You've seen them.
You've seen them, with their twitter handles and their comment threads.
You've seen those people who downplay KU's run of conference championships. They say the Big 12 simply hasn't been very good. They say over the run, it's just been KU beating up on a bunch of nobodies, in a similar vein to Gonzaga or Memphis. They say even if the Big 12 is better than the WCC or CUSA, it's still no better than the SEC or PAC. They say the Big 12 is a lower-tier conference, not a high-test basketball league like the Big Ten, ACC, or Big East.
Sometimes it seems like they have a point. The Big 12 programs who aren't Kansas can't claim a lot of tournament success over those nine years, not even from 2008-2010 when the conference was undeniably excellent. At this point in the season, people like to forget about how much luck is involved in the tournament. They want to talk about Final Four quality teams, or title game favorites. People want to talk about teams 'making noise'. They want to take the caps off their Sharpies. They start thinking the Big 12 minus Kansas was never very good in the first place.
Well, I don't think deep tournament runs are necessarily a good indicator of conference quality, so I decided to look at the 2005-2013 seasons and simply count up the teams that finished ranked in the KenPom top ten. It's an arbitrary cutoff, sure, but maybe it can tell us something about how good the conferences were, and how many really good teams were in them.
If the Big 12 really stank, it would probably look just like KU and nobody else, right?
During the 9-title run already in the books:
• No conference has had more KP top ten teams than the Big 12.
The Big Ten is tied, mumble mumble Wisconsin mumble mumble. These numbers aren't adjusted for conference size, but still the Big 12 has more top ten teams than the bloated ol' Big East. The Big 12 clearly stands out from the PAC and SEC here.
But what about the variety of teams who finish in the top ten, you ask. No fair counting KU over and over. Well even if you pulled KU out of the Big 12, the Big 12 would still have had more top ten teams during this time than the SEC and PAC, and only two less than the ACC. Think about that.
We can also look at the number of different programs to finish top ten in each league:
• The Big 12 has had more programs with KP top ten finishes than any other conference.
Again, the Big Ten is even-ish, the Big East surprisingly loses even in absolute terms, and the PAC and SEC don't rate.
This indicates another misperception: there's been lots of good teams competing with KU in the Big 12, but since they are spread out among so many other programs, it seems more like KU stands alone.
• Kansas has had more top ten finishes than any other program.
Those people are wrong. KU was not merely a pretty good program in a pretty meh conference. Don't listen to them.
KU was the most consistently excellent program, in one of the most consistently tough conferences.