View Basketball schools in new leagues in 2013 in a larger map
How are you supposed to keep up with the conferences if you can't keep up with the teams? There's a new map of college basketball in 2013, and I'm here to help you keep everything organized. What we have is the greatest turnover/impact in league affiliation in modern hoops history. This conference seasons brings 20 teams paying rent to a new landlord, and that's not even counting schools like New Orleans, which moved back to Division I after stopping the reclassifying process to Division II.
So who's gone where? Why? What does it mean? Who benefits and who suffers? I'm laying it out for you here, just as conference play gets underway and these programs begin playing in new sheds on the road, fledgling rivalries just out of the box, still smelling like plastic. Try your best to not be confused; try your worst to get as frustrated as possible. Think about me, as I had to write and arrange this thing. College presidents: you're awful for this.
Big League Moves
1. Missouri (Big 12 to the SEC). It's forever fractured the relationship with Kansas, and that's the big downside. When will one of college basketball's greatest rivalries be restored? Could be decades, unfortunately. Missouri made the move for football, of course, but there's a good chance that in the short-term this could benefit basketball as well. As we've already seen so far this year, the Tigers can challenge all to win the SEC. Geographically the move isn't asinine, which you can only say about 40 percent of the time when dealing with conference shifts.
2. Texas A&M (Big 12 to the SEC). The Aggies' reasons for leaving the Big 12 differ in some ways from Missouri. Really, it's hilarious when you consider the biggest catalyst for the move wasn't purely football; rather, it was hate against Texas that made A&M turn heel. They're the kid who threatened to run away from home and actually went through with it ... then managed to find another upper-class family to live with who will also largely ignore them yet not consider them a total nuisance. You know the tropes of that classic American tale. From a basketball standpoint this does little. A&M never won a Big 12 title and it's probably never going to win an SEC one as well.
3. West Virginia (Big East to the Big 12). WVU's way out of the way from the rest of the league, but I've always felt the move made sense. The football culture there specifically blends so well into the nutbag programs in this league. But we approach this like the rest, from a hoops angle, and with that I think WVU could settle into a good position. It'll never be the best program in the league, but if Bob Huggins is there another decade, hovering around that two, three or four spot is a realistic expectation. This move is akin to -- back when people wrote checks -- getting accustomed to writing the correct year. You'll think West Virginia is in the Big East for a little while longer before the Big 12 connotation clicks.
4. TCU (Mountain West to the Big 12). OK, so, TCU was all packed and even had its boxes unloaded in the Big East. Then everyone was like "PSYCH!" and we actually had a case of conference movement that wound up ideal for all. The Big 12 needed a team and TCU is actually in Texas, not New Jersey, so moving to the Big 12 instead of the Big East was pragmatic and optimal. It actually took an accident for the geography of major-conference modification to make sense. The Horned Frogs (a nickname that's just outside the top 10 monikers in college sports) will seldom be relevant in basketball. But at least the Big 12 didn't get totally desperate and bring in someone like SMU. Still, this is filler. This is cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving. This is that one song on every Kanye record you can't stand.
|Stevens and Butler have a bright future, no matter their league. (Getty Images)|
5. Butler (Horizon to the Atlantic 10). The Butler Bulldogs' bolt was a biggie. It changed the Atlantic 10 for the better, sure, but now the Horizon is on the scramble for a program to replace it, and no one school can, at least not in the immediate future. (The Bulldogs were a flagship member of the conference, having helped found it in 1979, so there's sting to the divorce, certainly.) This is what two straight title-game appearances can do for a school (and I'll bet you next month's rent Butler doesn't reach back-to-back title games again during our lifetimes). The Dogs seem a good fit in the A-10, from the league's perspective. The races will be thicker and the top of the league should be consistently nationally relevant. We could get back to the days, like in the '90s, when the A-10 was really enthralling. I'm giddy for it.
That is ... unless the Catholic 7 woos Butler away. Could very well happen. No matter the league Butler ultimately settles in, the only downside is it can't expect to finish first or second with the regularity it did in the Horizon. Butler won 10 of the 15 possible regular-season titles in the HL since '97. They won't win two out of every three Atlantic 10/Catholic 7 crowns from now until 2028.
6. VCU (Colonial to the Atlantic 10). The combo of Butler and VCU to the A-10 this year is making for a league that's super competitive, possibly worthy of six (that is no exaggeration) NCAA tournament bids. It has, to a degree, rejiggered the power structure of college basketball. If the league is not on the same level as the rest of the big boys, it's a thin league line below it -- barely. So long as Shaka Smart is coaching the Rams, this program should be able to keep up. They most certainly have this season. The geography isn't dumb, either, and we get the cool benefit of intra-city rivalry, as Richmond is also paying Atlantic 10 rent. That's good for the league and the schools. Big fan of this move from every angle.
The Ripple Effect
7. Belmont (Atlantic Sun to the Ohio Valley). One of the bigger moves of impact for small-league college basketball. Belmont was recently the class of the A-Sun for years, having gone to five NCAA tournaments (zero wins) since 2006. Now, prior to that, Belmont wasn't a factor in the league, but it only joined in 2001. Still, the league takes a hit in hoops with its most prestigious power leaving the Sun for the Valley.
The real shame of this move: Lipscomb and Belmont play in the "Battle of the Boulevard," the closet geographical rivalry in D-I sports. The schools share a road (Belmont Boulevard, natch) and are two miles from each other. They've been -- or were -- intra-conference foes since Lipscomb joined the league in 2003. That's now gone, even if the rivalry, fortunately, won't die. Still, these kind of clashes are always better when presented with conference races as a backdrop of consequence.
8. Longwood (independent to the Big South). Was an independent from 2004 until last year. The Big South took on Longwood and now has 12 teams, giving it reason to go to a two-division format. Ultimately this has little impact on the greater picture. The Lancers will need, minimally, another four years before they can win the league/make an NCAA tournament. But a quick note on why I love the Big South: It's the only conference that's truly topographically compact. The league occupies just three states: North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. I salute that sort of state and size sensitivity.
9. Oral Roberts (Summit to the Southland). The Summit League has gone over a big transformation, both in name and in landscape, since 2007. Formerly the Mid-Continent Conference (Summit League is so much better), eight teams have either gone out or come into the league. ORU is a good program and will provide a sizable dent now that the Golden Eagles head to the Southland, which makes sense on the map, as ORU is located in Oklahoma and the Southland takes up Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. While in the Summit, ORU won the league three times -- 2006-08 -- and made an NCAA tournament. It can be a boss right away in its new digs.
10. Southern Utah (Summit to the Big Sky). The Thunderbirds! I just learned that while researching for this piece. (Its logo looks like it's on an inverse kamikaze mission.) Anyway, the program's only been to one NCAA tournament (2001) and ultimately, I guess, this is a better fit for the program. The Big Sky and Southern Utah: the marriage that makes sense but ultimately a move 99.6 percent of college basketball fans won't even notice happened.
11. North Dakota (Great West to the Big Sky). Significance here for North Dakota is the Great West (which will soon dissolve) is not eligible for an NCAA tournament berth. So now it goes to a league that is NCAA-eligible, a league that has seen founders Montana and Weber State lord over the conference. The big story with North Dakota is the NCAA-mandated nickname change the school has to go through. Everyone from locals to local tribes had no issues whatsoever with the Fighting Sioux moniker, but the NCAA has its rules regarding tribal usage in appellations. The school simply won't have a nickname in place until January of 2015 at the earliest, too. Awkward times.
12. Nebraska Omaha (independent to the Summit League). A necessary pickup. Better for Omaha than for the Summit. In time it could be a decent team within the league, but it's still in transition mode from D-II to D-I. Yes, another team coming to D-I. Let's plug the dam already. The highest level of the great sport that is men's college basketballl has about 70 teams too many.
A Whole New WAC
|Nevada hoops gets an upgrade with the move to the Mountain West but cheapens a weak WAC in the process. (US Presswire)|
13. Nevada (WAC to the Mountain West). So we've got this huge jumble with the WAC, which is basically unrecognizable now. A once-proud conference that was on the verge of extinction but is now merely, assuredly is headed toward irrelevance. I'm sorry to the 27 dedicated WAC people out there, but it's just the truth. Nevada's a really good, tried-and-true mid-major program ... and it left in a hurry for the once-fleeetingly-unstable Mountain West, which was born out of the WAC's left oblique muscle back in '99. Nevada will likely be as prosperous in its new league as its old one. Occasional NCAA appearances and seldom a basement-level team (though it will be just that in 2013).
14. Fresno State (WAC to the Mountain West). You see the domino effect at play here. Big leagues touch leagues like the Mountain West, which affects the WAC, which effects the Sun Belt and other small-league ilk. Fresno State hasn't made an NCAA tournament in 11 years and hadn't won a WAC crown since the vacated 2000 season. It was their only league title in 20 years in the WAC. It's moving for no other reason than a change would do it good.
15. Hawaii (WAC to the Big West). A good move for both, I think. The Big West is a step below the old WAC, and Hawaii has its limitations. It will probably do better in the next 15 years with the Big West than it did the past 15 in the WAC.
16. Denver (Sun Belt to the WAC). The WAC had a few necessary moves it needed to take on in order to prevent itself from going under. Denver's not a great program, but it should be good over the next few years. Unfortunately for the WAC, it's getting used like a hot girl uses a nerd for a homework assignment. The Pioneers are treating the WAC like a lean-to, leaving for the Summit after this season.
17. Texas-San Antonio (Southland to the WAC). And so we see the mass flip from one league to another. Here's a great stat about the Southland, which is losing three Texas schools. The Southland hasn't had back-to-back title winners since 1993, when Louisiana-Monroe was running game and took the crown four years straight. Will we see that kind of inconsistency in the one-bid WAC? Hope not.
18. Texas-Arlington (Southland to the WAC). At this point, does it even matter? This is when geography gets stupid, as the Western Athletic Conference is pridefully bringing in teams from the Central time zone. It's one thing at the super-high level, like the Big 12, Big East, etc. But now we're talking about funding and travel costs for schools with budgets thinner than Ben Howland's hair.
19. Texas State (Southland to the WAC). The Southland is basically changing its name to the WAC.
20. Seattle (independent to the WAC). The Redhawks are coached by former UCLA guard Cameron Dollar. Loved Dollar back in the day. As for the WAC, it's 2,161 miles from Seattle to San Antonio. This is college basketball in 2012. This is your realignment, for better or worse. Mostly worse.
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