Sure, cross-conference events are fun - check out the enthusiasm for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. There will be a lot of viewers that tune in for the Big East/SEC Invitational - which includes DePaul vs. Mississippi State in Tampa Bay on Dec. 10 - and some people are taking note of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series. Heck, there's even a MVC/MWC Challenge being played - albeit not during such a compact schedule.
All of these match-ups help us debate which conference is the best. But does a 6-5 victory by the Big Ten or a possible sweep by the Big 12 actually mean anything? Probably not, but maybe...
The Big East currently ranks 1st as a conference according to RealTimeRPI.com. The conference has just been unbelievable this season. There have been many nights which it finished undefeated. The games won't get any easier, but the Big East has established itself as a conference that can reload on the fly.
Of course, Ken Pomeroy's rankings don't think the Big East is the best conference. Nope, that honor is bestowed upon the aforementioned Big 12. While the RPI has the Big 12 third, Pomeroy has the conference first on the strength of four Top 15 teams. Texas and Kansas were expected to be up there, but Texas A&M and Missouri are certainly surprising. The conference has depth as well with just two members - Colorado and Oklahoma - outside of the Top 100.
The Big Ten - many people's top pick during preseason as the top conference in the nation - has struggled early. The 11-team conference ranks fourth according to Pomeroy and fifth according to RealTimeRPI. But it did win the aforementioned challenge over the ACC for the first time in 11 tries.
And then there's the step-child of conferences this season amongst the Top 6 BCS Power Conferences, the Pac-10. Pomeroy actually has the Pac-10 ahead of the SEC. (And quite honestly, the SEC West is quite a disaster.) There are elite teams like Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the SEC and those type of team are in short supply in the Pac-10. (Yes, Vanderbilt is a very good team, DePaul is going to have a heck of a challenge on the road against Commodores.)
The Pac-10 looks like a two-bid league. RealTimeRPI has them below even the Atlantic 10 at this point in the season. The conference has very few good wins and a couple of terrible losses. (With UCLA contributing quite a few.) Beyond Washington and California it's going to be hard for any Pac-10 team to make a convincing at-large argument.
What does this mean for the Big Ten? Well, there might be a few more bids out there when its all said and done. Could this mean the seventh or even eighth Big Ten team slips into the dance (like say... Northwestern)? Stranger things have happened. We'll see what conference play brings, but right now things are shaping up for an unpredictable season.