clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The 2015 conference championship cheat sheet: Favorites, contenders, and bid thieves

New, comments

It's back.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Admittedly, this year's edition of the conference tournament cheat sheet is coming along a little late — we're midway through the first week of college basketball's fortnight of conference tournaments (and the Ivy League's final weekend of play) that decide dozens of automatic NCAA Tournament berths.

By the end of this Saturday, we'll know two NCAA Tournament teams, and those numbers will only grow from there. So without further ado, let's dive into the magical world of the madness before The Madness.

Update, March 12: Things have gotten a bit unwieldy down below, so I've rearranged the listing a fair bit, moving the Beginning Today section (which won't exist after today) to the top and the Complete section (which we won't add to until Saturday) to the bottom.

Concluding Today


What, when, and where: The American Athletic Conference (AAC) Tournament begins on Thursday and runs through Sunday in Hartford.

Update, March 13: East Carolina and Houston, two teams with losing records this year, moved on, as did defending national champion UConn. ONE OF THESE THINGS...

Update, March 15: UConn can still make the NCAA Tournament with a win on Sunday in Hartford against SMU. Because everything always comes up UConn.

Contenders: SMU, Cincinnati, and maybe Temple and Tulsa. UConn and Memphis have the talent to make deep runs, too, but the Huskies and Tigers also lost eight American games each.

Favorite: SMU. Larry Brown's team doesn't have Emmanuel Mudiay, the program's best recruit ever, and the player who would've saved the Mustangs from AAC obscurity by making them a top-five squad, but it did post a 15-3 record in conference play, and ranks in the top 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Bid thieves: Beware: From Tulsa on down, this conference is full of good teams that could get hot and stage upsets to shrink the bubble.

Bubble trouble? However: I don't think Tulsa goes dancing without winning the whole tournament, and Tulsa's a lot closer to the bubble than UConn and Memphis. Temple is perhaps the last team in the field at this point, and needs at least an opening win over Memphis to secure its spot; three would be ideal, obviously, but making the final by topping SMU is probably all the Owls need to do to be sure they will dance.

Atlantic 10

What, when, and where: The Atlantic 10 Conference (A-10) Tournament begins on Wednesday and runs through Sunday in BROOOOOOOOOOKLYN.

Update, March 12: Fordham and Duquesne moved on in first round games on Wednesday, with the Dukes beating Saint Louis to consign the Billikens to their earliest possible exit from the conference tournament one year after they won an NCAA Tournament game.

Update, March 13: La Salle, VCU, St. Bonaventure, and George Washington all moved on to the quarterfinals.

Update, March 15: Suddenly, VCU is terrifying again. The Rams fell behind Davidson early, then blitzed the Wildcats out of existence with a 40-12 run to close the second half, and won by 20 in Saturday's first semifinal. They'll take on undermanned Dayton in Sunday's final.

Contenders: The top six seeds: Davidson, Dayton, George Washington, Richmond, VCU and Rhode Island. The A-10 is very deep with teams that could potentially get hot this year, and at least a few are NCAA Tournament teams even without an auto-bid.

Favorite: Davidson. Steph Curry's alma mater is as good as it has been since he led the Wildcats to an Elite Eight, and ranking sixth in offensive efficiency per KenPom is just the start of it. Bob McKillop's team hasn't lost since the first week of February, has beaten four of the five other top-six seeds by double digits, and won't face the fifth (Rhode Island) until a hypothetical final.

Bid thieves: Any team other than Davidson, Dayton, or VCU is shrinking the bubble. All three of those teams are comfortably in, and Dayton and VCU could jump a seed like or two with a dominant tournament.

Bubble trouble? Richmond and Rhode Island are on the very outside of the bubble, with both teams just about one big non-conference win from being able to get their dance ticket punched without doing it all themselves.

Big Ten

What, when, and where: The Big Ten Tournament begins on Wednesday and runs through Sunday in Chicago.

Update, March 12: Well, Minnesota eliminated obvious contender Rutgers, which is a shame, but Penn State also topped 2014 NCAA Tournament participant Nebraska, ending a puzzlingly bad season for Internet darling Tim Miles's Cornhuskers.

Update, March 13: Illinois flamed out in Chicago with a lopsided loss to Michigan, Penn State upset Iowa, Indiana kept its NCAA hopes alive with a win over Northwestern, and Ohio State topped Minnesota behind a 23-5-4-1-3 line from D'Angelo Russell.

Update, March 15: Somehow, Michigan State is in the Big Ten Tournament final. And as was predicted by literally everyone, Wisconsin is there, too.

Contenders: Wisconsin. And Maryland. And Rutgers. You're gonna have to be or beat Wisconsin to win this one.

Favorite: Wisconsin. I mean, seriously: The Badgers nuked the Big Ten to the tune of more than two-tenths of a point per possession. That's dominance.

Bid thieves: If we grant that Purdue is in and Indiana is looking good, the bid thief here is Illinois, which could snag the Hoosiers' spot rather cleanly by upsetting Wisconsin in a quarterfinal if Indiana loses to Northwestern. Any team outside the conference's top eight (which ends with Indiana and Illinois) winning it all would obviously shrink the bubble.

Bubble trouble? Purdue can probably afford a first round loss, if only barely. Indiana can't. Illinois definitely can't, and probably needs two wins to be sure, but given that its second win would have to come against Wisconsin, Illinois is also almost certainly in with just two wins, while Indiana might still have to sweat after knocking off Northwestern and Maryland.

Update, March 13: Hope you like the NIT, Illinois. Hope you're okay with being an 11 seed, Indiana.


What, when, and where: The Southeastern Conference (SEC) Tournament begins on Wednesday and runs through Sunday in Nashville.

Update, March 12: Auburn and South Carolina moved on in first-round action.

Update, March 13: Florida beat Alabama in the day's first game to set up a third game with Kentucky that will either condemn the Gators to a losing regular season record or set them up nicely to sneak into the NCAA Tournament ... and then all hell broke loose, with Auburn, Tennessee, and South Carolina all upsetting higher seeds, and Auburn and South Carolina possibly sending their victims, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, to the bad side of the bubble.

Update, March 15: Arkansas is the last line of defense before the NCAA Tournament against Kentucky. Given that the Wildcats could've named their score when the two teams met at Rupp in late February, it sure seems like Big Blue Nation will have a 34-0 team to cheer for come later this week.

Contenders: Kentucky and Kentucky's bench.

Favorite: Kentucky.

Bid thieves: Any team from seventh-seeded Vanderbilt on down would definitely be shrinking the bubble with an SEC Tournament crown, but the only one of those teams for whom a 4-0 run in Nashville seems even remotely plausible is Florida, and the Gators would meet Kentucky in the quarterfinals with a victory on Thursday. So.

Bubble trouble? Texas A&M is perched precariously on the bubble right now, as Chris Dobbertean's first team out on March 11, and the Aggies could use a couple of wins to be sure it will dance. Georgia probably needs to not make an early exit.

Update, March 13: A&M blowing a double-digit lead to Auburn is almost certainly enough to keep the Aggies out of the NCAA Tournament, and Ole Miss has put itself right on the cut line with its loss to South Carolina. The Rebels really, really need UCLA to lose to Arizona.

Update, March 15: LSU losing to Auburn was an inspired bit of #SECBasketballFever. The Tigers are probably still making the NCAA Tournament, as is Mississippi, but respect where it is due.

Sun Belt

What, when, and where: The Sun Belt Conference Tournament begins on Thursday and runs through Sunday (for some reason) in New Orleans (oh, wait, there's the reason).

Update, March 13: Texas State and South Alabama moved on in first round action on Thursday.

Update, March 15: Georgia State and Georgia Southern will face off for the Sun Belt title on Sunday. Georgia State scored 83 points in its semifinal win. Georgia Southern scored 44.

Contenders: Georgia State, and maybe Georgia Southern. The Panthers have built a really good small-school squad around transfers Ryan Harrow and R.J. Hunter, son of coach Ron, and are 12-3 since a 2-2 start in conference play.

Favorite: Georgia State. The Panthers are also the only Sun Belt team in KenPom's top 100.

Bid thieves: Not here.

Bubble trouble? Not happening. Georgia State's best win is over Green Bay.



What, when, and where: The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Tournament begins on Tuesday and runs through Saturday in Greensboro — the last time it will take place in North Carolina until 2019.

Update, March 11: Boston College and Virginia Tech each claimed slim one-point wins in first round action on Tuesday.

Update, March 12: Despite a near-classic collapse from a 20-point lead, Florida State moved on by beating Clemson, and were joined in their progress by North Carolina, N.C. State, and Miami. The Seminoles were the lone lower seed to advance, and get No. 1 Virginia for their troubles.

Update, March 13: Virginia survived a second-half push from Florida State, North Carolina sped by Louisville late, Duke annihilated N.C. State, and Notre Dame made Miami's bubble position very precarious by holding on for a seven-point win.

Update, March 15: Notre Dame finished its surprising ACC Tournament run by taking down North Carolina in Saturday's final, one day after beating Duke, to win its first ACC championship.

Contenders: Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame, Louisville, North Carolina. The tournament's top four seeds — subtract North Carolina from the above quintet — should produce a winner from among them, with any other team needing to win four games in as many days to prevail, and only one, N.C. State, currently looking like an NCAA Tournament club.

Favorite: Duke. Virginia's the No. 1 seed, yes, but it likely draws either a Louisville team that just upset it or a North Carolina squad that can speed it up in quarterfinal action, while Duke is on an 11-game winning streak and crushed likely semifinal opponent Notre Dame by 30 in the game between the two teams that took place in North Carolina.

Bid thieves: Any team other than the six mentioned above winning the tournament would surely shrink the bubble, and and Miami could play its way to the right side of the cut line with two or three wins — which would have to include a win over Notre Dame.

Bubble trouble? N.C. State's 5-1 stretch (with wins at North Carolina and Louisville) to close the regular season got the Wolfpack clear of the bubble, and Miami's the only ACC team that could play its way into the NCAA Tournament without winning the automatic bid. One win probably won't move the needle with the Selection Committee for the 'Canes, but two would have them hopeful heading into Selection Sunday, and even an appearance in the final should all but cement Miami as an NCAA Tournament team.

Update, March 13: Miami finishes with one win in the ACC Tournament, and it came against the Virginia Tech team the Hurricanes had just beaten before the tourney began, so I doubt their performance in Greensboro changes the 'Canes' fortunes either way. They'll have to sweat on Selection Sunday, and are probably on the wrong side of the bubble to stay.

Automatic bid: Notre Dame.

America East

What, when, and where: The America East Conference Tournament began on Wednesday, resumes Sunday, and finishes next Saturday on the floor of the highest seed remaining.

Update, March 9: After dueling two-point wins on Sunday, Albany and Stony Brook will advance to a final at Albany for the right to go dancing. Stony Brook could use another game like the one Jameel Warney (24 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks) had against Vermont.

Update, March 15: After scoring a paltry 16 points in the first half, Albany used a 35-point second half and a late three from Peter Hooley to eke out a one-point win over Stony Brook and make its second straight NCAA Tournament. Sorry, Jameel Warney.

Contenders: Albany, Vermont and Stony Brook. The Great Danes are tournament-tested, having won the America East last year (and scared Florida for 30 minutes in the NCAA Tournament), the Catamounts are the league's best team per KenPom, and Stony Brook has the league's player of the year in Jameel Warney.

Favorite: Albany. Home court trumps the better player and the better team, as Vermont learned last year when it had both and still lost at Albany.

Bid thieves: None to speak of.

Bubble trouble? None to speak of.

Automatic bid: Albany.

Atlantic Sun

What, when, and where: The Atlantic Sun Conference (A-Sun) Tournament began on Tuesday, continued Thursday, and concludes Sunday, as USC Upstate travels to North Florida.

Update, March 9: North Florida will be dancing for the first time ever, after staging a comeback in front of a raucous crowd to upend USC Upstate in the A-Sun final on Sunday.

Contenders: North Florida and USC Upstate, neither of which has been to an NCAA Tournament.

Favorite: North Florida. The Ospreys and Florida Gulf Coast could've met in a seismic Sunshine State showdown between the league's best offense and defense, respectively, but Upstate beat the Eagles in Dunk City, setting up a final that looks more lopsided in the Ospreys' favor.

Bid thieves: Not here.

Bubble trouble? Ain't happening.

Automatic bid: North Florida.

Big 12

What, when, and where: The Big 12 Conference Tournament begins on Wednesday and runs through Saturday in Kansas City.

Update, March 15: Kansas had a big halftime lead, but Iowa State vaporized that en route to its second consecutive Big 12 Tournament title on Saturday.

Contenders: Pick one of the seven Big 12 teams that has been in and around the KenPom top 30 all year.

Favorite: Kansas. It's always Kansas.

Bid thieves: None that are truly plausible.

Bubble trouble? Texas and Oklahoma State could use a couple wins each.

Update, March 13: Texas being eliminated by Iowa State will leave the Longhorns worrying, but Oklahoma State falling isn't as big a deal, given the soft state of the bubble.

Automatic bid: Iowa State.

Big East

What, when, and where: The Big East Tournament comes to you live from Madison Square Garden once more, and runs from Wednesday to a Saturday primetime final.

Update, March 12: Marquette beat Seton Hall, and Creighton beat DePaul, proving once and for all that it's better if your school's name doesn't rhyme with ball. (I'm sorry.)

Update, March 13: Villanova dump-trucked Marquette, Providence stormed by St. John's, and Georgetown and Xavier both won close games.

Update, March 15: Villanova finished its evisceration of the 2015 Big East with a 17-point win over Xavier in the Big East Tournament final on Saturday night. The Wildcats would appear poised to earn a No. 1 seed.

Contenders: Villanova, Georgetown, Butler, Providence, Xavier, and St. John's. It'd be a surprise if any team outside of those six prevailed here.

Favorite: Villanova. It would also be surprising if the Wildcats, who should get a No. 1 seed on Sunday if they hoist a trophy on Saturday, don't come out on top here: They haven't lost since January, and boast the conference's best offense and defense.

Bid thieves: It's a tough ask for any of the Big East's bottom four teams, none of which won more than six games in conference play, to win the tournament, and the rest of the league is pretty solidly within the NCAA Tournament field.

Bubble trouble? Even Xavier getting totally skunked in its first matchup likely wouldn't drop the Musketeers below, say, the 10-seed line. And they're at the bottom of the Big East pecking order.

Automatic bid: Villanova.

Big Sky

What, when, and where: The Big Sky Conference Tournament begins on Thursday and runs through Saturday in Missoula, Montana. Its mere three-day duration makes it one of the shortest conference tournaments.

Update, March 13: 42 points from Tyler Harvey was the answer to a stiff test from Idaho for Eastern Washington, Sacramento State won by 10, and Northern Arizona and Montana moved on by single digits, with the Grizzlies having to go to overtime to get their win.

Update, March 15: Tyler Harvey will take the NCAA Tournament stage, but it's his teammates who got him there. Harvey scored "just" 18 points on 15 shots in the Big Sky final, but fellow Eastern Washington guard Drew Brandon had 16 on nine shots, and an additional seven rebounds, as the Eagles edged Montana for the conference's automatic bid.

Contenders: Eastern Washington and Montana. The Eagles and Grizzlies are just a few spots apart in KenPom as of the dawn of the tournament, but no other Big Sky team is within 40 spots of either of them.

Favorite: Eastern Washington. Another one of those "best player wins" tiebreakers, thanks to the presence of scorer extraordinaire Tyler Harvey.

Bid thieves: None.

Bubble trouble? No.

Automatic bid: Eastern Washington.

Big South

What, when, and where: The Big South Tournament has been running since Wednesday in Conway, South Carolina, home of Coastal Carolina. No. 1 seed Charleston Southern and No. 2 seed High Point were ousted Friday, leaving semifinals pitting Coastal Carolina against Gardner-Webb and Winthrop against Longwood.

Update, March 8: Winthrop and Coastal Carolina will meet for the league's automatic bid on Sunday.

Update, March 9: It turns out that home court helps: For the second straight year, Coastal Carolina earned an NCAA Tournament berth on its home floor, downing Winthrop for the school's fourth dance ticket ever.

Contenders: All of those teams except Longwood would be understandable champions, but Coastal Carolina is the league's best team remaining, per KenPom.

Favorite: It was High Point, but now it has to be the Chanticleers. Home court is a major asset, especially when it magnifies a pretty good team.

Bid thieves: None. High Point isn't getting stolen from, either: The Panthers were the league's best team, but not by an overwhelming margin.

Bubble trouble? None. No team here could have been an at-large participant.

Automatic bid: Coastal Carolina.

Big West

What, when, and where: The Big West Conference Tournament begins on Thursday and runs through Saturday in beautiful Anaheim. (There, I think I won the "beautiful Anaheim" SEO game.)

Update, March 13: The favorites all moved on, but it took a serious rally in the second half from UC Davis to down nine-win Cal State Northridge.

Update, March 15: After Hawai'i knocked off UC Davis on Friday, UC Irvine repaid the Warriors for their crimes against the UC system with a comeback win in Saturday's final, claiming the Big West's automatic bid.

Contenders: UC Davis leads a pack of six teams among KenPom's top 160, including five within the top 134 programs in the country.

Favorite: UC Davis. Again: Leads. The Aggies went 14-2 in conference play and are the nation's best team from three, boasting four shooters who have taken at least 65 threes this year and made at least 40 percent of their triples heading into the Big West tournament.

Bid thieves: None.

Bubble trouble? Not unless you think UC Davis is on the bubble despite not beating a team within the top 100 of KenPom.

Automatic bid: UC Irvine.


What, when, and where: The Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament began Friday in Baltimore, and continues Saturday with four quarterfinal games. It will conclude on Monday.

Update, March 8: William & Mary, Hofstra, UNC Wilmington, and Northeastern all moved on in quarterfinal action on Saturday.

Update, March 9: William & Mary needed two overtimes and a three by Daniel Dixon in the second extra frame's final seconds to stave off Hofstra, but the Tribe survived, and will play Northeastern — winner of a slightly less dramatic semifinal against UNC Wilmington — in Monday's CAA Tournament final.

Update, March 10: Given its best-ever chance at making the NCAA Tournament, William & Mary still couldn't make it happen: The Tribe allowed a 10-0 Northeastern to begin the CAA final, and, despite tying the game at 15-15 and 20-20, trailed by 10 at halftime and no less than six in the second half, as the Huskies scored a 72-61 win. And so the nation's longest-ever NCAA Tournament drought continues.

Contenders: Any of the top five seeds — William & Mary, UNC Wilmington, Northeastern, James Madison, and Hofstra — would be an unsurprising champion.

Favorite: William & Mary. The Tribe, looking for their first NCAA Tournament appearance ever, went 7-1 against those other four top-five seeds in the regular season, though they also got swept by Delaware and lost to quarterfinal opponent Elon.

Bid thieves: None.

Bubble trouble? None. William & Mary is probably the conference's most ambitious and accomplished team in non-conference play, at least in terms of strength of schedule ... and its best win was over Wofford. Northeastern and James Madison both beat Colonial defector Richmond, which is cool, I guess. No at-larges are coming from the CAA this year.

Automatic bid: Northeastern.

Conference USA

What, when, and where: The Conference USA (C-USA) Tournament begins Wednesday in Birmingham and runs through Saturday.

Update, March 12: FIU got a prayer answered in its win over UTSA, Middle Tennessee beat Charlotte by three, Western Kentucky handled Marshall, and Rice destroyed North Texas.

Update, March 13: UTEP, Middle Tennessee, UAB, and Louisiana Tech all made Friday's semifinals, with the Blue Raiders knocking off Old Dominion and consigning the Monarchs to the NIT.

Update, March 15: At least one nice thing happened for UAB sports this year: After a tumultuous fall that produced the likely shutdown of their football brethren, the Blazers of the hardwood finished a dramatic C-USA Tournament run in style, thumping Middle Tennessee by 13 after winning by one and in overtime in their first two games. This will be the Blazers' first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.

Contenders: Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion, and UTEP. The league's only three KenPom top 100 clubs.

Favorite: Old Dominion. Yes, the Monarchs are the No. 2 seed and playing very far from the Commonwealth, but they also have the best KenPom numbers in the league, beat Louisiana Tech in the teams' only regular season meeting, and got wins over VCU, LSU, and Richmond in non-conference play.

Bid thieves: Old Dominion's the only team that could plausibly make the NCAA Tournament on its own steam, but don't bet on it unless the Monarchs get to the final and lose a close one, and thus don't worry too much about a two-bid C-USA.

Bubble trouble? See above.

Automatic bid: UAB.

Horizon League

What, when, and where: The Horizon League Tournament has been running since Tuesday, and its bizarre structure has brought teams to Valparaiso for Friday's quarterfinal action and Saturday's semifinal — but the champion may or may not be crowned on Tuesday on the Crusaders' floor, depending on whether they make it to the final. The Horizon final could be played at Green Bay or Cleveland State, depending on Saturday's results.

Update, March 8: It'll be a clash of the titans in the Horizon League final: Valparaiso and Green Bay each earned spots in a Tuesday final to be played at Valpo with semifinal wins on Saturday.

Update, March 11: Valparaiso will be dancing again, and for the second time under Bryce Drew (reminder: you're old), after a 19-5 run to finish off Green Bay in the Horizon final on Tuesday. (It's hard not to feel bad Keifer Sykes and Green Bay: A year after being one of the nation's best mid-majors and losing in the first round of the Horizon tournament, the Phoenix were again one of the nation's best mid-majors, and lost in the final — and to a slightly better team.)

Contenders: Valparaiso and Green Bay. The Phoenix were one of the mid-major darlings left out of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and returned scorer extraordinaire Keifer Sykes from that squad, so many thought they would be the league's best team again — except Valpo won the regular season title and was almost as good on a per-possession basis this season. The two teams exchanged road victories in their season series.

Favorite: Green Bay. When in doubt in college basketball, I'll lean to the team with the best player, and Sykes, who has NBA aspirations, is slightly better in my book than Valpo's fantastic Alec Peters, a dead-eyed combo forward.

Bid thieves: None.

Bubble trouble? Minimal. Valpo's best win all year? Murray State. Green Bay's? Miami. So, uh, yeah.

Automatic bid: Valparaiso.

Ivy League

What, when, and where: The Ivy League's automatic NCAA Tournament bid, the only one awarded to a regular season champion, will be either earned or put up for grabs in a one-game playoff this Saturday. Yale can take it outright with a victory over Dartmouth, while a Yale loss would allow Harvard to force a playoff with a win over Brown.

Update, March 8: And, yea, verily, did that come to pass. Harvard pasted Brown early Saturday night, and then Yalestumbled down the stretch in a heartbreaking loss to Dartmouth. The two teams will meet on March 14 in a winner-take-the-ticket game at the Palestra.

Update, March 15: One of Saturday's most pulse-quickening games happened in the Palestra, and Harvard came out on top of its see-saw battle with Yale on the basis of a Steve Mondou-Missi jumper with seven seconds remaining.

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

Favorite: Yale. The Crimson have the better rep, but the Bulldogs are the highest-ranked Ivy in KenPom, and strangulated the two-time defending league champions in a 62-52 win on Friday night in Cambridge. Beating Dartmouth, a team Yale thumped by 15 in New Haven, is a low bar for the Elis.

Bid thieves: None. The Ivy does, to its credit, usually send its best team dancing.

Bubble trouble? None. Both Harvard (by virtue of a brutal loss to Virginia, and a loss to Holy Cross) and Yale (a brutal loss to Florida and losses to Quinnipiac and NJIT) failed to do the work necessary to build legitimate NCAA Tournament c.v.s before conference play began.

Automatic bid: Harvard.


What, when, and where: The Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament begins on Monday and runs through Saturday in Cleveland. The conference's strange tournament structure heavily favors the top four seeds, who get double byes — and, in the case of the top two seeds, triple byes to the semifinals. A team playing in Monday's first round would have to win five games in six days to make the NCAA Tournament; Central Michigan and Buffalo have to win only two in two days.

Update, March 10: Akron, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, and Western Michigan moved on in first round action on Monday.

Update, March 12: Eastern Michigan and Akron took second-round victories as lower-seeded teams, setting up potentially huge upsets on Thursday as hot underdogs take on rested favorites.

Update, March 13: Toledo and Akron each won, keeping alive the Zips' prayers of making the NCAA Tournament with five wins in six days. Now they just have to beat Buffalo!

Update, March 15: Let's have a toast for Buffalo, which will be playing in its first NCAA Tournament ever after making good on the benefits of the No. 2 seed and holding off Central Michigan in a high-scoring MAC Tournament final on Saturday. Now, if only the Bulls could get matched up with Duke for the obnoxious "Coach K vs. Bobby Hurley!" storyline...

Contenders: Buffalo has been the conference's best team, and probably doesn't mind being the No. 2 seed: That means the Bulls are in line to see Toledo in the semifinals, rather than more than one of the triumvirate of Bowling Green, Toledo, and Central Michigan — ranked Nos. 86-88 in KenPom as of March 9 — before the final.

Favorite: Buffalo. The Bulls have neither the conference's best offense (that's Central Michigan) or best defense (Bowling Green), but they aren't far off on each count, and they do have Justin Moss, who helped Bobby Hurley's team (yes, you're old) to its highest-ever finish in KenPom at the end of a regular season.

Bid thieves: That said, not even Buffalo is headed to the Tournament without an auto-bid.

Bubble trouble? So bubble teams' fans can watch this tournament in bliss.

Automatic bid: Buffalo.


What, when, and where: The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Tournament begins on Monday and runs through Saturday in Norfolk.

Update, March 10: Delaware State and Hampton advanced in MEAC Tournament first round action on Monday, leaving Coppin State and North Carolina A&T as the last two MEAC teams that could make the NCAA Tournament despite having single-digit wins in the regular season.

Update, March 11: Coppin State and South Carolina State each won first round games on Tuesday, and that means Coppin State can still make the Big Dance without winning 10 games in the regular season. (I will run this fact into the ground.)

Update, March 12: Norfolk State beat South Carolina State by 14 in its home city. North Carolina Central more than doubled up Coppin State in a 91-43 shellacking. You know, in case you were wondering about whether the Eagles would be focused.

Update, March 13: Hampton and Delaware State finished the quarterfinals with twin five-point wins on Thursday.

Update, March 15: Hampton scored 50 points in the second half on Saturday to down Delaware State, and finish a run of five consecutive wins by the lower-seeded team to complete the MEAC Tournament. The Pirates' takedown of the Hornets wasn't quite the shocker that Delaware State's upset of N.C. Central on Friday was, but dancers make no apologies.

Contenders: North Carolina Central — N.C. Central if you're nasty — went undefeated in conference play, has a chance to be the second MEAC team ever to finish in the KenPom top 100 (after, uh, last year's N.C. Central team), and has lost one game to a team outside a power conference (East Tennessee State) this year. I guess Norfolk State and Maryland Eastern Shore are both technically contenders, but the Eagles beat both on their home floors, so, uh, Norfolk State's home-court advantage already hasn't worked once.

Favorite: North Carolina Central. Come on.

Bid thieves: The day a MEAC team can make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large may never come.

Bubble trouble? And so there will be no bubbles popped here.

Automatic bid: Hampton.

Metro Atlantic

What, when, and where: The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament has been running since Thursday, and will run through Monday, in Albany.

Update, March 8: Iona, Monmouth, St. Peter's, and Manhattan all moved on in quarterfinal play, with St. Peter's knocking off Rider and Iona winning a closer-than-expected game against Siena.

Update, March 9: After comfortable double-digit wins over Monmouth and St. Peter's, respectively, Iona and Manhattan will meet for the MAAC's auto-bid on Monday. It's the first time the league's last two NCAA Tournament participants have met in a final since 2000.

Update, March 10: It turns out that spraying and praying doesn't always work: Iona shot under 40 percent from the field and under 25 percent from three (where it has made 40 percent of its shots this year) and Manhattan's Ashton Pankey scored 10 of his 21 points in a game-closing 15-6 run that earned the Jaspers a 79-69 win and a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Contenders: Iona and Rider. The Gaels are fun as hell and have one of the nation's best offenses; the Broncs have the league's best defense, which has allowed a pretty stingy 0.94 points per possession in conference play.

Favorite: Iona. 2-0 against Rider and 2-0 against No. 3 seed Manhattan, so that's a good sign, but the Gaels have struggled with No. 4 seed Monmouth and No. 5 seed Canisius, so look out on Sunday if Iona gets past Siena, as it should.

Bid thieves: Iona is fun enough to deserve the New York Times writeup it (and coach Tim Cluess) recently got, but not good enough to be in line for a dance ticket.

Bubble trouble? Minimal. Iona's best win is over Wake Forest. Wake Forest is currently 5-12 in the ACC.

Automatic bid: Manhattan.

Missouri Valley

What, when, and where: The Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament, affectionately branded as "Arch Madness," has been running since Thursday in St. Louis, and will conclude on Sunday.

Update, March 8: The biggest (and, for bubble teams, most worrisome) upset of the conference tournament fortnight came Saturday in St. Louis, as Illinois State upended Wichita State to make the Arch Madness final. If the Redbirds can do the same to Northern Iowa in Sunday's championship game, the bubble will shrink by one team.

Update, March 9: Alas, after building a big lead early, Illinois State couldn't hold off Northern Iowa in the Arch Madness final, and the Panthers claimed the conference's automatic bid on Sunday. Bubble teams can breathe slightly easier now. (Slightly.)

Contenders: Wichita State and Northern Iowa. Both teams will make the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in St. Louis, and they're also head-and-shoulders above the rest of the conference.

Favorite: Wichita State. The Shockers and Panthers have traded blowout wins at home in their season series, but the Shockers were more dominant in conference play than they were while going undefeated last year, and will have slightly more rest entering Sunday's final if the two teams meet.

Bid thieves: No one is "stealing" anything from Wichita State and Northern Iowa, and they're not stealing anything from anyone.

Bubble trouble? Significant, in theory. Illinois State or Loyola of Chicago winning the Missouri Valley's automatic bid will shrink the at-large pool by one spot.

Automatic bid: Northern Iowa.

Mountain West

What, when, and where: The Mountain West Conference (MWC) Tournament slides in right after the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas and runs from Wednesday to Saturday.

Update, March 12: Air Force topped New Mexico to open the MWC Tournament.

Update, March 13: Boise State, Wyoming, San Diego State, and Colorado State all won, giving the MWC four semifinalists with at least 23 wins on the season.

Update, March 15: Wyoming topped San Diego State by a tidy 45-43 score in Saturday's final to make the Big Dance for the first time since 2002, and the first time with an automatic bid since 1988.

Contenders: Boise State and San Diego State. Any other winner would be a stunner: Both teams rank in the KenPom top 40, and the Broncos have just one loss since the second week of January, while the Aztecs' only losses since January are to Boise State.

Favorite: Boise State. That 2-0 record against the Aztecs looks pretty good right now, but the Broncos also have Derrick Marks, by far the conference's best player.

Bid thieves: This requires teams being in line to receive bids not winning the conference title.

Bubble trouble? Nope. Boise State's best non-con win? Saint Mary's. San Diego State's record is better, but a big win over Utah gets cancelled out by a loss to Fresno State, and wins over BYU and Pittsburgh don't look as good now as they did back then. For both teams, it's do-or-don't dance this week.

Update, March 15: Here is how soft this year's bubble is: I thought Boise State and San Diego State were pretty well screwed if they didn't win the MWC title, but those two teams and Colorado State should all be in the field after a week of eggs laid by major-conference teams. In truth, I screwed up, but at least one of Boise State and Colorado State was likely saved by blown chances by bigger teams.

Automatic bid: Wyoming.


What, when, and where: The Northeast Conference (NEC) Tournament began on Wednesday at campus sites, and now continues at them on Saturday before concluding at the higher seed on Tuesday.

Update, March 8: It'll be St. Francis (New York) hosting Robert Morris for the NEC title on Tuesday. Both teams breezed through their semifinals with double-digit wins on Saturday.

Update, March 11: St. Francis of New York will have to wait another year, at least, to make the NCAA Tournament: Robert Morris downed the Terriers in Tuesday's Northeast final, and will be making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010.

Contenders: St. Francis (New York) and Robert Morris. They're the two best teams left, and they're playing at home. It's easy.

Favorite: St. Francis (New York). The Terriers started 2014-15 0-5 and have gone 22-5 since, running off a 15-3 record in conference play.

Bid thieves: Nope.

Bubble trouble? Nada.

Automatic bid: Robert Morris.

Ohio Valley

What, when, and where: The Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) Tournament has been running since Wednesday in Nashville, with No. 1 seed Murray State coming back against Morehead State on Friday to make Saturday's final and No. 3 seed Belmont winning twice — once by scoring 97 points, once by scoring 53 — to earn the right to meet the Racers. The final tips at 7 p.m. this Saturday in Nashville.

Update, March 8: After one of the best games anyone will play in March, Belmont is headed to the Big Dance — and Murray State is heartbroken. An ice-cold three with three seconds to play lifted the Bruins over the Racers in an 88-86 thriller on Saturday night, and gave Rick Byrd's team its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in the five years.

Contenders: Murray State, Eastern Kentucky, and Belmont were the three predictable threats, and the Racers have both the conference's best player (NBA-ready dynamo Cameron Payne) and the league's best per-possession offense and defense.

Favorite: Murray State. Re-read that last paragraph, and also factor in that Murray State hasn't lost an Ohio Valley game this year — or a basketball game since November. The Racers hold the nation's longest non-Kentucky win streak.

Bid thieves: Belmont could steal one from Murray State, I suppose.

Bubble trouble? Minimal. Despite its gaudy record, Murray State would have long odds to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large participant. In starting the season 2-4, the Racers lost to Xavier by 27 and Valparaiso by 35, and their best win all year came against Illinois State — which won't make the NCAA Tournament without upsetting both Wichita State and Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley tournament, it would seem. It's do-or-don't-dance for both teams on Saturday night.

Automatic bid: Belmont.


What, when, and where: The Pac-12 Tournament runs concurrently with the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas from March 11 to March 14. (Games are played at different sites.)

Update, March 12: Cal dropped Washington State in the matinee (which began at noon in Las Vegas), and in the nightcap, Stanford escaped Washington with a 7-0 run punctuated by a Chasson Randle three with seven seconds to play to keep its NCAA Tournament dream breathing.

Update, March 13: Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, and Utah all won as favorites, and only Oregon did it in a remotely close game: The Ducks downed Colorado ... by eight.

Update, March 15: Arizona might be ready for the NCAA Tournament: A 28-point demolition of Oregon in Saturday's Pac-12 Tournament final was the Wildcats' fourth win by at least 22 points in their last five games, and would have Sean Miller's team in line for a No. 1 seed in a world where the Selection Committee wasn't so beholden to RPI.

Contenders: Arizona, Utah, and maybe Oregon. All three teams will make the NCAA Tournament, assuredly, but Arizona and Utah have been the league's two best teams all year ... except for the last two weeks, when Oregon has heated up and Utah has cooled.

Favorite: Arizona. The Wildcats might be the nation's best team other than those other Wildcats.

Bid thieves: Stanford and UCLA will have a tough go of it in Vegas, because Arizona looms as a semifinal foe for UCLA and Utah blocks Stanford's path, but a run to the final by the Cardinal, with the necessary win over Utah, should be enough to make the Pac-12 a four-bid league, and UCLA winning it all would definitely do the same.

Bubble trouble? Oregon beat Utah and played its way off the bubble as a result, but Stanford is within striking distance of the field, and UCLA is good enough on its best days to get the wins necessary to win this tournament, though stringing three of those best days together seems unlikely.

Update, March 13: Stanford's c.v. is now complete, and given how static the bubble has been, losing in the quarters feels like a real missed chance for the Cardinal. Meanwhile, UCLA, thought dead as recently as a week ago, can almost assure itself of a dance ticket with a Friday win over Arizona.

Automatic bid: Arizona.

Patriot League

What, when, and where: The Patriot League Tournament began on Tuesday, continued Thursday, will resume Sunday, and ends on Wednesday, March 11. Believe it or not, it's played entirely at campus sites

Update, March 9: It'll be Lafayette and American playing for NCAA Tournament glory on Wednesday, after the Leopards upset Bucknell and the Eagles brushed Colgate in Sunday semifinal action. Neither team had a winning record in conference, but Lafayette will host by virtue of its 9-9 mark.

Update, March 12: Lafayette's 65-63 win over American on Wednesday earned the Leopards the Patriot League's NCAA Tournament berth for the first time since 2000. The fourth-seeded Leopards are now the lowest-seeded team to win the Patriot League Tournament.

Contenders: Bucknell and Colgate, the only two Patriot League teams in the KenPom top 200.

Favorite: Bucknell. The Bison have the No. 1 seed and the home-court advantage that comes with it.

Bid thieves: No.

Bubble trouble? Nyet.

Automatic bid: Lafayette.


What, when, and where: The Southern Conference (SoCon) Tournament began on Friday and will continue through Monday in Asheville, North Carolina.

Update, March 8: Wofford and Mercer won, as expected, but so did Western Carolina and Furman, which got its 10th win of the season by taking down Chattanooga. If they win their semifinals, as they'll be favored to do, neither the Terriers or Bears would face a team with a winning record before the final.

Update, March 9: All Wofford has to do to make the NCAA Tournament is beat 11-21 Furman on Monday in the SoCon Tournament final. Easy, right? I mean, Wofford did beat Furman in the last game of the regular season ... by two.

Update, March 10: With 5:38 to play in the SoCon Tournament final, Furman was up two points and poised to become an NCAA Tournament team with a 12-21 record. Then Wofford finished the game on a 9-4 run and swiped the dance ticket from the Paladins. Maybe next year, the really hot team with a losing record will beat the better one!

Contenders: Wofford, Chattanooga, and Mercer. The class of the SoCon.

Favorite: Wofford. The Terriers are good enough for an NCAA Tournament upset, and lost twice in conference play.

Bid thieves: Arguably, any team that isn't Wofford would be purloining a ticket.

Bubble trouble? None.

Automatic bid: Wofford.


What, when, and where: The Southland Conference Tournament begins on Wednesday and runs through Saturday in Katy, Texas.

Update, March 12: McNeese State and New Orleans took first-round Ws on Wednesday.

Update, March 13: Northwestern State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi each advanced in Thursday's second round action.

Update, March 15: It wasn't totally pretty, but Stephen F. Austin will be dancing again, after a 13-point win over Sam Houston State in the Southland final.

Contenders: Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State. The Lumberjacks and Bearkats only need to win two games to put on their dancing shoes.

Favorite: Stephen F. Austin. The league's defending champions won an NCAA Tournament game last year, and might be better this year: They've won 26 of 27 games since Thanksgiving, dropped their three non-conference games to Northern Iowa, Xavier, and Baylor, and can press with the best of them.

Bid thieves: Any team that isn't SFA would be pilfering the Lumberjacks' spot.

Bubble trouble? Nada.

Automatic bid: Stephen F. Austin.

The Summit League

What, when, and where: Yes, it's really called The Summit League; the The Summit League Tournament begins on Saturday and runs through Tuesday, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Update, March 8: South Dakota State and North Dakota State won easily in quarterfinal action on Saturday.

Update, March 9: South Dakota and Oral Roberts each won Sunday to set up Monday semifinals.

Update, March 10: South Dakota State won the Badlands State semifinal on Monday, and will take on North Dakota State on Tuesday in the Summit's tournament final.

Update, March 11: South Dakota State was the Summit's best team this year — and because of a loss by a single point to North Dakota State in the Summit final, it's the Bison that will be dancing, not the Jackrabbits, who missed a layup and a three in the game's final 10 seconds. March is cruel.

Contenders: South Dakota State is the league's only team in the KenPom top 150, and had the conference's best offense and defense in conference play. It's also lost just twice since Jan. 4. Calling North Dakota State and Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne contenders when both took games from the Jackrabbits at home and got mashed out in Brookings feels charitable.

Favorite: South Dakota State. See above.

Bid thieves: Not at the summit of The Summit.

Bubble trouble? Not happening.

Automatic bid: North Dakota State.


What, when, and where: The Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC) Tournament begins on Tuesday and runs through Saturday in Houston.

Update, March 11: Alcorn State beat Grambling State in first round action on Tuesday, meaning that the worst team in Division I — by pretty much any metric — won't be making the NCAA Tournament.

Update, March 12: Alabama State may just make the SWAC's NCAA Tournament delegate a team other than its champion. The Hornets swarmed Mississippi Valley State in a 12-point win, while Texas Southern blasted Alcorn State by 21. Both teams won't play again until Saturday, but both look destined for a potentially awkward final.

Update, March 13: Southern and Prairie View A&M won Thursday to set up Friday's semifinals.

Update, March 15: Texas Southern's year of hard living paid off on Saturday, as the Tigers took the SWAC's auto-bid with a win over Southern in the SWAC Tournament final.

Contenders: Texas Southern and Alabama State. The only two SWAC teams with winning records on the year — no SWAC team had more than four non-conference wins, thanks to the conference's teams largely funding their athletic departments through guarantee games — are the league's best and second-best teams by a significant margin. One problem: Alabama State is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament because of APR issues, so even if the Hornets win the title, the furthest-advancing eligible team will take the dance ticket.

Favorite: Texas Southern. The Tigers, coached by former Indiana head man Mike Davis, went 16-2 in conference, and beat Michigan State and Kansas State on the road in non-conference play — while also cutting their teeth on the road against Gonzaga, Baylor, SMU, Florida, and Indiana. Oh, and Texas Southern is in Houston, while only one other SWAC school (Prairie View A&M) is in Texas, so home-court advantage is plausible.

Bid thieves: Technically, if Alabama State (or Southern, also Tourney-ineligible) wins the SWAC tourney, a non-champion team will be "stealing" a bid.

Bubble trouble? Never gonna happen in the SWAC.

Automatic bid: Texas Southern.


What, when, and where: The Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Tournament begins on Thursday and runs through Saturday in Las Vegas, because why spend more than three days in Vegas, right?

Update, March 13: Cal State Bakersfield, UMKC, and Seattle all won in Thursday quarterfinals.

Update, March 15: New Mexico State will once again be dancing, with Marvin Menzies's stellar squad trashing Seattle by 17 in the WAC Tournament final.

Contenders: New Mexico State, and New Mexico State. The Aggies are No. 93 in KenPom, and the next-best WAC team is Seattle, which is No. 259. It's the largest drop from first to second in the country.

Favorite: New Mexico State. Even without the titanic Sim Bhullar, the Aggies have a significant height advantage on the rest of the league, and use it to batter their opponents on the offensive boards.

Bid thieves: Ha.

Bubble trouble? Haha.

Automatic bid: New Mexico State.

West Coast

What, when, and where: The West Coach Conference (WCC) Tournament began on Friday in Las Vegas and will continue through Tuesday.

Update, March 8: Well saved, BYU. The Cougars needed a last-second shot by Tyler Haws to hold off Santa Clara in Saturday night's latest game, but that win probably keeps them on the right side of the bubble even with a WCC semifinal loss. Also helpful: The Pepperdine team that beat BYU twice this season is on the other side of the bracket, taking on Gonzaga, while BYU gets to meet Portland, which upset Saint Mary's on Saturday. (Note: Games won't be played Sunday out of deference to BYU, so the tournament resumes Monday.)

Update, March 10: Remember when BYU was on the wrong side of the bubble? Not so much right now: The Cougars made the WCC final by thumping Portland (and Kyle Collinsworth had his sixth triple-double of the year, extending his Division I record and tying the NCAA career record), and will get another shot at Gonzaga (playing in its 18th straight WCC final) on Tuesday night.

Update, March 11: Gonzaga got a comfortable win in the WCC final on Tuesday, leading for the entire second half before building the lopsided margin of victory in the 91-75 triumph with free throws late. It's probably not going to push BYU out of the NCAA Tournament, but it doesn't help.

Contenders: Gonzaga and BYU. The Zags are Final Four-caliber, but BYU is streaking, just beat Gonzaga, and needs wins more desperately.

Favorite: Gonzaga. Being good is better than being hot.

Bid thieves: Saint Mary's could steal a bid by winning the WCC Tournament, but there's very little chance the Gaels go dancing without that.

Bubble trouble? Saint Mary's or any other team that isn't Gonzaga or BYU winning out in Vegas would mean another bubble team's fortunes will turn up snake eyes. BYU's also just close enough to the bubble that a first-round loss could spell trouble.

Update, March 11: BYU's loss in the WCC final doesn't knock the Cougars out of Chris Dobbertean's bracket projection.

Automatic bid: Gonzaga.