Will Charlotte thrive in return to C-USA?

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When Conference USA expanded by five teams this week, it was a huge moment for four of the programs involved. San Antonio, North Texas and Florida International made huge leaps from smaller conferences to the BCS big time. Louisiana Tech escaped the implosion of the WAC. But for UNC-Charlotte, it was more of a homecoming.

The 49ers logged exactly zero NCAA tournament appearances coming out of the Atlantic-10. Prior to that, the program had several good runs in an earlier iteration of C-USA, earning five at-large selections and two auto-bids between 1997 and 2005. Much of that success came under Bobby Lutz, currently the associate head coach at N.C. State.

In football terms, the return to C-USA is good news for Charlotte. In hoops? Until the dust of realignment settles, it’s going to be nearly impossible to tell. Current 49ers head coach Alan Major, who earned his head coaching shot as a top assistant at Ohio State, told the Charlotte Observer he thinks the competition will remain stiff.

“You are going to have your ‘Big 6’ conferences every year,” said 49ers men’s basketball coach Alan Major, referring to the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big East, Pac 10 and Big Ten. “Who becomes that 7, 8 or 9 conference fluctuates. The A-10 took its turn there last year. I think Conference USA has teams that could well put us into that seventh spot at any time.”

Major said playing in Conference USA will be a plus for Charlotte fans, who will be able to more easily travel to road games against East Carolina and Marshall.

In terms of multi-bid potential, the A-10 was a far better hoops launching pad. Over the past five years, the conference was regularly a three or four-bid league. C-USA was a one-bid league while Calipari and Memphis reigned supreme, and finally got back to two-bid status after Calipari went to Kentucky. Sans Memphis entirely, there’s a power vacuum that must be filled at the top of the league.

They have a rising young coach and recruit in the largest city in a basketball-mad state. It seems fair to ask: Why not Charlotte?