Louisville picked to win Conference USA

Updated: October 27, 2003, 4:26 PM ET
ESPN

CHICAGO -- After talking at length about the anticipated shake-up of Conference USA, an exasperated John Calipari paused in mid-sentence and posed a question of his own.

"Doesn't anyone want to talk about this year?" the Memphis coach asked.

The uncertain future of Conference USA and the expected departure of four of its top basketball schools dominated discussion at Sunday's annual media day.

Cincinnati, Marquette, Louisville and DePaul will reportedly be asked to join the Big East in November starting with the 2005 season, leaving Conference USA with just eight teams. As a result, Conference USA is expected to add Rice, Southern Methodist, Tulsa and Marshall.

The changes will likely cause a shift in the conference's focus from basketball to football, commissioner Britton Banowsky said.

"Obviously men's basketball is the focal point of the league right now," he said. "It will still be that way in the future. Whether it's to the same extent I think is going to be an issue."

Not only will Conference USA be left without some of its top basketball programs, it loses some of the biggest names in coaching in Rick Pitino at Louisville and Bob Huggins at Cincinnati.

Calipari doesn't see it as a problem, at least for Memphis.

"Everybody will say, 'This really shuts out Memphis.' You do not have to be in one of the top leagues to have a top 20 program," he said. "Our basketball program is protected because we're a national program and we're not going anywhere.

"Our basketball is fine."

Army also has announced it is leaving Conference USA after the 2004 season to become an independent.

Conference USA hopes to complete its restructuring plan in the coming weeks. The league, which has 11 schools playing football and 15 total, was formed in 1995.

Louisville was the preseason pick of the coaches to win the regular season championship, and sophomore Francisco Garcia was selected as the preseason player of the year.

Moving over to the Big East won't take much of an adjustment for Pitino. He coached Providence from 1985-87, taking the Friars to the Final Four before leaving for Kentucky. Still, that doesn't mean he is in any hurry to leave.

"I have said all along that I would rather just stay put, be a part of Conference USA because I like the basketball league. That doesn't mean I'm against being a part of another league," he said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index