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College shuffle yields basketball winners, losers

| Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — About a week ago, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was singing the virtues of a Big East Conference that had already been poached of Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

"I mean let's be honest," Huggins said at the time, "if you have Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, Connecticut, West Virginia, whoever — Louisville, you know, whoever, it's still a very, very, very good basketball league."

Well, the conference realignment merry-go-round promptly sent West Virginia spinning off to the Big 12, and Huggins is now praising a conference that he's been involved with before, one that added West Virginia only because it lost Texas A&M and Missouri is headed out the door.

The ongoing saga of conference realignment has been driven by the big-money world of college football. Huggins knows that. But its ramifications on college basketball are undeniable.

Some conferences have won. Others have lost.

Divining who falls in each category is an exercise in mathematics, history — some would argue futility. Did the Big 12 add through subtraction• It lost traditional lightweights Nebraska and Colorado, likely boosting its overall RPI, which figures heavily into the decisions made by the NCAA Tournament selection committee every March. What about the ACC adding Pittsburgh and Syracuse?

Where does a Big East that doesn't suddenly seem all that big fit into things?

"People ask me what's it like. I've done it before," DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. "When I was at Dayton, we were in the Great Midwest Conference for six months. That league blew up and it became, I think, Conference USA. We weren't invited in, and we went to the Atlantic 10.

"So I've been through it before," the former Clemson coach said. "At Old Dominion, I was in the Sun Belt and Colonial Athletic Association. So although it seems like this stuff has never, ever happened before, certainly there are some things like that that have happened before."

Just not on this level. Not this widespread.

It hasn't ended, either. After the announcement last week that West Virginia is headed from the Big East to the Big 12, and with the pending defection of Missouri from the Big 12 to the SEC, the dominos are still teetering, and each one that falls will knock several others down.

The latest news has the Big East courting UCF and Memphis, among others. If they decide to leave Conference USA, that traditionally strong basketball league will go searching elsewhere to restock, and the merry-go-round will spin on and on.

"The minute you think everything's settled, it's not," Purnell said. "When I first got in the ACC, it was a nine-team league. One year later, it was a 12-team league, and I thought that was fast — not like this. This is lightning fast, what's going on. Just stay tuned."

With the tipoff approaching to the college basketball season, and five months to go before March Madness, let's examine the winners and losers in conference realignment.

Quickly, before things change again.


ACC: Headlined by bluebloods like Duke and North Carolina, the Atlantic Coast Conference has traditionally been one of the toughest leagues in college basketball.

Then again, it's easy to forget the Mountain West was tougher last year.

That doesn't figure to be the case going forward, not after the ACC worked behind the scenes and out of the spotlight to lure Big East brethren Pitt and Syracuse to its ranks.

The Panthers have made 10 straight NCAA appearances, averaged an RPI of 14.75 over the past eight seasons, and won a combined six Big East regular season and tournament titles over the past decade.

Syracuse has been to four Final Fours behind the stewardship of Jim Boeheim.

"I transferred to Duke to play with the best players in the country, against the best players," said Duke guard Seth Curry, who began his college career at Liberty. It seems he'll get his chance.

Big 12: After wobbling on the brink of extinction, and with a future that remains somewhat murky, the Big 12 may have actually come out ahead when it comes to basketball.

Nebraska took its high-profile football program to the Big Ten, but also took along a hoops program with an average RPI of 105 over the past eight years. Colorado has been an even bigger drain on the league, with one winning season in the last five and an eight-year RPI average of 136.

That's called addition by subtraction.

"No disrespect to those schools but I don't think anyone in our league is going to talk about Nebraska or Colorado moving forward," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "It's not because we're mad, but it's just because I don't think you deal with the 'what ifs' or 'I thinks."'

The Big 12 added TCU for its football — certainly not for its middling basketball program — and the addition of West Virginia makes the pending loss of Missouri to the SEC easier to handle.

West Coast: Jimmer Fredette and BYU are a big reason the Mountain West was a brutal place to play last season. Well, Fredette is gone to the NBA, and BYU is off to the West Coast Conference.

A league ruled by Gonzaga for years is suddenly deeper and more talented than ever. BYU hasn't been outside the top 35 in RPI the past five seasons.

"We were only going to do something if it was a perfect fit institutionally. On the other side, we were only going to do something if it makes us better," WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said. "This one was a pretty obvious one in making us better competitively."


Big East: Arguably the toughest league in the country over the past decade and a record-setter last season with 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament, the Big East has been weakened considerably after losing two of its most storied programs in Pitt and Syracuse.

The conference is seeking replacements that include UCF and Memphis, and Louisville coach Rick Pitino has openly campaigned for Temple to return. Regardless of who signs on, the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden will have a much different feel going forward.

Big Ten: Nebraska's traditional strength in football is the primary reason the Big Ten came courting, but its hoops program doesn't bring along nearly the same excitement.

The Huskers haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 1998.

"It's not going to take as big a toll as football does," Northwestern guard Alex Marcotullio said. "Adding Nebraska in the mix is just another team and another opponent we have to worry about."

Pac-12: Commissioner Larry Scott certainly didn't seek Colorado and Utah when he expanded the Pac-10 because of their prowess on the hardwood.

Colorado has only been to the NCAA Tournament twice in the past four decades, and hasn't been to the round of 16 since 1963. The once-mighty Utes are coming off a bleak 12-18 season.

"Everybody is tremendously excited about our conference expansion and the ability it's had to negotiate a new TV contract and increase our geographic footprint," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said, hardly giving the new programs a winning endorsement.

"The Pac-12 is really poised to continue moving forward," Sendek said.

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