College basketball Championship Week primer: Who to watch, root for and more

USA TODAY Sports

The madness before the madness is upon us, which means you need to gear up on what you need to be paying attention to, and who you need to be rooting for.

My disdain for the BCS -- or, more accurately, college football's complete and utter lack of a postseason that caters to the basic principles of sport -- has reached that most grotesque of levels where I'm unable to joke about it.

It's gotten to the point where I can no longer say, with any degree of honesty, that I am a college football fan. I love the game, love the tradition, love waking up early on fall Saturdays for College Gameday, but because of the system in place I can't go above classifying myself as anything more than a fan of a team.

In college football, almost 50 percent of the games are completely meaningless in terms of their relation to who gets to lay claim to the title of national champion. To me, that's maddening, and it's why when my team's season is done, I'm done.

The antithesis of this began in college hoops on Tuesday when first round action in the Big South Conference and Horizon League tournaments tipped off. It will continue Tuesday night when four more conference join the fray, and last all the way until April 8, when an unquestioned champion is crowned.

From here on out, every single game will have some direct influence on who gets to cut down the nets in five weeks.

Obtaining the sport's top prize is extremely unlikely for the vast majority of the 341 teams competing in Division I, but thank God it's not impossible. Thank God the bottom-tier RPI school that won its conference tournament gets the chance to prove itself on the sport's biggest stage, and not inside a quarter-full stadium against a team that doesn't really want to be there, in a game that, for all intents and purposes, has absolutely zero significance. Thank God when Butler beat UTEP in the round of 64 three years ago that wasn't how their story ended.

Championship Week(s) is the fun before the fun. If filet mignon is the main course here, then char-grilled lobster tails are the appetizer. We're treated to 13 days of nothing but dream-fulfilling, career-ending, win-or-turn-in-your-jersey conference tournament action. All the elements that draw casual fans so completely into the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament are inherent in each and every one of the 30 conference tournaments that will take place over the course of the next two weeks.

Quite simply, it's high drama that you can't find anywhere else in sports.

Mid and low-major D-I basketball is an acquired taste, and it's one that's especially difficult to attain when the team you love and follow plays in a conference like the Big East or the Big Ten. So while I'm fully aware that some of you likely aren't interested in any of what you're about to read, allow me to say this: I don't care. This is my favorite time of the year, I'm currently smiling as I type, and this post is going to happen whether you like it or not.

For the rest of you, it's time to get briefed for Championship Week. It's a time primarily for the little guy, so focus here excludes the big six and three mini-major (A-10, MWC, C-USA) conferences.

COMPLETE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT DATES AND LOCATIONS

It's the most logical, if not exciting, jumping off point. Let's go ahead and include the big boys in this one just because we can.


Conference
Date *Location Venue Champion

America East
March 8-10, 16 Albany, N.Y. / Highest SEFCU Arena

Atlantic 10
March 14-17 Brooklyn, N.Y. Barclays Center

Atlantic Coast
March 14-17 Greensboro, N.C. Greensboro Coliseum

Atlantic Sun
March 6-9 Macon, Ga. Hawkins Arena

Big 12
March 13-16 Kansas City, Mo. Sprint Center

Big East
March 12-16 New York, N.Y. Madison Square Garden

Big Sky
March 14-16 Highest Seed

Big South
March 5, 7, 9-10 Conway, S.C. HTC Center

Big Ten
March 14-17 Chicago, Ill. United Center

Big West
March 14-16 Anaheim, Calif. Honda Center

Colonial Athletic Association
March 9-11 Richmond, Va. Richmond Coliseum

Conference USA
March 13-16 Tulsa, Okla. BOK Center

Great West #
March 14-16 Chicago, Ill. Convocation Center

Horizon League
March 5, 8-9, 12 Highest Seeds

Ivy League
None

Metro Atlantic Athletic
March 8-11 Springfield, Mass. MassMutual Center

Mid-American
March 11, 13-16 Cleveland, Ohio Quicken Loans Arena

Mid-Eastern Athletic
March 11-16 Nofolk, Va. Nofolk Scope

Missouri Valley
March 7-10 St. Louis, Mo. Scottrade Center

Mountain West
March 12-16 Las Vegas, Nev. Thomas & Mack Center

Northeast
March 6, 9, 12 Highest Seeds

Ohio Valley
March 6-9 Nashville, Tenn. Nashville Municipal Auditorium

Pacific-12
March 13-16 Las Vegas, Nev. MGM Grand Garden Arena

Patriot League
March 6, 9, 13 Highest Seeds

Southeastern
March 13-17 Nashville, Tenn. Bridgestone Arena

Southern
March 8-11 Asheville, N.C. U.S. Cellular Center

Southland
March 13-16 Katy, Texas Leonard E. Merrell Center

Southwestern Athletic
March 12-16 Garland, Texas Special Events Center

Summit League
March 9-12 Sioux Falls, S.D. Sioux Falls Arena

Sun Belt
March 8-11 Hot Springs, Ark. Summit Arena

West Coast
March 6-9, 11 Las Vegas, Nev. Orleans Arena

Western Athletic
March 12, 14-16 Las Vegas, Nev. Orleans Arena


2013 Overview

While mid-major basketball hasn't been as much of a national player this season as much as it has in years past, there is still a lot of strength at the top of these leagues. A total of 38 non-power conference teams currently have four league losses or less, a number that should result in a bevy of extremely competitive tournament semifinal and championship games. Though the vast majority of these teams won't be considered for an at-large bid if they don't win their respective conference tournament, that doesn't mean they aren't fully capable of being this year's Lehigh or Norfolk State.

The other major theme is star power. Fans scoffed at the fact that Lehigh's C.J. McCollum, Creighton's Doug McDermott and Murray State's Isaiah Canaan were named first team AP All-Americans before the season, but it was indicative of the tremendous individual talent that has remained hidden for the bulk of 2012-13. This is the week guys like Nate Wolters and Mike Muscala have the chance to introduce themselves to the faction of the sports world that hasn't been paying attention.

Is it fair that these talented teams and players that have been working as hard as the big boys since the summer get two or three days to essentially make or break their seasons? Of course not, but it's precisely the drama that makes this time of the year so attractive.

10 SQUADS FOR THE BUBBLE BOYS TO PULL FOR

If you're a major conference fan still with us, I'll humor you.

The crop of mid-major squads poised to head to the dance regardless of league tourney performance is a bit thinner than it has been in recent years, which is solid news for middling squads in power conferences. There will be a few tournaments over the next couple of weeks where the favorite or favorites going down will give a conference a bid it wouldn't have had otherwise, but probably not as many as we saw the last two years.

Rapidly aging fans of teams that haven't done enough yet to warrant "lock" status should adopt these squads as their own for the next couple of weeks.

1. Gonzaga (West Coast)

The Meryl Streep of this list also just so happens to be the No. 1 team in the country.

2. Creighton (Missouri Valley)

Creighton had a bit of a disappointing run in the Valley after spending the first half of the season with a national ranking. Still, the Jays managed to win the league's regular season title outright and are almost certainly in the dance regardless of what happens in St. Louis this week.

3. Wichita State (Missouri Valley)

The Shockers aren't quite as much of a sure-thing as the team that beat them for the MVC title, but at least one Ach Madness victory should leave them feeling pretty comfortable two Sundays from now.

4. Saint Mary's (West Coast)

Despite owning a 14-2 conference record to go along with a national ranking, the Gaels' tournament resume is awfully thin in sections. It also doesn't help that the computer rankings aren't particularly fond of them. Still, a WCC semifinal win (likely over BYU) should be enough to lock up a bid.

5. Belmont (Ohio Valley)

Even if they take their seventh loss in the OVC tournament, a sparkling RPI of 23 is going to make the Bruins awfully tough to keep out of the field of 68. Bubble boys should be pulling hard for them in Nashville.

6. Louisiana Tech (WAC)

The Bulldogs own the second best record in college basketball (26-3), and are two victories away from running the table in the WAC. Tech's number of noteworthy victories rhymes with hero, but bubble teams don't want the committee to have to stare that sparkling record directly in the face on Selection Sunday.

7. Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt)

The Blue Raiders beefed up their non-conference schedule this season after feeling like they were a tournament snub a season ago. If they falter again in the Sun Belt tourney, then their strength of schedule (and terrific record) might be enough to demand inclusion.

8. Davidson (Southern)

An RPI of 76 will probably keep them out of the tournament if they don't win the SoCon, but Kentucky, Villanova and the like should still be on team Bob McKillop just to be safe.

9. Akron (MAC)

Saturday's loss to Buffalo was a huge blow to the Zips' at-large hopes, but they're still 24-5 and own a top 50 win over Middle Tennessee.

10. Bucknell (Patriot League)

Probably the longest shot of anyone in this group...but there's still a shot. The committee proved last year with its selection of Iona that bubble teams should be rooting for high and low majors with any glimmer of hope during Championship Week.

FOUR OTHER HEAVY FAVORITES

These teams may be heading into the postseason as runaway tournament favorites after dominating their league's regular season, but an upset will relegate each of them to the NIT.

1. Stony Brook (America East)

One of the best rebounding teams in the country, the Seawolves (23-6, 14-2) are just three wins away from their first trip to the NCAA Tournament. They've had their hearts broken in the America East championship game in each of the past two seasons.

2. Norfolk State (MEAC)

Last year's darlings of the Round of 64 can wrap up a perfect season in the MEAC with a win over North Carolina A&T on Thursday. Still, they'll receive a tough test from once-beaten North Carolina Central (in an odd scheduling move, the two did not meet in the regular season) in the conference tournament.

3. Stephen F. Austin (Southland)

The Lumberjacks are best known for making headlines earlier in the season after coming up as the No. 1 team in a handful of computer rankings. They head into the final weekend of the season 24-3 and will be a heavy favorite in next week's Southland Conference tourney.

4. Montana (Big Sky)

Will Cherry and company are 17-1 in the Big Sky and poised to make their third trip to the NCAA Tournament in four years.

12 INELIGIBLE TEAMS

A new twist in the storyline that is Championship Week 2013 is the fact that 12 mid or low major schools are banned from postseason play because of low APR scores. A few would have been major player in their respective conference tournaments.

1. Towson (Colonial)

One of the best stories in college basketball this season, the Tigers finished in a tie for second in the CAA just a season after winning only one game.

2. Toledo (MAC)

With two games remaining in the regular season, the Rockets currently sit alone in second place of the MAC's West Division.

3. Cal State Bakersfield (Independent)

The Roadrunners (12-16) are one of two Division-I independents.

4. UC Riverside (Big West)

The Highlanders haven't shown the same fight as some of the other APR victims this season. They currently sit alone at the bottom of the Big West standings with a 3-13 mark.

5. Arkansas Pine-Bluff (SWAC)

The Golden Lions finished the regular season with a sparkling 15-3 conference record, good for a share of second place.

6. Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley)

The Gamecocks' season came to a close with a 78-71 loss to league champion Belmont over the weekend. They finished with an even 8-8 mark in conference play, and would have made the OVC tournament if they'd been eligible.

7. Mississippi Valley State (SWAC)

Jerry Rice University won just five games this season, all of them in conference play. They finished the regular season ahead of only 0-27 Grambling State in the SWAC standings.

8. UNC-Wilmington (Colonial)

Wilmington dropped nine of its final 11 games to finish league play with a 5-13 mark.

9. Texas A&M Corpus Christi (Southland)

With two games left to play, Islanders own a 5-11 league record and are ahead of only 1-15 Lamar in the Southland standings.

10. Boston University (America East)

The final team on the list is Boston University, which has been banned from all postseason America East tournaments this season because of the fact that its bolting for the Patriot League next fall. The Terriers finished the regular season tied with Vermont for second place, and would have been a major player in the battle for the league's auto-bid.

11. Old Dominion (Colonial)

BU's story also holds true for Old Dominion, except replace Patriot League with Conference USA, and "would have been a major player" with "is terrible."

12. Texas Southern (SWAC)

The SWAC leaders are currently serving a two-year postseason ban handed to them by the NCAA for a "lack of institutional control."

15 PLAYERS WHO WILL BE HEARD FROM

1. Doug McDermott (Creighton/Missouri Valley)

Surely, you've heard of him by now. A first team AP All-American after last season and before this one, the 6-foot-7 McDermott is the nation's second leading scorer at 23.4 ppg and is one of the top candidates for national Player of the Year.

2. Nate Wolters (South Dakota State/Summit League)

A media darling for well over a year now, Wolters is the only Division-I player to breach the 50-point mark in a game this season. The nation's fourth-leading scorer (22.8 ppg) dropped 53 on IPFW back on Feb. 8.


3. Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga/West Coast)

Had he received any sort of serious preseason buzz, we might be talking about Olynyk as the Naismith and Wooden Award front-runner. The long-haired Gonzaga big man's adjusted scoring and rebounding averages (27.6 ppg/10.9 rpg) match up favorably with those of Indiana star Cody Zeller (22.8 ppg/11.3 rpg) and Kansas center Jeff Withey (18.1 ppg/11.3 rpg).

4. Mike Muscala (Bucknell/Patriot League)

Even with C.J. McCollum unlikely to suit up, the Patriot League won't be devoid of star power. Muscala, who will become Bucknell's all-time leading scorer this week, is the first player in conference history to be named league Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year in the same season. He is also one of only two active Division I players with at least 1,000 career points and rebounds.

5. Isaiah Canaan (Murray State/Ohio Valley)

A first team preseason AP All-American, Canaan earned his second straight OVC Player of the Year award in 2013, but he had to share the honor with Belmont's Ian Clark. Canaan heads into this week's conference tournament ranked 8th nationally in points per game (21.6) and is 11th in the country with 3.07 made 3-pointers per game. He scored 30 or more points four times this season and ranks 4th in the league in assists per game (4.0) and 12th in steals per contest (1.5).

6. Ray McCallum Jr. (Detroit/Horizon League)

The first player since 2001 to be named both preseason and postseason Player of the Year in the Horizon League, McCallum will be one of the top NBA prospects on display this week. He led the conference in scoring at 19.2 ppg, while also dishing out a team-high 4.7 assists per night. He'll be looking to lead the Titans into the big dance for the second straight season.

7. D.J. Cooper (Ohio/Mid-American)

How good has Cooper been over four years with the Bobcats? He's the only player in the history of college basketball to record at least 2,000 points, 900 assists, 600 rebounds, and 300 steals for his career. That's right, college basketball has been played in the United States for more than 100 years, and no one has accomplished what D.J. Cooper has.

8. Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary's/West Coast)

Though some believe he's the best point guard in the entire country, Olynyk's prowess kept Matthew Dellavedova from being named the Player of the Year in his own conference. That doesn't mean he hasn't had an outstanding senior season. The native of Australia is averaging team-bests of 16.5 points and 6.2 assists while continuing to build on his reputation of being one of the most clutch players in college basketball.


9. Jamal Olasewere (Long Island/Northeast)

After last season's league Player of the Year, Julian Boyd, suffered a season-ending ACL injury in December, Olasewere put the two-time defending Northeast Conference champions on his shoulders and led the team with 19.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals. His efforts helped the team to 12 wins in its last 15 games, and earned himself the honor Boyd received 12 months ago.

10. Lamont "Momo" Jones (Iona/Metro Atlantic Athletic)

The former Arizona standout is averaging a career-best 23.2 ppg in his senior season, good for third-best in the country. He's eclipsed the 30-point mark five times this season, including a 40-point effort against Quinnipiac back on November 16.

11.Stan Okoye (VMI/Big South)

The only player in Big South history to have 2,000 career points (2,103), 900 rebounds (939) and 100 blocked shots (101), Okoye was the runaway choice for conference Player of the Year. He led the league in both scoring (21.2) and rebounding (9.5), and dropped 30 or more points on seven separate occasions.

12. Jake Cohen (Davidson/Southern)

Cohen, the first man to be named SoCon Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons since Stephen Curry, led the Wildcats to a nearly perfect (17-1) run through league play. He ranks among the conference leaders in scoring (14.9/6th), rebounding (5.7/15th), field-goal percentage (.495/8th), free-throw percentage (.835/4th), 3-point field-goal percentage (.388/11th) and blocked shots (1.7/2nd).

13. Devon Saddler (Delaware/Colonial)

Easily the most talented scorer in the league (20.2 ppg), Saddler has the Blue Hens in position to make a run at the CAA's auto-bid.

14. Doug Anderson (Detroit/Horizon League)

I hate to include two players from the same team, but, uh...


Yeah.

15. Travis Bader (Oakland/Summit League)

If Oakland can make it past IPFW on Sunday, then one Summit League semifinal could feature two of the top 10 scorers in the country in Bader (22.0 ppg) and South Dakota State's Nate Wolters.

15 MORE JUST BECAUSE I CAN

Kyle Vinales (Central Connecticut/Northeast)
Zeke Marshall (Akron/Mid-American)
Colt Ryan (Evansville/Missouri Valley)
Tyler Haws (BYU/West Coast)
Greg Gantt (Florida Atlantic/Sun Belt)
Pendarvis Williams (Norfolk State/MEAC)
Tony Mitchell (North Texas/Sun Belt)
Shane Gibson (Sacred Heart/Northeast)
Raheem Appleby (Louisiana Tech/WAC)
Jud Dillard (Tennessee Tech/Ohio Valley)
Ian Clark (Belmont/Ohio Valley)
Antoine Mason (Niagara/MAAC)
Tashan Newsome (Gardner Webb/Big South)
Anthony Ireland (Loyola Marymount/West Coast)
Malcolm Miller (Southern/SWAC)

FIVE TITLE GAMES YOU WANT TO HAPPEN

1. Belmont vs. Murray State (Ohio Valley)

The Racers have been a bit of a disappointment, racking up six conference losses after beginning the season just outside the AP Top 25. Still, Murray and Belmont possess a pair of the best backcourts in all of mid-major basketball, which means an OVC title showdown is something you should be begging for. Isaiah Canaan and company dealt the Bruins one of their two conference losses with a 79-74 in Murray back on Feb. 7.

2. Saint Mary's vs. Gonzaga (West Coast)

This isn't just the best rivalry in mid-major hoops, it's one of the best rivalries in all of college basketball right now. The Gaels' lone two WCC defeats came at the hands of their arch-rivals. Avenging those two losses will remove any doubt as to whether or not they'll be making their third trip to the big dance in four years.

3. Wichita State vs. Creighton (Missouri Valley)

Both teams spent significant times in the national polls before February slides changed their narrative from national title contender to potential bubble team. Still, these are the two best teams in the country's deepest and most competitive mid-major league.

4. Weber State vs. Montana (Big Sky)

The domination that these two have displayed over the rest of the conference in recent years has made this one of the better unknown rivalries in college basketball. The pair are a combined 33-3 in Big Sky play this season, with two of those three losses being the result of a split season series. The Grizzlies robbed the world of a chance to see Damian Lillard in the NCAA Tournament last season by pummeling Weber State in last year's title game.

5. Norfolk State vs. North Carolina Central (MEAC)

There are 12 teams in the MEAC and the league plays a 16-game conference schedule. How it is that these two will head into the postseason without having squared off is beyond my realm of comprehension. Still, the showdown between the 15-0 Spartans and the 14-1 Eagles is the one the college hoops world wants to see.

FIVE CRAZY COMPETITIVE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

1. Big West

Long Beach State leads the league by a full two games heading into the final weekend of the season, but four other teams have at least 10 conference wins, and another (9-7 UC Davis) should get there before the start of the Big West tournament.

2. Missouri Valley

Everyone expected Arch Madness to be top heavy with Creighton and Wichita State appearing to be the clear class of the conference, but both have been beaten down by a league where parity tends to reign supreme. Southern Illinois' six wins are the most for any last place team in the country.

3. Sun Belt

Middle Tennessee might be a clear favorite, but crazy ish always seems to go down at the Sun Belt tournament. An improbable run like Western Kentucky's a season ago has almost become the norm.

4. Mid-American

Akron (14-1) vs. Ohio (13-2) is the championship game everyone wants and expects to see, but the MAC's "never a night off" reputation is an earned one.

5. Metro Atlantic Athletic

Five teams in the conference finished the regular season with 11 wins or more, while two more - including preseason favorite Manhattan - went 9-9.

FIVE LESS-EXCITING CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

There's been a growing trend in recent years of leagues starting their regular season champions, or top two seeds, in the semifinals of the postseason tournament. It makes sense in that it adequately rewards regular season performance and gives the league its best shot to be well-represented in the NCAA Tournament...but it's like, not as fun, which makes me mad.

It's not a coincidence that two of the first league's to employ this set-up (Horizon/West Coast) just happened to include perhaps the two biggest names in mid-major basketball (Butler/Gonzaga). You don't send your No. 3 dog to Westminster.

Here are five conference tournaments that hope the prince cheats on Cinderella in 10 years:

1. Horizon League

The Horizon has been utilizing this practice for a few seasons, but four years ago they stepped it up (down?) a notch. Now the top two seeds get an automatic bye into the semifinals, while the other seven teams have to win four games in four days if they want to dance. Regular season champ Valpo and defending tournament champ Detroit are the benefactors of the setup this season.

2. West Coast

Even with the addition of BYU last season, Gonzaga/Saint Mary's remains the easiest conference championship game to predict thanks in large part to the top two WCC seeds earning a double bye straight into the semifinals.

3. Ohio Valley

The OVC is new to this, but made the move last season, due mostly to a desire to protect teams like last year's Muray State squad. The conference has the same setup as the OVC, with top seeds Belmont and Murray starting in the semifinals, and No. 3 and No. 4 seeds Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee State receiving a bye into the quarterfinals.

4. SWAC

It's not really the league's fault, but three of its 10 teams are ineligible for postseason play this season. Among that group is conference-leading Texas Southern and third-place Arkansas Pine Bluff, which means top-seeded Southern will be the only team in the entire tournament with a winning record.

5. Ivy League

Say what you will about the other four, but at least they have tournaments. Also, "Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth ..." You got that from Vickers. "Work in Essex County," page 98, right? Yeah I read that too. Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us? Do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter? Or is that your thing, you come into a bar, you read some obscure passage and then you pretend -- you pawn it off as your own -- your own idea just to impress some girls? Embarrass my friend?

Nerds.

I'll take it all back if something like this happens again:


Princeton currently leads Harvard by a half game, so it's possible.

FIVE TEAMS EVEN THOSE WHO STOPPED READING AN HOUR AGO SHOULD WATCH

1. Gonzaga (West Coast)

Kind of self-explanatory, but a team shooting for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament is probably worthy of your attention.

2. Belmont (Ohio Valley)

The Bruins are the best combination of tempo and execution that you're going to find within the mid-major ranks.

3. Davidson (Southern)

You could use the same Belmont blurb here and it would be hard to take issue. Bob McKillop is one of the best coaches in the country, and the Wildcats still have the nucleus of the team that hung with eventual national semifinalist Louisville in last year's NCAA Tournament.

4. Detroit (Horizon League)

Have we mentioned...


5. Northwestern State (Southland)

The Demons will likely enter the postseason as the nation's highest-scoring team.

10 DANGEROUS NON-TOP SEEDS THAT COULD STEAL A BID

1. Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun)

Most known for beating Miami by 12 back in November, the Eagles finished the regular season by winning nine of their last 11. They're the highest scoring team in the conference and easily the biggest threat to regular season champ Mercer.

2. Weber State (Big Sky)

As mentioned earlier, the Big Sky once again appears to be a two-horse race. The second place runner (for the time being, at least) in that race is Weber State, which has won nine straight since dropping a 76-74 decision at league-leading Montana.

3. Gardner Webb (Big South)

The Runnin' Bulldogs (SO much better than the Idly Content Bulldogs) have lost only once since Jan. 23 and will ride a seven game win streak into the postseason. Among those wins was a huge 67-62 victory over South Division champ Charleston Southern on Feb. 27.

4. UC Irvine (Big West)

The Anteaters share the ball better than any team in the conference, and head into the final week of the regular season riding a five-game winning streak. The most recent victim of that run is league-leading Long Beach State, whom Irvine knocked off 72-69 on Saturday.

5. Ohio (Mid-American)

The most obvious inclusion on this list, the Bobcats were one shot away from becoming the first team seeded higher than 12 to make the Elite Eight last season. They have every major player back from that team, including star D.J. Cooper.

6. North Texas (Sun Belt)

They went just 7-13 in league play, but they also have a potential lottery pick in Tony Mitchell. I'm not sure how those two facts are able to co-exist, but as mentioned earlier, crazy stuff happens in the Sun Belt.

7. Vermont (America East)

The Catamounts are again the biggest threat to a Stony Brook team that hasn't yet been able to get over the hump in the America East championship game.

8. Mount St. Mary's (Northeast)

The Mountaineers are only 11-7 in conference play, but head into the postseason as winners of seven in a row.

9. Lafayette (Patriot League)

If C.J McCollum doesn't wind wind up taking the court, then the Leopards would seem to be Bucknell's biggest threat. They won their final five games of the regular season to steal the No. 2 seed away from hated rival Lehigh.

10. Denver (WAC)

Winners of eight straight, the Pioneers haven't lost since Jan. 23. They'll take a second crack at unbeaten Louisiana tech in Saturday's regular season finale.

FIVE MORE BECAUSE, YES, I STILL CAN

George Mason (Colonial)
Detroit (Horizon)
Murray State (Ohio Valley)
Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley)
North Carolina Central (MEAC)

TEAMS THAT HAVE NEVER BEEN TO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

The easiest method to utilize when picking which teams you've never heard of to root for is to cheer on the team of the program that's never felt the glory of seeing its name on Selection Sunday.

Here are those first-time hopefuls for each conference:

America East: Hartford Hawks, Maine Black Bears, New Hampshire Wildcats, Stony Brook Seawolves

Atlantic Sun: Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, Lipscomb Bison, North Florida Ospreys, South Carolina Upstate Spartans, Stetson Hatters

Big Sky: Sacramento State Hornets

Big South: Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs, High Point Panthers, Longwood Lancers, Presbyterian Blue Hose

Big West: Cal Poly Mustangs, UC Davis Aggies, UC Irvine Anteaters

CAA: William & Mary Tribe

Horizon League: Youngstown State Penguins

MAC: Buffalo Bulls

MEAC: Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, North Carolina Central Eagles, Savannah State Tigers, Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks

Northeast Conference: Bryant Bulldogs, Quinnipiac Bobcats, St. Francis (NY) Terriers, Sacred Heart Pioneers

Ohio Valley Conference: Jacksonville State Gamecocks, SIU-Edwardsville Cougars, Tennessee-Martin SkyHawks

Patriot League: Army Black Knights

SoCon: Elon Phoenix, The Citadel Bulldogs

Southland Conference: Central Arkansas Bears

SWAC: Grambling Tigers

Summit League: IPFW Mastodons, South Dakota Coyotes, UMKC Kangaroos, Western Illinois Leathernecks

WAC: Denver Pioneers

And there you have it.

If you didn't read every word, but are reading this now, you have to roll to the nearest Quizno's and try that new lobster sub. You're probably going to die, but those are the rules. That's how Championship Week works. Blame Vitale.

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