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TSN.ca's NCAA conference tournament primer

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Mike Beauvais, TSN.ca
3/11/2014 11:32:25 PM
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Before NCAA Selection Sunday, there are this week's conference tournaments.

For some schools, these tournaments act as final tune-ups before March Madness to get their teams into gear before the Big Dance actually starts. For others, the conference tournament is the last chance to prove to the selection committee that their team belongs among the field of 68. And yet for others, far on the outside looking in, winning their conference tourney is the only chance they have to enter this year's tournament.

Now, some of the smaller conference tournaments are either already underway or already over, but the bigger conferences' tournaments don't get started until Wednesday.

This will act as a primer for each of the bigger tournaments to give you an idea of who's involved, who's favoured and which Canadians to watch out for this week.

Already qualifed for the NCAA tournament: Mercer (Atlantic Sun), Coastal Carolina (Big South), Delaware (Colonial), Harvard (Ivy), Manhattan (MAAC), #2 Wichita State (Missouri Valley), Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley), Mount St. Mary's (Northeast), South Dakota State (Summit) and Gonzaga (West Coast)

American Athletic Conference

Top 25 teams in tournament: #5 Louisville, #13 Cincinnati, #19 Memphis, #21 Connecticut and #25 SMU

Overview: Only three games separated these five times in the regular season (with the Cardinals and Bearcats sharing the regular season crown,) so there isn't a lot separating this group in a very competitive conference. All five of these teams will be headed to the tournament, but likely only this quintet. If any outliers in the conference want in, they'll likely have to win the AAC tournament to get there. Chances are, though, that's not happening.

Projected winner: Cincinnati

Atlantic Coast Conference

Seeded teams: #5 Duke, #6 Virginia, #11 Syracuse and #15 North Carolina

Overview: After the dissolution of the traditional Big East, Syracuse makes its tournament debut in the conference traditionally dominated by schools from the Carolinas. That said, Virginia is the tournament's top seed for the first time in 33 years. Teams should be on the lookout for upsets with both North Carolina State and Pittsburgh capable of grabbing a scalp, but smart money picks one of the top four seeds to take the title. Led by freshman phenom Jabari Parker, Duke is the odds-on favourite heading into this week, but, even after petering out a bit coming down the stretch, Brampton, Ontario's Tyler Ennis and the Orange are still the team to beat.

Projected winner: Syracuse

Atlantic 10 Conference

Top 25 teams in tournament: #18 Saint Louis and #23 Virginia Commonwealth

Overview: The story here isn't what happens with the top teams, but what goes on with those schools who still aren't locks to make the tournament. With Saint Louis and VCU most certainly in, it's up to the likes of St. Joseph's, UMASS and George Washington to ensure participation in this year's March Madness. Having five teams coming out of the Atlantic 10 certainly isn't outside the realm of possibility, but it's not a likelihood just yet.

Projected winner: VCU

Big East Conference

Top 25 teams in tournament: #3 Villanova and #14 Creighton

Overview: Though still being held at Madison Square Garden, this year's Big East tournament certainly doesn't carry the cache that it once did with traditional powers like Syracuse, UConn and Pittsburgh having moved on. Still, tournaments implications are huge here with the likes of Providence, Georgetown, Xavier and St. John's fates for the Big Dance unknown with that quartet likely needing multiple wins for a selection. As for the final, Creighton has beaten Villanova handily in both meetings this season and should again if the top seeds end up meeting.

Projected winner: Creighton

Big 10 Conference

Top 25 teams in tournament: #8 Michigan, #12 Wisconsin, #22 Michigan State and #24 Ohio State

Overview: Like the regular season, this Big 10 tournament should be nothing short of a battle with a lot riding on the line. Nik Stauskas and the Wolverines were able to open a three-game gap on MSU when it was all said and done, but only four games separated Wisconsin in second from Indiana in ninth. It's the teams in that range that need a good tournament here. Up to seven teams could come out of the Big 10 and while the seeded teams are virtual locks, the likes of Nebraska and Minnesota need to impress to secure their positions come Sunday.

Projected winner: Michigan

Big 12 Conference

Top 25 teams in tournament: #10 Kansas, #16 Iowa State and #17 Oklahoma

Overview: This tournament has the potential to be the best of the bunch and a very deep conference means it's ripe for upsets. It's conceivable that any team that finds itself in the quarterfinals has a shot to win the tournament. Oh, and there's a ton of Canadian content here with Kenny Chery and Brady Heslip of Baylor, Iowa State's Melvin Ejim and some kid named Wiggins on Kansas. The Big 12 prides itself as the best conference in the nation in 2014 and having the most tournament bids would go a long way to prove that. Having eight teams in the tournament is not a stretch. This will be a dogfight and not having Joel Embiid will really hurt the Jayhawks.

Projected winner: Oklahoma

Top 25 teams in tournament: #4 Arizona

Overview: Oregon came out of nowhere to win this tournament last year, so the Pac-12 tournament is far from a foregone conclusion as a Wildcats' triumph. Still, they're the overwhelming favourite. Arizona is among a handful of teams here secure in its place in the tournament and, barring a quarterfinal blowout loss, the Wildcats are on course for a #1 seed on Sunday night. With UCLA, Colorado and the Ducks seemingly set for a tournament spot, Arizona State is the team with the most to prove here. Without a strong tournament, don't look for the Sun Devils' name to be called on Sunday night.

Projected winner: UCLA

Southeastern Conference

Top 25 teams in tournament: #1 Florida

Overview: Outside of the Gators, who will look at this tournament as an opportunity to solidify their claim for the top overall seed in the tournament, this hasn't exactly been a banner season for the SEC with the nation's preseason #1 Kentucky falling well short of expectations. John Calipari's Wildcats are in no danger of missing the tournament, but will view the SEC tourney as a means to get some positive momentum going into it. Mizzou, Tennessee and Arkansas are all likely bubble teams right now and could certainly use a positive showing to prove their credentials. This is Florida's tournament, though. They were undefeated in the conference during regular season play and shouldn't look back now.

Projected winner: Florida

Montrezl Harrell (Photo: Canadian Press)

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(Photo: Canadian Press)
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