Biggest Winners and Losers of College Basketball Realignment for 2013-14 Season
With 50 teams changing conferences and a brand new conference taking shape in the process, the college basketball landscape transformed drastically on July 1.
A lot of the moves were more or less irrelevant. Unless you're a proud alumnus of Houston Baptist, there's no reason for you to know or care that the Huskies are now a member of the Southland conference as opposed to the now dissolved Great West that they played in last season.
On the other hand, some of the shifts were nothing short of massive. It's not very often that the reigning National Champion becomes a member of a conference that didn't even exist when it was cutting down the nets.
Most of the realignment of national interest was localized to six conferences. The AAC, ACC, A-10, Big East, C-USA and WAC each underwent quite the makeover. As such, we'll be taking a look at each of them to recap which teams came and went and to identify the biggest winners and losers from these changes.
American Athletic Conference
New Members: Central Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Rutgers, South Florida, Southern Methodist and Temple
Departed Members: None
Biggest Winner: Rutgers
If there's any team in the country that needed a change of scenery from last season, it's Rutgers.
It'll be some time before we've forgotten about the "coaching tactics" that led to Mike Rice's firing this past April, but the wounds might heal a little quicker if the Scarlet Knights can post a .500 conference record for the first time since the 2001-02 season.
After more than a decade of playing the part of whipping boy for powerhouses like Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Marquette, they'll at least have a snowball's chance in New Jersey of competing in this new conference.
Biggest Loser: Memphis
This is somewhat of a catch-22.
Ever since Cincinnati, Louisville and Marquette left Conference USA after the 2004-05 season, one couldn't talk about the Memphis Tigers without receiving some snide remark about a junior varsity team being able to go undefeated against their conference schedule.
Eight regular season games against the likes of Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville and Temple will change that narrative, but it will likely also detract from their win total.
Along with Butler and Creighton in the new Big East, it'll be interesting to see how the selection committee and in-season polls treat these teams making the leap from mid-major to middling team in a major conference.
Honorable mention for Biggest Loser to whoever ends up being the 37th-best at-large school and misses out on the NCAA tournament because of the new auto bid created for this conference. Here's hoping it's either a current or former member of the Big East, simply for the sake of irony.
New Members: Butler, Creighton and Xavier
Departed Members: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida and Syracuse
Biggest Winner: Marquette
The Golden Eagles have been a very strong regular season team for the past eight years, but always seem to be disrespected in favor of stronger Big East teams.
For evidence of this phenomenon, look no further than last March. Despite earning a share of the regular season Big East crown, Marquette was widely regarded as the weakest No. 3 seed in the tournament and given minimal chance of surviving the opening weekend against Davidson and Butler.
As has been the case for several years, Marquette exceeded expectations by advancing to the Elite Eight.
Perhaps now it will be in a position of expected greatness. The new Big East will look nothing like the old one. The difference in talent between the top two teams and bottom two teams will be much closer than it has been in a long, long time. But there's a good chance the Golden Eagles will finish on top this season.
For once, it shouldn't be a surprise when they do so.
Biggest Loser: DePaul
Over the last five seasons, DePaul had a great total of seven conference wins. Despite all of the conference realignment and the removal of Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh and others from its schedule, DePaul's journey didn't exactly get any easier.
The Blue Demons start their conference schedule with road games against Georgetown, Marquette and Butler with only a home game against Creighton in between.
Maybe they'll surprise us and finish somewhere other than dead last in the Big East for the first time since the 2007-08 season, but Oliver Purnell still has his work cut out for him.
Atlantic Coast Conference
New Members: Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse
Departed Members: None
Biggest Winner: College basketball fans
If you haven't already done so, cancel all of your plans for January through March and buckle in for an incredible ride.
On the very first Saturday of 2014, we'll have Pittsburgh vs. North Carolina State at noon, Miami vs. Syracuse at 2 p.m., Duke vs. Notre Dame at 4 p.m. and Virginia vs. Florida State at 5 p.m. Never mind all of the other action taking place around the country, the ACC alone is seven full hours of must-see TV.
Pepper in the games involving North Carolina and the inevitable awkwardness of each and every road game in Maryland's final year in the ACC, and you've got a recipe for fun basketball in this conference on a nearly nightly basis.
Biggest Loser: Any team that decides to have a rebuilding year
As recently as last season, an ACC team could get away with playing at less than full potential for significant stretches of the season. With all due respect to Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Boston College, there's a fine line between preparing for those teams and preparing for the three newcomers to the conference.
The Tar Heels struggled to find their way last season. They were blown out in three of their first 11 regular season games and subsequently dropped to 0-2 in ACC play. But they rebounded and made the NCAA tournament by virtue of a 12-0 record against the teams who finished .500 or worse in the conference.
Pull an early-season stunt like that this year and they'll be lucky to make the NIT now that they're playing in a conference with seven members that made the NCAA tournament last year.
New Members: George Mason
Departed Members: Butler, Charlotte, Temple and Xavier
Biggest Winner: Virginia Commonwealth
Saint Louis and La Salle should be competitive again. It's never easy to win at Dayton or St. Joseph's. But with Butler, Temple and Xavier out of the picture, there's no questioning that this is VCU's conference to lose.
Things could get a little rough for the Rams in the early going. Before the end of November, they'll play a road game against Virginia and a possible slate of games against Florida State, Michigan and Georgetown in a span of four days in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament.
Beyond that, it's pretty easy sailing. It wouldn't be a total surprise if they won at least 23 of their 25 regular season games after Thanksgiving.
Biggest Loser: Atlantic 10
Last year was an incredible one for the A-10. It sent five teams to the NCAA tournament and nearly sent a sixth in the form of Massachusetts.
Unfortunately, four of the eight best teams skipped town this summer, leaving in their wake the conference that was arguably most negatively impacted by the onslaught of realignment.
There should still be multiple A-10 teams in the NCAA tournament this season, but five teams isn't going to happen. Frankly, three bids for this modified conference might be a stretch.
New Members: Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Old Dominion and UTSA
Departed Members: Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and Southern Methodist
Biggest Winner: Conference USA
With the aforementioned presumed decline of the Atlantic 10 and the expected drop-off in the Missouri Valley with the departure of Creighton to the Big East, someone is bound to fill the mid-major void.
Look no further than the conference which used to simply be Memphis and company.
In a strange way, losing Memphis might have helped Conference USA. Adding Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and Old Dominion certainly didn't hurt. Now it's a conglomerate of 16 teams—most of which are better than your average team from, say, the Ohio Valley Conference or Colonial Athletic Association.
2005 was the last time this conference sent more than two teams to the NCAA tournament. With the way things shook out with realignment, there ought to be three C-USA teams in there this year.
Biggest Loser: Southern Miss
The Golden Eagles won at least 20 games and finished .500 or better in conference play in each of the past four seasons.
For all of their trouble, they made the NCAA Tournament just once and finished behind Memphis every season, thanks in large part to a 1-9 record against the Tigers during that stretch.
Memphis finally leaves the conference, but in come Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee fresh off of 55 combined regular season wins last year. Some teams just can't catch a break.
Western Athletic Conference
New Members: Cal State Bakersfield, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, Texas-Pan American, UMKC and Utah Valley
Departed Members: Denver, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Texas-Arlington, Texas State, UTSA and Utah State
Biggest Winner: Nobody
Just three years ago, this was a relatively respectable conference. Boise State, Denver, Louisiana Tech, Nevada and Utah State were staples atop the standings, with one of them routinely winning at least 26 games and moderately threatening to contend for an at-large bid.
All of those teams are gone. What's left of the WAC is New Mexico State, seven teams that had an RPI of worse than 190 last season and Grand Canyon—which was playing D-II basketball a year ago.
Biggest Loser: The case for automatic bids
The A-10 was ravaged by realignment, but it will still be a competitive conference.
Minor conferences like the WAC, Sun Belt and CAA went from below-average to downright laughable. The difference between the 10th-best conference and the 10th-worst conference is much more distinct than ever before.
On the one hand, it helps the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds that a few teams from terrible conferences get to go to the NCAA tournament.
On the other hand, if anyone other than New Mexico State wins the WAC conference tournament, it might not score a single point in its tournament game.
Regardless, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense that the WAC lost seven teams, added six teams that are each decidedly worse than all of the teams it lost and still gets to send a team to the NCAA Tournament.