Thursday, January 20, 2005

Conference Realignment Recap

As you all remember, there was a big soap-opera played out the last few months with lots of universities changing conference affiliation. So now, half-way into the 2004-05 season, how do the new conferences project into 2005-06 and beyond?

Big East: As many others have said, the new Big East is going to be tough! Since the schedule will be far from balanced, one would have to break down individual schedules/games to figure out the best teams there. How many NCAA bids will they get out of 16 teams? An 8-8 recrod may not be easy even for an NCAA-bound team. A strong out of conference schedule will become a must if teams want to differentiate themselves from the other competing Big East teams. This may force Syracuse and Pittsburgh to play tough games and play road games or at least get outside their state for neutral court games. South Florida who cames in mainly for football looks like it's gonna be the only cupcake - at least on paper until they can catch up recruiting-wise. But then Miami and Virginia Tech were supposed to be cupcakes this year in the ACC, but they are clearly not! Geographically this conference is not just East anymore; they should change the name to The Big Sprawl.

ACC: In comes Boston College from the BigEast, after the in-and-out drama. It would be really funny if BC goes on a streak next year in the ACC, just like they are doing on their way out of the BigEast. Al Skinner has been able to find diamonds in the rough but being in the ACC will only help recruiting even more. 12 teams and unbalanced schedule means more traditional home-and-home rivalries disappear. But with FSU, Miami, Virginia Tech and Clemson on the rise, and BC already there, the ACC will give the BigEast a strong run as the super conference in basketball.

Mountain West. In comes TCU and more importantly it gives the rest of the MWC teams a backdoor into the very fertile recruiting grounds of Texas. I'm guessing this was a football move, but TCU fits just fine in the MWC basketball-wise. They do have an odd number of teams (9) but i dont think that's an issue.

Conference USA: Out of the 14 current teams, 8 of them eject to other conferences next year, leaving just 6 behind. But 4 new teams come from the WAC (3 from Texas), and 2 football schools with mid-major basketball programs (UCF, Marshal). A total of 12 teams in 2005-06 and C-USA looks just a step above the other powerful mid-major conferences. Memphis and the FedEx forum are the jewel of the crown, but UAB, UTEP and Rice are solid programss. Willis Wilson at Rice is becoming the new Mike Montgomery/Stanford. Two other high profile coaches, Turnaround Tom Penders and Larry Eustachy have a very good chance to build C-USA powerhouses at Houston and So.Miss now that the Louisville, Cincy, Marquette, and Depaul are gone. Any other year Tulsa would have been seen as a solid program, but they clearly have to rebuild now. Tulane, East Carolina, SMU, UCF and Marshall will fight among themselves for conference tourney bids and perhaps NIT bids.

WAC: Poached by C-USA who was poached by Big-East who was poached by the ACC, the WAC added three new "mid-major" teams (Utah State, New Mexico State, Idaho). Both Utah State and Lou Henson's New Mexico State are solid basketball programs. Utah State has probably lost 2-3 NCAA bids over the year simply because it played in a smaller conference. Going to the WAC should help. It looks like another round of realingment with the Mountain West is not unreasonable, as west coast and mountain teams are split between the two conferences. On the rise is Fresno State with the new Savemart arena, and Nevada . Hawaii is consistently solid. Utah State and NewMexicoState are probably going to be competitive from the get-go in the new WAC. Boise State gets a natural rival in Idaho. Louisiana Tech is Paul Millsap at the moment. If it wasn't for football, San Jose State would not be able to compete in basketball in the Big West, let alone the WAC. And nobody's buying SJSU's "silicon valley" excuse, because Santa Clara (SCU) is just 2 miles away and they are doing much better! Another conference with 9 teams for 2005-06. Clearly the WAC is weakened by the moves.

Atlantic 10: (aka Atlantic 14) Adding the underrated Charlotte program really helps. Charlotte gets a chance to shine by escaping the shadow of the Big 4 in Carolina (Duke,NC,WF,NCSt) and the shadow of the Big 4 in C-USA (Cincy, LVille, Memphis, Marquette). St. Louis looked good on paper at the time, but now this looks like a boring slow-down team. But that's not the biggest problem. There are 2-4 teams in the A10 that are ruining the conference's RPI and they should be sent to the regional mid-major conferences. St Bonnies and Dusquene come to mind first, while Fordham and LaSalle are not far behind. At 14 teams the A10 is already overcrowded and will have even more unbalanced scheduling. If those four teams are dropped, A10 would have ten solid teams: Temple, Xavier, Charlotte, UMass, St Joe's, George Washington, Richmond, Dayton, St Louis, and Rhode Island. That looks like a tough league that would be able to maintain a high RPI during the conference season. But until then, it's the Atlantic 14 :)

Big 10: Well no changes here, but they should REALLY change the name to Big 11.

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