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Press Box: State of confusion

New conferences, one-and-done freshmen breed unfamiliarity in college basketball

It used to be that you couldn’t tell the players without a scorecard.

Now, things are so complicated you can’t tell the conferences without a scorecard.

As a new basketball season starts hitting its stride, it’s worth noting conference realignment is alive and well.

It’s bad enough college basketball fans like myself have had to get used to the “one-and-done” syndrome. That’s the current system where star players have to spend at least one season in college ball before heading to the NBA.

A good part of this year’s crop of one-and-dones took center stage last week, as on one fun night, four teams ranked in the top five in the nation showed off their new stars.

Top-ranked Kentucky, which basically started this whole thing with coach John Calipari creating a pipeline to the NBA, squared off against No. 2 Michigan State. Then it was No. 4 Duke against No. 5 Kansas.

It was an embarrassment of riches, as several guys who will be in the mix for the top pick in next year’s NBA draft showed off their wares. The group included Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker. None of them disappointed, and fans were treated to seeing the next crop of stars.

But what I was most interested in watching was the aberration in the group, Michigan State. The Spartans routinely get high-profile talent, but they also have a knack for getting a lot of their players to stick around for four years. As a fan of the “good old days,” even though they weren’t that long ago, it’s nice to think back to the days when you got to watch players grow during an extended time on campus.

But Michigan State is an oddball among perennial powers. The elite teams are continually overhauling their rosters, creating a revolving door that leaves your head spinning if you try to keep up with the talent turnover year after year.

Plus, it’s a brutal kind of pain for fans who have to watch that kind of talent walk away from their teams year after year. It leads to a lot of conversations about, “What if we still had that guy? Or that one?”

Still, it could be worse. You could be a fan for one of those teams not high-profile enough to attract those one-and-done guys. Trust me, as a lifelong fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes, I know what I’m talking about. When you can’t get those game-changing guys, your team stinks. And as a fan of that team, that scenario stinks.

So how does this relate to conferences? It’s a similar issue — don’t get attached to players, don’t get attached to any one league, since you might be leaving it soon.

Before this season kicked off, the Associated Press sent out a story 65 inches long — 65 inches! — detailing the Division I conferences. It contained new arrivals, departures and soon-to-be departing teams.

It was enough to make your head spin. I won’t bother to try to sum it all up, because I wouldn’t expect you to remember any of it. But perhaps my favorite centered around the American Athletic Conference.

Scratching your head? Me too. But it’s the new conference consisting of football schools that left the Big East and Conference USA. For the record, it’s Central Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Rutgers, South Florida, SMU and Temple.

And why shouldn’t you try to remember that? Because Louisville will leave after this year for the ACC and Rutgers is gone as well, only for the Big Ten. And next year, in comes East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa.

More one-and-dones, which is making me want to be done with all of it.

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