College basketball fans are sick of seeing great conferences torn apart in the name of big-time football.

The Big East used to be hoops heaven. By next season, with SMU, Houston and other GPS-defying programs coming aboard, it will have morphed into a wishful-thinking version of the Big 12. Conference USA began life as safe harbor for schools like Louisville and Cincinnati that treated football season like a four-month pep rally for basketball. With Memphis leaving next year, it becomes a clearinghouse for square pegs. Venerable Midwestern schools without major football programs are forced to pretend they are located in Connecticut. The hoops-only schools on the West Coast with national buzz consist of Gonzaga and thanks for playing.

It's time to create a conference that gives college basketball back to college basketball fans: Let's call it the Hoops USA Conference. There are mumblings of just such a conference taking shape from the sloughed-off Big East basketball powerhouses and some of their friends. This article corn-feeds that proposal and turns it into a nationwide basketball celebration: 14 teams, coast-to-coast, all of them with rich traditions and strong (or strong enough) current programs.

H-USA is the stuff of dreams, but we also keep one foot grounded in reality. Teams are selected with travel logistics in mind, which already puts it one step up on the Big East. Television markets are an important factor, and H-USA is well-represented in the four largest, while at the same time making sure the small cities of the interior get a chance to share the stage.

H-USA will start life as one of the three or four best conferences in the nation. Sure, the ACC has it beat, but football-centric majors like the Pac-10 and SEC won't be able to compete with H-USA when it comes to top-to-bottom quality. Television networks will drool over this lineup, with its mix of big-city schools and programs with passionate national bases. But broadcast rights won't come cheap. We'll offer NBC the championship tournament and a menu of games, with Mark Cuban getting a chance to bid for his AXS TV network. (Cuban must provide a weekly half-hour show called H-USA today. He can be a regular guest on it. He'll like that). Regional networks will also get their chance. There will be a lot of great basketball to go around, and tons of fans clamoring to watch it.

To ensure the integrity of H-USA, however, schools are forbidden from playing FBS-level football. Sorry, UNLV. Sorry, Temple. While what you guys play is only technically "FBS-level football," you are banned from H-USA until you get your priorities straight.

Here's the H-USA lineup. To give you a sense of the quality of the conference, team resumes include an update on their early-season performance and current stars. Imagine these teams grinding against each other on the national stage, and let your hoop dreams run wild.


Eastern Division

Butler University

Current Conference: Atlantic 10

Media Market: Indianapolis, Ind., 25th largest in nation

Resume: Two NCAA title game appearances in the last four seasons. Five Horizon League championships in the 2000s. Wins over North Carolina and Marquette at the start of this year, and strong play from senior forward Rotnei Clarke, indicate that America's favorite little basketball school will more than hold its own in the tough A-10.

Analysis: The A-10 is currently a halfway house for basketball powers on the way up (Temple, Charlotte), at loose ends (UMass) or hopelessly lost in mid-20th century inner-city America (Fordham, La Salle). Butler arrived as the conference braced for the loss of Temple this year, but while the Bulldogs bring quality basketball, they bring no local tradition or regional flavor to a conference historically anchored in Philadelphia, with tendrils up and down I-95 and along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

If Butler is going to play in a nation-spanning Frankenconference, it might as well be our nation-spanning Frankenconference. If they are going to try to foster rivalries against old-school hoops powerhouses, they might as well be Villanova and Georgetown, not St. Joe's and George Washington. The Bulldogs are an America's Sweetheart mid-major; regular meetings with programs that have equally large national fan bases can only make them more lovable.

Georgetown University

Current Conference: Big East

Media Market: Washington, D.C., 9th

Resume: Seven tournament appearances in the last eight years. A tall, athletic backcourt featuring Greg Whittington, Otto Porter and Mikael Hopkins that is going to cause matchup headaches in Big East play. Also, they're freakin' Georgetown.

Analysis: The whole H-USA concept starts with Georgetown. 

Seton Hall University

Current Conference: Big East

Media Market: New York, 1st

Resume: A 21-win season in 2011-2012. The Pirates are going in the right direction under third-year head coach Kevin Willard; a veteran lineup led by center Gene Teague and swing man Fuquan Edwin has been impressive in non-conference play this year.

Analysis: The Pirates will be one of the weaker teams in H-USA, but they will be surrounded by familiar rivals. Willard won't suffer a recruiting ripple because of the move to our conference; most of the teams that made the Big East the Big East are coming along. Imagine you are a three-star recruit from Jersey City. Who do you want to face: St. Johns, or Houston?

St. John's University

Current Conference: Big East

Media Market: New York, 1st

Resume: A 21-win season and tournament appearance in 2010-2011. A high-profile coach in Steve Lavin, who is in his third season of program building. An exciting young bomber in D'Angelo Harrison.

Analysis: The potential for Madison Square Garden (or Barclays Center!) double-headers is here. St. Johns could face Seton Hall with an undercard (catch the last six minutes of Manhattan vs. Canisius!), or the Red Storm and Pirates could each face an out-of-region foe. Travel will be a snap for H-USA teams from the Midwest or West Coast as they bus down I-95 to face four foes in succession.

Valparaiso University

Current Conference: Horizon League

Media Market: Chicago, 2nd

Resume: Back-to-back 20+ win seasons entering this year. A decade-long run of medium-conference dominance 1994-2004. Plenty of tradition.

Analysis: Tradition will play a major role in H-USA marketing, and nothing screams tradition quite like the Drew family. Valpo has gotten stronger since Bryce Drew took over from his father, and while the living may be easy in the little Horizon League, the chance to face Butler and a few other regional powerhouses, plus a sweet television deal, will make Drew's recruiting pitches easier.

Villanova University

Current Conference: Big East

Media Market: Philadelphia, 4th

Resume: Seven NCAA tournament appearances in the last eight years. A Final Four appearance in 2009. An exciting freshman class led by up-tempo guard Ryan Arcidiacono and athletic big man Mouphtaou Yarou.

Analysis: Aw, poor Big East: Are we taking all of your basketball schools away while you chase down Central Florida and Houston? For some reason, we don't feel guilty, except for the fact that we are leaving Providence behind. There will be some openings in the Atlantic 10 after we hoist Butler and Xavier away, and Providence is a fine fit in the A-10. (Conference USA is also always up to grab a school at random.) As for the rest of the Big East, keep doing whatever the heck it is you are trying to do. We will be marketing Nova-Georgetown shootouts to a national audience while you load the Temple football team onto the plane for a trip to Boise, and a clobbering.

Xavier University

Current Conference: Atlantic 10

Media Market: Cincinnati, 34th

Resume: Six A-10 titles and seven NCAA tournament appearances in the last eight years. Freshman sensation Semaj Christon. Big early-season wins against Butler and Purdue (though Purdue is a bit of a mess this year).

Analysis: The Musketeers make H-USA a true powerhouse, particularly in the Eastern division. Xavier gets the best of both worlds, recruiting-wise: a healthy presence on the East Coast, plus a strong Midwest footprint that the A-10 does not really provide.



Creighton University

Current Conference: Missouri Valley

Media Market: Omaha, Nebraska 76th

Resume: Twenty-nine wins and a victory in the NCAA tournament last season. A 14-year (and counting) run as the dominant power in a very strong mid-major conference. Doug McDermott, one of the best all-purpose players in the nation.

Analysis: The Missouri Valley Conference has been very strong for a long time: Creighton and Wichita State have been powerhouses for a few seasons, Northern Iowa and Bradley are always tough, and the conference's second-tier programs like Drake and Missouri State are rarely pushovers. For all of the banging around among strong teams, the MVC has averaged 1.85 NCAA Tourney bids per year over the last two decades. That means second place rarely cuts it, even if it's second place to Wichita State, or a loss to Northern Iowa in the conference tournament. The MVC would be the A-10 if its teams played in Philly or the Boston area instead of Peoria and Des Moines.

Consider yourselves rescued from obscurity, Bluejays! H-USA is much stronger than the MVC, but it will send at least six teams per year to the dance. Creighton, Butler, and a certain familiar foe would be the favorites to win the Western Division, but the teams that fall to second or third place will no longer be relegated to the NIT.    

DePaul University

Current Conference: Big East

Media Market: Chicago, 3rd

Resume: Tradition, a fine veteran lineup led by Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, and a promising start to 2012-13. (Wins over a bad Auburn team and scrappy Fairfield? DePaul will take 'em!)

Analysis: Poor DePaul. A proud independent until the early 1990s, they have been conference vagabonds for two decades: first short-lived, lovable Great Midwest, then Conference USA, then finally the Big East, where the Blue Demons fit in about as well as a Finnish curling team. DePaul can finally find a home in H-USA: Marquette is coming along as a regional rival, and Valpo and Butler are here so the student body can take some bus rides. DePaul may be separated from two of its regional opponents by the H-USA divisional barrier right now, but that is better than pretending that Rutgers is a kissing cousin. In 2016, when H-USA expands, DePaul can slide eastward.

Gonzaga University

Current Conference: West Coast Conference

Media Market: Spokane, 75th

Resume: The only West Coast Conference team that has mattered since 1994. Fourteen straight NCAA Tournament appearances. A 9-0 start this season. C'mon folks: These are the Zags, the team you love to love!

Analysis: If Gonzaga played on the East Coast, they would have been shuffled up from their little conference into the A-10 or Big East by now. The tectonic forces move much more slowly out west. The annual H-USA meeting between Gonzaga and Butler will be marketed as the hip alternative to Duke-North Carolina. Call it the Underdog War or Battle of the Bulldogs. Spokane is not exactly Metropolis, but Gonzaga plays many games on the ROOT network, which reaches lots of homes throughout the Pacific Northwest. Fans in the big Seattle-Tacoma market will be watching as Gonzaga dukes it out with rarely seen East Coast opponents.

Long Beach State University

Current Conference: Big West Conference

Media Market: Los Angeles, 2nd

Resume: Two-straight 20+-win seasons. A tourney appearance in 2011-12. Coach Dan Monson has a promising young lineup lead by sophomore guard Michael Caffey and swingmen James Ennis and Kris Gulley.

Analysis: The 49ers are perfect for H-USA because they are road warriors. They traveled to Arizona in November and set forth on a Syracuse-Ohio State swing this week. They also hosted North Carolina and North Alabama this season. The 49ers can do well outside the comforts of their conference full of fellow Cal State system schools: Better to win about 17 games in H-USA, where the seventh-best team will be on the bubble, than to win 22 games in the Big West, where second place doesn't cut it.

Loyola Marymount University

Current Conference: West Coast Conference

Media Market: Los Angeles, 2nd

Resume: A 21-win season last year. LMU has shaken off the shambles of the Rodney Tention era, and Max Good has spent four years laying a solid foundation for a team that enjoyed a golden era in the late 1980s.

Analysis: LMU lost to Long Beach State in an exciting 73-70 game last week, and the crowd was … sparse. Okay, it looked like a high school crowd. In a blizzard. H-USA will not conquer the Los Angeles media market with these two schools. That region has some other enticing basketball options. But fostering the natural rivalry between the programs will attract some crowds, as will regular visits from the likes of Georgetown on West Coast swings through both field houses. Long Beach State and LMU also make travel feasible, and the tradition-minded H-USA won't forget the Paul Westhead days when promoting games against East Coast schools. Finally, if LMU does not pan out, there's always Pepperdine.

Marquette University

Current Conference: Big East

Media Market: Milwaukee, 35th

Resume: Seven straight 20-win seasons and NCAA tourney appearances. King-sized big man Davante Gardner. A 5-2 start in 2012-13 despite a vicious non-conference schedule full of Butler (loss), USC (win) and Florida (loss), plus the likes of LSU on the horizon.

Analysis: Marquette brings excellent basketball to H-USA while strengthening the conference's Midwestern spine.

Wichita State University

Current Conference: Missouri Valley Conference

Media Market: Wichita-Hutchinson, Kansas, 69th

Resume: Three-straight 25-win seasons in the MVC. Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early on the boards. A tradition of hoops excellence that coach Gregg Marshall has restored with a vengeance.

Analysis: The Shockers join Creighton in bringing MVC basketball to a wider audience. And don't worry about the MVC: They can grab some strong programs from the Summit League and keep going as a quality regional mid-major conference. Western Illinois and South Dakota State would be solid choices. Wichita State has been a member of the conference for more than 60 years, but bigger and better things are calling, and any self-respecting hoops-only conference needs a presence in Kansas.


Was your favorite basketball powerhouse left off the list? H-USA is already looking to expand. Make some noise, St. Louis Billikens and Portland Pilots, Belmont Bruins and Evansville Aces! Let us know why you should be included.