by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

It’s not long now until conference tourney time, and one of our favorite exercises on these pages over the past 25 years has been to provide a brief preview of those upcoming events.  With the tourneys looming, this is the week to provide our annual preview.

In addition, we’re going to be providing our Big Dance “seed updates” every week from now until Selection Sunday, with daily updates on our website (www.goldsheet.com) during conference tourney week. Following are the seeds as we see them as of February 20...

      1-Gonzaga, Duke, Tennessee, Virginia
      2-Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan, Michigan State
      3-Purdue, Marquette, Houston, Kansas
      4-Nevada, Kansas State, LSU, Texas Tech
      5-Villanova, Iowa State, Wisconsin, Maryland
      6-Iowa, Virginia tech, Cincinnati, Florida State
      7-Buffalo, Washington, Louisville, Mississippi State
      8-Ole Miss, Baylor, Auburn, Syracuse
      9-Texas, NC State, Wofford, Oklahoma
      10-St. John’s, VCU, Seton Hall, UCF
      11-TCU, Minnesota, Ohio State, Florida
      12-New Mexico State, Lipscomb, Utah State, Temple, Arizona State, Saint Mary’s
      13-Murray State, Hofstra, Vermont, Yale
      14-Drake, South Dakota State, Old Dominion, UC Irvine
      15-Texas State, Radford, Montana, Northern Kentucky
      16-Bucknell, Sam Houston, Rider, St. Francis-PA, Norfolk State, Prairie View

First Four Out...Alabama, Butler, Clemson, Providence

Next Four Out...Belmont, Indiana, San Francisco, Georgetown

Stay tuned; new full “Bracketology” update next week!

    It’s that time again for our annual look-aheads to the fast-approaching conference tournaments.  Within two weeks, the first of these events will be getting underway!

    As usual, we have divided the teams into three categories—Solid, Looking Good, and BubbleSolid 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 down the stretch to keep their Big Dance hopes alive.

AMERICAN—Solid...Houston, Cincinnati. Looking Good...UCF.  Bubble...Temple, South Florida.  Conference Power Rating-7th. Tourney March 14-17 at FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN. Last year...NCAA-3 (Cincinnati-2nd round, Houston-2nd round, Wichita State); NIT-1 (Temple).  Notes...If considering the American among the mid-majors (a label that makes American reps chafe), this loop is carrying the banner for those ranks into the Dance; most mid-majors look like one-bid loops this year.  Various projections (ours included) have as many as four AAC reps getting the call on Selection Sunday.

ACC—Solid...Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State.  Looking Good...Louisville, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, NC State. Bubble...Clemson.  Conference Power Rating-3rd.  Tourney March 12-16 at Spectrum Center, Charlotte, NC.  Last year...NCAA-9 (Duke-Elite 8, Florida State-Elite 8, Syracuse-Sweet 16, Clemson-Sweet 16, North Carolina-2nd round, Miami-Fla., NC State, Virginia, Virginia Tech); NIT-3 (Louisville-Quarterfinals, Notre Dame-2nd round, Boston College).  Notes...The ACC Tourney moves back to its roots in the Carolinas after bouncing around various metro areas in the mid-Atlantic region (Washington, D.C. and Brooklyn) the past couple of years.  Might be hard-pressed to get to the number of NCAA qualifiers (nine) as a year ago, as there is a real divide between the haves and have-nots in the league this season; the ACC is a bit softer than usual in its bottom third, which is reflected in the Conference Power Rating a bit down from normal.  Into late February, Clemson looks the only real bubble rider into Selection Sunday.  

ATLANTIC TEN—Looking Good...Virginia Commonwealth. Bubble...Davidson. Conference-12th.  Tourney March 13-17 at Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY.  Last year...NCAA-3 (Rhode Island-2nd round, St. Bonaventure-Won First Four game, Davidson).  Notes...The A-10 looks symptomatic of the mid-major ranks this season, well off from a year ago when it sent three reps to the Dance.  This season, there’s a good chance the A-10 is a one-bid league, though VCU would have a very good at-large case if it doesn’t win the conference tourney in Brooklyn.  Davidson did not help its at-large case with a midweek home loss vs. Dayton.  Curiously, the A-10 sent no entries into the other “alphabet tourneys” last season.

BIG EAST—Solid...Villanova, Marquette. Looking Good...Seton Hall, St. John’s.  Bubble-Butler, Georgetown, Providence. Conference-5th.  Tourney March 13-16 at Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY.  Last year...NCAA-6 (Villanova-Winners, Butler-2nd round, Xavier-2nd round, Seton Hall-2nd round, Providence, Creighton); NIT-1 (Marquette-Quarterfinals).  Notes...While some bracketologists have been peddling the Big East with as few as two entries into the Dance, we’re a lot more bullish, especially considering the lack of credible mid-major at-large candidates.  We’d be stunned if the Big East doesn’t at least get four bids, maybe as many as six.  The overall rating of the conference is helped by no truly weak links in this year’s league.  Key midweek wins by Georgetown (over Villanova) and Providence (over St. John’s) have moved both back into the bubble mix.

BIG TEN—Solid...Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin.  Looking Good...Maryland, Iowa, Minnesota.  Bubble...Ohio State, Indiana, Nebraska.  Conference-2nd.   Tourney March 13-17 at United Center, Chicago Il. Last year...NCAA-7 (Michigan-Sweet 16, Purdue-Sweet 16, Wisconsin-Sweet 16, Michigan State-2nd round, Northwestern-2nd round, Maryland, Minnesota); NIT-3 (Illinois-Quarterfinals, Iowa-2nd round, Indiana).  Notes...The one-year experiment with the tourney in the Big Apple at Madison Square Garden (a week early to boot) is now in the rear-view mirror, back to more familiar surroundings in Chicago (though we think the set-up at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse is a much preferable venue).  The Big Ten has been a favorite of Joe Lunardi and other bracketologists since December, with as many as ten reps making the final cut in various projections.  We think that’s a bit high, especially with teams like Nebraska (fading), Indiana (failing to gain traction), and fewer gimmes, with entries such as Illinois and Rutgers no longer in the pushover category, and Penn State improving as the season progresses. Still, expect to hear a lot of Big Ten names called on Selection Sunday.

BIG 12—Solid...Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Iowa State.  Looking Good...TCU. Bubble...Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas.  Conference-1st.  Tourney March 13-16 at Sprint Center, Kansas City, MO.  Last year...NCAA-7 (Kansas-Final Four, Texas Tech-Elite 8, Kansas State-Elite 8, West Virginia-Sweet 16, TCU, Oklahoma, Texas); NIT-2 (Oklahoma State-Quarterfinals, Baylor-2nd round).  Notes...Pay heed to the conference rating for the Big 12 at the top of the pile into late February.  We’ll see at least as many reps (7) make the Dance as a year ago, when all but one loop entry (Iowa State) made it into the postseason somewhere.  This year, all except Oklahoma State and West Virginia State will be playing after the conference tourney concludes in Kansas City.

BIG WEST— Conference tourney winner will be only Big Dance rep. Conference-20th.  Tourney March 14-16 at Honda Center,  Anaheim, CA (home of the NHL Ducks).  Last year...NCAA-1 (Cal State Fullerton); NIT-1 (UC Davis).   Notes...For what it’s worth, the Big West is rated 7 places higher in the conference rankings than at the same time a year ago.  Still, the Big West is at risk of getting drawn into a 16 vs. 16 play-in game as two years ago when UC Davis won the conference tourney in an upset.  At the moment we would put UC Irvine and perhaps UCSB out of that sort of danger. The glory days of the Big West, when it put as many as three teams into the Dance in the early 90s (and when then-member UNLV won the whole thing), seem a long time ago. 

COLONIALBubble...Hofstra. Conference-19th. Tourney March 8-11 at North Charleston Coliseum, Charleston, SC (not the home of College of Charleston, which plays at TD Arena).  Last year...NCAA-1 (Charleston).  Notes...For the third straight year, the tourney being contested in Charleston, which provided quite an atmosphere for last year’s finale between the hometown Cougars and Northeastern...certainly a lot more lively than previous years at the Baltimore Civic Center.  Go-go Hofstra would be a deep longshot to rate at-large consideration should it get knocked out in a few weeks at Charleston.   

CONFERENCE USA—Bubble...Old Dominion. Conference-17th. Tourney March 13-16 at Ford Center at the Star, Frisco, TX (Dallas Cowboys complex).   Last year...NCAA-1 (Marshall-2nd round); NIT-2 (Western Kentucky-Quarterfinals, Middle Tennessee); CIT-1 (UTSA); CBI-1 (North Texas-Winners).  Notes...Yep, last year’s event was such a hit at the NFL Cowboys’ complex at the 12,000 seat domed-stadium Ford Center that is the centerpiece of the facility, that C-USA is back in Frisco for a return engagement.  Old Dominion ought not be thinking it can qualify as an at-large; if the Selection Committee bypassed a Middle Tennessee squad with decent at-large credentials a season ago, the Monarchs would figure as a longer shot.  ODU is advised to win in Frisco if it wants to make the Dance.

HORIZON—Conference tourney winner will be only Big Dance rep.  Conference-21st.   Tourney March 5-6 Quarterfinals at campus sites; then semifinals and finals March 11-12 at Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI. Last year...NCAA-1 (Wright State); NIT-1 (Northern Kentucky); CIT-1 (UIC-2nd place). Notes...There was a time when the Horizon was a multi-bid league, but we’re going back a long while.  At least the Horizon winner will probably stay clear of the 16 vs. 16 play-in game unless we get an upset at the shiny Little Caesars Arena in Motown, a pretty nice venue for a lower mid-major league to conduct its tourney. 

IVY—Conference tourney winner will be only Big Dance rep.  Conference-13th.  Tourney March 16-17 at John J. Lee Amphitheater at Payne Whitney Gym, New Haven, CT (home court of Yale).  Last year...NCAA-1 (Penn); NIT-1 (Harvard).  Notes...A quick look at the Ivy’s surprisingly good conference rating (13th) is indicative of improved play from top to bottom in the league.  The Ivy’s reps have scored more notable non-conference wins than any year in recent memory. Especially Penn, which won the Big Five crown in Philly for the first time since 2002, breaking Villanova’s 25-game Big Five win streak in the process.  Note the Ivy Tourney moves to Yale this March after being contested at Penn’s Palestra the past two years.

MID-AMERICAN—Solid...Buffalo.  Conference-9th (East), 11th (West) Tourney first round March 11 at campus sites; quarters, semis, and Final March 13-16 at Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH.  Last year...NCAA-1 (Buffalo-2nd round); CIT-2 (Central Michigan-3rd round, Eastern Michigan-2nd round);  CBI (Miami-Ohio); CBI-1 (Toledo).  Notes...This year might be the best chance since 1999 for the MAC to be a multi-bid league, because Buffalo should be safely into the field of 68 regardless of what happens at Cleveland in mid-March.  But the Bulls have slipped twice in league play (Northern Illinois and very dangerousBowling Green), and a quick look at the conference ratings confirms the MAC has plenty of banana peels this season.  While a strong favorite, UB is not automatically going to prevail at the “Q” (where they won’t be worrying about hosting Cavs playoff games this season).

MISSOURI VALLEY—Bubble...Drake. Conference-14th.Notes...Tourney (“Arch Madness”) March 7-10 at Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO.  Last year...NCAA-1 (Loyola Chicago-Final Four); CIT-1 (Drake-2nd round).  Notes...The days of the Valley as a multi-bid league probably ended when Creighton and Wichita St. each bolted the loop in recent years.  Though the Valley’s storied hoops history had a new chapter last season when recent addition Loyola-Chicago made it back to the Final Four for the first time since 1963.  Hoop historians will note that four current Valley reps have made Final Four appearances in the past (Loyola, Bradley, Drake, and Indiana State)!

MOUNTAIN WEST—Solid...Nevada. Bubble...Utah State.  Conference-10th.  Notes...Tourney March 13-16 at Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV (home court of UNLV).  Last year...NCAA-2 (Nevada-Sweet 16, San Diego State); NIT-1 (Boise State).   Notes...Remember, the Mountain looked like a one-bid league last year until Nevada was dumped in the conference tourney (by eventual champ San Diego State in the semifinals).  Could the same thing happen again?  Could be, as the Aztecs sent another warning shot to the Wolf Pack with a midweek win at Viejas Arena.

PAC 12—Solid...Washington  Bubble...Arizona State.  Conference-6th.  Tourney March 13-16 at T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV.  Last year...NCAA-3 (Arizona, UCLA-Lost in First Four, Arizona State-Lost in First Four); NIT-5 (Utah-2nd place, Oregon-2nd round, Stanford-2nd round, USC-2nd round, Washington-2nd round).  Notes...Could the Pac be a one-bid league?  It’s possible, especially if Washington wins the Pac-12 Tourney.  Remember, though the league put three reps into last year’s Madness, all were gone by the first Thursday of the Dance, with UCLA and Arizona State bounced in First Four action at Dayton.  That might have been an all-time record NIT haul for a conference (five teams) for the Pac a year ago, but we doubt the league comes close to that sort of representation in all postseason events combined this term.

SEC—Solid...Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU .  Looking Good...Auburn,  Mississippi State, Ole Miss. Bubble...Florida, Alabama, South CarolinaConference-4th.   Tourney March 13-17 at Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN.  Last year...NCAA-8 (Kentucky-Sweet 16, Texas A&M-Sweet 16, Alabama-2nd round, Auburn-2nd round, Florida-2nd round, Tennessee-2nd round, Arkansas, Missouri); NIT-2 (Mississippi State-Semifinals, LSU-2nd round).  Notes...After a one year, out-of-the-way detour to St. Louis for the conference tourney, the SEC returns to far more preferable Nashville, which begins a five-year run next month.  There’s a chance the league could match its record 8-team Big Dance haul from a year ago.  Who said the SEC is just a football league, anyway?

SUN BELT—Bubble...Texas State. Conference-16th. Tourney first round at campus sites March 11; then quarterfinals, semis, and Final March 13-16 at Lakefront Arena, New Orleans, LA.  Last year...NCAA-1 (Georgia State); NIT-1 (Louisiana-Lafayette); CIT-1 (Louisiana-Monroe).  Notes....It’s been a while (2008) since the Belt has been a multi-bid league, and we’re just listing Texas State on the bubble as a courtesy to the loop, though perhaps Danny “Cool McCool” Kaspar’s Bobcats do live at the very edge of the bubble into late February.  But Texas State, like every other league member, is advised to win the Belt event in New Orleans if it wants to make the Dance.

WEST COAST—Solid...Gonzaga.  Bubble...San Francisco, Saint Mary’sConference-8th.  Notes...Tourney March 7-12 at Orleans Hotel Arena, Las Vegas, NV.  Last year...NCAA-1 (Gonzaga-Sweet 16); NIT-2 (Saint Mary’s-Quarterfinals, BYU); CIT-2 (San Francisco-2nd place, San Diego-Quarterfinals).   Notes...The WCC might again be a one-bid Gonzaga league, as neither USF nor Saint Mary’s have appeared any better than “first four out” projections since around the holidays.  The Zags look a good bet to snag the top seed in the West Regional if they can roll through the conference tourney as expected in Vegas.

Many of these tournaments begin as early as next week, and we will do a quick review below of all of these “extra” leagues and their tourneys.  Dates, sites, top contenders, and postseason reps from a year ago are included for each of these loops; clear-cut favorites accompanied by *.

   AMERICA EAST...Tourney March 9, 12, and 16 at home of highest seed for each matchup.  Top eight teams qualify.  Defending champ Vermont will enter as the top seed.  Top contenders–Vermont, Stony Brook, UMBC, Hartford.  Last year...NCAA-1 (UMBC-2nd round); NIT-1 (Vermont); CBI-1 (Hartford).

   ATLANTIC SUN...Tourney March 4, 7, 10 at home of highest seed for each matchup.  Top contenders-Liberty, Lipscomb, Florida Gulf Coast.  Last Year...NCAA–1 (Lipscomb); NIT-1 (Florida Gulf Coast). 

   BIG SKY...Tourney March 11-16 at CenturyLink Arena, Boise, ID. (home of ECHL Steelheads).   Top contenders-Montana, Northern Colorado, Weber State.  Last year...NCAA-1 (Montana); CIT-2 (Northern Colorado-Winners, Portland State); CBI-1 (Eastern Washington).  

   BIG SOUTH...Tourney March 5, 7-8, 10.  First round at campus sites, quarterfinals and semifinals at home of No. 1 seed.  Highest remaining seed will host championship game.  Top contenders-Radford, Campbell, Winthrop, Presbyterian, Gardner-Webb. Last year...NCAA-1 (Radford-First Round; won play-in game vs. LIU-Brooklyn); NIT-2 (UNC-Asheville, Hampton when member of MEAC); CIT-Liberty (Semifinals); CBI-Campbell (Semifinals).   

   METRO ATLANTIC...Tourney March 7-11 at Times Union Center, Albany, NY.  The top five seeds gets byes into the quarterfinals; seeds 6 thru 11 compete in a play-in round.   Top contenders-Iona, Quinnipiac, Siena, Canisius, Rider.  Last year...NCAA-1 (Iona); NIT-1 (Rider); CIT-1 (Niagara);  CBI-1 (Canisius).

   MEAC...Tourney March 11-16 at The Scope, Norfolk, VA (former part-time home of the ABA Virginia Squires; not the home court of Norfolk State, which plays its games at Echols Hall).  Top contenders-Norfolk State*, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, Howard.  Last year...NCAA-1 (NC Central-First Four); NIT -1 (Hampton, has since moved to Big South); CIT-1 (North Carolina A&T). 

   NORTHEAST...Tourney March 6, 9, 12 at home of highest seed for each matchup.  Top contenders-St. Francis-PA, Fairleigh-Dickinson, Robert Morris, Sacred Heart.   Last year...NCAA-1 (LIU-Brooklyn-lost play-in vs. Radford); NIT-1 (Wagner); CIT-1 (St. Francis-PA).

   OHIO VALLEY...Tourney March 6-9 at Ford Center, Evansville, IN. Top contenders-Belmont, Murray State, Austin Peay, Jacksonville State.  Last Year...NCAA-1 (Murray State); CIT-1 (Austin Peay-Quarterfinals); CBI-1 (Jacksonville State-Semifinals).

   PATRIOT...Tourney March 5, 7, 10, 13 all at home of higher seed for each matchup. Top four seeds receive byes in first round.. Top contenders-Bucknell, Lehigh, Colgate.  Last Year...NCAA-1 (Bucknell); CBI-1 (Colgate).

   SOUTHERN...Tourney March 8-11 at U.S. Cellular Center,  Asheville, NC.  Top six seeds receive bye in first round. Wofford will be top seed in the tournament.  Top contenders-Wofford*, UNC-Greensboro, East Tennessee State, Furman.  Last year...NCAA-1 (UNC-Greensboro); CIT-1 (Wofford); CBI-1 (Mercer-Quarterfinals).

   SOUTHLAND...Tourney March 13-17 at Merrell Center, Katy, TX.  Top eight teams qualify.  Top contenders-Sam Houston State*, New Orleans, Abilene Christian, SE Louisiana, Lamar.  Last Year...NCAA-1 (Stephen F Austin); NIT-1 (SE Louisiana); CIT-3 (Sam Houston-Semifinals, Lamar, Abilene Christian); CBI-2 (New Orleans-Quartfinals, Central Arkansas-Quarterfinals).

   SWAC...Tourney March 6 at campus site: March 15-16 at Bill Harris Arena, Birmingham, AL. Top contenders-Prairie View*, Texas Southern, Alabama State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff.  Last year...NCAA-1 (Texas Southern-First Round; won play-in game vs. North Carolina  Central).

   SUMMIT...Tourney March 9-12 at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, Sioux Falls, SD (not the home court of nearby, Brookings-based South Dakota State, which plays its home games at Frost Arena, or nearby, Vermillion-based South Dakota, which plays its home games at the Dakota Dome).  The Summit League was formerly known as Mid-Continent Conference. Top contenders-South Dakota State*, Omaha, Purdue-Fort Wayne, North Dakota State.  Last year...NCAA-1 (South Dakota State); CIT-1 (Purdue-Fort Wayne); CBI-1 (South Dakota).

   WAC...Tourney March 14-16 at Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, NV.  Top contenders-New Mexico State*, Utah Valley, Grand Canyon.  Last year...NCAA-1 (New Mexico State); CBI-4 (Utah Valley-2nd round, Grand Canyon, Seattle, UTRGV).

We’ll preview more "Bracketology” updates in the next two weeks! 

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