Breaking Down the Biggest Conference Changes in NCAA Basketball for 2014
Sometimes when things are moving a bit too quickly in life, it helps to pump the brakes for a second, survey the situation and recollect our thoughts. That logic can be applied to the never-ending game of musical chairs between college basketball conferences as well.
While many of the conference-switches are fueled by mighty football, basketball will forever be altered. Traditional rivalries will be no more, strange contests between seemingly random schools will populate conference schedules, and teams like Cincinnati and Connecticut will be longing for the good old days of 2012.
Continuing the theme of slowing down to analyze a situation, read on to see a summary and breakdown of the biggest conference changes that will be in place for college hoops by 2014.
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The ACC is going to be loaded in basketball by the time that the 2014-15 season tips off.
Yes, it is losing Maryland, which from a traditional standpoint is certainly strange, but it is inheriting Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Louisville over the course of the next two seasons. In other words, a significant portion of the elite teams in last year’s Big East.
Adding the defending national champion Cardinals, a consistently elite program like Syracuse and solid Pittsburgh and Notre Dame teams arguably makes the ACC the best conference in America by 2014-15. In fact, the only reason why it is “arguable” is because you can’t be 100 percent certain where these teams will stand in two years (but chances are they will still be elite).
A league that includes these four squads along with Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and the suddenly resurgent Miami will mean plenty of entertaining games and a handful of losses for the eventual conference champion. But it will also mean No. 1 seeds and battle-tested tournament resumes.
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The Big Ten has always been known as a traditional football powerhouse conference (even if that hasn’t actually been the case on the field the past few years for schools not named Ohio State, Wisconsin or Michigan), but it is now one of the best basketball leagues in the country.
The Big Ten will have two new additions by the 2014-15 season, one of which will help the basketball reputation and one that seems to be solely driven by the addition of the hypothetical New York television market (assuming that people in New York watch Rutgers sports).
Maryland is the expansion target that made the most sense from a basketball standpoint. It will be unusual to see the Terrapins against the Buckeyes, Spartans, Hoosiers and Wolverines instead of the Tar Heels or Blue Devils at first, but this is a solid addition in the long run for the Big Ten.
Rutgers will also join the fold, and there aren’t many “power league” teams in more treacherous waters right now. The Scarlet Knights have struggled on the court and just fired their coach after his inexplicable actions toward his players during practices.
But at least the Big Ten will have a team in New Jersey.
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Within the next year or two, this will not be your father’s Big East. In fact, it won’t even be your older brother’s Big East.
Gone are the days of Jim Boeheim and John Thompson prowling the sidelines or even Rick Pitino bringing a national title back to the league. Instead, the league will be populated with a who’s who of Cinderella stories from the past few NCAA tournaments.
Xavier, Creighton and Butler will join the fold as three of the most celebrated “mid-major” programs in recent memory, even if each is far from being an actual mid-major. DePaul, Marquette, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova are staying in place.
This is a deep conference that will be populated with NCAA tournament-quality teams, but the consistent Final Four threats are few and far between. Yes, Georgetown, Butler and Marquette have recently enjoyed trips to college basketball’s grandest stage, but it doesn’t have the same ring as Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh.
It will still be an entertaining league that will have representatives playing deep into March Madness.
There comes a point when regardless of the program that you cheer for, you have to feel a bit sorry for Cincinnati and Connecticut.
The Bearcats and Huskies were basically on all fours begging the ACC to grant them admission along with the programs it added, but instead, they will be stuck in a league of also-rans called the American Conference.
By the 2014-15 season, this league will include those two Big East/ACC cast-offs, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Temple, Tulane, Tulsa, Central Florida and South Florida. Sure, Memphis and Temple are established basketball programs, but we are still talking about a significant drop-off from the Big East for Cincinnati and Connecticut.
To assume that conference expansion and realignment is completely over would be a bit naïve, but for the time being, the Bearcats and Huskies will enjoy a number of easy wins in a league that will not garner them nearly the same amount of respect.
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The Mountain West has been as fluid of a situation as many of the “power conferences” with the sagas of Boise State and San Diego State. For a long time, it looked like the Broncos and Aztecs were both on their way out, but each has been reinstated into the league after the shuffling in the conferences that they were set to join.
That means that the Mountain West, which is coming off of a historically great regular season even if the NCAA tournament was somewhat forgettable, will be adding two squads by 2014 and keeping those two that were already in tow.
San Jose State and Utah State will join the fold and help the league continue in its quest to be considered as being on the same playing field as the power conferences.
Frankly speaking, San Jose State doesn’t exactly move the needle when it comes to basketball. The Spartans were an abysmal 9-20 in the WAC this season and probably won’t fare much better in the deeper Mountain West. However, Utah State is an up-and-coming program that enjoys one of the best home court advantages in the sport.
Look for the Aggies to consistently give the Mountain West another tournament team.