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The 2014 conference championship cheat sheet: Favorites, contenders, and bid thieves

A comprehensive preview of every conference tournament around college basketball, in case you haven't been paying attention to the MAAC all season. (You haven't, right?) SB Nation's GIF Tournament V

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"March Madness" doesn't start for another 15 days, but the madness of March begins Monday at noon, with the Patriot League Tournament's first games. And over the next 13 days, 32 automatic bids to the 2014 NCAA Tournament will be earned, with 31 awarded to conference tournament winners and one granted to the Ivy League's regular season champion.

If you care about college basketball as a whole, you should probably make it a point to catch as many of these conference tournament games as you can — especially in lesser leagues, these are essentially play-in tournaments for the NCAA Tournament, and so there will be scores of teams fighting for a chance to dance and producing some excellent games in the process. But if you care about your bubble team, and its NCAA Tournament chances, you need to be at least paying attention to the tournaments to make sure that the bubble will be big enough to accommodate the Fightin' Whatevers.

That's where we come in. This post is designed as a cheat sheet for fans of small-conference schools and bubble teams first and foremost, and lists teams you need to know, contenders in each conference, and the potential bid thieves — those teams in big conferences that use a great conference tournament run to vault from the bubble to the NCAA Tournament field, and the teams in smaller ones that upset a tourney-bound favorite and shrink the bubble — you ought to root against.

We'll update it daily as conference tournaments progress to give you a better sense of what's going on and what's happening to the bubble. (And, just as a helpful navigation tool: Ctrl + F, search a conference's name or nickname.)

Update, March 16: It is possible that you only want a list of teams that have gotten into the NCAA Tournament. Here's that list of the 27 teams to date that have won automatic bids:

  • Albany (America East)
  • Louisville (American)
  • Mercer (Atlantic Sun)
  • Providence (Big East)
  • Weber State (Big Sky)
  • Coastal Carolina (Big South)
  • Iowa State (Big 12)
  • Cal Poly (Big West)
  • Delaware (Colonial)
  • Tulsa (Conference USA)
  • Milwaukee (Horizon)
  • Harvard (Ivy)
  • Manhattan (Metro Atlantic)
  • Western Michigan (MAC)
  • North Carolina Central (MEAC)
  • Wichita State (Missouri Valley)
  • New Mexico (Mountain West)
  • Mount St. Mary's (Northeast)
  • Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley)
  • American (Patriot)
  • Wofford (Southern)
  • Stephen F. Austin (Southland)
  • Texas Southern (SWAC)
  • North Dakota State (Summit)
  • Gonzaga (West Coast)
  • New Mexico State (WAC)

There are just five automatic bids left, and all but the Sun Belt's will go to teams already well within the NCAA Tournament field.

Without further ado:

The 2014 College Basketball Conference Championships Cheat Sheet

America East Conference

Last updated: March 15 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: The America East Conference Tournament plays quarterfinal games in Albany on March 8, semifinals in Albany on March 9, and then a final on March 15 at the highest remaining seed.

Contenders: Vermont. And that's really it.

Favorite: Vermont's the only America East team in the top 150 of the KenPom rankings — the best and most widely-used system for rating college basketball teams — and the Catamounts have lost just once in conference play. They also went toe-to-toe with Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium earlier this season, so they're plenty ready for a tough game.

Update, March 5: Vermont is now officially 15-1 in America East play, but its Monday win over Binghamton required overtime. The Catamounts aren't invincible, clearly.

Bid thieves: Well, Vermont could have its bid stolen, I guess? The two prime candidates would be Stony Brook, obviously, and Albany, which is playing virtual home games.

Bubble trouble? Minimal. Vermont is a very good mid-major team, but it was 7-8 in non-conference play, and two of those wins were against teams not in Division I. It needs to win the America East Tournament to get in, and should, but no bubble team is getting squeezed out by the Catamounts.

How it went: The Saturday quarterfinals in the America East went as expected: Vermont, Albany, Stony Brook, and Hartford all advanced by knocking off 20-loss teams; the smallest win was by 17 points. Albany, playing at home, spanked UMBC (Maryland-Baltimore County) by 30.

It turns out that Albany playing a home game against Vermont led to Albany beating Vermont. The Great Danes jumped out to a 35-19 halftime lead, and upset the Catamounts 67-58 on Sunday, which probably had nothing to do with the 24 fouls on Vermont that led to 31 Albany free throws.

Albany will now go on the road to Stony Brook, which dispatched Hartford, but toppling Vermont was already the biggest upset of the championship fortnight, and rids your bracket of its trendiest upset pick.

Stony Brook could have won its way into its first NCAA Tournament by merely knocking off Albany at home. Instead, the Great Danes proved they could get a win away from Albany, taking down the Seawolves for their second dance ticket in as many years.

Automatic qualifer: Albany.

American Athletic Conference (AAC)

Last updated: March 16 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: The American Athletic Conference Tournament runs from March 12 to March 15 in Memphis.

Contenders: The American should come down to Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis, and SMU, who have spent the conference schedule beating up on each other. It would be a major surprise if any other team won the conference tournament.

Favorite: Memphis getting to play in Memphis is a little unfair, isn't it? Louisville's probably the conference's most talented team, but it just lost to Memphis in Memphis, so the Tigers deserve favorite status. They might come in as the No. 5 seed, though.

Update, March 6: Make Louisville a co-favorite. The Cardinals completed a circle of life in the American on Wednesday by beating SMU, and winning the first game anyone's won against the Mustangs in Dallas. And while Memphis is 2-0 against Louisville, remember that those wins have both been by six points.

Update, March 9: You know what? Louisville's the favorite. The Cards dropped SMU on the road on Wednesday, then immolated UConn at home on Saturday while Memphis was getting by SMU at home and Cincinnati was struggling with Rutgers. Memphis is a solid second choice, but the Cards are hot, I can't see them losing to anyone except Memphis, and the best argument I can make for them losing to Memphis is "Well, they've already done it twice, which was weird."

Bid thieves: Houston, Temple, Rutgers, UCF, and South Florida. If any of those cellar-dwellers somehow wins the American's tournament — and Houston is the only team in that fivesome that wouldn't need to win four games to do so.

Bubble trouble? Minimal. It would be a shock if Houston, 2-8 against that top five, won out, and it would be one of the stories of the championship fortnight.

How it went: Rutgers and UCF won Wednesday. That's nice.

On Thursday, Cincinnati held off UCF, UConn upset Memphis, Houston upset SMU, and Louisville smithereened Rutgers by 61 points. Louisville's only got to play one of Cincy and UConn, too, as it gets Houston on its side of the bracket.

Louisville's reign of terror over bad AAC teams continued Friday, as Russ Smith dropped a career-best 42 points in a 29-point win over Houston. UConn, meanwhile, set up a rematch of the 2011 Big East Tournament final thanks to a missed Sean Kilpatrick shot. One problem with expecting a classic in Memphis: Louisville beat UConn by 33 one week ago.

Louisville finished its phenomenal AAC Tournament with a 71-61 win over UConn on Saturday that could have been a lot worse. The Cardinals kissed the American goodbye with three wins by an average of 33 points in their farewell tournament, and look like America's hottest team, not just the American's.

Automatic qualifier: Louisville.

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)

Last updated: March 15 (How it's going)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: The ACC Tournament spans March 12-16 in Greensboro, N.C., practically a backyard for Duke and North Carolina.

Contenders: The winner's probably one of Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia, but the ACC is deep with talent, and there are seven or eight teams that theoretically could win the league's automatic bid.

Favorite: Duke. Virginia is the regular season ACC champion already, and just beat Syracuse decisively, but the Blue Devils beat Virginia earlier this year and will have plenty of fans on their side — as long as they're not playing North Carolina.

Update, March 6: You know what? After that Duke loss to Wake Forest on Wednesday, make Virginia the favorite here.

Update, March 9: Jabari Parker's impressive 30-point night against North Carolina was the sort of performance that would sink Virginia in the ACC Tournament. How does co-favorites Virginia and Duke sound? (It sounds weird to you, too? Okay.)


Photo: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Bid thieves: Anyone but the above four teams, in theory, though Clemson, Florida State, and Pittsburgh are the likeliest candidates to squeeze the bubble by one spot.

Bubble trouble? Moderate. That top four is all safely in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in Greensboro, but Clemson, FSU, and Pitt could all obviously get in by winning the tournament, and more than one of those teams could sneak in if they make deep runs. Five tournament teams is reasonable for the ACC, which has a massive lower-middle class, but six would be a bit surprising. Hope for chalk, bubblers.

How it's going: Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Miami all won first-round games on Wednesday, keeping teams that have beaten Duke, beaten Syracuse, and thrown a scare and a half into Syracuse alive.

On Thursday, Florida State and Pittsburgh kept faint NCAA Tournament hopes alive with wins, N.C. State ended Miami's magical mystery 2013-14, and Clemson finished off Georgia Tech in a very, very bad game.

Virginia and Duke held serve on Friday, easily downing Florida State and surviving Clemson, respectively. North Carolina and Syracuse were less lucky: The Tar Heels couldn't make a miracle rally happen against Pittsburgh, while Syracuse missed approximately 480,231 shots on its final possession in a loss to N.C. State. It'll be Virginia-Pittsburgh and Duke-N.C. State on Saturday.

It will be Virginia and Duke in Sunday's final. Virginia took care of Pitt despite a late charge by the Panthers, while Duke handled N.C. State in the second half on Saturday.

Atlantic Sun Conference

Last updated: March 10 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: The Atlantic Sun Tournament runs from March 4 to March 9, with the higher-seeded teams hosting each game.

Contenders: Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast. The Bears were the A-Sun's likely tournament representative last year, before the Eagles crashed their party, and then dunked their way to the Sweet Sixteen.

Favorite: Mercer. The Bears should meet FGCU in the A-Sun final for the second straight year on their home court. But that didn't work out last year.

Bid thieves: None. No at-large candidates here.

Bubble trouble? None. Winner gets in — and, yes, it would be fun if that team is Gulf Coast — and all the losers watch the Dance from their dorms. (That was mean. Sorry, los ... never mind.)

How it went: Mercer and FGCU won by 21 and 22, respectively, in A-Sun quarterfinals on Tuesday, and then won semifinals by three (in double overtime) and five, respectively, on Friday, to set up Sunday's winner-take-all showdown in Dunk City.

Mercer held a 33-17 halftime lead in that final, but the Eagles dunked their way back to one point back midway through the second half. Then Mercer took over with a 7-0 run, and the teams traded baskets from there on in, with the Bears ultimately earning their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1985 with a 68-60 win.

Automatic qualifier: Mercer.

Atlantic 10 Conference (A-10)

Last updated: March 15 (How it's going)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: The Atlantic 10 Tournament runs from March 12 to March 16 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Contenders: Saint Louis, VCU, Saint Joseph's, George Washington, Massachusetts, Dayton, and maybe even Richmond. This is a fantastic mid-major league; one year removed from sending five teams dancing, and all five of those teams making the NCAA Tournament's round of 32, the A-10 is once again rife with very good teams, despite the defections of Butler, Temple, and Xavier in the offseason.


Favorite: VCU. Shaka Smart's Rams have been to conference tournament finals in all four of his years at the helm, and have looked slightly stronger down the stretch than Saint Louis, beating the Billikens on Saturday.

Bid thieves: Any team not listed on that extensive contenders sheet — from La Salle down to Fordham — would definitely be snatching a bid from the bubble, St. Joe's and Dayton would likely be doing the same, and Richmond is currently off a 23-point loss to a bad Rhode Island team, so it has to win to get in. The recipe for a five-team Atlantic 10 contingent in the NCAA Tournament is a surprise tournament winner, and that would probably nab a spot otherwise reserved for the bubble.

Update, March 9: Dayton is 8-1 in its last nine games, with four road wins in that stretch, and good wins over George Washington, Saint Louis, and Massachusetts. I'm thinking the Flyers have graduated from bid thieves to bubblers.

Bubble trouble? Significant. Saint Joseph's is likely coming in with the No. 2 seed, should have a ton of fans in Brooklyn — home-state teams St. Bonaventure and Fordham don't have too much to support this year — and has beaten every good A-10 team with the exception of Saint Louis. It would not be a surprise for the Hawks to win their way into March, and that's a problem for teams currently on the fringe.

Update, March 9: Dayton's rise means the A-10 is looking like a six-bid conference. That means some other conference is going to be in serious trouble.

How it's going: Fordham knocked off George Mason, knocking out one of the few A-10 teams to beat UMass this season.

No surprises on Thursday, either: The No. 5, 6, and 7 seeds (Dayton, UMass, and Richmond) all won, and St. Bonaventure pulled the day's only upset in an 8-9 game against La Salle.

Saint Louis's late season swoon continued on Friday, as St. Bonaventure hit a buzzer-beater to beat the Billikens. They'll see Saint Joseph's in a Saturday semi. VCU gets George Washington in the other one after two perfunctory wins.

The A-10 Tournament feels a little like the VCU Invitational at the moment. Saint Joseph's knocked off St. Bonaventure on Saturday, ending the Bonnies' potential bid thievery before it could really get started. But, on the other side of the bracket, VCU picked up its second straight win by at least 18 points with a 74-55 blowout of Richmond. The Hawks and Rams only met once in the regular season, and the Hawks prevailed on Hawk Hill (go figure), so VCU will be out for payback.

Big East Conference

Last updated: March 16 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: It'll be missing many familiar faces, but the 2014 Big East Tournament will be in a familiar locale: Madison Square Garden. The games take place from March 12 to March 15

Contenders: Villanova and Creighton lead the pack, because Villanova's mashed every Big East team it's seen — except for Creighton, which has handed the Wildcats two ugly losses. A strong middle class could produce a dark horse, too.

Favorite: Creighton. As long as the Bluejays make it to the final, there's no reason to believe they won't torch 'Nova again.

Update, March 9: The above is still true. Creighton's still an awful mismatch for Villanova. But Villanova deserves to be a co-favorite here. Maybe Creighton's threes don't fall for once?

Bid thieves: Everyone else. While Creighton has thrived in its first Big East season, old mainstays Georgetown and Marquette have struggled, and Providence and St. John's have made it only as far as the wrong edge of the bubble. Fellow newbie Xavier looks good for an at-large berth after beating Creighton over the weekend, but a couple wins at MSG would punch the Musketeers' dance ticket.

Bubble trouble? Significant. Granted, a lot of that bubble trouble is for Big East teams themselves, but there's probably going to be some popping done somewhere; whether the victims of the pop are Big East teams will depend on whether a team that isn't Villanova or Creighton makes a run.

How it went: Seton Hall ended Butler's debut Big East season with a loss on Wednesday, while DePaul (yep!) beat (yep!) Georgetown (really!) to finish off whatever faint NCAA Tournament hopes the Hoyas had.

Well, the field's clear for Creighton now: Villanova lost a thriller against Seton Hall on Thursday, and St. John's, the worst matchup for the Bluejays, fell to Providence, leaving Doug McDermott (35 points, with a record 27 in the first half, in a laugher of a Big East Tournament debut against DePaul) all but licking his lips. Xavier's played Creighton fairly well twice, and moved on to meet the Bluejays on Friday, but this is McDermott's tournament to lose.

And McDermott doesn't look likely to lose it. Creighton dominated Xavier for all but a couple of semi-close minutes late in a Friday semi, and will face Providence in Saturday's primetime final. You know, Providence, that team McDermott dropped 45 on one week ago?

That Providence team that McDermott dropped 45 on one week ago played the most brilliant game anyone's played against Creighton this season in the final. It zoned the Bluejays, theoretically suicide against a team of great shooters, and trapped liberally, switching up defenses in search of something to solve Creighton. And the Friars held the Bluejays to 17 points in the first half, then hung on for a 65-58 win, and Providence's first Big East Tournament title in 20 years.

Automatic qualifier: Providence.

Big Sky Conference

Last updated: March 16 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: On campus sites, from March 13 to March 15.

Contenders: Five contenders here: Weber State, North Dakota, Montana, Northern Colorado, and Northern Arizona all have at least 10 conference wins, and will make the seven-team Big Sky Tournament field.

Favorite: Weber State. Only the No. 1 seed gets a bye, and Weber State just needs one more regular season win to lock that bye up has that locked up.

Bid thieves: No one. There's only one team coming out of the Big Sky this year.

Bubble trouble? None. Watch the tournament for the offense — the Big Sky second nationally in offensive efficiency among conferences, because only Weber State plays something resembling defense — and don't sweat the winner.

How it went: Portland State beat Montana, Northern Colorado out-northerned Northern Arizona, and North Dakota held off Sacramento State in quarterfinal action on Thursday.

North Dakota moved on easily on Friday, but Weber State needed overtime to finish Northern Colorado. Can the Fighting No-Names beat Weber State on its home court?

No, North Dakota could not beat Weber State on its home court. The Wildcats cruised to an 88-67 victory with proud alum Damian Lillard in attendance.

Automatic qualifier: Weber State.

Big South Conference

Last updated: March 9 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: In beautiful Conway, S.C., on March 5, then March 7-9. (I have no idea if Conway is beautiful.)

Contenders: It's wide open. High Point, VMI, and Coastal Carolina are the only teams that finished with 11 conference wins, so let's anoint them the contenders.

Favorite: Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are hosting the Big South Tournament, which helps, and have the best defense in a conference full of bad ones.

Bid thieves: No, sir, just a bunch of honest, hard-working teams competing for one spot down here in Appalachia.

Bubble trouble? None.

How it went: Wednesday brought wins for Winthrop, Radford, Charleston Southern, and Gardner-Webb in first round action. No real change to the outlook for the contenders there, but 2013 Big South Tournament champion Liberty was eliminated.

Friday, conference regular season champion High Point got done in by Winthrop, UNC Asheville shot by Radford, the league's only 20-win team, and Coastal Carolina survived Charleston Southern in two overtimes. Saturday, Coastal Carolina and Winthrop won squeakers to set up Sunday's showdown between the two. KenPom gives the Chanticleers a 62 percent chance of winning, because home-court advantage matters.

On Sunday, the Chanticleers finished their roll, pulling away from Winthrop late for a 76-61 win that gave them their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1993.

Automatic qualifier: Coastal Carolina.

Big Ten Conference

Last updated: March 16 (How it's going)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: In Indianapolis, from March 13 to March 16.

Contenders: The entire conference, with the exception of Penn State, Purdue and Northwestern. Seriously, that's how deep and weird the Big Ten has been this year.

Favorite: Wisconsin, probably the best team in the league, or Michigan, which should enter with the No. 1 seed.

Update, March 5: Michigan won the outright Big Ten title on Tuesday, so the Wolverines are the No. 1 seed here. That tips the scales for favorite a little.

Bid thieves: Big Ten teams that are not Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, or Iowa are probably still feeling a little pressure to shore up their résumés. And all of them, with the exception of Penn State, Purdue, and Northwestern, could do damage in Indy. (Penn State could probably do damage, too, but it would need to see Ohio State, which it has swept, to do so, and that's probably not happening.)

Bubble trouble? Extreme. The Big Ten is America's best and deepest conference this year, and the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee would probably be happy to reward seven teams with bids, maybe even eight, if there's enough momentum for teams playing well at the end of the year to justify it. And that should set off alarm bells for teams that have comparable résumés in lesser conferences. Cross your fingers for chalk, and know that you're probably not getting it.

Update, March 9: Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Iowa are all solidly in the NCAA Tournament. Nebraska and Minnesota are right on the edge: Our Chris Dobbertean has the Huskers just missing Dayton, and Minnesota among his first four out. Nebraska can all but secure its dance ticket on Sunday against Wisconsin, while Minnesota really can't afford a loss to Penn State.

How it's going: The Big Ten Tournament began with three relatively uninspiring games: Illinois upset Indiana, Ohio State fended off Purdue, and Minnesota stopped Penn State. Then Northwestern upset Iowa in the nightcap and blew the bottom bit of the bracket to shreds.

After a couple wild days to start, Friday was chalky: Only Ohio State, which upset No. 4-seeded Nebraska, moved on despite holding the lower seed. The Buckeyes will meet Michigan, which had to survive Illinois; Wisconsin and Michigan State will brawl in the late game after easy wins over Minnesota and Northwestern.

Michigan and Michigan State each had to hold off their foes in Saturday semifinals, but ultimately prevailed to set up the two rivals' first-ever meeting in the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan will be playing for a No. 1 seed; Michigan State's looking to stay above the No. 5/No. 12 line.

Big 12 Conference

Last updated: March 16 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: Kansas City, the one in Missouri, from March 12 to March 16.

Contenders: Kansas, and whichever team(s) can hypnotize Kansas into thinking it ought to just rest on its laurels.

Favorite: Kansas. I wouldn't put too much stock in Travis Ford's powers of hypnosis.

The Big 12's almost as deep as the Big Ten, which brings conference strength into play as an asset for the fringe teams.

Bid thieves: Oklahoma State is the big-name potential bid thief, as the Cowboys can put pressure on the bubble by adding to their big win this weekend over Kansas in postseason play. Baylor, too, could snag a spot with a win at the Sprint Center. Every other team — the Big 12 has five 20-win teams already — looks safely in or out at the moment.

Bubble trouble? Significant. Oklahoma State and Baylor are on it, of course, but if West Virginia makes a push this week in games against Oklahoma and Kansas, the Mountaineers could set themselves up for a momentous charge in a place with slightly better barbecue than Morgantown. And the Big 12's almost as deep as the Big Ten, which brings conference strength into play as an asset for these fringe teams.

Update, March 5: Oklahoma State's getting closer and closer to being safe, with consecutive wins over Kansas and Kansas State. The bubble trouble is decreasing.

Update, March 9: I swear, you say one good thing about Oklahoma State, and then something dumb happens. The Cowboys lost to Iowa State on Saturday, and finished at 8-10 in Big 12 play. Dobbertean has them at a No. 9 seed in his Sunday bracketology, so that's likely not too damaging, but Marcus Smart and Markel Brown will want to avoid an early exit from Kansas City.

Meanwhile, West Virginia's building a case to come from nowhere and win its way onto the bubble or into the Tournament. The Mountaineers clipped Kansas despite 41 points from Andrew Wiggins on Saturday, and have the kind of excellent offense — West Virginia's offense is 15th nationally, per KenPom — that could get hot in a Big 12 Tournament. The 'Eers probably need to at least reach the final to get fully onto the bubble, and wouldn't have a guaranteed spot without winning it.

How it went: Oklahoma State beat Texas Tech, surprising no one because the game wasn't in Lubbock. Baylor beat TCU on Wednesday, surprising no one because TCU was in the game.

On Thursday, Iowa State held off Kansas State in the day's first matinee, Kansas topped Oklahoma State in overtime, Texas bullied West Virginia, and Baylor upset Oklahoma.

Friday's best game may have been Iowa State's bloody (for Georges Niang) win over Kansas. For their reward, the Cyclones get a suddenly hot Baylor team in Saturday's Big 12 final.

And Iowa State shot down the Bears, too. Three games of spectacular shooting from the Cyclones got Iowa State its first Big 12 Tournament title since 2000.

Automatic qualifier: Iowa State.

Big West Conference

Last updated: March 16 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: Sunny Anaheim, from March 13 to 15.

Contenders: UC Irvine, which has towering 7'6" center Mamadou Ndiaye patrolling the paint; UC Santa Barbara, led by workhorse forward Alan Williams; and Hawai'i, which has a Shamburger (Keith) and a Standhardinger (Christian). Long Beach State, too.

Favorite: UC Santa Barbara. Irvine should be the No. 1 seed and has a smothering defense, but the Gauchos have better balance.

Bid thieves: Nah, just a few good teams in a below-average conference.

Bubble trouble? None to speak of, though Ndiaye could probably pop literal bubbles on the East Coast while sitting on the bench in Anaheim. He is big.

How it went: UC Irvine, Cal State Northridge, and Long Beach State all won their Thursday games with little in the way of surprise, but UC Santa Barbara got trucked by 31 at the hands of Cal Poly, knocking the Gauchos out and installing the Anteaters as the new favorite.

You want one weird tournament? Cal Poly knocked off UC Irvine early, and has now beaten the two putative favorites for the Big West's auto-bid; the Mustangs have just Cal State Northridge, which survived a charge from Long Beach State, between them and the Big Dance. And the only Big West team Cal Poly beat twice in the regular season was ... Cal State Northridge.

And the Big West got weirder on Saturday night: Cal Poly got a Ridge Shipley — again, Ridge Shipley — three to go ahead in the final minute, then sank crucial free throws (against the nation's best team at the line) to take their third win this year over the Matadors, and book passage to the NCAA Tournament. Sure, Cal Poly's the only losing team in the Tournament, at 13-19, and is assuredly heading to Dayton and a No. 16 vs. No. 16 game in the First Four, but this is the school's first NCAA Tournament berth; it should be stoked.

Automatic qualifier: Cal Poly.

Colonial Athletic Association (Colonial, CAA)

Last updated: March 12 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: The CAA Tournament will be staged in Baltimore from March 7 to March 10.

Contenders: Delaware, Towson, and William and Mary. The Colonial's changed dramatically since launching George Mason and VCU to the Final Four, and not for the better, thanks to bigger conferences raiding it repeatedly.

Favorite: Towson's been hotter of late than Delaware, and skunked the Blue Hens by 15 at home a couple weeks back. Call them a small favorite, despite Delaware's No. 1 seed and the game against a presumably winded No. 8 or No. 9 seed affords.

Bid thieves: While both Delaware and Towson are fine stories, neither is getting into the NCAA Tournament without winning the CAA auto-bid.

Bubble trouble? None. It's either Delaware or Towson or some other team, and the bubble will be unaffected.

How it went: Delaware, Towson, and William and Mary all stuck around by winning quarterfinals on Saturday, and Northeastern made Delaware's path to the final a bit easier by knocking off Drexel.

Delaware handled Northeastern in the first Sunday semifinal, but William and Mary shocked Towson behind 66 points from its starting five, and the Tribe will play for their first NCAA Tournament berth ever on Monday.

And they almost got it, too: William and Mary rallied to go up 74-68 with just over a minute remaining, then conceded a 7-0 run to end the game that got Delaware the 75-74 win and the CAA's auto-bid.

Automatic qualifier: Delaware.

Conference USA (C-USA)

Last updated: March 16 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: The Conference USA Tournament will be staged in El Paso from March 11-15.

Contenders: Louisiana Tech, Southern Mississippi, Middle Tennessee, Tulsa, and UTEP. We're a long way from 2005, when Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, and Memphis called C-USA home; just three of C-USA's 16 current teams (Charlotte, Southern Miss, Tulane, and UAB) were part of the league back then.

Favorite: Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss as co-favorites passes muster.

Bid thieves: Southern Miss might have an outside chance of making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, so cheer for the Golden Eagles if you're bubble-brained, but that chance is slim in the first place.

Bubble trouble? Unlikely. Other than Southern Miss's own, I don't foresee any spurred by C-USA this season.

How it's going: North Texas, Marshall, and East Carolina all won first-round contests on Tuesday.

Tulane, Old Dominion, UTEP, and Charlotte won Wednesday quarterfinals, eliminating all the C-USA teams with losing records along the way.

All of the top four C-USA seeds won on Thursday, setting up really interesting Southern Miss-Louisiana Tech and Tulsa-Middle Tennessee semifinals for Friday.

Louisiana Tech ended Southern Miss's Tournament dream with an early upset on Friday, while Danny Manning's Tulsa team advanced despite being deprived of an all-Golden final, topping Middle Tennessee.

Tulsa is going to be really, really good next year — but the Golden Hurricane got ahead of schedule on Saturday by downing Louisiana Tech for the C-USA auto-bid. Danny Manning, who still looks 30 despite being 25 years removed from his national title at Kansas, has Tulsa playing well.

Automatic qualifier: Tulsa.

Horizon League

Last updated: March 12 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: On campuses from March 4 to March 11.

Contenders: Green Bay and Cleveland State.

Update, March 5: The forgotten Horizon dark horse? Oakland, which has NCAA all-time three-point leader Travis Bader. The Grizzlies are under .500 on the year, Bader is their offense, and they needed overtime to beat Youngstown State in a crazy game on Tuesday ... but a sniper of Bader's caliber gives them a fighting chance.

The forgotten Horizon dark horse? Oakland

Favorite: It has to be the Phoenix, which swept the Vikings with double-digit wins home and away in conference play, and will host the quarterfinals and semifinals, and would host the final if it gets that far.

Bid thieves: Green Bay's got one of the weirder chits a mid-major possesses this year — a win over Virginia — but that's probably not quite enough to make the Phoenix safe without an auto-bid. The thievery, if it happens, will probably amount to picking the Phoenix's pockets.

Bubble trouble? Possible. Then again, if the bubble remains weak, and Green Bay gets pushed back onto it, the Phoenix become an instant mid-major cause célèbre.

How it went: The biggest, most painful upset of the conference tournament fortnight came Saturday night, as an injury to Keifer Sykes and a bad night from seven-footer Alec Brown contributed to Green Bay's 73-66 overtime loss to Milwaukee on its home floor. The Phoenix are now well off the bubble, and will need a lot of help from backsliding power-conference teams, while Wright State or Milwaukee will be the Horizon's automatic qualifier.

Milwaukee grabbed that auto-bid on Tuesday with an impressive 69-63 road win at Wright State. The Panthers will be dancing for the first time since 2006, their first year under Rob Jeter, when they were more commonly known as UW-Milwaukee, and sprang an upset on Oklahoma before falling to eventual national champion Florida.

Automatic qualifier: Milwaukee.

Ivy League

Last updated: March 9 (Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? No.

When and where: The Ivy League's automatic NCAA Tournament bid, the only one awarded to a regular season champion, will be earned this week, with Yale needing to win out and hope Harvard loses out to go dancing, and Harvard needing just one win or a Yale loss once to make the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.

Contenders: Harvard and Yale. No other team can win the Ivy this season.

Favorite: Harvard. The Crimson are the better team, and should get revenge for an earlier loss in Cambridge on Friday in New Haven; if that doesn't happen, they'll get another shot on Saturday in Providence against Brown.

Bid thieves: Yale could create an interesting situation for Harvard if it improbably wins the Ivy, but the Crimson don't have a great win, and their terrible loss at Florida Atlantic sticks out like a blue cap on Harvard Yard.

Bubble trouble? Doubtful. Harvard should make things academic by collecting at least one win, and the bubble trouble would be its own if it doesn't.

Automatic qualifier: Harvard. The Crimson knocked off Yale easily on Friday night — "avenging" a loss on the same floor that kept them out of the 2011 NCAA Tournament — to secure the Ivy's auto-bid, the first one awarded for the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Harvard promptly celebrated by playing no defense in a 98-93 overtime win against Brown in a meaningless Saturday game.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC)

Last updated: March 12 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: Springfield, Mass., the birthplace of The Simpsons basketball, from March 6-10.

Contenders: Iona has the MAAC's best team, Manhattan its best defense, Canisius its best player in do-everything guard Billy Baron, and Quinnipiac a puncher's chance based on a rugged front line.

Favorite: Iona. The Gaels shoot the ball as well as ever, and play fast best in the nation's highest-tempo conference.

Bid thieves: Not this year, and probably not for a while. Iona snagged a No. 14 seed despite losing in the MAAC Tournament in 2012, but the Gaels were better then than they are now.

Bubble trouble? No.

How it went: Manhattan, Canisius, Iona, and Quinnipiac all advanced in Saturday quarterfinals. Now the fun can start.

Iona beat Cansisius in the early Sunday semifinal despite Billy Baron's 23-4-5 line, and Manhattan ended Quinnipiac's bid for its first NCAA Tournament berth in the later one, setting up a rematch of the 2013 MAAC Tournament final on Monday night.

The Jaspers got their revenge on the Gaels for 2013 on Monday night, holding off a series of second-half rallies for a 71-68 win that got Manhattan its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2004. That year, led by Luis Flores, the Jaspers upset Florida in the first round.

Automatic qualifier: Manhattan.

Mid-American Conference (MAC)

Last updated: March 16 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: Campus sites of higher-seeded teams on March 10, then Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland from March 12-15.

Contenders: Buffalo? Toledo? Western Michigan? The MAC's bizarre tournament formattriple byes for the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, double byes for the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, and a ridiculously daunting proposition of five wins over six days (with light travel!) for teams seeded No. 5 or worse — weights things heavily toward those top two seeds, and those teams are the three contenders for those coveted spots.

Favorite: Toledo. Playing in Ohio, having the conference's best offense (though Buffalo has the best offense in conference play), and owning wins over both the Bulls and Broncos gives the Rockets a slight edge.

Bid thieves: It's a den of 'em, competing with each other.

Bubble trouble? Nope. Toledo's shot at an at-large bid crashed to earth when the Rockets failed to get their signature win against Kansas in non-conference play, and then it got buried by multiple losses to MAC teams.

How it's going: As expected, mostly. Monday brought home wins in all four MAC quarterfinals — for Ohio, Miami of Ohio, Eastern Michigan, and Northern Illinois. The Huskies had to work hardest, winning a 54-51 game in overtime over Bowling Green.

Ohio and Eastern Michigan won again on Wednesday, allowing them to get ... within three games of winning the MAC Tournament.

While Akron took down Ohio on Thursday, Eastern Michigan won again, upsetting Buffalo, and will now take on Toledo in search of its fourth win in as many postseason games. Akron gets Western Michigan in Friday's early game.

On Friday, Western Michigan ran past Akron in overtime and Toledo shut down Eastern Michigan late to set up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 MAC final.

Western Michigan dropped 56 points on Toledo in the second half of Saturday's MAC Tournament final to secure its dance ticket. All that hubbub that very few of you remember about Toledo being undefeated late into its non-conference schedule? It's good for nothing now.

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)

Last updated: March 16 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: Downtown Norfolk, Va., where there ain't a thing to do but watch basketball from March 10-15.

Contenders: North Carolina Central, N.C. Central, and That Other Team From Durham. The Eagles are far and away the best team in the very bad MEAC.

Favorite: North Carolina Central. Here is a how good this Eagles team is: After taking a 63-60 defeat at the hands of Florida A&M on the road by giving up a 7-0 run to close that January game, the Eagles have won 15 straight games, and handed the Rattlers a 43-point loss in their return trip to Durham.

Bid thieves: If a team somehow upsets North Carolina Central, it will certainly be larceny.

Bubble trouble? Even the best team in the MEAC in many, many years couldn't put together an at-large C.V. worth a second glance, so the Eagles will have to win to avoid being well on the wrong side of the bubble.

How it's going: Norfolk State and Savannah State won first round games Monday, and Howard, Coppin State, and Florida A&M followed suit on Tuesday. If you want to see North Carolina Central in action, its first MEAC Tournament game is Wednesday at 6 p.m., and against 9-24 Howard.

On Wednesday, Coppin State stayed alive with an upset of Hampton, but, um, North Carolina Central doubled up Howard, 92-46. I don't think the Eagles are going to be losing in this tournament.

On Thursday, Norfolk State and Morgan State completed the MEAC's semifinal field.

N.C. Central continued its dominance, dusting Norfolk State by 21 in a Friday semi, while Morgan State got 30 points from Justin Black to thump Coppin State and set up a final that might be close: The Eagles topped the Bears by just a 53-52 count in their only 2014 meeting to date.

Saturday's game brought a win for N.C. Central, the program's first berth in the NCAA Tournament since joining Division I (it's won the Division II title before), and tears on the bench for head coach LeVelle Moton, who played for the Eagles in the '90s. Here's your underdog, America.

Automatic qualifier: North Carolina Central.

Missouri Valley Conference (MVC, The Valley)

Last updated: March 9 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: The Missouri Valley Conference Men's Basketball Tournament — exquisitely nicknamed Arch Madness — takes place in St. Louis from March 6 to March 9.

Contenders: You may have heard of Wichita State. I suppose Indiana State and Northern Iowa also count as contenders, inasmuch as they will compete in games just like the Shockers do.

Favorite: Wichita State, which is going to win Arch Madness for the first time ever, having not won the Valley's auto-bid since 1987, before the tournament moved to St. Louis.

Bid thieves: Technically, any team that is not Wichita State could steal the auto-bid, but...

Bubble trouble? ...nah. Though a team that is not Wichita State winning the Valley's auto-bid would be the best bid thieving ever, it is unfathomable.

How it went: Wichita State's bid to become the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament unbeaten since 1990-91 UNLV remains strong: The Shockers stomped Missouri State in a semifinal on Saturday, and will see Indiana State, the Valley's second-best team for my money, on Sunday. Can the Sycamores shock the Shockers and the college basketball world? I would not bet on it.

Yeah, Indiana State didn't shock Wichita State.

Automatic qualifier: Wichita State.

Mountain West Conference (MWC)

Last updated: March 16 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: The Mountain West Conference Tournament lacks a catchy name, but it does take place in Las Vegas. Games run from March 12 to March 15.

Contenders: San Diego State and New Mexico are the front-runners, with host UNLV and stalking horses Boise State and Wyoming in the picture.

Favorite: New Mexico, at least until San Diego State evens the season series between the two teams later this week.

Update, March 9: And San Diego State evened the season series between the two teams with a home win on Saturday night that prompted a rare floor storming by fans of a team currently ranked in the top 10. In any case, the Aztecs get the No. 1 seed, enough to pip the Lobos for favorite status. Let's hope for Round 3 in Vegas.

Bid thieves: The only safely NCAA-bound teams are the Aztecs and Lobos; any other Mountain West champ would be grabbing a bit of the bubble.

Bubble trouble? Moderate. UNLV is literally playing home games, Boise State has given the Aztecs trouble twice, and is lined up for a third shot, and Wyoming's taken New Mexico to overtime twice and beaten San Diego State. The good news is that either San Diego State or New Mexico can win and save spots on the bubble.

How it went: Utah State, Fresno State, and Boise State all won their first MWC Tournament games on Wednesday. The Broncos' win was the biggest: They led San Jose State 25-0 and 46-14 en route to an 83-52 win.

San Diego State and New Mexico cruised in their first MWC Tournament action on Thursday, and No. 4 seed UNLV knocked off the Wyoming team that has beaten the Aztecs. But Boise State is looking very, very dangerous: The Broncos followed up their 31-point win over San Jose State with a 13-point win over Nevada. They play New Mexico, safely in the NCAA Tournament, on Friday, and would need to win the tournament to make the NCAA Tournament, but this team seems to be putting everything together at the right moment,

San Diego State got a drama-free win over UNLV on Friday thanks to 18 points from Dwayne Polee. New Mexico's win was slightly harder: The Lobos had to hold off feisty Boise State for the entirety of the second half before prevailing. Now we get a rubber match between the Mountain West's two best teams ... and bubble teams get a reprieve.

It's now New Mexico 2, San Diego State 1, with all three games worthy of the box set. The Lobos overcame their own turnover woes early in the MWC Tournament final to finish off the Aztecs, and probably popped on the national radar for the first time this season as a result. Now, if they can avoid Harvard...

Automatic qualifier: New Mexico.

Northeast Conference (NEC)

Last updated: March 12 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: The NEC Tournament take places at higher-seeded teams' home campuses on March 5, 8, and 11, and re-seeds for the semifinals, so the highest remaining seed takes on the lowest remaining seed.

Contenders: Robert Morris and Wagner. Remember when Robert Morris beat Kentucky last year? That was great.

Favorite: Robert Morris, which has home-court advantage via the No. 1 seed.

Bid thieves: Look elsewhere.

Bubble trouble? Nonexistent.

How it went: Robert Morris and Wagner won comfortably, but it was the tale of two St. Francises in the other two Wednesday quarters: St. Francis (Pa.) upset Bryant, 55-54, while Mount St. Mary's roared back from a 15-point deficit in the final six minutes of play to beat St. Francis (N.Y.). on a Rashad Whack three with two seconds remaining.

Robert Morris survived a 15-point first half by coming back to beat St. Francis (Pa.) on Saturday, but Wagner was less lucky, falling to Mount St. Mary's. And so the Mountaineers have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament as a .500 team by upsetting Robert Morris on the road on March 11.

Robert Morris had its luck run out on Tuesday: Mount St. Mary's roared out to a 48-32 halftime lead, then cruised to an 88-71 victory to claim the NEC's auto-bid. And now the Colonials will head to the NIT, where Kentucky will not be ripe for the picking.

Automatic qualifier: Mount St. Mary's.

Ohio Valley Conference (OVC)

Last updated: March 9 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: The OVC Tournament takes place from March 5 to March 8 in Nashville.

Contenders: Belmont and Murray State, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, and maybe No. 3 seed Eastern Kentucky.

Favorite: Belmont, which gets to play virtual home games in Nashville.

Bid thieves: No one is stealing anything from anyone.

Bubble trouble? Had Belmont added wins over Kentucky and VCU to its win over North Carolina, the Bruins might have had an at-large argument, but they didn't, and don't.

How it went: Tennessee Tech and Southeast Missouri State — SEMO if you're nasty — each advanced with first-round wins on Wednesday, but fell to Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky on Thursday. Belmont took care of Morehead State on Friday, while Eastern Kentucky upset Murray State. And then the Colonels upended the Bruins on Saturday, securing Eastern Kentucky's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007.

Automatic qualifier: Eastern Kentucky.

Pacific-12 Conference (Pac-12)

Last updated: March 16 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: The Pac-12 Tournament takes place in Las Vegas on March 12-15, at the same time as the Mountain West Tournament, but it technically takes place in Paradise, not Las Vegas, and at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, as opposed to the Thomas and Mack Center.

Contenders: Arizona. UCLA, if you must pick someone else. But the fun here isn't about who wins.

Favorite: Arizona, which has steamrolled the Pac-12 this season apart from a few shaky weeks.

Bid thieves: This is why the Pac-12 Tournament is liable to be very hard-fought: Only Arizona and UCLA look like NCAA Tournament locks, but as many as six other teams are still within spitting distance of the bubble.

Suggested slogan for the Pac-12: Bet on our games ... being fun and exciting contests between student-athletes

Colorado has a win over Kansas, which helps a bunch, and Cal and Arizona State both took down 'Zona, but none of those teams should feel safe, and Oregon, Stanford, and Utah are all floating around the in/out divide. A team that wins the Pac-12 Tournament can feel pretty safe; a team that wins a game over Arizona at the Pac-12 Tournament can probably relax, too.

But there might be enough timber to build a bridge to the NCAA Tournament available even without those two conditions, and there will be a half-dozen teams scrapping for it. Suggested slogan for the Pac-12: Bet on our games ... being fun and exciting contests between student-athletes!

Bubble trouble? Sooo much. Go back and read those last three paragraphs again.

Okay, now consider this: A Pac-12 team knocking off Arizona clears the field for other Pac-12 teams to make a run, and helps those teams almost as much as it helps itself. What if Utah, sitting around the No. 8/9 spot in the Pac-12, and thus set to see Arizona first, knocks off the Wildcats, something it's come close to doing twice this year? That helps its résumé immeasurably, and also clears a really nice path for the No. 4 or No. 5 seed that gets Utah instead of Arizona.

Utah's the only really likely bid thief, as the seven teams likely to be ahead of it on the seeding chart should get in even with early exits (or will end up on the bubble themselves), but good play in Vegas by Pac-12 teams could push bubble teams to play-in games. And being in a play-in game is almost as bad as being on the bubble.

Update, March 6: Utah finally won a road game against a team other than lowly USC on Wednesday, downing Cal — which now looks to be in serious jeopardy — and Arizona looked weirdly shaky on defense in a perfunctory win over Oregon State. Unfortunately, Utah's now as close to the No. 6 seed as No. 8/9, where that Arizona game would be available. If the Utes knock off Stanford this weekend — possible, given that the Cardinal slipped Wednesday against Colorado, and have lost their last three — Utah may even end up not seeing Arizona until the semifinals.

Update, March 9: We can probably safely move Oregon into the field for good. The Ducks swept Arizona State and Arizona this week, and whatever bubble issues they may have had are long gone. But Utah didn't knock off Stanford, and so the Utes have tons of work left to do, and Colorado fell to Cal at home, which helps the Bears quite a bit; they're Dobbertean's first team out, and probably win their way in with one or two good results in Vegas.

How it went: Utah, Colorado, Oregon, and Stanford all won first-round games on Wednesday. Every team now left in the Pac-12 Tournament is, at the very least, on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Set phasers to fun!

That third Utah game with Arizona? The Wildcats won it 71-39. Colorado will get its third matchup with the Wildcats on Friday in a semifinal after topping California. And on the bottom half of the bracket, UCLA fended off Oregon, while Stanford throttled Arizona State — eliminating the other two teams to have beaten Arizona this year.

We're getting a great Pac-12 final: Arizona vs. UCLA. Both teams enter looking very good, with Arizona having shut down Colorado on Friday, and UCLA having housed Stanford.

Saturday's best game was the epic between UCLA and Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament final, and UCLA had just enough left after a ridiculously hot start from both squads to prevail in just the teams' second meeting this year. Bet on the Pac-12 never making that particular scheduling oversight again.

Automatic qualifier: UCLA.

Patriot League

Last updated: March 13 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: Thanks to the additions of Boston and Loyola of Maryland for the 2013-14 season, the Patriot League Tournament is the longest and most complicated conference tournament around, lasting nine days from March 3 to March 12. Teams play on higher-seeded teams' home floors, and the No. 1 through No. 6 seeds get a single bye. The No. 10 seed would have to win four road games in nine days to win the conference's automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

Contenders: Boston, American, and maybe Holy Cross.

Favorite: Boston, the only 20-win team in the Patriot League, has home-court advantage via the No. 1 seed.

Bid thieves: None.

Bubble trouble? None.

How it went: The quarterfinals happened Wednesday, and featured Army squeaking by Bucknell, Holy Cross handling Lehigh, Boston routing Lafayette by 37, and American beating Colgate after allowing just 15 first-half points.

Good news: You can cheer for Boston or America in the Patriot League final. Boston rolled Army on Saturday, while American held off Holy Cross. The Eagles — yes, American's teams are the Eagles, go figure — just have to win at Boston to get into the Tournament, something only Bucknell has done in regulation this year. Maybe the secret is getting into overtime games at Boston, where the Terriers are weirdly 0-3.

As it turns out, American didn't even need overtime to top the Terriers: Boston followed a hideous 16-point first half with a slightly less unsightly 20-point second half, and the Eagles won 55-36 to claim the Patriot League's title and auto-bid on Wednesday.

Automatic qualifier: American.

Southeastern Conference (SEC)

Last updated: March 16 (How it's going)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: March 12-16 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Double byes for seeds No. 1 through No. 4, single byes for No. 5 through No. 10. But don't totally discount the possibility that a tornado will hit Atlanta and move the whole daggone thing to a different arena entirely, helping some team that was terrible all year win four games in four days: That happened in 2008, a year in which Florida and Kentucky went 0-2 in SEC Tournament games.

Contenders: Florida. And, really, that's it: The Gators have beaten every other SEC team already, most of them soundly.

Favorite: Florida.

Update, March 9: Florida became the first team in a major conference in nearly 40 years to go undefeated over an 18-game conference schedule on Saturday by handing Kentucky the largest loss in the history of the Florida-Kentucky series, which dates back to the dawn of the SEC. So, yes, Florida is the favorite, because we lack better words for what Florida is.

Bid thieves: Much as in the Pac-12 Tournament, the drama is all about what the teams other than the overwhelming favorite will do.

three teams — Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas — may jockey for what ends up being one spot.

Florida is in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky is, too, despite a swoon of Syracusian proportions. No other SEC team is more than halfway across the threshold, but three teams — Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas — may jockey for what ends up being one spot. And, well, Georgia did pull off something thought impossible that one time in Atlanta...

Bubble trouble? Significant, if mostly the SEC's own. But it would really be something if an SEC team were to beat Florida and use that quality win — best available outside the Pac-12, I think — to leap over a Big Ten team with a comparable record and no such great win. SEC fans would definitely not use that as Internet argument fodder.

Update, March 9: Within a bubble full of backsliders, Tennessee should be commended for whomping the excrement out of every team it has seen of late, and it has become Dobbertean's last team in as a result. But Arkansas, also in Dobbertean's last four in, just took a 25-point loss to Alabama, and now probably cannot afford a quarterfinal exit at the SEC Tournament ... where it will likely see Tennessee.

Happily, LSU and Missouri have decided to be a little less wishy-washy, and just about played themselves off the bubble entirely; only long SEC Tournament runs — ones that would require upsets of Kentucky (possible) and Florida (nah) respectively — will save the two sets of Tigers. Georgia is in LSU's situation, too, but will need to beat Kentucky, which seems unlikely.

How it's going: South Carolina and Missississippi State earned the right to play on Thursday with Wednesday wins. Auburn got Tony Barbee fired with its loss.

Boy, the SEC sure did play basketball on Thursday. Missouri squeaked by Texas A&M in a double-overtime slog, South Carolina all but eliminated Arkansas from the NCAA Tournament with an upset, LSU consigned Alabama to a season with zero wins away from home, and Marshall Henderson shot Ole Miss past Mississippi State. The top four seeds get into the fray for the first time on Friday.

All four top seeds won on Friday, setting up a Florida-Tennessee showdown between two teams that have been very hot of late and a Kentucky-Georgia Goliath-David clash in Saturday semifinals.

Florida came back on Tennessee with the help of its trademark grinding defense in Saturday's most dramatic game (thanks, referee Pat Adams, for your three technical fouls and copious questionable calls!) and Kentucky beat Georgia easily without looking quite as good as it did against LSU on Friday, setting up Florida-Kentucky III for the SEC Tournament title. Florida will be looking to pay back Kentucky for the three-sweep of Florida the Wildcats staged in 2012.

Southern Conference (SoCon)

Last updated: March 12 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: March 7-10 in Asheville, N.C.

Contenders: Davidson, maybe Elon.

Favorite: Davidson. The Wildcats aren't the team that Stephen Curry propelled to the Elite Eight — no Davidson team will ever be that good again, in all probability — but Bob McKillop is a wizard, and has this team at 15-1 in conference after a 4-10 start to its season against a brutal schedule that included Wichita State, Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Clemson, and Georgia. (Davidson did beat Georgia.)

Bid thieves: Not 'round these parts.

Bubble trouble? None. Davidson doesn't have a chance at an at-large bid, so it's fighting to stay off the wrong, wrong side of the bubble.

How it's going: Davidson won its quarterfinal by 23 points on Saturday, then watched Elon and Chattanooga lose. So it's going well for the Wildcats.

But Davidson then fell on Sunday in an overtime battle with Western Carolina, followed by Wofford beating Georgia Southern. The team that wins the SoCon final on Monday will get its 20th win this season in the process.

Wofford became that team, and the first set of Terriers in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, by downing Western Carolina, 56-53. Karl Cochran had a great 23-5-4-4 line for Wofford in the win, and Trey Sumler had just nine points for Western Carolina in the loss.

Automatic qualifier: Wofford.

Southland Conference

Last updated: March 16 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: March 12-15 in Katy, Tex., a city that spans three counties and has under 15,000 residents. Double byes for the top two seeds, No. 4, single byes for No. 3 and No. 4, and a really tough ask for any team that has to win four games in four days.

Contenders: Stephen F. Austin, Northwestern State, Oral Roberts, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and Sam Houston State. The Southland has maybe its best team ever, but that team isn't quite invincible.

Favorite: Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks are undefeated in conference, 27-2 on the season — same as Florida — and unbeaten in 2014, same as Florida and Wichita State. They're also No. 63 in KenPom, very much good enough to win an NCAA Tournament game, and my favorite mid-major of the year.

Bid thieves: Nope.

Bubble trouble? None. Despite its gaudy record, SFA has no chance on the bubble, not with one (1) game against a top-100 RPI team this season, and so the 'Jacks will have to axe their way in.

How it went: Nicholls State and Oral Roberts moved on with Wednesday wins.

Northwestern State and Sam Houston State won Thursday games to set up Friday semifinals featuring the league's top four seeds: Stephen F. Austin vs. Northwestern State comes first, followed by Texas A&M-Corpus Christi vs. Sam Houston State.

Stephen F. Austin outlasted Northwestern State in a wildly entertaining semifinal on Friday, while Sam Houston State defended its lead with late free throws to hold off Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. It'll be 'Jacks vs. 'Kats for the Southland title.

And after that semifinal, SFA cruised to the title with an easy win over Sam Houston State in a game that it led by more than 10 points for the final 11 minutes of play.

Automatic qualifier: Stephen F. Austin.

Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC)

Last updated: March 16 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes. But the winner might not go to the NCAA Tournament.

When and where: March 11-15 in Houston. Alas, I can't seem to find whether there will be musical guests like the ones — Slim Thug, "Z-Rod" (Z-Ro), Dwele, Raheem DeVaughn, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Salt-N-Pepa, and K-Ci and JoJo — that came to the 2013 SWAC Tournament to help celebrate the league's 50th anniversary.

Wait, the champion might not go to the NCAA Tournament? WHAT? It's a long story. Mike Rutherford told some of it in his awesome small conference tournament preview, but ... it's a long story, and it can get told more than once.

The NCAA revamped its (very flawed) system of using Academic Progress Rate to evaluate member schools in 2011, most notably moving its cutline for NCAA postseason eligibility up from an average Academic Progress Rate of 900 to a four-year APR average of 930, effective for the 2012-13 season. This is why UConn missed the 2013 NCAA Tournament — plenty more on that here — and it is why the SWAC petitioned the NCAA to allow its four postseason-ineligible teams — Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Grambling State, Mississippi Valley State, and Southern — to play in the SWAC Tournament.

the SWAC could send a team that did not even play in its conference tournament final as its automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA ruled that the SWAC could include those teams, so it is putting on its first-ever 10-team tournament. But that means the winner of the SWAC Tournament might not make the NCAA Tournament — something that could make the conference look silly if Southern, clearly the SWAC's best team, already the SWAC Tournament's No. 1 seed, and just a year removed from nearly upsetting overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, wins the tournament, like it arguably should.

If an ineligible team wins the SWAC Tournament, the conference's automatic bid will go to the eligible team that advanced furthest; basically, if an eligible team like probable No. 2 seed meets Southern in the tournament final, that team will have already clinched its NCAA Tournament berth. But if eligible teams advance only to the same round, "tying" for furthest advancement — something that could very well happen if Arkansas-Pine Bluff ends up on the other side of the bracket from Southern — the highest-seeded of the tied teams will advance to the NCAA Tournament. And so the SWAC could send a team that did not even play in its conference tournament final as its automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament.

This is a mess, obviously, and it's a mess that really requires something longer than this piece to fully explain1. For your purposes, just remember that the SWAC winner and the SWAC's NCAA Tournament representative might be different teams.

Contenders: Southern, Texas Southern, Alabama State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Any other winner would be a shock.

Favorite: Southern is the favorite to win the SWAC Tournament. I really, really think the SWAC is going to send a team that doesn't win its conference tournament to the NCAA Tournament, because Southern is essentially just as good as it was last year, led by sharpshooter Malcolm Miller, a fringe NBA prospect, and the rest of the SWAC is, well, bad. No SWAC team had more than six non-conference wins this season, and the only team that did, Alabama State, scored three of them against non-Division I competition.

But Alabama State is the favorite to win the SWAC's auto bid, because it's the best team eligible for postseason play ... thanks to the NCAA rescinding its postseason ban.

Bid thieves: The NCAA has stolen what should probably rightfully Southern's bid. Apart from that? Nah.

Bubble trouble? None.

How it went: The best feel-good story of the championship fortnight so far? Grambling winning its first-round matchup with Jackson State one year after going 0-28. Sure, the Panthers are probably mincemeat for Texas Southern on Wednesday, just like fellow Tuesday winners Prairie View A&M will be for Southern, but it's cool to see a team punctuate the beginning of its turnaround with a postseason win.

Southern, the SWAC's regular-season champion, will not force the league to send a team that didn't win the SWAC Tournament to the NCAA Tournament: The Tigers lost to Prairie View A&M, of all teams, on Wednesday, and by 18 points. Texas Southern took care of Grambling, too, leaving Arkansas-Pine Bluff as the last NCAA-ineligible team alive in the SWAC.

Alabama A&M took care of that Arkansas-Pine Bluff problem on Thursday, saving the SWAC its ignominy. With Alabama State beating Alcorn State in the Thursday late game, the SWAC champ is coming from either Texas or Alabama.

Why wouldn't the SWAC have the weirdest storyline of Championship Fortnight? Prairie View A&M, now just 11-22 on the season, can get the SWAC's auto-bid with an upset of Texas Southern on Saturday.

But Texas Southern, and frontcourt beast Aaric Murray, would have none of that upset, as Murray went for 27 and 10 in the Tigers' SWAC Tournament final triumph. Mike Davis, formerly of Indiana and UAB, will be taking his third team to the NCAA Tournament as a result.

Automatic qualifier: Texas Southern.

Summit League

Last update: March 12 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: March 8-11 in Sioux Falls, S.D., and with one of the more bizarre formats of any conference tournament, per colleague Rodger Sherman.

Contenders: North Dakota State, and the team lucky enough to meet the Bison in the Summit final? That's probably Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne.

Favorite: North Dakota State. The Bison took down Notre Dame earlier this year, finished 12-2 in conference with road losses to IPFW and Denver, and have an excellent frontcourt.

Bid thieves: Teams stealing from NDSU is all we'll get.

Bubble trouble? None. The Bison can't make the Madness without the Summit's auto-bid. That's all.

How it went: IPFW beat IUPUI by 38 on Saturday in the battle of Indiana-Purdue combined schools we were all waiting for, and then IUPUI fired Todd Howard.

Denver and South Dakota State both won quarterfinals on Sunday.

On Monday, Mastadons (IPFW) and Bison (North Dakota State) roamed. On Tuesday, the more recently extinct creatures topped the long-dead ones: North Dakota State held IPFW to 22 second-half points in a 60-57 Summit League Tournament final victory, and made its reservations for the somewhat sizable shindig.

Automatic qualifier: North Dakota State.

Sun Belt Conference

Last updated: March 16 (How it's going)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: March 13-16 in New Orleans.

Contenders: Georgia State is a genuinely good team, potentially tourney-win good. But Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafayette lurk, and lowly Troy, which hasn't sewn up its Sun Belt Tournament berth, handed the Panthers their only loss.

Favorite: That said, Georgia State is a heavy favorite, and not just because the Panthers get a double bye.

Bid thieves: None of note.

Bubble trouble? None. Georgia State's in the same good-team-but-no-chance-of-at-large-bid predicament many other conference-leading teams are this year.

How it's going: Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington won first round games on Thursday. Top seeds Georgia State and Western Kentucky await the winners of Friday quarterfinals.

The top four teams in the conference remain for Saturday semis: Georgia State will play Arkansas State, while Western Kentucky gets Louisiana-Lafayette. But there was more drama than the chalk suggests: Arkansas State needed four overtimes to get past Arkansas-Little Rock. Georgia State's getting a winded foe, in theory.

We'll either get very good Georgia State or excellent Elfrid Payton of Louisiana-Lafayette in the NCAA Tournament: The Panthers pasted tired Arkansas State on Saturday, while Payton had an absurd 23-7-9 line with four steals (and played all 40 minutes) to lift the Ragin' Cajuns to a one-point win over Western Kentucky.

Western Athletic Conference (WAC)

Last updated: March 16 (How it went, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: March 13-15 in Las Vegas — at the same time the Pac-12 and Mountain West tournaments are in Vegas. The WAC gets Orleans Arena, home of the Las Vegas Sin, one of the founding members of the Legends Football League and maybe the most appropriately-named team in North American professional sports.

Contenders: The WAC Tournament is my bet to be the most interesting conference tournament of the entire championship fortnight, because New Mexico State is far and away the league's best team via KenPom, and in that tourney-win good band of mid-majors, but Utah Valley will probably be the tournament's No. 1 seed.

The WAC Tournament is my bet to be the most interesting conference tournament of the entire championship fortnight

Oh, and the last game between the two teams ended with an ugly on-court fracas as Utah Valley fans stormed the floor. There might be some bad blood involved.

Alas, the third-best team in the WAC, and only that could stage a couple upsets, is Grand Canyon University, which is ineligible for postseason play in its first season as the only for-profit school in Division I hoops. Coached by Dan Majerle, the Antelopes could maybe have made the NCAA Tournament field in its first year of competition thanks to the brilliant Jerome Garrison, second nationally in percentage of minutes played, and yet somehow also a 43 percent three-point shooter. At least we're being spared an exhausting national furor over whether a for-profit school should be in the NCAA Tournament — for now.

Favorite: New Mexico State is better than Utah Valley — a lot better, if you compare its No. 73 KenPom ranking to Utah Valley's No. 201 ranking.

Bid thieves: None of note. (I will not be taking up for Grand Canyon, no.)

Bubble trouble? None. New Mexico State's in a bind with all the other excellent mid-major teams with no at-large shot. It's obviously better to get a team like Pittsburgh into the NCAA Tournament, after all.

How it's going: Utah Valley won its first game by 20. Idaho, Cal State Bakersfield, and New Mexico State won by three, six, and two, respectively.

But on Friday, it was New Mexico State that avoided the upset bug: Idaho took down Utah Valley, while the Aggies came back on Bakersfield to set themselves up as the favorite in the WAC final.

And New Mexico State cruised in that final, beating Idaho by 22 for its third straight NCAA Tournament berth.

Automatic qualifier: New Mexico State.

West Coast Conference (WCC)

Last updated: March 12 (How it went, Bubble trouble, Automatic qualifier)

Tournament? Yes.

When and where: March 6, 8, and 10-11 in ... okay, take a guess.


Yes, it's Las Vegas. Like the WAC, the WCC will be playing its games in Orleans Arena, and sharing the facility with its contemporaneous women's tournament, which is the reason for the break on March 7. The reason for the break on March 10 is that it's a Sunday, and BYU doesn't play on Sundays, and BYU is now in the West Coast Conference, and has been for the last three years. (You didn't notice because Jimmer Fredette left. It's okay.)

Contenders: Gonzaga and BYU are the front-runners, and Gonzaga just won the WCC's regular season title for the second straight year and 15th time in the 16 seasons since 1997-98. (Kansas?, Gonzaga thinks. You're impressed by Kansas?) San Francisco and Saint Mary's are lurking below that top two.

Favorite: Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have baffling losses at Portland and San Diego, and played a far easier non-conference slate than they usually do, but they're 1-1 against BYU, just torched Saint Mary's in their two meetings (average margin of victory: 25 points), and smacked the Dons twice, too.

Bid thieves: San Francisco and Saint Mary's would definitely be stealing bids with a winning run, but they might actually be stealing them from BYU, which is uncomfortably close to the margins, and would be in terrible shape with a loss in its first game.

Bubble trouble? Significant. Should Saint Mary's make the final and see BYU, both teams would be tourney-bound. That's a problem for a lot of teams in a lot of other conferences.

Update, March 12: While BYU didn't win the WCC Tournament, the Cougars' run to the final is probably enough to keep them inside the tourney field if the level of insanity is kept within reason over the next five days.

How it went: Very, very well — for the top seeds. All four — Gonzaga, BYU, San Francisco, and Saint Mary's — have advanced to the quarterfinals. And Gonzaga's David Stockton — son of John — hit a twisting layup on a coast-to-coast drive to get the Zags there, which you should really see.

Gonzaga blew out Saint Mary's for the third time in 2014 on Monday, while BYU won an overtime clash with San Francisco, setting up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 final, rare this year. No. 1 prevailed, as the Zags scored their last 14 points on free throws and held off BYU, 75-64.

Automatic qualifier: Gonzaga.

  1. The SWAC is comprised entirely of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), and I'm guessing all of its teams fall under the NCAA's definition of "limited-resource" schools, which is the NCAA's euphemism for "the poorest 15 percent of academic departments in Division I." How poor are they? Consider the shocking conditions Grambling State, one of the SWAC's poorest schools, left its football team to deal with, then consider that football is still likely these teams' cash cow.

    Limited-resource schools lag well behind most others academically: According to a 2013 report by the NCAA on APR trends, 20 percent of teams at limited-resource schools were under the new 930 cutoff mark for postseason play. But HBCUs are even further behind the pack, at 31 percent in that same report, and that actually represents a significant decline in the percentage of teams below that high-water mark from 44 percent in 2009-10.

    Now, for context, a 930 APR is essentially equivalent to a 50 percent graduation rate, and these schools failing to graduate 50 percent of their players is partly on them. But they simply don't have the money to pay for the academic support systems that help teams like UConn stay out of the danger zone, which is why the NCAA's made millions available to those schools. And APR penalizes schools for players who transfer and fail to get degrees; HBCUs and other limited-resource schools have to deal with more coach mobility than most better-supported programs, so players are often faced with the choice of playing for multiple coaches over their careers, or transferring like many of their fellow D-1 players often do.

    It's a series of catch-22s that SWAC teams, and most HBCUs, face. And it's just madness, not the fun kind.