Out of Bounds

Lately, the talking heads on ESPN have been fawning over the Big East basketball conference.

They've crowned it the most talented conference in the country, the toughest to play in and the place where a team can come up from the bottom and topple one of the top teams in the country.

Some experts are even predicting that the NCAA selection committee will send nine or even 10 teams to the Big Dance.

They're wrong. They're wrong on nearly every count.

Now, that isn't to say that the Big East isn't one of the best conferences in the country. It's hard to argue against the facts: four teams in the top 10, eight in the top 25.

They have some of the most prolific guards in Syracuse's Jonny Flynn and Pittsburgh's Levance Fields, and big bruisers like Georgetown's Greg Monroe or Notre Dame's Luke Harangody who can mix it up in the paint with any team in the country.

The problem is that the Big East is also the largest conference in the country. With the new additions of South Florida, Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville and Marquette from Conference USA in 2005, the Big East now features 16 collegiate basketball schools.

It is truly a powerhouse conference, with only one school having failed to ever reach the NCAA Final Four.

Yet this year, the Big East - which is seemingly chock full of future NBA draft picks - is simply too top heavy to be considered the best conference in the country.

Once you get past teams like Marquette and Louisville, both undefeated in the Big East, you run in to the likes of DePaul and Rutgers, both 0-8 in the conference.

Although national rankings may claim otherwise, the ACC is the best all-around conference in the country. It features one of the best players to ever play college ball: Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina.

Four of the 12 teams in the conference have two losses or less so far this season. In the Big East, only three of the 16 can equal that mark.

Not one team in the ACC can boast of an undefeated conference record, a testament to the overall strength and competitiveness of the conference.

Only two teams in the ACC, North Carolina and Virginia, allow more than 70 points per game and North Carolina can afford to; they're scoring an average of 92 points per game.

In the Big East, four teams are allowing at least 70 points a game.

The ACC averages over 70 percent overall from the free throw line; the Big East has only six teams that are shooting as well or better.

When it comes down to it, the Big East is the stronger, flashier conference that will most likely match or beat its record of eight teams in the NCAA Tournament.

When you look at the conference from top to bottom, however, the ACC features more overall strength. The Big East may very well have more than one team in the Final Four and has an excellent shot of producing this year's national champion, but to put the question to rest, when you look at the stats the ACC is easily the toughest - and best - conference to play in.

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