by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

It’s that time again for our annual look-aheads to the fast-approaching conference tournaments, always among our favorite assignments of the hoops season. And we have no more time to wait, as the first of these tourneys begin next week!

As usual, we 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 down the stretch to keep their Big Dance hopes alive.

AMERICAN—Solid...Cincinnati, Wichita State. Looking Good...Houston. Conference Power Rating-6th. Tourney March 8-11 at Amway Center, Orlando, FL. Last year...NCAA-2 (Cincinnati-2nd round, SMU); NIT-2 (UCF-Semifinals, Houston). Notes...This looks like a 3-bid league and this season’s flag carrier for the mid-major ranks (though don’t try to convince American reps that they’re mid-majors). Houston’s recent win over Cincinnati has moved the Cougars to the safe side of the Selection Sunday cut line into late February.

ACC—Solid...Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson. Looking Good...Miami-Fla., Florida State. Bubble...Virginia Tech, NC State, Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame. Conference Power Rating-2nd. Tourney March 6-10 at Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY. Last year...NCAA-9 (North Carolina-Champ, Duke-2nd round, Florida State-2nd round, Louisville-2nd round, Notre Dame-2nd round, Virginia-2nd round, Miami, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest-First Four); NIT-3 (Georgia Tech-Runner-up, Syracuse-2nd round, Clemson). Notes...Though UNC won the title for the third time in the Roy Williams era a year ago, it was otherwise a bit of a disappointing March for the ACC, as the Tar Heels were the only rep to advance beyond the sub-regionals into the Sweet 16. Will the league go 9-deep again this March? 10-deep, perhaps?

ATLANTIC TEN—Solid...Rhode Island. Bubble...St. Bonaventure. Conference-9th. Tourney March 7-11 at Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C. Last year...NCAA-3 (Rhode Island-2nd round, Dayton, Virginia Commonwealth); NIT-1 (Richmond-Quarterfinals); CBI-2 (George Washington-Quarterfinals, George Mason). Notes...St. Bonaventure has positioned itself for an at-large bid after last Friday’s rousing win over Rhode Island, but given the Selection Committee’s new metrics, the Bonnies have little room for error. Rhody is solidly in; could the A-10 become a 3 bid-league if one of the outsiders scores the upset in D.C?

BIG EAST—Solid...Villanova, Xavier. Looking Good...Butler, Creighton, Seton Hall. Bubble-Providence, Marquette. Conference-3rd. Tourney March 7-10 at Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY. Last year...NCAA-7 (Xavier-Elite 8, Butler-Sweet 16, Villanova-2nd round, Creighton, Marquette, Seton Hall, Providence). Notes...Expect at least six bids, as only a late collapse could cause Selection Sunday worries for Butler, Creighton, or the Hall, while Providence (though probably on the safe side of the cut line at the moment) and recent-arrival Marquette are not yet clear of the bubble. A chance for an upset or two or three in the conference tourney at MSG is a very real possibility, however, with Georgetown, St. John’s (especially St. John’s), and even DePaul notching significant upset wins in February.

BIG TEN—Solid...Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan. Bubble...Penn State, Nebraska. Conference-4th. Tourney February 28-March 4 at Madison Square Garden New York City, NY. 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...So desperate was the Big Ten to conduct its tourney in New York City that it accepted moving the event forward a week (thus astride of such traditional early tourneys as the Missouri Valley and Ohio Valley), which could create an interesting post-tourney dynamic, as more than a few teams might have close to a 2-week layoff before their action resumes in the Big Dance. (The Big East has first call on Madison Square Garden during “tournament week”). This isn’t an annual thing in New York; the Big Ten returns to the Midwest the next four years, in its normal spot on the calendar, alternating between United Center in Chicago and Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

BIG 12—Solid...Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia. Looking Good...TCU. Bubble...Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas. Conference-2nd. Tourney March 7-10 at Sprint Center, Kansas City, MO. Last year...NCAA-7 (Kansas-Elite Eight, West Virginia-Sweet 16, Baylor-Sweet 16, Iowa State-2nd round, Kansas State (won First Four game), Oklahoma State; NIT-1 (TCU-Champ). Notes...Yes, we have dropped sinking-like-a-rock Oklahoma to the bubble, which would have seemed preposterous a few weeks ago, but the Sooners haven’t won in a few weeks, either. No league figures to be helped as much as the Big 12 by the new “quadrant wins” metric that basically awards a “quality win” to every success in conference play. And by those calculations, even the Sooners would have to drop a bit further to drop out of the field of 68. But they’ve been headed in the wrong direction lately.

BIG WEST— Conference tourney winner will be only Big Dance rep. Conference-27th. Notes...Tourney March 8-10 at Honda Center, Anaheim, CA (home of the NHL Ducks). Last year...NCAA-1 (UC Davis-won First Four game); NIT-1 (UC Irvine); CIT-1 (Cal State Fullerton). Notes...According to recent RPI ratings, current loop leader UCSB and perhaps UC Davis are the only Big West entries that would likely avoid one of the 16 vs. 16 First Four play-in games in Dayton.

COLONIAL—Conference tourney winner will be only Big Dance rep. Conference-17th. Tourney March 3-6 at North Charleston Coliseum, Charleston, SC (not the home of College of Charleston, which plays at TD Arena). Last year...NCAA-1 (NC-Wilmington); NIT-1 (Charleston). Notes...With the tourney being contested in Charleston for the second straight year, it might prove an edge for the hometown Charleston Cougars, currently neck-and-neck with Northeastern at the top of the league table. Any other winner of the conference tourney might be at risk of one of the 16 vs. 16 play-in games at Dayton.

CONFERENCE USA—Looking Good...Middle Tennessee. Bubble...Western Kentucky, Old Dominion. Conference-12th. Notes...Tourney March 7-10 at Ford Center at the Star, Frisco, TX (Dallas Cowboys complex). Last year...NCAA-1 (Middle Tennessee-2nd round); CBI-1 (Rice-2nd round). Notes...You read that right, the conference tourney moves to the modern Dallas suburb of Frisco and the NFL Cowboys’ new complex at the 12,000 seat domed-stadium that is the centerpiece of the facility. So, as an added attraction, there’s a chance Jerry Jones himself might show up! For the first time in a while, C-USA threatens to be a multi-bid league, with MTSU owning a strong at-large case if it gets dumped in Frisco, while WKU and ODU are still hanging on or near the periphery of the bubble into late February.

HORIZON—Conference tourney winner will be only Big Dance rep. Conference-22nd. Tourney March 2-6 at Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI. Last year...NCAA-1 (Northern Kentucky); NIT-2 (Oakland-2nd round, Valparaiso); CBI-2 (UIC-Semifinals, Green Bay). Notes...With Valpo having moved to the Missouri Valley, after Loyola-Chicago did the same the previous year, the Horizon is lacking a bit of its former star power. But at least the tourney has some nice accommodations, as the shiny new Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit will host the event.

IVY—Conference tourney winner will be only Big Dance rep. Conference-19th. Tourney March 10-11 at the Palestra, Philadelphia, PA (home court of Penn). Last year...NCAA-1 (Princeton). Notes...The Ivy finally relented a year ago with its first-ever tourney, which will again include the top four teams and take place at Penn’s Palestra in Philadelphia. Note that a year ago, Ivy reps didn’t participate in the NIT, CBI, or CIT, though that was not any league-policy thing, as the Ivies have populated those events in years past and could do so again in March.
MID-AMERICAN—Bubble...Buffalo. Conference-15th. Tourney first round March 5 at campus sites; quarters, semis, and Final March 7-10 at Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH. Last year...NCAA-1 (Kent State); NIT-1 (Akron-2nd round); CIT-1 (Ball State); CBI-1 (Toledo). Notes...The MAC has not sent multiple teams to the Big Dance since 1999, when Kent State and Miami-Ohio qualified. Though we have generously placed Buffalo (deserving, we think) on our “bubble” in late February, the MAC is almost certainly a 1-bid league again. Keep in mind the “play-in” round at campus sites on March 5, with the top four seeds given a pass into the quarterfinals, when the tourney, as always, moves to the Cavs’ “Q” in downtown Cleveland.

MISSOURI VALLEY—Bubble...Loyola-Chicago. Conference-10th. Notes...Tourney (“Arch Madness”) March 1-4 at Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO. Last year...NCAA-1 (Wichita State-2nd round); NIT-1 (Illinois State-2nd round). Notes...The move of Wichita State to the American, a few years after Creighton bolted to the Big East, has left the Valley without any real “glamour” teams and might be relegating it to MAC-like 1-bid status for the foreseeable future, quite a come-down for the one-time flagship loop of the mid-major ranks. Valpo was recruited out of the Valley’s new “raiding ground” the Horizon after Loyola-Chicago was plucked the previous year; the surprising Ramblers rate longshot bubble mention into late February as they look to make the Dance for the first time in 33 years.

MOUNTAIN WEST—Looking Good...Nevada. Bubble...Boise State. Conference-8th. Notes...Tourney March 7-10 at Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV (home court of UNLV). Last year...NCAA-1 (Nevada); NIT-3 (Boise State-2nd round, Colorado State-2nd round, Fresno State); CBI-1 (Wyoming-Champion). Notes...Like the Missouri Valley, the Mountain has become a 1-bid league in recent years, though this is the best chance since 2015 for that to change with Nevada looking solidly in the field and Boise hovering on the bubble. Note that the MW has produced the last two champions of the CBI (Nevada in 2016 and Wyoming last season).

PAC 12—Solid...Arizona, Arizona State. Bubble...Southern Cal, UCLA, Washington, Utah. Conference-6th. Tourney March 7-10 at T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV. Last year...NCAA-4 (Oregon-Final Four, Arizona-Sweet 16, UCLA-Sweet 16, Southern Cal-2nd round); NIT-3 (California, Colorado, Utah). Notes...After sending seven teams to the Dance two years ago, there’s a chance the Pac could only send only two this March, though most “Bracketology” updates have at least one from USC, UCLA, and Washington crashing the field. (For what it’s worth, we have four total from the Pac in our latest seed update, as noted earlier.) The Pac-12 Tourney moved last year from the MGM Garden in Las Vegas to across the street at the new T-Mobile Arena, where the NHL expansion darling Golden Knights will graciously vacate during the week so the hoops action can commence.

SEC—Solid...Auburn, Tennessee. Looking Good...Florida, Kentucky. Bubble...Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Missouri, Texas A&M, Georgia, LSU. Conference-5th. Tourney March 7-11 at Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO. Last year...NCAA-5 (South Carolina-Final Four, Florida-Elite Eight, Kentucky-Elite Eight, Arkansas-2nd round, Vanderbilt); NIT-3 (Ole Miss-Quarterfinals, Alabama, Georgia). Notes...As an obvious thrown bone to Missouri for enlisting in the loop six years ago, the SEC Tourney makes a one-year, out-of-the-way (for all save Mizzou and perhaps Arkansas) detour to St. Louis before returning to the home region and Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for the next three years. We’ll take Nashville over St. Louis any day, but no asked us. The SEC is such a logjam that we might have been better advised to simply list the entries not on the bubble entering late February. Many prognosticators (including us at TGS) have at least eight SEC reps making the Dance.

SUN BELT—Bubble...UL-Lafayette. Conference-11th. Tourney March 7-11 at Lakefront Arena, New Orleans, LA. Last year...NCAA-1 (Troy); NIT-1 (UT-Arlington-Quarterfinals); CIT-2 (Texas State-Quarterfinals, Georgia State); CBI-2 (Coastal Carolina-Runner-up, Georgia Southern). Notes....The Belt has not been a multi-bid league since 2008, when Western Kentucky and South Alabama qualified, and is likely not going to be again this season, though UL-Lafayette has at least entered the at-large conversation within recent weeks. Like a year ago, expect solid Sun Belt representation in the various postseason tourneys.

WEST COAST—Solid...Gonzaga. Looking Good...Saint Mary’s. Conference-13th. Notes...Tourney March 1-6 at Orleans Hotel Arena, Las Vegas, NV. Last year...NCAA-2 (Gonzaga-Runner-up, Saint Mary’s-2nd round); NIT-1 (BYU); CBI-1 (San Francisco). Notes...The WCC has been as much as a 3-bid league in recent years, but for that to happen in March will require a team other than the Zags or Gaels winning the vent. Unlikely, but that would be a true bid-stealer scenario.

Included below is tourney info for the remainder of the D-I loops, with any clear-cut favorite accompanied by an *.

AMERICA EAST...Tourney March 3, 6, and 10 at home of highest seed for each matchup. Top eight teams qualify. Defending champ Vermont will enter as the top seed. Top contenders–Vermont*, UMBC, Albany, Hartford. Last year...NCAA-1 (Vermont); CIT-2 (UMBC-Semifinals, Albany); CBI-1 (Stony Brook).

ATLANTIC SUN...Tourney February 28, March 1, and 4 at home of highest seed for each matchup. Florida Gulf Coast will be the top seed. Top contenders-Florida Gulf Coast*, Lipscomb. Last Year...NCAA–1 (Florida Gulf Coast); CIT-2 (Jacksonville, USC-Upstate).

BIG SKY...Tourney March 6-10 at Reno Events Center, Reno, NV (home of NBA-DL Bighorns). Top contenders-Montana, Weber State, Idaho, Eastern Washington, Northern Colorado. Last year...NCAA-1 (North Dakota); CIT-2 (Idaho-2nd round, Weber State-2nd round); CBI-1 (Eastern Washington).

BIG SOUTH...Tourney Feb. 27, March 1-2, 4. First round at campus sites, quarterfinals and semifinals at home of No. 1 seed. Highest remaining seed will host championship game. Either Winthrop or UNC-Asheville will be the top seed. Top contenders-Winthrop, UNC-Asheville, Radford, Campbell. Last year...NCAA-1 (Winthrop); CIT-3 (Campbell-Quarterfinals, Liberty-Quarterfinals, UNC-Asheville)

METRO ATLANTIC...Tourney March 1-5 at Trans Union Center, Albany, NY. The top five seeds get byes into the quarterfinals; seeds 6 thru 11 compete in a play-in round. Top contenders-Rider, Canisius, Niagara, Iona. Last year...NCAA-1 (Iona-2nd round); NIT-1 (Monmouth); CIT-3 (Saint Peter’s-Champion, Canisius, Fairfield); CBI-1 (Siena).

MEAC...Tourney March 5-10 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-North Carolina A&T, Bethune-Cookman, Savannah State, Hampton, NC Central. Last year...NCAA-1 (NC Central-First Four); CIT-1 (Norfolk State); CBI-1 (Hampton).

NORTHEAST...Tourney February 28, March 3, 6 at home of highest seed for each matchup. Wagner will be the top seed. Top contenders-Wagner*, St. Francis-PA, Mount Saint Mary’s, St. Francis-NY, Robert Morris. Last year...NCAA-1 (Mount Saint Mary’s-won First Four); CIT-1 (St. Francis-PA).

OHIO VALLEY...Tourney February 28-March 3 at Ford Center, Evansville, IN. Top contenders-Murray State, Belmont, Austin Peay., Tennessee State, Jacksonville State, Tennessee Tech. Last Year...NCAA-1 (Jacksonville State); NIT-1 (Belmont-2nd round); CIT-1 (UT Martin-2nd round).

PATRIOT...Tourney February 28-March 1, 4, 7 all at home of higher seed for each matchup. Top four seeds receive byes in first round. Defending champ Bucknell is the top seed. Top contenders-Bucknell*, Navy, Colgate, Lehigh. Last Year...NCAA-1 (Bucknell); CBI-1 (Loyola-Maryland-Quarterfinals).

SOUTHERN...Tourney March 1-5 at U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, NC. Top six seeds receive bye in first round. Top contenders-East Tennessee State, NC-Greensboro, Furman, Wofford. Last year...NCAA-1 (East Tennessee State); NIT-1 (NC Greensboro); CIT-2 (Furman-Semifinals, Samford-2nd round).

SOUTHLAND...Tourney March 7-11 at Merrell Center, Katy, TX. Top eight teams qualify. Top contenders-Nicholls, SE Louisiana, Stephen F Austin, Sam Houston, New Orleans. Last Year...NCAA-1 (New Orleans-First Four); CIT-4 (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi-Runner-up, Houston Baptist, Lamar, Stephen F Austin).

SWAC...Tourney March 6 at campus site: March 9-10 at Delmar Fieldhouse, Houston, TX. Top contenders-Grambling, Southern, Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Last year...NCAA-1 (Texas Southern).

SUMMIT...Tourney March 3-6 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, South Dakota, Fort Wayne. Last year...NCAA-1 (South Dakota State); NIT-1 (South Dakota); CIT-1 (Fort Wayne).

WAC...Tourney March 8-10 at Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, NV. Top contenders-New Mexico State, Utah Valley, Seattle, Grand Canyon. Last year...NCAA-1 (New Mexico State); NIT-1 (CS Bakersfield-Semifinals); CBI-2 (Utah Valley-Semifinals, UMKC-Quarterfinals).

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