The 2012-13 year has seen more teams change conference affiliations than any year since the mid-2000s. That may mean great opportunities for the teams moving into new, more challenging leagues.
It may also mean terrific opportunities for certain remaining teams to step into their league's spotlight.
Whether it be a team who simply dominated its former league, or dominated a particular team within its league, there are many teams out there who will not be sorry to see their former conference rival depart.
Here is a look at five teams who may stand to benefit the most from a team leaving for a different conference.
Twenty-five regular-season wins. An incredible 16-2 mark in the CAA.
However, it was the number three that ultimately sealed the fate of the Drexel Dragons.
After an amazing run of 19 consecutive wins over a two-month period, Drexel came up just short to Virginia Commonwealth in the CAA title game, losing 59-56. The loss prevented the Dragons from earning the league’s NCAA automatic bid.
After a week of waiting and hoping, the selection committee felt that Drexel’s heap of wins did not warrant one of the final 37 at-large bids.
A couple months after settling for the NIT, Drexel caught a rather nice break. They received word that VCU would be leaving the CAA, climbing the conference ladder to join the Atlantic 10.
With VCU—which would have been the favorite to repeat as CAA champs—now out of the picture, Drexel has their golden opportunity to seize the league’s automatic bid.
Five of Drexel's top six scorers return from last season, including CAA Freshman of the Year Damion Lee. Lee’s explosive scoring ability will be a great complement to Coach Bruiser Flint’s defensive emphasis.
Despite losing all-conference forward Samme Givens, Drexel returns two key big men in Dartaye Ruffin and Daryl McCoy. They should help minimize the loss of Givens, and provide Lee and backcourt mate Frantz Massenat opportunities to dish the ball inside.
The stage is set for Drexel to handle the business they couldn’t quite finish last year.
The Horizon League’s long-time benchmark team, the Butler Bulldogs, is suddenly gone.
With their departure comes a great opportunity for Detroit—last year’s conference tournament champions—to repeat their title, and perhaps do so for a few more years to come.
After a head-turning second-half in which they simply blew away Butler—now a member of the Atlantic 10—on its home court at Hinkle Fieldhouse, Detroit now has to bounce back after losing two of their top players, Chase Simon and Eli Holman. However, the engine that made the Titans steamroll to the NCAA Tournament remains.
Ray McCallum, son of Coach Ray Sr., returns to Detroit looking to follow up an impressive sophomore season. In addition to McCallum, Jason Calliste—a double-digit scorer from last season—returns along with forwards Doug Anderson and Nick Minnerath.
With McCallum, Detroit would certainly have been in contention for a Horizon League title regardless of Butler’s absence, but the Bulldogs would have been the favorite going in. Now, it may be Detroit’s to lose, given the key losses suffered by both Cleveland State and Valparaiso—both very senior-laden teams a year ago.
If any team has a chance to develop the same kind of mini-dynasty Butler had in the Horizon League over the past decade, Detroit is probably the best bet.
There are many teams in the Big 12 who won't be too sorry to see Missouri leave, especially after the way it played last season en route to the conference championship. No team should be happier about Mizzou's departure than Baylor.
As a top-5 team in January of last season, Baylor was knocked off, at home, by Missouri. In February, the Bears lost to the Tigers, in Columbia. That wasn't all however.
In March, Baylor knocked off Kansas—a team it had lost to twice in the regular season—in the Big 12 semifinals. That set up a matchup with—you guessed it—Missouri for the Big 12 tournament title. Once again, the result would not go in Baylor’s favor. They lost to the Tigers by 15, for a second straight time.
Now, Missouri is in the SEC, where they will look to wreak havoc on some new foes. Meanwhile, Baylor will look to seize an opportunity to take their place as the primary threat to Kansas’ annual reign on the league’s regular-season title.
Despite losing plenty from last year’s Elite Eight team—namely forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy—Baylor has an infusion of talent coming in to go with some quality backcourt experience.
Seven-footer Isaiah Austin—a McDonald’s All-American—should make an immediate impact, along with fellow freshman Ricardo Gathers. Pierre Jackson—who led the Bears in scoring, assists and steals last year—is primed for a breakout senior season. Brady Heslip should once again be a deadly weapon from outside.
Baylor may have trouble knocking off Kansas in Lawrence on Jan. 14, but by the time the two play again in Waco at the end of the regular season, it could very well be for the Big 12 title.
Baylor’s first opponent en route to an Elite Eight appearance last year should have an even better chance of getting back to the NCAA Tournament this season.
South Dakota State—which gave Baylor all it could handle before losing by eight in the Round of 64—is now the clear favorite in the Summit League. There are two reasons for that: Nate Wolters and no more Oral Roberts.
Wolters returns to SD State for his senior season and is the preseason POY in the Summit League. The do-everything guard averaged more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists last year. He should have little trouble lighting up the rest of the Jackrabbits’ conference foes, especially now that Oral Roberts is no longer in the mix.
Aside from Wolters, there is plenty coming back from last year’s team. Forwards Jordan Dykstra—last year’s second-leading scorer—and Chad White return to join Wolters as able scoring threats. Dykstra and White can both knock down the outside shot, giving Wolters more options for generating offense.
With ORU now in the Southland and plenty of experience from last year’s conference championship team, few teams will be more heavily favored to win their respective leagues than South Dakota State.
It may have won the WAC’s automatic bid last year, but to do it again this year will be a major uphill climb for New Mexico State. Luckily for them, the slope became a lot less steep this season.
Nevada—the program which has perennially competed for the WAC title for nearly a decade—has moved on to greener pastures in the Mountain West conference. New Mexico State, meanwhile, remains in the WAC and looks like the team to beat going forward. That takes into account the fact the Aggies lost their top four scorers from last year’s NCAA Tournament team.
The fact that NMSU could very well win the WAC again speaks more to the lack of quality depth throughout the rest of the conference than it does to the strength of the Aggies’ team heading into this season.
Utah State—a team with recent success in the league—loses arguably their top two players in Brockeith Pane and Brady Jardine. Hawaii—a dramatically improved team last season—is now in the Big West conference. League newcomers Denver and UT-Arlington have a shot to make a splash, but adjusting to life in a new league could hinder their ability to challenge for the league title.
If players like Daniel Mullings, Tyrone Watson and Bandja Sy—the team’s top three returning scorers—can make the transition to leadership roles, then New Mexico State could very well return to the Big Dance as champs of the beleaguered WAC.
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