For the little guys, the conference tournament is everything. Win and you dance, lose and you go home. In the bigger conferences multiple NCAA bids are awarded. However, winning a conference crown is a goal of nearly every team. Not only is pride on the line, but seedings are up for grabs, and some teams have come this far yet still need resume building victories, or even tournament titles to join the field of 68. Our preview of the big boys, much like our look at the smaller conferences, should come in handy come next Sunday night when the bracket is revealed.
ACC – Duke and North Carolina are on the same side of the bracket making a potential semi-final matchup in Greensboro the most sought after ticket. Miami is the top seed, ahead of the Blue Devils, Tar Heels, and Virginia. The Cavaliers rallied from a 17 point deficit late in the first half to beat Maryland in overtime Sunday and earn the final tournament bye. UVA beat Duke and North Carolina but lost to Miami during the regular season. The Hurricanes began league play 13-0 but have lost three of their last five. Duke is 9-3 against the top 25 and has looked great since Ryan Kelly returned from injury. The Tar Heels have embraced an up tempo style and had won six straight before falling to Duke on Saturday. Fifth seed NC State is on the right side of the bracket, has won six of eight, and returns a lot of talent from last season’s Sweet 16 team. The Pick: NC State.
Atlantic 10 – The A10 is so competitive that if Charlotte had not rallied from a halftime deficit on Saturday against St. Joes, the Niners would have missed the league tournament despite 19 wins. St. Louis is the top seed in Brooklyn with VCU earning the number two seed. The Billikens have won 12 of 13 in their first season without Rick Majerus. Jim Crews deserves national coach of the year consideration taking over for Majerus on an interim basis when the legendary leader took a medical leave, and then passed away in December. VCU has won eight of 10. Third seed Temple beat VCU on Sunday and has won seven straight. Fourth seed LaSalle has a first round bye, but a potential quarterfinal date with fifth seed Butler is no bargain. The Pick: Temple.
Big East – Madison Square Garden will host the final true Big East Tournament. The Catholic schools are splitting from the league, and retaining the league name, while Syracuse and Pittsburgh move to the ACC. Second seed Louisville is the hottest team having won seven straight. Top seed Georgetown, and third seed Marquette tied the Cardinals with 14-4 regular season marks. Kansas is the only team in the NCAA with more Top 25 wins than Louisville. Georgetown has won 12 of 13 including a sweep of longtime rival Syracuse. Marquette has won four straight and six out of seven. Pitt, who earned the four seed, has won four straight against the second tier conference schools. Syracuse has lost four of five with their lone victory over last place Depaul. Villanova has beaten each of the top three teams in the conference. The Pick: Marquette.
Big 10 -- The best league in the country this season is so good that Michigan, ranked number seven in the country before losing to number two Indiana Sunday, did not earn one of four byes in the tournament held in Chicago. Not only that, but the fifth seeded Wolverines play Penn State, who they lost to February 27, in the opening round. Top seed Indiana will get either Illinois or Minnesota, both squads that beat the Hoosiers, in the quarterfinals. Second seed Ohio State has won five straight including victories over Indiana, and third seed Michigan State. Tom Izzo's Spartans have lost seven games, all to teams either ranked when they played or currently ranked. Jeff Sagarin ranks MSU's schedule the most difficult in the country. Number four seed Wisconsin is just 3-6 against the Top 25. The Pick: Michigan State.
Big XII – Top seed Kansas beat second second seed Kansas State twice during the regular season though both teams finished the year 14-4. Both teams lost their regular season finale snapping long winning streaks. The Jayhawks 10 wins against Top 50 competition are the most in the country. Kansas State lost just one game to a team ranked outside the top 15 all year. Third seed Oklahoma State beat both Kansas and Kansas State during the regular season. Iowa State split with Kansas State and Oklahoma State, and twice lost to Kansas in overtime. The Pick: Kansas.
Mountain West -- Top seed New Mexico lost to Air Force on Saturday snapping a six game winning streak. Second seed Colorado State lost to New Mexico twice and second leading scorer Dorian Green sprained his right ankle in Saturday's win over Nevada. Third seed UNLV is hosting the tournament, has won five of six, split two games with New Mexico, and has the best talent in the league. The Pick: UNLV
Pac 12 – Last year sixth seeded Colorado beat fourth seed Arizona to capture the championship. It is wide open again this year as the teams descend on Las Vegas. Nobody seemed to want to win the regular season, but eventually UCLA did. The Bruins, who started conference play 5-0, only to drop three of their next four, will battle either Stanford or Arizona State in the quarterfinals. The Sun Devils beat UCLA once, and lost to them in overtime two weeks ago. Second seed Cal had won seven straight and had a chance to capture a conference championship when they lost badly at home to Stanford on Wednesday. Third seed Oregon started the year 18-2. The Ducks have gone 5-6 since their gaudy beginning. Arizona was 14-0 and 20-2 with wins over Florida, Miami, and San Diego State before finishing the season 4-4. Defending champ Colorado has beaten three of the top four teams in the league and dropped their only decision to UCLA 78-75. The Pick: Cal.
SEC – The tournament is in Nashville and perhaps that will be good news for fifth seed Tennessee. The Vols have won eight out of nine to put themselves on the NCAA tournament bubble. Tennessee has beaten top seed Florida, and second seed Kentucky during their streak. The Gators have lost three of six after winning 13 of 14. The defending National Champion Wildcats got a big boost to their tournament resume beating Florida Saturday. Big Blue Nation had lost four of seven before the final regular season game. Ole Miss is the three seed and the Rebels have had a strange year. Mississippi started conference play 6-0, then lost four out of five and five out of seven, before winning four times in their final five games. Fourth seed Alabama has lost three of their last five. The Pick: Kentucky.