by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

We first began an early preview of the conference tournaments and an early lookahead to the NCAA Tournament in 1994, and it quickly become one of our favorite editorial assignments of the hoops season. Now is the time we really begin to count the days to the conference tourneys and Selection Sunday, less than four weeks away. And we have long believed that a mid-February look at college hoop squads vying for potential NCAA invitations to be a worthwhile exercise. Knowing where teams might (or might not) fit into the postseason equation can be especially useful handicapping information this time of the year. The Big Dance prospects of many teams (especially those on the proverbial "bubble") will be decided in the next few weeks, adding an extra factor to be considered when forecasting their upcoming games.

Beyond the aforementioned "bubble" teams that need every win to stay in the good graces of the NCAA Tourney Committee, it's also worth paying attention to the squads with Big Dance bids securely in hand. Those squads might not all approach the final weeks of the regular season (or conference tourneys) in the same manner, some seeking to develop extra depth and avoid key injuries, others emphasizing a strong drive through the regular-season tape to hopefully carry that momentum into the postseason.

Following is our annual mid-February look at the major "board" conferences and their chances of sending multiple entries to the NCAA Tournament. As you've no doubt noted from our featured storylines throughout recent season, we're also our own "Bracketologists" at TGS and have divided the teams into three categories--Solid, Looking Good, and Bubble. Solid is self-explanatory. Looking Good teams can expect an NCAA invitation as long as they don't slump badly in the next few weeks. Bubble teams, however, remain at the mercy of the Tourney Committee and desperately need every win to keep their Big Dance hopes alive.

Keep in mind that nearly every Division I team can qualify for an automatic Big Dance berth by winning its conference tournament. With the Big Ten finally relenting early in the last decade, and the Pac-10 (12) re-instituting its tourney in 2002 after a 12-year hiatus, the Ivy League remains the lone conference-tourney holdout--and even the Ivies are now talking about conducting their own postseason bash in the near future! Stay tuned for further developments. In the meantime, as always, the number of upsets in conference tournaments can alter the look of the Big Dance. Also included below are conference tourney sites and dates; Conference Power Rankings (thru Feb. 19); and last year's postseason participants, including NCAA, NIT, CBI, and CIT action. We will be providing similar conference previews for the remainder of the D-I leagues within the next two weeks.

AMERICAN--Solid...Cincinnati, UConn, Louisville, Memphis. Looking Good...SMU. Conference Power Rating-8th. Notes...Tourney March 12-15 at FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN (home court of Memphis). Last year...NCAA-4 (Louisville*-Champs, Temple*-3rd round, Memphis*-3rd round, Cincinnati*-2nd round); CBI-1 (Houston*-Quarterfinals). *-Last season, Louisville and Cincinnati competed in the Big East; Memphis and Houston in Conference USA, and Temple in the Atlantic Ten.

ACC--Solid...Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina, Pitt, Virginia. Bubble...Florida State, Clemson, NC State. Conference Power Rating-5th. Notes...Tourney March 12-16 at Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC. Last year...NCAA-7 (Duke-Elite Eight, Miami-Sweet 16, North Carolina-3rd round, NC State-2nd round); NIT-3 (Maryland-Semifinals, Virginia-Quarterfinals, Florida State).

ATLANTIC TEN--Solid...Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth. Looking Good...George Washington, UMass. Bubble...Saint Joseph's, Richmond, Dayton. Conference-7th. Notes...Tourney March 13-16 at Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY. Last year...NCAA-5 (La Salle-Sweet 16, Butler-3rd round, Saint Louis-3rd round, Temple-3rd round, Virginia Commonwealth-3rd round); NIT-3 (UMass, Saint Joseph's, Charlotte).

BIG EAST--Solid...Villanova, Creighton. Looking Good...St. John's, Xavier. Bubble...Providence, Georgetown, Marquette. Conference-4th. Notes...Tourney March 12-15 at Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY. Last year...NCAA-8 (Louisville-Champs, Syracuse-Final Four, Marquette-Elite Eight, Cincinnati-2nd round, Georgetown-2nd round, Notre Dame-2nd round, Pittsburgh-2nd round, Villanova-2nd round); NIT-2 (Providence-Quarterfinals, St. John's-2nd round).

BIG TEN--Solid...Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa. Bubble...Minnesota, Nebraska. Conference-2nd. Notes...Tourney March 13-16 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN. Last year...NCAA-7 (Michigan-2nd place, Ohio State-Elite Eight, Indiana-Sweet 16, Michigan State-Sweet 16, Illinois-3rd round, Minnesota-3rd round, Wisconsin-2nd round); NIT-1 (Iowa-2nd place); CBI-1 (Purdue-2nd round).

BIG 12--Solid...Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa State. Looking Good...Kansas State. Bubble...Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia. Conference-1st. Notes...Tourney March 12-15 at Sprint Center, Kansas City, MO. Last year...NCAA-5 (Kansas-Sweet 16, Iowa State-3rd round, Kansas State-2nd round, Oklahoma-2nd round, Oklahoma State-2nd round). NIT-1 (Baylor-Champs).

BIG WEST--Conference tourney champ will be the only Big Dance rep. Conference-17th. Notes...Tourney March 13-15 at Honda Center, Anaheim, CA. Last year...NCAA-1 (Pacific-2nd round); NIT-1 (Long Beach State); CIT-(UC Irvine-2nd round, Cal Poly, Hawaii).

COLONIAL--Bubble...Delaware. Notes...Tourney March 7-10 at Baltimore Arena, Baltimore, MD. Conference-19th. Last year...NCAA-1 (James Madison-2nd round); NIT-1 (Northeastern); CBI-1 (George Mason-2nd place). Tourney moves to the venerable Baltimore Arena (former home court of the NBA Baltimore Bullets) after a long run at the Richmond Coliseum.

CONFERENCE USA--Looking Good...Louisiana Tech. Bubble...Southern Miss, UTEP, Middle Tennessee. Conference-18th. Notes...Tourney March 11-15 at Don Haskins Center, El Paso, TX (home court of UTEP). Last year...NCAA-1 (Memphis-3rd round); NIT-1 (Southern Miss-Quarterfinals); CIT-2 (East Carolina-Champs, Tulane-2nd round); CBI-2 (Houston-Quarterfinals, Tulsa).

HORIZON--Bubble...UW-Green Bay. Conference-13th. Notes...Tourney first round March 4 at campus sites; quarters and semis March 7-8 at home court of regular-season champion (likely to be at Resch, Center, Green Bay, WI, home court of current Horizon leader Green Bay). Final March 11 at home of highest-remaining seed. Last year...NCAA-1 (Valparaiso-2nd round); NIT-1 (Detroit); CIT-4 (UIC-2nd round, Youngstown State-2nd round, Oakland*, Green Bay); CBI-1 (Wight State-Semifinals).

MID-AMERICAN--Bubble...Toledo. Conference-15th. Notes...Tourney first round March 10 at campus sites; quarters, semis, and Final March 12-15 at Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH. Last year...NCAA-1 (Akron-2nd round); NIT-1 (Ohio); CIT-1 (Kent State-2nd round); CBI-1 (Western Michigan-Semifinals).

MISSOURI VALLEY--Solid...Wichita State. Bubble...Indiana State. Conference-11th. Notes...Tourney ("Arch Madness") March 6-9 at Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO. Last year...NCAA-2 (Wichita State-Final Four, Creighton-3rd round); NIT-1 (Indiana State); CIT-3 (Evansville-Semifinals, Northern Iowa-Semifinals, Bradley-Quarterfinals).

MOUNTAIN WEST--Solid...San Diego State, New Mexico. Bubble...Boise State, UNLV, Wyoming. Conference-10th. Notes...Tourney March 12-15 at Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV (home court of UNLV). Last year...NCAA-5 (Colorado State-3rd round, San Diego State-3rd round, New Mexico-2nd round, UNLV-2nd round, Boise State-First Four); CIT-1 (Air Force-2nd round); CBI-1 (Wyoming-2nd round).

PAC 12--Solid...Arizona, UCLA. Looking Good...Arizona State, Cal, Colorado. Bubble...Stanford, Utah, Oregon. Conference-3rd. Notes...Tourney March 12-15 at MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, NV. Last year...NCAA-5 (Arizona-Sweet 16, Oregon-Sweet 16, Cal-3rd round, Colorado-2nd round, UCLA-2nd round); NIT-3 (Arizona State-2nd round), Stanford-2nd round, Washington).

SEC--Solid...Florida, Kentucky. Bubble...LSU, Missouri, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arkansas. Conference-6th. Notes...Tourney March 12-16 at Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA. Last year...NCAA-3 (Florida-Elight Eight, Ole Miss-3rd round, Missouri-2nd round); NIT-3 (Alabama-Quarterfinals, Kentucky, Tennessee). Tourney returns to Atlanta's Georgia Dome for the first time since the infamous 2008 event was disrupted by a tornado in the Friday quarterfinal session at night (an adventure we will review shortly on our website when we recall our experiences at the SEC and other tourneys six years ago).

SUN BELT--Bubble...Georgia State. Conference-21st. Notes...Tourney March 12-16 at Lakefront Arena, New Orleans, LA. Last year...NCAA-2 (W. Kentucky-2nd round, Middle Tennessee-First Four); CIT-1 (South Alabama).

WEST COAST--Solid...Gonzaga. Bubble...BYU, Saint Mary's. Conference-9th. Notes...Tourney March 6-11 at Orleans Hotel Arena, Las Vegas, NV. Last year...NCAA-2 (Gonzaga-3rd round, Saint Mary's-3rd round); NIT-1 (BYU-Semifinals); CBI-1 (Santa Clara-Champs).


In our next issue, after the weekend action is complete, we'll have another complete "Bracketology" breakdown. In the meantime, however, we do have an updated seeding list as of midweek.

1-Syracuse, Florida, Wichita State, Arizona. 2-San Diego State, Kansas, Duke, Virginia. 3-Creighton, Villanova, Michigan State, Cincinnati. 4-Wisconsin, Michigan, Saint Louis, UCLA. 5-Louisviile, Kentucky, UConn, Iowa. 6-Oklahoma, Ohio State, Iowa State, North Carolina. 7-Memphis, Pittsburgh, Kansas State, Texas. 8-Virginia Commonwealth, Gonzaga, UMass, New Mexico. 9-George Washington, Xavier, Stanford, Colorado. 10-Cal, Arizona State, St. John's, SMU. 11-Tennessee, Missouri, Providence, Harvard. 12-Toledo, La Tech, St. Joseph's*, LSU*, Minnesota*, Southern Miss*. 13-North Dakota State, Green Bay, Delaware, Mercer. 14-Georgia State, Iona, Belmont, Stephen F. Austin. 15-New Mexico State, UC Irvine, Boston U, Vermont. 16-Weber State, Davidson, Coastal Carolina*, Southern*, Robert Morris*, NC Central*. *-Projected play-in game participants.

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