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March 4, 2011

Big 12
When: March 9-12
Where: Kansas City, Mo.
TV for final: 6 p.m., ESPN
Regular-season champ: Kansas
Format: All 12 teams qualify. The top four seeds get byes into the second round.
Projected NCAA bids: 5-6
The buzz: Kansas won the regular-season crown by a game over Texas, with Kansas State and Texas A&M another three games back in a tie for third. That quartet and sixth-seeded Missouri are NCAA locks; fifth-seeded Colorado, seventh-seeded Baylor and eighth-seeded Nebraska have at least faint at-large pulses. For Colorado to have a legit hope on Selection Sunday, the Buffs must get to at least the tourney semifinals, which means beating Iowa State in the first round and fourth-seeded K-State in a quarterfinal. The Buffs swept K-State and split with Iowa State in the regular season; a third victory over K-State certainly would get the selection committee's attention. Baylor and Nebraska probably have to get to the tourney final. For Baylor, that means beating Oklahoma in the first round, Texas in a quarterfinal, then probably either Mizzou or third-seeded A&M in a semifinal. For Nebraska, that means beating No. 9 Oklahoma State in the first round, Kansas in a quarterfinal, then probably either K-State or Colorado in a semifinal. One thing to remember about the bubble teams, though, is their fate also is tied to how bubble teams in other leagues fare. Kansas remains in the running for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney, while Texas likely would nab a No. 2 if it wins this tourney. K-State, A&M and Mizzou also are playing for NCAA seeding.
The pick: Kansas
Conference USA
When: March 9-12
Where: El Paso, Texas
TV for final: 11:30 a.m., CBS
Regular-season champ: UAB
Format: All 12 teams qualify. The top four seeds get byes into the second round.
Projected NCAA bids: 1-2
The buzz: This is one of the more interesting league tournaments. Five league teams are in the top 60 of the RPI, prime bubble-team territory. That quintet has a combined 12 wins over top-50 opponents -- but only two of those are against non-conference foes. Plus, five of the 12 wins are against Marshall, which is 50th in the RPI. UAB won the regular-season title by a game over Tulsa and UTEP, which is hosting the tourney. Fourth-seeded Memphis was another game back, while Marshall and Southern Miss were a game behind Memphis. UAB obviously has the regular-season title as a feather in its at-large caps. It also has three top-50 wins -- but two are against No. 50 Marshall and the other is against No. 49 VCU. It also played a mediocre non-conference schedule (ranking of 164th). UTEP's non-conference schedule was even worse (168th), while Memphis' ranked 119th. None of these teams have a legit at-large shot unless they get to the tourney final. The mantra for these teams, then, should be, "Win and we're in. That's all that matters." For a dark horse, keep an eye on ninth-seeded UCF. The Knights opened 14-0, including a neutral-court win over Florida, and moved into the top 25. But they hit the skids once league play started and finished 6-10 in conference action. But they beat Marshall, UTEP, Southern Miss and Tulsa and lost twice to UAB by a total of 10 points. The home court may determine the titlist; UTEP is 16-2 at home this season, including 7-1 in league play (the loss was to UCF). The Miners' one regular-season game against UAB was a three-overtime loss in Birmingham.
The pick: UTEP
Mountain West
When: March 9-12
Where: Las Vegas
TV for final: 7 p.m., Versus
Regular-season champ: BYU
Format: All 9 teams qualify. The Nos. 8 and 9 seeds meet in a "play-in game"
Projected NCAA bids: 3-4
The buzz: BYU and San Diego State tied for the regular-season crown, but BYU is the No. 1 seed because it swept the season series. Those two are NCAA locks, as is third-seeded UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels are the tourney host, but they're just 5-3 at home in league play this season. The tourney is huge for Colorado State, which has a shot at an NCAA at-large bid if it can advance to the final. To do that, though, the Rams would have to beat fifth-seeded New Mexico in a quarterfinal, then BYU in a semifinal. The Rams were 1-3 against those two teams this season, with the win coming at home against New Mexico. BYU, San Diego State and UNLV are playing for NCAA seeding. It will be interesting to see how the Cougars fare without F Brandon Davies, who has been suspended for the rest of the season for violating the school's honor code. BYU was whipped by New Mexico at home in its first game without Davies, then mauled eighth-seeded Wyoming to conclude the regular season. Both of BYU's league losses came to New Mexico, which is a possible semifinal opponent.
The pick: San Diego State
When: March 9-12
Where: Los Angeles
TV for final: 6 p.m., CBS
Regular-season champ: Arizona
Format: All 10 teams qualify. The top six seeds get byes into the second round, and the No. 7 seed plays the No. 10 and the No. 8 plays the No. 9 in the first round.
Projected NCAA bids: 2-4
The buzz: This should be one of the more interesting league tournaments. Arizona won the regular-season title by a game over UCLA, and those teams look like NCAA locks and are playing for seeding. That's where it gets interesting, as, in order of the likelihood of an NCAA bid, Washington, fourth-seeded USC and sixth-seeded Washington State have at-large hopes. Washington is seeded third and swept UCLA and split with Arizona, with the loss coming by one in Tucson. But the Huskies also split with USC and were swept by archrival Washington State. Washington's first opponent in this tourney? It's Washington State in a Thursday quarterfinal. The Cougars were swept by Arizona and UCLA and split with USC. The Trojans have lost 13 games, but they own resume-boosting wins over Tennessee and Texas and split with Arizona and UCLA, as well as Washington and Washington State. The win over Arizona came by eight at home on Feb. 24. If USC gets past California in a quarterfinal (those teams split, as well),the Trojans likely would get Arizona in a semifinal. If Washington gets past Washington State on Thursday, the Huskies probably get an at-large bid. USC and Washington State likely need to get to the tourney final to truly feel good about their at-large chances.
The pick: USC
When: March 9-10, 12
Where: Katy, Texas
TV for final: 4 p.m., ESPN2
Regular-season champ: McNeese State
Format: The top eight teams regardless of division qualify.
Projected NCAA bids: 1
The buzz: Eight of the league's 12 teams made the tourney, and each of the eight was at least .500 in the league. McNeese State won the regular season by a game over second-seeded Northwestern State (La.), third-seeded Sam Houston State and fourth-seeded Texas State (eighth-seeded Nicholls State was just three games back). McNeese State was 3-1 against that top group, with the loss to Northwestern State. But McNeese was swept by fifth-seeded Southeastern Louisiana. Defending tourney champ Sam Houston State comes in having won eight of 10, with the losses to McNeese and Northwestern State. Texas State was in first place until it lost its final two regular-season games, including an 11-point loss to Lamar, which didn't even make the tourney.
The pick: Sam Houston State
Southwestern Athletic
When: March 9-12
Where: Garland, Texas
TV for final: 8:30 p.m., ESPNU
Regular-season champ: Texas Southern
Format: The top eight teams qualify.
Projected NCAA bids: 1
The buzz: Texas Southern won the regular-season title by four games. The Tigers played just one of their first 14 games at home, yet still finished the regular season at 18-11, including 16-2 in league play. Preseason favorite Jackson State is seeded second; Texas Southern swept the season series but by just seven total points. Those are the only two league teams that are better than .500 overall. Keep an eye on fourth-seeded Alabama State, which has won eight of its past nine, including a 12-point victory over Texas Southern. Sixth-seeded Grambling also caught fire late; the Tigers come in having won seven of nine. But Alabama State is just 14-17 overall, while Grambling is 10-20.
The pick: Texas Southern
Western Athletic
When: March 9-12
Where: Las Vegas
TV for final: 10 p.m., ESPN2
Regular-season champ: Utah State
Format: The top eight teams qualify. The No. 1 and 2 seeds get byes into the semifinals. The No. 3 and 4 seeds get byes into the second round. The No. 5 seed plays the No. 8 and the No. 6 plays the No. 7 in the first round.
Projected NCAA bids: 1-2
The buzz: Utah State cruised to the regular-season title, winning by five games. The Aggies have lost just once since Dec. 4, at Idaho by eight on Feb. 9. The flipside, though, is that they have just one top-50 win and two top-100 wins, which means their shot at an at-large bid would rest largely on the kindness of strangers. To have any shot at the at-large bid almost certainly would require Utah State getting to the tourney final. Second-seeded Boise State has won seven in a row, but the Broncos' two losses to Utah State this season came by a combined 37 points. Indeed, just five of Utah State's 15 conference victories came by fewer than 10 points. Fourth-seeded Idaho also was hot down the stretch, winning six of its past eight, including the Utah State upset. Still, it would be stunning if anyone other than Utah State won this tournament.
The pick: Utah State
WHEN: March 10-13
WHERE: Greensboro, N.C.
TV FOR FINAL: 1 p.m., ACC syndication/ESPN
FORMAT: All 12 teams qualify. The top four seeds get first-round byes.
THE BUZZ: North Carolina won the regular-season title by a game over Duke, but the league is such this season that they are the only league schools that - as of now - aren't worried at all about an NCAA bid. Those teams are playing for NCAA seeding. Florida State finished third, but the Seminoles have just two top-50 wins and a quarterfinal loss in this tourney would mean the selection committee would look much closer at the Seminoles. Still, they likely are going to get in, though not necessarily with the seeding usually associated with the third-place finisher from the ACC. Then things get interesting. Fourth-seeded Clemson, fifth-seeded Boston College and sixth-seeded Virginia Tech are in the at-large hunt. BC has the best RPI of the trio by a good margin (44th, to Clemson's 59th and Virginia Tech's 64th). Plus, BC owns a neutral-court win over Texas A&M and swept Virginia Tech. Clemson beat BC in their only head-to-head matchup and beat Tech in their only head-to-head matchup. But the Tigers also have three bad losses and don't have a marquee win. As for Virginia Tech, it was swept by BC, lost to Clemson, was swept by Virginia and also split with 11th-seeded Georgia Tech. But the Hokies have the best win among this ACC at-large trio, with a home-court upset of Duke. BC looks to be in OK shape as long as it avoids a first-round loss to 12th-seeded Wake Forest. BC would get Clemson in the second round and would wrap up a bid with a victory over the Tigers. On the other hand, Clemson needs a win over BC to feel good about its chances, and in that scenario, BC would be sweating Sunday if it was swept this season by Clemson. Virginia Tech seemingly needs to beat Georgia Tech in the first round, then upset FSU in a quarterfinal to have a realistic shot at a bid.
WHEN: March 10-13
WHERE: Indianapolis
TV FOR FINAL: 3:30 p.m., CBS
FORMAT: All 11 teams qualify. The top five seeds get byes into the second round.
THE BUZZ: Ohio State won the regular-season title by two games over Purdue, with Wisconsin another game back in third. Those three are NCAA locks, with Ohio State in line for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney and Purdue and Wisconsin playing for No. 2 or 3 seeds. Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State were part of a four-way tie for fourth with Penn State. Illinois looks OK for a bid, while Michigan, Michigan State and especially Penn State have some work to do. Penn State has to get to the tourney final to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid; that seems unlikely. Michigan State must avoid a first-round loss to Iowa to keep its hopes alive. But the Spartans' second-round game would be against Purdue. Yikes. Michigan swept Michigan State during the regular season and thus would seem to be above the Spartans in the at-large pecking order. But the Wolverines have Illinois in their first game, and while the Illini look OK for a bid, a win over the Wolverines would remove any doubt. A win for Michigan likely would remove any doubt, too. Ohio State almost certainly awaits the Illinois-Michigan winner.
THE PICK: Ohio State
WHEN: March 10-12
WHERE: Anaheim, Calif.
FORMAT: The top eight teams qualify.
THE BUZZ: Long Beach State won the regular-season title by four games over Cal Poly, and the 49ers (an RPI of 90th) are the only league team whose RPI is better than 181st. Interestingly, one of the 49ers' two league losses was to eighth-seeded UC Irvine - which is their opponent in the tourney's first round. Long Beach's other league loss came to sixth-seeded Cal State Fullerton. Still, the team the 49ers probably fear most is fourth-seeded Pacific, which lost two one-point games to Long Beach during the regular season and could play them in a semifinal. But Pacific enters this tourney having lost four of its past five.
THE PICK: Long Beach State.
WHEN: March 10-13
WHERE: Atlanta
FORMAT: All 12 teams qualify. The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds from each division get byes into the second round.
THE BUZZ: Florida won the SEC East by three games over Kentucky and won the overall title by a game over Alabama, which won the West by three games over Mississippi State. Florida, Kentucky and Vanderbilt are NCAA locks and playing for seeding; Florida almost certainly would get a No. 3 should it double-up and win the SEC tourney title. Tennessee has played a monster schedule and has eight top-50 wins, including a neutral-court win over Pitt; that should get the Vols in, though they have lost 13 times overall and have lost six of their past nine. As long as they don't lose to Arkansas in the first round, they should be OK; they would play Florida in the second round, and though they lost twice to the Gators, the losses came by a combined seven points, including a one-pointer in Gainesville. Georgia, which tied Vandy at 9-7 in the SEC East, has a good RPI (39th), has played a tough schedule and doesn't have any "bad" losses. But the Bulldogs also are shy on marquee wins and have just five top-100 victories. They have to beat Auburn in the first round to keep their at-large hopes alive. Then would come a meeting with Alabama in the second round - and this is where things get interesting. The Tide beat the Bulldogs on Saturday in the regular-season finale. A second win over Georgia in a span of six days seemingly would put them ahead of Georgia in the pecking order. But while the Bulldogs don't have any bad wins, the Tide do - three of them. Plus, they lost to Seton Hall and Saint Peter's, teams whose RPI is in the 90s. In addition, Alabama played a weak non-conference schedule and is 9-10 against teams in the RPI top-200 - which usually is a death knell to at-large hopes. If Georgia beats Alabama, there is no mystery: The Bulldogs get a bid. But if the Tide wins, things get intriguing. And if the Tide win twice to get to the tourney final, they definitely are going to get a bid.
THE PICK: Kentucky
WHEN: March 3, 5-6, 12
WHERE: Hartford, Conn.; final is at site of best remaining seed.
FORMAT: All nine teams qualify, with the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds meeting in a sort of play-in game.
THE BUZZ: Vermont, seeking its second consecutive NCAA bid and its fifth in nine seasons, won the regular-season title by a game over Boston U. But BU swept the season series, including a two-point overtime win at Vermont in Sunday's regular-season finale. That loss snapped Vermont's 10-game league winning streak. BU comes in on an eight-game winning streak. Third-seeded Maine finished three games behind Boston U., and the Black Bears come in on a free-fall, having lost seven of their past eight. A dark horse might be fourth-seeded Albany, which has won four of its past five. Vermont and BU are the only league teams whose RPI is better than 200th.
THE PICK: Vermont.
Atlantic 10
When: March 8, 11-13
Where: Atlantic City, N.J., with first-round games at campus sites.
TV for final: 1 p.m., CBS
Regular-season champ: Xavier
Format: The top 12 teams qualify, and the top four seeds get a first-round bye.
Projected NCAA bids: 2-3
The buzz: Xavier, which has made three consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, won the regular-season title by a game over Temple, with Richmond another game back in third. Xavier has won 16 of its past 17, and the one team it lost to in A-10 play (Charlotte) didn't make the tourney field. Xavier won by 11 at home against Temple in their only regular-season meeting. Temple's other league loss came to fourth-seeded Duquesne. Xavier and Temple are NCAA locks who are playing for seeding in this tourney, and third-seeded Richmond looks OK for a bid. Still, the Spiders don't want to lose their first tourney game (it will be against either Rhode Island or Saint Louis), and they can remove any NCAA doubt by advancing to the tourney final. Ninth-seeded Dayton has been the league's biggest disappointment; that the Flyers are seeded ninth in this league with their talent -- that's just not good. Fifth-seeded George Washington comes in having won seven of 10 -- but only one of those victories (over Rhode Island) came over a team that had a winning league record.
The pick: Xavier
Big East
When: March 8-12
Where: New York.
TV for final: 9 p.m., ESPN
Regular-season champ: Pittsburgh
Format: All 16 teams qualify. The top four seeds get a bye into the quarterfinals; seeds five through eight get a first-round bye.
Projected NCAA bids: 10-11
The buzz: Welcome to what should be the most competitive league tourney. Welcome, also, to one of the most anti-climactic league tourneys, as well. Ten league teams are NCAA locks -- Pitt, Notre Dame, Louisville, Syracuse, St. John's, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Connecticut and Villanova, who happen to be the teams seeded first through 10. No. 11 seed Marquette also has a legit shot at a bid; it needs to avoid a first-round tourney loss to Providence. If the Golden Eagles can do that, then beat WVU in the second round, go ahead and pencil Marquette into the field. There are some mighty intriguing potential matchups -- No. 8 Georgetown vs. No. 9 UConn in the second round, No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 5 St, John's (in the Garden, remember) in a quarterfinal, No. 1 Pitt vs. the Georgetown-UConn winner in a semifinal, No. 3 Louisville vs. the Marquette-WVU winner in a quarterfinal. In short, this promises to showcase a lot of great basketball. Pitt and Notre Dame have a shot at No. 1 NCAA seeds.
The pick: Notre Dame
WHEN: March 5, 8-9
WHERE: Campus sites in the first round; the regular-season champ hosts the semifinals and final.
FORMAT: The top six teams qualify, with the top two seeds getting byes into the semifinals. The "better" seed hosts in the first round. Portland State is ineligible for the tourney because of NCAA academic violations.
THE BUZZ: Northern Colorado won the regular-season title by a game over Montana, which means the Bears are guaranteed to play each of their league tourney games at home. The Bears are 10-0 on their home court this season, and they come in having won five in a row and eight of their past nine overall. Montana had a shot to tie for the title but lost its regular-season finale to Eastern Washington, which was 8-19 at the time. Eastern also beat third-seeded Weber State in the final week of the season. Northern Colorado and Montana split their season series, with each winning at home. A dark-horse pick is fourth-seeded Northern Arizona, which has won eight of its past 11. The Lumberjacks split with both Montana and Northern Colorado, with the losses coming by a total of four points.
THE PICK: Northern Colorado.
When: March 8, 10-12
Where: Cleveland, with first-round games at campus sites.
TV for final: 6 p.m., ESPN2
Regular-season champ: Kent State
Format: All 12 teams qualify. The division winners are the top two seeds. The rest of the teams are seeded by conference record, regardless of division. The first four seeds get byes into the second round.
Projected NCAA bids: 1
The buzz: The MAC is as mediocre as it has been in years; the league's RPI rank is 23rd, six spots behind the Atlantic Sun and three spots behind the Summit. Kent State won the regular-season title by a game over Miami and Western Michigan. Western benefits from playing in the West Division, which, quite simply, is horrible, with just two teams above .500 overall. Kent and Miami were a combined 11-1 against West Division team, and each of the bottom four seeds is a West Division squad. Fifth-seeded Ohio is the dark horse to watch; the Bobcats were the surprise winner of this tourney last season and come in having won seven of their past nine, including an OT win at Kent State.
The pick: Kent State
Mid-Eastern Athletic
When: March 8-12
Where: Winston-Salem, N.C.
TV for final: 2 p.m., ESPN2
Regular-season champ: Bethune-Cookman
Format: All 11 teams qualify. The top five seeds get byes into the second round.
Projected NCAA bids: 1
The buzz: Bethune-Cookman, which never has been to the NCAA tourney, won the regular-season title by two games. Prohibitive preseason favorite Morgan State, which has made two consecutive NCAA appearances, finished fourth. Bethune comes in having won seven in a row, with the last loss coming at home to Morgan State; indeed, each of the Wildcats' three league losses came at home. Bad news for second-seeded Hampton is that its first tourney foe likely will be seventh-seeded Florida A&M, which swept the Pirates this season. Despite a three-game losing streak to end the season that ended any regular-season title hopes, Morgan State remains dangerous. The Bears beat every league foe except sixth-seeded Norfolk State, which is in the other bracket.
The pick: Bethune-Cookman
WHEN: March 3, 6, 9
WHERE: Campus sites
FORMAT: The top eight teams qualify, and the "better" seeds host in each round. As a provisional member, Bryant is ineligible for the tourney.
THE BUZZ: Long Island, which hasn't been to the NCAAs since 1997, won the regular-season title by three games over Quinnipiac. The Blackbirds enter on a 10-game winning streak. Their last loss came Jan. 22 at St. Francis (Pa.) - which happens to the LIU's first-round opponent in the league tourney. LIU is 11-2 at home this season and is guaranteed to play every league tourney game on its home court. Quinnipiac has won six in a row and nine of 10, with the only loss in that span by 10 at LIU. Third-seeded Robert Morris also has won six in a row; the Colonials split with Long Island and lost their only meeting with Quinnipiac. Fourth-seeded Central Connecticut was in the title hunt until falling apart down the stretch; the Blue Devils lost four of their final five league games. Fifth-seeded St. Francis (N.Y.) could be a dark horse after going 5-2 to close the regular season.
THE PICK: Long Island
When: March 2, 6, 11
Where: Campus sites
TV for final: 4:45 p.m., ESPN2
Regular-season champ: Bucknell
Format: All 8 teams qualify. The "better" seed hosts in each round.
Projected NCAA bids: 1
The buzz: Bucknell won the regular-season title by two games over American, and they were the only league teams that finished better than .500 in league play. Bucknell's lone league loss came by an inexplicable 20 points to last-place Army -- and the Black Knights happen to be Bucknell's first-round opponent. Still, if anyone other than Bucknell or American wins the tourney, it will be a shocker. Keep an eye on fourth-seeded Lehigh, which won this tourney last season and gave Kansas a first-round scare in the NCAAs. Lehigh sophomore G C.J. McCollum is the most talented player in the league.
The pick: Bucknell

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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