Perennial and pointless. Intriguing and infuriating. Comical and confusing.
So goes this college basketball season's jousting over conference supremacy.
ACC or Big East? Carolina or Connecticut? Hansbrough or Harangody?
We stage this debate each winter. Some years the consensus settles on the Big Ten or Pacific 10, ACC or SEC, Big East or Big 12.
This season is different. This season we have no consensus. Moreover, we have exaggeration from adults who should know better.
Big East coaches Jim Boeheim of Syracuse and Rick Pitino of Louisville call this the league's best season ever. North Carolina's Roy Williams and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski lavish similar praise on the ACC.
Dick Vitale, who peddles hype like Iowa does corn, proclaims Big East '09 the strongest conference he's seen in 30 years of pontificating.
Truth is, it's been a remarkable season for both leagues, and any person or computer proclaiming to know who's best is blowing smoke.
After all, the ACC tournament doesn't tip until today, the Big East is merely in its quarterfinals, and the NCAA clambake doesn't commence until next week. Wouldn't it be prudent to wait until the national tournament to determine conference superiority?
Sorry. Prudence is as old-school as Afros, canvas high-tops and short shorts. We must have answers now.
OK, if you insist. But answers require numbers, and good luck deciphering these.
According to Wednesday's collegerpi.com rankings, the ACC accounted for three top-10 teams, five top-20s and 10 top-100s. Only No. 157 Georgia Tech was below 110th.
The Big East countered with the same number of top-10s and -20s, but 12 top-100s. However, three of its teams were outside the top 150, anchored by 195th DePaul.
After digesting that smorgasbord, the RPI computer belches that the ACC is No. 1.
Given all the propaganda, you would expect this to represent unprecedented depth for both conferences. Not so.
Just two years ago, 10 ACC teams populated the top 100, with nine in the top 55. In 2006, the Big East boasted 13 top-100 squads.
So why this season's hype?
Part of it is cultural. Online media and their consumers have the institutional memories of gerbils. Context and history are for suckers and geriatrics.
Part of it is political. Delusionally believing that tepid media reviews of the conference contributed to fewer NCAA tournament invites, ACC coaches this season vowed a public-relations offensive.
"This is the best league in the country, top to bottom," Wake Forest's Dino Gaudio said Monday. "I don't care where you are in this league, if you put any of these teams in the NCAA tournament, they could go to the (final) 16 or the eight. I really believe that."
Odd that Gaudio would wade into this soup, given that his Deacons are one of three ACC teams that hasn't faced a Big East opponent.
Big East coaches are no less adamant, even elder sages such as Boeheim, who was around in 1985. That's when an unprecedented three conference teams — Villanova, Georgetown and St. John's — made the Final Four, and the Wildcats and Hoyas staged an epic intramural frat fight in the national championship game.
The points and counters border on amusing. NCAA tournament selection committee members aren't swayed by advocates, and they certainly don't take the counsel of talking heads or keyboard jocks.
Before the inevitable cannibalism of league play, a record nine Big East teams cracked the Jan. 5 Associated Press Top 25. That same poll ranked the ACC's Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest Nos. 2, 3 and 4.
The Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Deacons each have been No. 1 this season. So have the Big East's UConn and Pittsburgh.
Which prompts the question: Just how does one evaluate a conference? Is mediocrity at the bottom as important as quality at the top? Must there be national championship contenders?
What about the NCAA tournament as a barometer? Number of bids? Teams in the Final Four?
For example, in 1999 the Big Ten had seven of its 11 teams in the NCAA field, a record high percentage. Moreover, Michigan State and Ohio State advanced to the Final Four.
The league, which that season featured Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson at Michigan State, and Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd at Ohio State, had seven teams among the RPI's top 25 and none below 85th. Now that is depth.
One more batch of numbers bound to cloud the ACC-Big East chatter.
The ACC is 28-18 against the other five Bowl Championship Series conferences. The Big East is 22-22. Head-to-head, the ACC is 10-6 against the Big East.
But only one of the 16 games matched teams certain to make the NCAA tournament: Pittsburgh won at Florida State 56-48.
Two of the contests pitted teams ranked at the time. North Carolina dusted Notre Dame 102-87 in the Maui Invitational final, and Duke bested visiting Georgetown 76-67.
Parsing venues offers little enlightenment. The ACC won five of its seven home games against the Big East, and three of four on the road — all three road victories were at St. John's. The Big East won three of the five neutral-site games.
The ACC's top four teams are 5-1 against the Big East, while the Big East's top five are 3-0 against the ACC. Regular-season champ Louisville did not play an ACC opponent.
So rather than indulge in this pingpong, why not celebrate the players who produced this memorable season?
You want shot-blockers? Try UConn's Hasheem Thabeet and Florida State's Solomon Alabi.
Burrowing bigs? Pitt's DeJuan Blair, Notre Dame's Luke Harangody, North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough and Clemson's Trevor Booker.
Maestro point guards? Pitt's Levance Fields, Marquette's Dominic James, North Carolina's Ty Lawson and Boston College's Tyrese Rice.
Pure shooters? Miami's Jack McClinton, North Carolina's Wayne Ellington and Notre Dame's Kyle McAlarney and Ryan Ayers.
You want it, the ACC and Big East have it.
"Why don't we just say that there are two leagues in the country — the ACC and the Big East — that are really special, and let it go at that?" Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg told Sports Illustrated. "There is no way to measure it. No way."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.