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Almost time to dance

Big East
By far the best conference in the country. It would appear that nine teams are locks to make it into the NCAA Tournament regardless of how the tournament pans out: Pitt, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Syracuse, UConn, Louisville, St. John's and Villanova. Let's go ahead and add West Virginia to make it 10.

So if you're a Big East team and don't see your name on this list, you still have work to do. Specifically, we're talking about Marquette. If the Golden Eagles get bounced in their first tournament game, that's trouble. But strength of schedule and impressive victories against West Virginia, Notre Dame, Syracuse and at UConn give them a strong resume. If we had to guess, Marquette is in. But winning at least one tournament game would lock down a spot.

The other team to watch is Pitt. If the Panthers can at least reach the final, they likely will grab a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But a loss before the final might push Pitt to a No. 2 seed.

As of this moment, only NCAA heavyweights Duke and North Carolina are locks for the NCAA Tournament. If Duke wins the ACC tournament, it probably collects a No. 1 seed.

Florida State probably is in, too, unless it were to get blown out in its first tournament game. A bad loss might get the committee thinking FSU isn't that good without injured star forward Chris Singleton. But the Seminoles deserve a spot.

ESPN's Dick Vitale said Virginia Tech was definitely in the tournament after it beat then-No. 1 Duke last weekend. But then came a bad 15-point loss at home to Boston College. That put the Hokies back on the bubble. Virginia Tech needs to win a tournament game or two.

The same might hold true for Boston College and Clemson. Boston College just needs to avoid a bad opening-round loss to get in, while Clemson probably needs to win a game and, perhaps, hang in there against a team such as Duke or North Carolina. The Tigers played a weak nonconference schedule, and it's hard to give them much credit for their ACC victories because the ACC has been down this season.

Florida is in. Kentucky is in. Vanderbilt is in. Tennessee is probably in.

The Vols have been inconsistent this season, but they had a huge, resume-building victory against Pitt in December. The committee will remember that victory as well as one against Villanova if it comes down to Tennessee and another bubble team. Coming into the weekend, Tennessee had played the second-toughest schedule in the country. So no matter how the SEC tournament goes, it's hard to imagine Bruce Pearl's team being left out.

That leaves Georgia and Alabama needing good tournaments. Georgia doesn't have many signature wins, but all of its losses have come against good competition. If the Bulldogs can win just one tournament game, they should be okay. Alabama could have nailed down a spot with a victory in Gainesville on Tuesday. The Tide hung in until halftime, but an awful second half turned the game into a blowout. And now it's in trouble. It's hard to ignore Alabama's bad losses to Iowa, Seton Hall and Providence. We don't see the Tide getting in unless it goes on a major run.

Big Ten
Three teams are in: Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin.

Who would've believed before the season that perennial power Michigan State would be a bubble team? The Spartans have a few things going for them. Their strength of schedule is among the top 10 in the country. They have some impressive victories, including against Wisconsin, and a couple of good-looking losses (five points to Duke, three points to UConn). Most important, the Spartans have NCAA Tournament tradition, five Final Four appearances over the past 12 years and 13 consecutive NCAA appearances. The selection committee does take those factors into account.

Which other teams are on the bubble? Illinois and Michigan. Both have impressive strength of schedules. Michigan has won five of seven, and it would have been seven in a row had it not been for a one-point loss to Wisconsin and two-point loss at Illinois. And most of the Wolverines' losses haven't been bad. Still, a victory in the tournament would strengthen Michigan's chances.

Illinois, on the other hand, has stumbled down the stretch, losing three of five. Then again, the three losses were to good teams: Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue. Still, it seems like Michigan is in better shape than Illinois.

If Ohio State can win the conference tournament, it will be set for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Purdue likely lost any hope for a No. 1 seed with Saturday's loss at Iowa.

Big 12
Probably the second-best conference in the country behind the Big East with five teams, for sure, headed to the NCAA dance. That would be Texas, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Texas A&M. Kansas State was in trouble at the halfway point but rallied with six straight victories, including against Kansas, Missouri and Texas. That punched the Wildcats' ticket.

That leaves Nebraska, Baylor and Colorado looking to get in, and none will with an early exit from the tournament. Nebraska seems to have the best chance of sneaking in, but Baylor and Colorado might need to pull off an upset of a Kansas or a Texas to open the eyes of the selection committee. Oklahoma State needs to win the Big 12 tournament.

Kansas would lock down a No. 1 seed with a conference tournament championship, but even a trip to the final might be good enough to get it a No. 1 seed.

The once-mighty conference has fallen on hard times. Only Arizona and UCLA can be considered locks. Beyond that, the only other team with hope is Washington — thanks to two victories against UCLA and a victory against Arizona. If any other team in the Pac-10 hopes to get into the NCAA Tournament, it will have to win the tournament.
Mountain West
Brigham Young and San Diego State have been the dominant teams all season. BYU was lined up for a No. 1 seed until a home loss to New Mexico last week. If a couple of dominoes fall and BYU wins the tournament, the Cougars can still grab a No. 1 seed. UNLV has run third all season and seems assured of an NCAA berth. Colorado State is the bubble team, but it might have to win the tournament, or at least knock off BYU or San Diego State, to get in.

Let March Madness begin. Selection Sunday — the day we learn which 68 teams are in the NCAA Tournament — is a week from today. But this week, the major conferences hold their tournaments. Here's a look at how they stack up with which teams are in the NCAA Tournament and which teams are on the bubble.

Almost time to dance 03/05/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 5, 2011 6:33pm]
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