by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Believe it or not, we’re just a week away from the commencement of conference tournaments. And after providing a brief lookahead to the postseason extravaganzas conducted by the major conferences in our last issue, we provide a quick preview for the conference tournaments of the lower-echelon Division I leagues in this edition.

The rather recent introduction of two new events (the CollegeInsider.com Tourney, or CIT, and the College Basketball Invitational, or CBI) has provided more postseason slots and thus more oppportunities for entries from the low-major conferences in the postseason. Many of these loops are now sending multiple entries to the postseason, so it behooves handicappers to begin paying attention to these sides before they enter either the Big Dance, NIT, CBI, or CIT.

We’ve already gotten a look at several of these teams in last weekend’s BracketBusters, and many of the upcoming conference tournaments will be televised (the introduction of ESPN-3, which streams on computers, has added countless more college hoops viewing opportunities and will be providing added coverage for many of the lower-rung D-I conference tourneys

We've listed below, by conference alphabetical order, upcoming tournament specifics for those lower-profile Division I leagues. Also included are any teams that enjoy home-court tourney edges; the top contenders in each loop, noted by italics, with any clear-cut favorite or co-favorite accompanied by an *; and last season's conference results in the NCAA, NIT, CBI, and CIT. Before Selection Sunday, we’ll also review how these leagues have fared in recent Big Dance action.

March Madness...it’s here!

AMERICA EAST...First round, quarterfinals, and semis March 1, 3-4 at Chase Arena, West Hartford, CT (home court of Hartford); final March 12 at home of highest remaining seed. Top contenders— Stony Brook, Vermont, Boston U, Albany. Last year...NCAA-Boston U lost vs. Kansas, 72-53; NIT-Vermont lost at Cleveland State, 63-60.

ATLANTIC SUN...Tourney February 29-March 3 at University Center, Macon, GA (home court of Mercer). Top contenders-Belmont*, Mercer, South Carolina-Upstate. Last year...NCAA-Belmont lost vs. Wisconsin, 72-58; CIT-East Tennessee State won vs. Furman, 76-63; won vs. Ohio, 82-73; lost vs. Iona, 83-80; Jacksonville won at East Carolina, 71-66 (OT); lost at SMU, 63-62.

BIG SKY...First round March 3 at campus sites; regular-season champ (Weber State or Montana) will host semifinals and final March 6-7. Top contenders-Weber State, Montana, Portland State, Eastern Washington. Last year...NCAA-Northern Colorado lost vs. San Diego State, 68-50; CBI- Montana lost vs. Duquesne, 87-76; Weber State lost at Oregon, 68-59; CIT-Northern Arizona lost at Santa Clara, 68-63.

BIG SOUTH...First round February 27 at campus sites; quarterfinals and semifinals Feb. 29-March 1 at home of regular-season champion UNC-Asheville;) finals March 3 at home of highest-remaining seed. Top contenders-UNC-Asheville*, Coastal Carolina, Campbell, Charleston Southern. Last year...NCAA-UNC-Asheville won play-in game vs. Arkansas-Litle Rock, 81-77 (OT); lost vs. Pittsburgh, 74-51; NIT-Coastal Carolina lost at Alabama, 68-44.

METRO ATLANTIC...Tourney March 2-5 at MassMutual Center, Springfield, MA. First round pits seeds 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9; winners advance to quarterfinals, and so forth. Top contenders- Iona, Loyola-Maryland, Fairfield, Manhattan. Last year...NCAA-St. Peter’s lost vs. Purdue, 65-43; NIT-Fairfield won at Colorado State, 62-60; lost vs. Kent State, 72-68; CIT-Iona won at Valparaiso, 85-77; won vs. Buffalo, 78-63; won at East Tennessee State, 83-80; lost vs. Santa Clara, 76-69; Rider lost at Northern Iowa, 84-50.

MEAC...Tourney March 5-10 at Lawrence Joel Coliseum, Winston-Salem, NC. First round pits seed 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9; winners advance to quarterfinals, and so forth, Top contenders-Norfolk State, Savannah State, Bethune-Cookman, Morgan State, Coppin State, Hampton. Last year...NCAA-Hampton lost vs. Duke, 87-45; NIT-Bethune-Cookman lost at Virginia Tech, 79-54.

NORTHEAST...Quarterfinals March 1, semis March 5, final March 7, all at home of highest seeds. Top contenders-Long Island, Wagner, Robert Morris, St. Francis (NY). Last year...NCAA-Long Island lost vs. North Carolina, 102-87; CIT-Quinnipiac lost vs. Buffalo, 75-68.

OHIO VALLEY...Tourney February 29-March 3 at Municipal Auditorium, Nashville, TN (not the home court of Nashville-based Tennessee State, which plays its games at the Gentry Complex). Top contenders-Murray State*, Tennessee State, SE Missouri State, Tennessee Tech. Last Year...NCAA-Morehead State won vs. Louisville, 62-61; lost vs. Richmond, 65-48; NIT-Murray State lost at Missouri State, 89-76; CBI-Austin Peay lost at Boise State, 83-80; CIT-Tennessee Tech lost at Western Michigan, 74-66.

PATRIOT...Quarterfinals March 2, semifinals March 6, final March 11, all at home of higher seed. Top contenders-Bucknell, Lehigh, American U. Last Year...NCAA-Bucknell lost vs. UConn, 81-52.

SOUTHERN...Tourney March 2-5 at Asheville Civic Center, Asheville, NC. Top contenders-Davidson, Wofford, Georgia Southern, College of Charleston, UNC-Greensboro. Last year...NCAA-Wofford lost vs. BYU, 74-66; NIT-College of Charleston won vs. Dayton, 84-64, won at Cleveland State, 64-56; lost at Wichita State, 82-75; CBI-Davidson won vs. James Madison, 85-65; lost at Creighton, 102-92; CIT-Furman lost at East Tennessee State, 76-63.

SOUTHLAND...Tourney March 7-10 at Merrell Center, Katy, TX. Top contenders-UT-Arlington*, McNeese State, Stephen F. Austin, Lamar, UTSA. Last Year...NCAA-UTSA won play-in game vs. Alabama State, 70-61; lost vs. Ohio State, 75-46; NIT-McNeese State lost vs. Boston College, 82-64.

SWAC...Tourney March 7-10 at Garland Special Events Center, Garland, TX. Top contenders-Mississippi Valley State, Southern U, Texas Southern...NCAA-Alabama State lost play-in game vs. UTSA, 70-61; NIT-Texas Southern lost vs. Colorado, 88-74.

SUMMIT...Tourney March 3-6 at Sioux Falls Arena, Sioux Falls, SD (not the home court of nearby, Brookings-based South Dakota State, which plays its home games at Frost Arena). The Summit League was formerly known as Mid-Continent Conference. Top contenders-Oral Roberts, South Dakota State, North Dakota State, Oakland. Last year...NCAA-Oakland lost vs. Texas, 85-81; CBI-Oral Roberts lost at SMU, 64-57 (OT).


We’re a bit humored at this time of the year when ESPN and others proclaim teams “in” or “out” of the NCAA tournament based upon a recent result. It’s good fun, and we respect the pride of St. Joseph’s, Joe Lunardi, for keeping a running tab on his projections for the Big Dance. But whether they be “St. Joe's” Lunardi’s or own at TGS, remember that they are only projections and are subject to change over the next two-and-a-half weeks.

Past experience has also cautioned us not to react to those who proclaim a single result in mid-to-late February is the magic one that puts a team in or out of the Big Dance. We’ve seen Selection Committees throughout they years pull surprises and we would expect this March to be no different.

But, “Bracketology” is good fun, and until Selection Sunday, speculation on the composition of the field of 68 remains an evergreen topic.

Notes from action thru Wednesday this week...

Moving up: Duke...Thanks to Missouri losing (for a second time) to K-State, the Blue Devils temporarily move onto our top line, thanks also to that wild win at North Carolina a few weeks ago. The Blue Devils will have to win the ACC Tournament to stay on the top line, however. Michigan...The in over Ohio State and subsequent avoidance of a dangerous banana peel at Northwestern have solidified the Wolverines in protected seed territory. Wichita State...The BracketBuster romp at Davidson and another double-digit road midweek win in the Missouri Valley (at Illinois State) has the Shockers primed for a protected seed. Notre Dame...The Irish continue to climb the seeding scale after recording their ninth straight win on Wednesday vs. tough West Virginia. Mike Brey’s team is now a cinch to make the field and could be in protected seed territory by this weekend. Kansas State...The Wildcats have not only solidified their place in the field of 68 with road wins in the past week at Baylor and Mizzou, but they’re getting close to protected seed territory as well. Seton Hall...The Tuesday night win over Georgetown has solidified the Pirates in the field, and now they can look to improve their seed. Washington...The Huskies have been on the ascent the last month and now look to be in good shape after last weekend’s sweep of the Arizona schools. The Pac-12 looks almost assuredly to be a multi-bid league. Oregon...Sunday’s win at Stanford has kept the Ducks quacking and just on the same side of our latest cut line, and could give the Pac-12 a third entry into the Dance. But Dana Altman’s side has little room for error if it wants to keep its at-large hopes alive. LSU...Look out for the Tigers, closing fast with a 4-game win streak after Wednesday’s win over Georgia. Don’t forget that the Tigers also own a very impressive non-conference win over Marquette that could come in handy on Selection Sunday.

Moving down: Mississippi State...The Bulldogs had a chance to cement their place in the field on Tuesday vs. Kentucky, but let a late lead slip away and instead are sitting with a 4-game losing streak and a couple of potentially-tricky road assignments (at Alabama and South Carolina) on deck. Southern Miss...It might be time for the Golden Eagle fans to begin to panic after USM lost its third straight on the road on Wednesday at UTEP. Larry Eustachy’s team is still on the safe side of the cut line but recent trends are indeed troubling. The Golden Eagles need to straighten themselves out in a hurry, and should be able to do so with Rice and SMU both on deck (and both traveling to Hattiesburg). Or else for USM. NC State...The Wolfpack is running out of chances for the signature win it needs to show the Committee. Tuesday night’s home date vs. North Carolina at Raleigh was a perfect opportunity, but it didn’t happen. George Mason...Wednesday’s OT defeat at Northeastern was a devastating one for the Patriots, just the sort of “bad loss” Mason could have done without as it straddles the at-large cut line, and it temporarily falls behind Drexel and Virginia Commonwealth in the CAA queue. A loss on Saturday at VCU would probably mean the Patriots’ only route to the Big Dance would be to win the Colonial Tourney.

Following are our projected seeds (1 thru 16) as of February 22; a more comprehensive “Bracketology” update will be coming in our next issue.

No. 1 seeds...Kentucky, Syracuse, Michigan State, Duke.

No. 2 seeds...Missouri, Ohio State, Kansas, North Carolina.

No. 3 seeds...Baylor, Marquette, Florida, Michigan.

No. 4 seeds...Indiana, Florida State, Louisville, Wichita State.

No. 5 seeds...Georgetown, UNLV, Notre Dame, Wisconsin.

No. 6 seeds...Temple, Creighton, Kansas State, Vanderbilt.

No. 7 seeds...New Mexico, Virginia, Murray State, Gonzaga.

No. 8 seeds...Saint Mary’s, San Diego State, Saint Louis, Memphis.

No. 9 seeds...Purdue, Harvard, California, Iowa State.

No. 10 seeds...Seton Hall, Cincinnati, Long Beach State, Washington.

No. 11 seeds...Mississippi State, Southern Miss, UConn, West Virginia.

No. 12 seeds...Seton Hall, BYU, Xavier, Texas, Oregon.

No. 13 seeds...Akron, Butler, Drexel, Virginia Commonwealth, South Florida.

No. 14 seeds...Iona, Belmont, Middle Tennessee, Nevada.

No. 15 seeds...Bucknell, Davidson, Oral Roberts, Weber State.

No. 16 seeds...UT-Arlington, Long Island, Norfolk State, Stony Brook, Mississippi Valley State, UNC-Asheville.

Last four in...Texas, Oregon, Virginia Commmonwealth, South Florida.

First four out...Miami-Florida, George Mason, LSU, Northwestern.

Next four out...NC State, Colorado State, Arizona, Alabama.

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