Pflugradt: Conference realignment—How do teams typically fare in their inaugural season?



The AAC banner is unveiled during the State of the American event in Koch arena.

Wichita State isn’t projected to win the American Athletic Conference in their inaugural season, according to AAC coaches’ preseason projections. The new kids on the block lost out by a single vote to Cincinnati.

Conference realignment is a ripple effect, with expanding conferences and teams moving into spots as they open up.

The Shockers’ move to the American is the highest-profile case of conference realignment this season, and expectations are high as WSU enters with one of the nation’s top-ranking teams.

When the Shockers joined the AAC in the offseason, Valparaiso slid in to fill the opening in the Missouri Valley Conference. The IUPUI Jaguars traded the Summit league for the Horizon league. The list goes on and on.

Coastal Carolina was the only team to sport a new conference for Division I basketball last year. After jumping from the Big South to the Sun Belt, the Chanticleers finished eighth out of 12 teams in their inaugural season.

Northern Kentucky, who jumped from the Atlantic Sun to the Horizon in 2015, also experienced a rough entry — suffering a 5-13 record in their opening season.

2014 was a year of monumental conference realignment. Ten teams, including Louisville, Maryland, and Davidson, to name a few, made the big move.

Davidson didn’t wait to up the intensity. In their inaugural season, the Wildcats went 14-4 in league play, topping the division for the regular season before falling to Virginia Commonwealth in the A10 conference tournament.

Davidson had outgrown the Southern conference, where they not only won the regular season for their final three seasons, but dominated the competition, losing a mere four games in conference play from 2011-2014.

Davidson proved that their skillset could translate at a higher level — exactly what Gregg Marshall hopes to prove with WSU in their inaugural season in the AAC.

Louisville won the AAC’s regular-season title in 2014, their final year, before bouncing for the Atlantic Coast Conference, where they amassed a 12-6 record while placing fourth in the ACC standings.

Eventually, teams that make the switch, turn it on. Northern Kentucky advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season after winning the Horizon league conference tournament. East Tennessee State claimed the top spot in the Southern conference last season after making the switch.

Success takes time.

Teams in their inaugural season of a new conference haven’t always fared well, rarely competing for the top spot in the conference standings — just don’t tell the Shockers.