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Pros and Cons of College Basketball Realignment in the 2014-15 Season

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystJuly 3, 2014

Pros and Cons of College Basketball Realignment in the 2014-15 Season

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    As of July 1, 16 college basketball teams have changed conferences for the 2014-15 season, and we've come up with 10 pros and cons from those moves.

    Compared to the dozens and dozens of schools that realigned conferences last summer, this set of transitions was barely a drop in the bucket, but there were certainly some major ramifications, nonetheless.

    If nothing else, getting used to seeing Maryland in the Big Ten and Louisville in the ACC will take some time.

    In case you need a cheat sheet of which teams are moving to and from where, we're including a full list of moves on the next slide before diving into the pros and cons.

Who Moved Where?

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    Appalachian State MountaineersFrom Southern to Sun Belt

    Davidson WildcatsFrom Southern to Atlantic-10

    East Carolina PiratesFrom Conference USA to American

    East Tennessee State BuccaneersFrom Atlantic Sun to Southern

    Elon PhoenixFrom Southern to Colonial

    Georgia Southern EaglesFrom Southern to Sun Belt

    Idaho VandalsFrom WAC to Big Sky

    Louisville CardinalsFrom American to ACC

    Maryland TerrapinsFrom ACC to Big Ten

    Mercer BearsFrom Atlantic Sun to Southern

    Oral Roberts Golden EaglesFrom Southland to Summit League

    Rutgers Scarlet KnightsFrom American to Big Ten

    Tulane Green WaveFrom Conference USA to American

    Tulsa Golden HurricaneFrom Conference USA to American

    Virginia Military Institute KeydetsFrom Big South to Southern

    Western Kentucky HilltoppersFrom Sun Belt to Conference USA

Pro: Davidson's Recruitability

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    Everyone remembers Davidson's incredible run to the Elite Eight during the 2008 NCAA tournament. But it would be even more incredible if you could name five players who have suited up for Bob McKillop in the five-plus years since Stephen Curry left town.

    The Wildcats have continued to win regular-season SoCon titles and have made a few NCAA tournament appearances because McKillop is one of the more underrated coaches in the country. But they have not landed so much as a 4-star recruit in the past half decade.

    Moving to the A-10 isn't suddenly going to turn Davidson into the Calipari Expressway for top talent, but it should certainly be easier to attract "middling" talent with the promise of actually getting to play a few nationally televised games every year.

    As McKillop told David Scott of the Charlotte Observer, "This is a big-league leap. ... Our roster is still a Southern Conference roster, so we have significant work to do and a significant distance to catch up."

    So maybe don't expect Davidson to truly compete in the A-10 until that recruiting pipeline kicks in, but the Wildcats will be improved in the long run.

Con: Remaining SoCon Teams Still in Trouble

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    "All hail conference realignment! Davidson the great is gone!"Coaches at all of the other Southern Conference schools.

    (What's that you say? In place of Davidson, we now have to contend with the team that beat Duke in the 2014 NCAA tournament as well as the team that led the nation in scoring last season? Son of a...)

    Out of the frying pan and into the fire, as it were.

    Davidson won at least a share of 13 of the last 18 SoCon regular-season championships and represented the conference in the NCAA tournament seven times in less than two decades. But the Wildcats' departure from the minor conference doesn't exactly mean we'll be seeing Citadel or Furman competing for banners.

    Mercer was more than just a one-hit wonder, having won at least 24 games in three consecutive seasons. The Bears lose a ton of seniors this summer, but Bob Hoffman will have that team ready to compete once again.

    VMI was the other major acquisition for the SoConnot because the Keydets are some sort of annual powerhouse, but their uptempo style of play could be extremely menacing in a new conference unaccustomed to their game.

    And let's not forget the third new addition to the conference. East Tennessee State hasn't been particularly good over the last three years, but the Buccaneers did finish above .500 in the Atlantic Sun in all but one of the past nine seasons.

    For both ETSU and VMI, realigning to the SoCon is a bit of a homecoming parade as both were members of the conference as recently as the 2002-03 season.

    Speaking of homecoming...

Pro: Idaho and Oral Roberts Returning to Its Roots

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    In the 18 seasons since the Idaho Vandals left the Big Sky for the Big West (and later moved to the WAC), they have a combined record of 219-319, finishing just five seasons with a record of .500 or better and failing to win 20 games in any of them.

    Back in the 1980's, though, the Vandals had two separate stints in which they dominated the Big Sky.

    From 1980-83, they went 72-16, including a 27-3 season that produced the team's first and only NCAA tournament victory. Idaho also posted a 25-6 record during both the 1988-89 and 1989-90 seasons, advancing to the NCAA tournament in both yearsthe last time the Vandals were invited to the dance.

    Might a return to the Big West ignite a little magic? They'll certainly have some serious competition with Eastern Washington, but anything is possible.

    And then we've got Oral Roberts returning to the Summit League after a two-year hiatus to the Southland.

    During their 15 seasons in the Summit League, the Golden Eagles won six regular-season championships and competed in three consecutive NCAA tournaments from 2006-08.

    With both North Dakota State and South Dakota State losing a ton of important players this summer, Oral Roberts has a pretty good shot at diving right back into the pool for another title.

Con: Conference USA's Middle Tier

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    Over the past few seasons, East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa have become staples as Conference USA teams that will win a handful of conference games while putting up a fight against a few big-name schools.

    But now all three of those teams will be competing in the American Athletic Conference, leaving C-USA with a few teams at the top of the pack and not much else.

    Inevitably, teams like Marshall and North Texas will jump up and put together a .500 recordbecause some team has to win when it plays against Florida Atlantic, Rice and UTSAbut what was once a pretty balanced conference from top to bottom now has a continental divide between the contenders and the bottom-feeders.

    C-USA does add Western Kentucky to contend with Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss, but it will very likely remain a one-bid league with a plethora of bad RPIs dragging down everyone else's at-large hopes.

Pro: Elon's Chances of Finally Making NCAA Tournament

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    On the one hand, Elon is losing four of its five leading scorers from last season and may struggle considerably to figure out an offensive game plan without them.

    On the other, the Phoenix move from the Southern Conference and near-annual champion Davidson to the Colonial Athletic Association where virtually anything goes.

    Delaware and Towson were at the head of the class last year, but those two teams are each losing its top-four scorers from last season. Honestly, Hofstra might be the team to beat in that conference this year, and the Pride went 10-23 last season.

    Elon might not be one of the favorites to win the CAA, but it definitely has better odds than it would in the Southern Conference.

Con: Big Ten's Travel Budget

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    Back in the days when the Big Ten actually had 10 teams, it was a tight-knit little community of bitter rivalries around the Great Lakes. You probably wouldn't want to make the 12-hour drive from Ohio State to Minnesota very often, but that was as far as any team needed to travel.

    Adding Penn State before the 1992-93 season started the expansion to the east. Picking up Nebraska for 2011-12 branched things out to the west.

    But now the Big Ten (Big 14?) is adding Maryland and Rutgers.

    Where does it end? Is South Florida a candidate to join the Big Ten? What about Hawaii?

    That's a joke, obviously, but it doesn't seem likely that Rutgers fans will be making very many road trips. Penn State is the closest Big Ten school to the Scarlet Knights, and that's a four-hour drive if you're lucky.

    Granted, the ACC is spread out across almost one-third of the country, but at least the ACC's recent additions have been teams that make the conference even better.

    It's been 32 years since Rutgers won more than 20 games.

    Now the Scarlet Knights just have to travel a lot farther to lose their 18 games per season.

Pro: Fresh Start for Appalachian State

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    Since signing Jason Capel as the head coach in April 2010, it's been pretty much all downhill for the Mountaineers of Appalachian State.

    They were 24-13 under Buzz Peterson during the 2009-10 season. Since then, they have won just 43 percent of their games, including a dreadful 9-21 record during the 2013-14 season.

    They fired Jason Capel within 72 hours of the season ending, but not before he stirred up quite the controversy by refusing to allow Devonte Graham out of his National Letter of Intent.

    (My two cents on that mess: Don't sign a NLI until you're done being recruited. Capel was vilified as the meanie head that wouldn't let a high school kid change his mind, but Graham metaphorically broke off an engagement because he realized he could get someone hotter than his current fiancee. Neither party came out smelling like roses.)

    Long story short, it has been a messy couple of seasons, and the Mountaineers get to hit the reset button by relocating to the Sun Belt Conference.

Con: Sun Belt Takes a Step Back

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    The Sun Belt Conference registered on the national radar when Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton was taken with the No. 10 overall pick in the NBA draft last month. And as SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell recently wrote, Georgia State is set to explode.

    Between draft picks, transfers and the realization of sheer potential, it has been a good couple of months for the Sun Belt.

    But it suffered a pretty considerable net loss in conference realignment by losing one great team and adding a pair of duds.

    For years, Western Kentucky was the Sun Belt Conference.

    The Hilltoppers had represented the conference in the NCAA tournament seven times since the start of the new millennium. Only once in the past 14 seasons did they finish the season below .500, and they ended up winning the conference tournament that year anyway.

    But now Western Kentucky is moving to Conference USA, and in its place come a pair of teams that haven't won so much as 17 games in any of the past four seasons.

    We already addressed Appalachian State's recent woes on the previous slide, and Georgia Southern hasn't been any better on the court, winning just 34.6 percent of its games over the last six years.

    The swap might give Georgia State a better chance of going undefeated in conference play, but it won't be doing any favors for the conference's RPI.

Pro: ACC Tournaments

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    For my money, the biggest casualty over the past few seasons has been the death of the Big East tournament. Those four or five days at Madison Square Garden were just as much fun as the tournament for which the winner received an automatic bid.

    But the great Big East schism of 2013 took that great tradition and threw it into the trash.

    Good thing someone sifted through the wreckage and moved it to the recycling bin instead.

    With Louisville now joining Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame in the ACC, that conference tournament could be every bit as great as the Big East tournament ever was.

    They aren't quite MSG, but the Verizon Center in 2016 and the Barclays Center in 2017 and 2018 should be excellent venues for an outstanding few days in March.

Con: American Quickly Becoming Mid-Major

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    It took all of two years for the American Athletic Conference to go from nonexistence to the reincarnation of Conference USA of the mid-2000s.

    Ten years ago, Conference USA included Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, South Florida and Tulane. One year later, Central Florida, Southern Methodist and Tulsa joined Conference USA.

    Now those nine teams, Connecticut and Temple make up the AAC, which may or may not really be a major conference.

    It certainly helps the AAC's case that it produced the national champion last season, and it doesn't hurt that SMU is expected to be one of the 10 or 15 best teams in the country this year.

    But with Louisville gone and three borderline teams coming in, it's getting much harder to convince us that the American is a better conference than the Atlantic-10, Mountain West or West Coast conferences.

     

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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