Most discussions of what or who is best in college basketball are split along school and conference lines. Is the Big East better than the Big Ten? (Yes, by a lot). Is Arizona or Arizona St. better? Which mid-major conference deserves more than one bid this season? Rarely, unless it’s in some puff piece ESPN uses to hype the Duke-UNC matchup, state lines rarely come into play. A quick look this year, though, shows that the snowbound state of Ohio has some reason to brag.
For starters, it’s Ken Pomeroy’s rankings with an assist from the BPI that we’ll be using to determine this. Human polls are so littered with error (Arizona St. was number one at one point this year), that they really aren’t worth bothering with in any situation.
Ohio is undoubtedly playing some good ball this year, but that’s not entirely uncommon. There are three consistent high-major programs in the state, three mid majors that are usually on the cusp, and a host of other teams that rise and fall based on the starpower that lands there. One of those major programs, Ohio State, has recovered from a blip to make a meteoric rise under first year coach, Chris Holtmann. The Buckeyes started the year at 78th in the KenPom and have risen to 16th in that system and 20th in the BPI.
Xavier is, of course, comfortably around the top 15 in both computer systems as is their Big East norm. Coach Mack’s team is consistent and consistently good. It’s surprise to see them flitting in an out of the top 10 depending on their latest result. UC takes a different tack, beating up on a mid-major conference and only scheduling two major programs in the non-conference. Even given those two losses, the steady stream of mediocrity that Mick Cronin’s teams feast on come conference play (and the rest of that wretched non-conference), ensure that the Bearcats are both not prepared come March, and near the top of most ranking systems. That leaves all three of the top Ohio teams comfortably into the top 25.
This season, the second tier isn’t quite as strong. Dayton comes in at 117th, Toledo at 127th, with Kent and Akron, two generally solid programs, off the pace this year. Wright St. lands another Ohio program in the top 150, though. After that, there’s the usual handful of mid and low major teams scattered throughout the standings. (There’s enough there to play a very good all-Ohio tournament).
Ohio isn’t the media darling of college basketball, though, the east coast is. Over there it usually starts with North Carolina. Duke and UNC are both top 10, as usual, but NC State doesn’t appear in the bounds of the top 50 and 8-9 Wake Forest has pulled the chute and is careering backwards out of the top 100. Of course AAC power East Carolina comes to mind, but despite not being the worst team in their conference standings, they’re actually 322nd in the nation. Davidson rounds out NC teams in the top 100. While the state places more teams near the upper middle, they don’t have the top level talent Ohio does right now.
Virginia claims UVA and Virginia Tech in the top 50, but then a whole host of dreck. VCU post Shaka Smart has fallen far off the map. New York has the ever-loathable Syracuse at 46th, St. John’s at 77th, and Buffalo having a great year at 85th. Florida, Florida St., and Miami take the top three spots in the 30s, but they don’t have a top tire program the way Ohio does this season.
Out west, it’s Texas that presents Ohio with the greatest challenge. Texas Tech is fifth, TCU is 27th, A&M 29th, Baylor is 37th, and Texas comes in at 40th. That’s a loaded group, but still falls short of the that bevy of top 20 teams spread between I-70 and the Ohio River. California doesn’t have a great team this year, nor do Oregon or Washington. Kansas also makes an argument, with the Jayhawks at 10th, Wichita St. at 11th, and K-State at 44th. Somewhat interestingly, those are the only three DI teams in Kansas.
And that fairly well wraps up any state with a claim to playing this year’s best basketball. While many states have some great programs, no one else can claim the excellence that Ohio is currently boasting. Throw in a couple of top 40 programs south across the river, and a college basketball fan living in southern Ohio is within an easy drive of a lot of very good games. Now, to make that Ohio Cup happen.