By: Jack Henkels
With annual early-March seeding and bubble debates raging across all sports networks, I figured it would be a great time to answer the age-old “which is the best conference in America” question.
The easy answer this year is the ACC. They’re pushing to get 11 teams into the tournament this year, and save Boston College, there’s really not a bad team in the bunch. Even NC State has a top-5 2017 pick in Dennis Smith Jr. There’s a reason to watch every team, whether it’s Jaron Blossomgame in South Carolina, or Josh Pastner’s hair at Georgia Tech. Just nightly intriguing storylines on the Atlantic Coast.
But, just when it seems the nation has come to a consensus, some wise-guy on ESPN or FS1 or another one of those power-house networks says that “Actually, conference X, I think, is better.” This year, “Conference X” is the Big 12 and the Pac 12.
The Big 12 (which only has 10 teams) is rather top-heavy. Kansas, Baylor, Iowa State, and West Virginia are really good, and then there’s a fairly big drop off to the second half of the conference. But, even that bottom half has fared pretty well at home against the top-tier, and obviously the top-4 match-ups have been very entertaining.
The Pac 12 is like the Big 12 in that the top 4 or 5 teams are really good, but every one else blows. Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, and Cal are really good basketball teams. Everyone else is not.
Essentially, the argument is that the Big 12 and the Pac 12 BOTH have more legitimate Final Four contenders than the ACC. Other than North Carolina and maybe Louisville, the ACC has a lot of 4, 5, 6 seed caliber teams. In the Big-12, you can make a strong Final Four case for both Kansas and Baylor, and West Virginia has it’s foot in that door. Out West, Arizona, UCLA, and Oregon have cemented themselves in all Final Four conversations to date.
But, is that really the best way to judge and compare conferences? By just how many Final Four-caliber teams that conference could have? There are arguments for and against the Big 12, Pac 12, and ACC.
But, there is one conference for which there are no arguments against. I’m not talking about the SEC. And, although I was born in the beloved Midwest, I’m not talking about the dumpster fire that is the 2017 Big Ten.
I’m talking about the Big South.
Tonight, the Big South semifinals rage on in Rock Hill, South Carolina on the campus of Winthrop University. See, the Big South is no bullshit. You win the conference, you host the tournament. That’s incentive.
Yesterday, the Big South treated us to supreme weekday afternoon hoops (which, after heavy consideration of every type of basketball, has been selected the best type of basketball). The 3 seed Liberty fell to Radford (who actually beat Georgetown in DC last year, fun fact) in an absolute Big Ten-esque barn burner. And in the game that preceded that, the second seeded UNC Asheville Bulldogs fell to the Fighting Camels of Campbell.
Oh, and in that game? Yeah, Chris Clemons, Campbell’s version of Isaiah Thomas, dropped 51 points (!!!) on 18 of 32 from the field. He’s just a little 5 foot 9 energizer bunny who has absolutely no middle game. He’s going to the rack, or he’s launching a three. He has no interest in developing an “in-between” game. He doesn’t want to mess around and probe a pick-and-roll and eviscerate the help defender with a mid-range step-back. Clemons is the anti-CJ McCollum. He’s getting at the rack or hoisting from deep.
Anyways, in other action yesterday, Winthrop sent Charleston Southern packing and Gardner-Webb trounced High Point. This sets us up with two semifinals tonight: Campbell vs. Radford and Gardner-Webb vs. Winthrop.
(Gardner-Webb is located in Boiling Springs, NC. Not far from Charlotte. Stop it, you didn’t know that. I had to look it up. But, thank god I did. Because now you know.)
In fact, I’m going to take the next portion of this piece to just list every school and its geographic location.
Winthrop: Rock Hill, SC. 45 min south of Charlotte.
Radford: Radford, Va. 3 hours north of Charlotte.
Campbell: Buies Creek, NC. 3 hours east of Charlotte.
UNC Asheville: Asheville, NC. 2.5 hours west of Charlotte.
Liberty: Lynchburg, VA. 3.5 hours northeast of Charlotte.
High Point: High Point, NC. 1.5 hours northeast of Charlotte.
Charleston Southern: North Charleston, SC. 3 hours southwest of Charlotte.
Longwood: Farmwood, VA. 4 hours northeast of Charlotte.
Presbyterian: Clinton, SC. 2 hours southwest of Charlotte.
Gardner-Webb: Boiling Springs, NC. Not far from Charlotte.
(I arbitrarily decided mid-writing that I was going to reference every college’s geographic location in relation to Charlotte, NC.)
Ok, so not only do you know where each school is located, but you know how long it would take to go and see Kemba Walker play basketball for an evening. Or, maybe go clubbing with Cam Newton. Whatever your thing is.
There is simply nothing better than the Big South. Here are some more highlights:
- Campbell’s mascot is the Fighting Camels
- I know someone who plays baseball at Longwood
- I have a friend who attends High Point University.
- “Liberty” and “Presbyterian” are both words that for some reason are names of universities.
- Charleston Southern is actually located in North Charleston. See, that’s a plus for me. They’re sophisticated, multidimensional.
- Longwood has topped the annual Jack Henkels “most bonerific” university rankings every year since its establishment.
I know I said previously that there are no arguments against the Big South as the best conference in America, but, admittedly, there are some areas where the conference could shape up.
- High Point isn’t actually at the High Point of the conference. They went 9-9 in conference play this season. (Also, it’s not the northern-most school geographically. So, a misnomer across the board.)
- There is no “Small South,” which would really allow the Big South to fully assert its dominance.
- There are no schools located in Alabama or Mississippi, the two most quintessential confederate, “southern” states.
If the conference could just tie up those loose ends, it’d really be the Jay Wright of college basketball conferences. Until then, we’ll just have to enjoy their conference tournament.