginia Tech (12-5)
50Big East
Cincinnati (12-6)
68Boston College (13-6)
69Even
Providence (11-6)
96Maryland (12-5)
84Even
Seton Hall (8-7)
132Virginia (7-7)
86Even
South Florida (6-11)
162N.C. State (10-5)
117ACC
DePaul (8-10)
190Georgia Tech (9-8)
169 
Even

Obviously, much of the analysis is subjective. It’s difficult to differentiate between some of those matchups, but I’d go ahead and take North Carolina, Connecticut, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and N.C. State in their respective head-to-head matchups in tha chart, even if the RPI doesn’t always agree.

(By the way, the four Big East teams left out by statistical happenstance were Syracuse, Louisville, St. John’s and Rutgers).

Right now, it sure looks like a pretty even situation, and that could certainly change in the next two months. But anyone trying to argue definitively for either league is wasting their breath, since a more credible answer really doesn’t exist at this stage.

Patrick Stevens

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