by Bruce Marshall. Goldsheet.com Editor

It’s about time for our annual preview of upcoming conference tournaments. This issue, we’ll provide a look at the “major” conferences, and follow up later this week with a preview of the lower-echelon Division-I leagues, many of which we got to see in last weekend’s Buster action.

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 much-discussed “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 seek to develop extra depth and avoid key injuries, while others emphasize a strong drive through the regular-season tape and 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. We are 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. Only Ivy League remains the lone conference tourney holdout—and even the Ivy has been tossing around tourney ideas in recent years (really!). 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. As mentioned earlier, we’ll be providing similar conference previews for the remainder of the D-I leagues later this week.

ACC—Solid...Duke, North Carolina, Florida State. Looking Good...Virginia. Bubble...Miami-Florida, NC State. Conference Power Rating-5th. Notes...Tourney March 8-11 at Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA. Last year...NCAA-4 (North Carolina-Elite Eight, Duke-Sweet 16, Florida State-Sweet 16, Clemson); NIT-3 (Miami-Florida-3rd round, Virginia Tech-2nd round, Boston College-2nd round).

ATLANTIC TEN—Solid...Temple, Saint Louis. Bubble...Xavier, St. Joseph’s, La Salle, UMass, Dayton. Conference-8th. Notes...Tourney first round March 6 at campus sites; quarters, semis, and final March 8-11 at Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, NJ. Last year...NCAA-3 (Richmond-Sweet 16, Temple, Xavier); NIT-1 (Dayton); CBI-3 (Duquesne-2nd round, Rhode Island-2nd round, St. Bonaventure).

BIG EAST—Solid...Syracuse, Marquette, Louisville, Georgetown, Notre Dame. Looking Good...Cincinnati, West Virginia. Bubble...Seton Hall, UConn, South Florida. Conference-3rd. Notes...Tourney March 6-10 at Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY. Last year...NCAA-11 (UConn-Champs, Marquette-Sweet 16, Pittsburgh-2nd round, Syracuse-2nd round, Cincinnati-2nd round, Notre Dame-2nd round, West Virginia-2nd round, St. John’s, Georgetown, Louisville, Villanova).

BIG TEN—Solid...Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin. Looking Good...Purdue. Bubble...Northwestern, Minnesota. Conference-1st. Notes...Tourney March 8-11 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN. Last year...NCAA-7 (Wisconsin-Sweet 16, Ohio State-Sweet 16, Purdue-2nd round, Michigan-2nd round, Illinois-2nd round, Michigan State, Penn State); NIT-1 (Northwestern-3rd round).

BIG XII—Solid...Kansas, Missouri, Baylor. Looking Good...Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas. Conference-2nd. Notes...Tourney March 7-10 at Sprint Center, Kansas City, MO. Last year...NCAA-5 (Kansas-Elite Eight, Kansas State-2nd round, Texas-2nd round, Missouri, Texas A&M); NIT-3 (Colorado-semifinals, Oklahoma State-2nd round, Nebraska).

BIG WEST—Looking Good...Long Beach State. Conference-21st. Notes...Tourney March 8-10 at Honda Center, Anaheim, CA. Last year...NCAA-1 (UC Santa Barbara); NIT-1 (Long Beach State).

COLONIAL—Bubble...Drexel, George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth. Conference-11th. Notes...Tourney March 2-5 at Richmond Coliseum, Richmond, VA. Last year...NCAA-3 (Virginia Commonwealth-Final Four, George Mason-2nd round, Old Dominion); CBI-2 (James Madison, Hofstra).

CONFERENCE USA—Looking Good...Memphis, Southern Miss. Bubble...Marshall, Central Florida. Conference-10th. Notes...Tourney March 7-10 at FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN. Last year...NCAA-2 (Memphis, UAB); NIT-1 (UTEP); CBI-1 (Central Florida-semifinals); CIT-3 (SMU-semifinals, Marshall, East Carolina).

HORIZON—Bubble...Cleveland State. Conference-13th. Notes...Tourney first round February 28 at campus sites; quarters and semis March 2-3 at home of regular-season champion, also the number one seed; Final March 6 at home of highest-remaining seed. Last year...NCAA-1 (Butler-2nd place); NIT-2 (Cleveland State-2nd round, UW-Milwaukee); CIT-1 (Valparaiso).

MID-AMERICAN—Bubble...Akron, Ohio. Conference-15th. Notes...Tourney first round March 5 at campus sites); quarters, semis, and Final March 8-10 at Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH. Last year...NCAA-1 (Akron); NIT-1 (Kent State-quarterfinals); CBI-1 (Miami-Ohio); CIT-2 (Buffalo-2nd round, Western Michigan-2nd round).

MISSOURI VALLEY—Solid...Wichita State, Creighton. Conference-9th. Notes...Tourney (“Arch Madness”) March 1-4 at Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO. Last year...NCAA-1 (Indiana State); NIT-2 (Wichita State-champs, Missouri State-2nd round); CBI -2 (Creighton-2nd place, Evansville-2nd round); CIT-1 (Northern Iowa-2nd round).

MOUNTAIN WEST—Solid...New Mexico, UNLV. Looking Good...San Diego State. Bubble...Colorado State, Wyoming. Conference-6th. Notes...Tourney March 7-10 at Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV. Last year...NCAA-3 (BYU-Sweet 16, San Diego State-Sweet 16, UNLV); NIT-2 (New Mexico-2nd round, Colorado State); CIT-1 (Air Force-2nd round).

PAC 12—Solid...California. Looking Good...Washington. Bubble...Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, Stanford. Conference-7th. Notes...Tourney March 7-10 at Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA. Last year...NCAA-4 (Arizona-Elite Eight, UCLA-2nd round, Washington-2nd round, Southern Cal); NIT-2 (Washington State-semifinals, California-2nd round); CBI-1 (Oregon-Champs).

SEC—Solid...Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt. Looking Good...Mississippi State. Bubble...Alabama, LSU. Conference-4th. Notes...Tourney March 8-11 at New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA. Last year...NCAA-5 (Kentucky-Final Four, Florida-Elite Eight, Georgia, Tennessee, Vanderbilt); NIT-2 (Alabama-2nd place, Ole Miss).

SUN BELT—Bubble...Middle Tennessee State. Conference-18th. Notes...Tourney March 3-6 at Summit Arena, Hot Springs, AR. Last year...NCAA-1 (UA-Little Rock); NIT-1 (Florida Atlantic).

WEST COAST—Solid...Gonzaga. Looking Good...BYU, Saint Mary’s. Conference-11th. Notes...Tourney February 29-March 5 at Orleans Hotel Arena, Las Vegas, NV. Last year...NCAA-1 (Gonzaga-2nd round); NIT-1 (Saint Mary’s-2nd round); CIT-3 (Santa Clara-Champs, San Francisco-quarterfinals, Portland).

WAC—Bubble...Nevada. Conference-12th. Notes...Tourney March 7-10 at Orleans Hotel Arena, Las Vegas, NV. Last year...NCAA-1 (Utah State); CBI-2 (Boise State-semifinals, San Jose State); CIT-2 (Hawaii-2nd round, Idaho).

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