Now, the flurry has stopped. Conference realignment will likely go quiet for a while.
“Hopefully we’re starting one of those periods where we’re all intact and can reach our full potential,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford told the Associated Press in July.
But the question surrounding the parade of leapfrogging — which really got going in the early 2000s and has ramped up to what some might call out-of-control movement in the past four years — has always been what that potential means, exactly.
How long would fans have to wait to see the moves pay dividends? We didn’t know.
But with the dust only just settling from the last wave of big changes, we’re watching it happening right away — across the country and in Minnesota’s new backyard.
Once the Big Ten was a Midwestern affair; now, the conference has boldly stepped to the East Coast. And so far, that’s working. While the addition of Penn State (12-7, 0-6) never threatened to shake things up much, versatile, athletic Maryland (17-3, 5-2) has exploded into its new home in a big way, threatening for the title in its very first year in the league. And after being picked 10th in the preseason media poll no less. Nebraska (11-7, 3-3), although taking a step backward from a fourth-place finish last year, has increased the overall conference depth since joining in 2011. And even Rutgers (10-10; 2-5) looks better than advertised, avoiding the Big Ten basement for now after a pair of wins — including an upset over favorite Wisconsin (17-2; 5-1).
But it’s not just the Big Ten that is benefiting. New addition Louisville (15-3, 3-2; No. 10 in the AP poll) and second-year Notre Dame (18-2; 6-1, No. 8) sit among the elite in an ACC that looks stronger than ever, with five teams in the top 15 nationwide. In the Pac-12, Utah, which came on board in 2011, is making an unexpected splash. Two seasons away from going 15-18 and three seasons from a 6-25 crash, coach Larry Krystkowiak’s Utes (15-3, 5-1) are No. 12 team in the country and, along with power Arizona (17-2, 5-1) are helping to put a face on an otherwise balanced Pac-12.
The Big East project, meanwhile, can quickly be called a success. The 10 basketball-oriented schools that combined for a totally new Big East than the one my father grew up with have six teams in analyst Ken Pomeroy’s top 40 rankings — four more than last year.
For all of the gnashing of teeth over the upheaval, the power conference moves are looking pretty good.
“It’s all about getting a good brand to join your conference,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “The power moves that were made — I think they all seem like they’re paying off pretty well.”
Of course not every shift looks brilliant, at least not yet, at least not on this playing surface. The SEC watched both Texas A&M (12-5, 3-2) and Missouri (7-11, 1-4) go to and win bowl games this winter, but the league is still waiting for someone else to challenge perennial basketball giant Kentucky (18-0, 5-0). And the old Big East teams that were left behind combined with a hodgepodge of leftovers — the new American Athletic Conference is stuck in transition mode, with many athletic directors likely eyeing the door.
Still, the early dividends have been fun to see.
The on-paper advantages for the conferences themselves were evident before the moves were made: Big TV deals that span more lucrative markets can only be a financial pro. Expanding conferences’ recruiting pull within those regions is exciting for coaches.
But now, fans who wanted more marquee matchups and better races to the top — well, they’re getting rewarded too. And overall, probably earlier than we thought.
Big Ten Power Poll
Indiana (15-4, 5-1): Can it be? It can. The Hoosiers’ victory over Maryland was the most impressive of the week.
Wisconsin (17-2, 5-1): Knocked from the top spot after bludgeoning Iowa? It’s more a statement about the Hoosiers than Wisconsin.
Maryland (17-3, 5-2): Uh oh, Terrapins. A loss at Indiana but nearly 20 points could hurt in the long run.
Michigan State (13-6, 4-2): The Spartans didn’t do anything impressive, but they also didn’t do anything embarrassing (see below).
Iowa (13-6, 4-2): Ouch. The Hawkeyes can’t hide from a 32-point loss at Wisconsin.
Ohio State (15-5, 4-3): The Buckeyes were swept by Iowa already this year and barely slid by Northwestern.
Illinois (13-7, 3-5): Considering all the injuries (latest: 6-3 junior Aaron Cosby), the Illini are doing A-OK.
Michigan (12-7, 5-2): Life won’t be easy without Caris LeVert (broken foot), but the Wolverines had enough to push past Rutgers on the road.
Purdue (11-8, 3-3): After two weeks of challenges, it’s not getting easier. Iowa and Indiana are on deck at home.
Nebraska (11-7, 3-3): Hard to give a team much credit for an ugly win over the Gophers.
Rutgers (10-10, 2-5): A three-game losing streak strips some of the shine off that Wisconsin win.
Gophers (12-8, 1-6): In this league, killer instinct is critical.
Northwestern (10-9, 1-5): Chris Collins’ fury over a missed goaltending call made no difference. Coach got the T, the Wildcats got another loss.
Penn State (12-7; 0-6): The only winless squad sits alone in the basement.
College Hoops Short Takes
Dust yourself off, Iowa: The No. 25 Hawkeyes were obliterated by No. 6 Wisconsin on Tuesday. Yes, they were in Madison, but a 32-point beatdown? That’s not indicative of a team vying for an NCAA tournament spot — especially since Wisconsin is without point guard Traevon Jackson. Also, the Hawkeyes’ sweep of Ohio State is looking less meaningful. A victory at Purdue (11 a.m. Saturday, BTN) is necessary.
Hoosiers running: Indiana has seemingly come out of nowhere to charge into the national rankings (No. 23) and tie the Badgers atop the Big Ten with an 89-70 upset of No. 13 Maryland in Bloomington. That win, along with Ohio State’s slide-by at Northwestern, took a little luster off Sunday’s trip to Columbus (12:30, Ch. 4), but the backcourt matchups — Yogi Ferrell vs. Shannon Scott; James Blackmon Jr. vs. D’Angelo Russell — still make it must-see television.
Time to stake the claim: OK, Wisconsin, you’re being challenged again, and it’s not just the turtles now, it’s Indiana, too. A thrashing of Iowa was big, but the Badgers need to keep it up at struggling Michigan (6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN) for just their second road win of the season if they want to maintain their Big Ten chokehold.
‘Big Three’ watch
A weekly update on Minnesotans Tyus Jones (Apple Valley, Duke), Reid Travis (DeLaSalle, Stanford) and Rashad Vaughn (Cooper, UNLV):
Jones posted a career-high 22 points in Duke’s 79-65 win over Pittsburgh on Monday, but if you’ve been paying close attention, the big game wasn’t a surprise. According to statistics compiled by the Duke Chronicle, in eight nationally televised games Jones is averaging 14.6 points on 49.2 percent shooting from the field, 41.4 percent shooting from three-point range and 91.8 percent free-throw shooting. In games that aren’t on national TV? Those averages drop to 6.5 points, 34 percent from the field, 30 percent on threes and 78.8 percent on free throws.