The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

On the hardwood, who wins in the Mountain West-Conference USA merger?

Ryan Greene
The Dagger

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UNLV and UTEP will be conference foes once the 2013-14 season rolls around. (Getty)

In another football-driven shift of the college athletics landscape, the Mountain West and Conference USA — er, what's left of them — announced on Monday plans to dissolve and form a new league that will begin competition in the 2013-14 academic year.

But from a basketball standpoint, who's the big winner here?

That can't be firmly settled upon until all of the legalities and details of the merger are ironed out, but right now, it appears to be Conference USA.

In terms of incoming members, here's what each side brings to the table.

C-USA — Rice, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP, Southern Miss, East Carolina and Marshall.

MWC — UNLV, New Mexico, Air Force, Wyoming, Colorado State, Fresno State and Nevada. Hawaii is on its way in as a football-only member.

The Mountain West will add Fresno and Nevada in time for its final year of competition next fall, while San Diego State, Boise State and TCU are headed out.

Despite losing perennial power BYU after last season, the Mountain West has maintained its status as arguably the top non-power league in the country, ranking fifth in conference RPI this season — Ahead of both the ACC (No. 6) and the Pac-12 (No. 10).

With UNLV and San Diego State — the West Coast's two top teams — both ranked in the Top 15 and New Mexico tied with them atop the league standings heading into the stretch run, it's likely a three-bid league this season. Plus, Colorado State and Wyoming are legitimate up-and-comers who have nibbled at the edges of the bubble this season.

In other words, the league is on solid ground.

San Diego State caught plenty of criticism when it announced its intentions to become a football-only member of the Big East, while its most successful program — men's basketball — will head to the Big West (currently No. 26 in conference RPI).

The Aztecs, though, are making a high-risk, potentially high-reward move, though. The Big West, with a core trio of San Diego State, Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara could be this decade's version of the West Coast Conference, which gradually improved behind Gonzaga as the Bulldogs rose to national prominence.

With the impending merger, the Mountain West doesn't really gain much on the hardwood. UNLV and New Mexico are the two top remaining programs in the league moving forward, and that could still be true with the additions of the rest of Conference USA. In hoops, the move had far more appeal for the Mountain West just a couple of weeks ago before Memphis was poached by the Big East.

Meanwhile, it's a score for the good-not-great programs that pepper that vast middle tier of the Conference USA.

What remains interesting to see is how the scheduling structure lays out and what kind of television package the new league can score.

One of the bigger beefs for fan bases in both current conferences is the lack of mass distribution. Neither league has its conference games shown on the ESPN family of networks, which is ultimately what fans on both sides want.

Also, expect the new conference to be broken into East and West divisions to avoid too much tricky travel. Those, though, won't be formed until the league settles on a final number, which could be anywhere between and 24 members by the 2013-14 seasons as opposed to the current 15 lined up for all sports outside of football.

Will this be a final solution for those left in the dust in the two conferences that have been most thoroughly poached in this wave of realignment?

It's far too early to know, but the members of the new league feel as if they've found solid ground for once. And in terms of football, this is probably a good move for both sides.

On the hardwood, however, the jury is still out, but Conference USA has the early lead.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for RunRebs.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanmgreene.

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