Men’s college basketball conference tournament guide, Vol. 2: Power 6 takes stage


Conference tournament season arrived a week ago, but the college basketball postseason kicks into high gear this week. That’s because all the big boys — the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 — begin to battle for bubbles and banners. The Mountain West, seeking to send a record six teams to the NCAA Tournament, also promises high-stakes action in Las Vegas, while leagues like the American Athletic, Atlantic 10 and even the Ivy League hope to get more than one team into the big dance. More one-bid leagues also tip off; perhaps this is where we’ll see the next Saint Peter’s or Fairleigh Dickinson emerge.

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GO DEEPER

Let the madness begin! Your guide to the early conference tournaments

Here’s Part 2 of your guide to it all. (All times ET; story will be updated when brackets/results become available).

American Athletic

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: Fort Worth, Texas

Title game: Sunday, 3:15 p.m., ESPN

Top seed: South Florida (23-6, 16-2 AAC)

The skinny: South Florida won 15 straight games from Jan. 12 to March 5 to complete a remarkable turnaround under first-year coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, but the Bulls — who lost their finale to Tulsa — aren’t guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Florida Atlantic is the league’s only lock, while Memphis — which was ranked as high as No. 10 in the AP poll this season — is dangerous. The bracket will be finalized and announced Sunday night.

Atlantic 10

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Tuesday

Where: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Title game: Sunday, March 17, 1 p.m., CBS

Top seed: Richmond (23-8, 15-3 A10)

The skinny: Dayton, the league’s best team according to metrics and the only surefire NCAA Tournament squad here, finished third behind both Richmond and Loyola Chicago. Richmond has a marginal at-large case, so someone other than the Flyers winning the title would help the conference secure a second bid.

ACC

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Tuesday

Where: Washington D.C.

Title game: Saturday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Top seed: North Carolina (25-6, 17-3 ACC)

The skinny: UNC, Duke and Clemson are NCAA Tournament locks, so ACC/DC will be mostly be rocking around the bubble teams: Virginia, Wake Forest and, potentially, Pitt. It would surprise no one to see the Tar Heels and Blue Devils meet for a third time in the title game.

Big 12

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: Kansas City

Title game: Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN

Top seed: Houston (28-3, 15-3 Big 12)

The skinny: Houston will be a No. 1 seed next week no matter what, but there will be some jockeying for No. 2 seeds between Baylor, Iowa State and maybe Kansas — though it’s incredibly jarring to see the Jayhawks under Bill Self as the No. 6 seed. With 12 teams inside the KenPom top 70, this league has been a battle royale all season, and the conference tournament could be truly epic.

Big East

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: New York City

Title game: Saturday, 6:30 p.m., Fox

Top seed: UConn (28-3, 18-2 Big East)

The skinny: No league presents more fascinating bubble scenarios than this one. Villanova, St. John’s, Providence and Seton Hall have all been hovering around the cut line, making the early rounds at Madison Square Garden must-see TV. The health of All-America point guard Tyler Kolek (oblique) will be a big story for No. 3 seed Marquette.

Big Ten

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: Minneapolis

Title game: Sunday, March 17, 3:30 p.m., CBS

Top seed: Purdue

The skinny: Iowa and Michigan State are the two teams to watch here as far as the bubble. Purdue has a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament locked up and likely will be the overall No. 1 even if it doesn’t win this event.

Big West

Link to bracket

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: Henderson, Nev.

Title game: Saturday, 9:30 p.m., ESPN2

Top seed: UC Irvine (24-8, 17-3 Big West)

The skinny: The Anteaters won the regular-season title by two games on the strength of a top-40 defense; no other Big West team has a top-100 defense. UC San Diego finished second but is not eligible for this tournament in its final year of transitioning to Division I. So UC Davis is the No. 2 seed.

Conference USA

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Tuesday

Where: Huntsville, Ala.

Title game: Saturday, 8:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network

Top seed: Sam Houston State (20-11, 13-3 C-USA)

The skinny: Sam Houston State, in its first year since moving over from the WAC, edged Louisiana Tech for the regular-season crown after starting just 10-9 on the season.

Ivy League

When it starts: Saturday

Where: New York City

Title game: Sunday, March 17, Noon, ESPN2

Top seed: Princeton (24-3, 12-2 Ivy)

The skinny: Only four teams from the Ancient Eight make this two-day event. Princeton, coming off last year’s Sweet 16, could finish 25-4 if it loses in the title game; would that be enough for an unlikely Ivy at-large bid?

MAAC

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Tuesday

Where: Atlantic City, N.J.

Title game: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU

Top seed: Quinnipiac (23-8, 15-5 MAAC)

The skinny: Quinnipiac set a school record for wins and won its first MAAC title. Saint Peter’s the 2022 Cinderella, is the No. 5 seed.

MAC

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Thursday

Where: Cleveland

Title game: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2

Top seed: Toledo (20-11, 14-4 MAC)

The skinny: The league race was a battle between Toledo and Akron most of the year, until the Zips lost their last two games of the season. Toledo has been one of the most consistent mid-major programs under coach Tod Kowalczyk, who has won or shared six of the last seven regular-season titles. Is this the year the Rockets’ luck in the conference tournament finally changes and the school makes its first NCAA Tournament since 1980?

MEAC

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: Norfolk, Va.

Title game: Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN2

Top seed: Norfolk State (21-10, 11-3 MEAC)

The skinny: Norfolk State will be looking for its third tournament title in the past four seasons after losing in last year’s final to Howard. Playing the tournament in its home city can’t hurt.

Mountain West

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: Las Vegas

Title game: Saturday, 6 p.m., CBS

Top seed: Utah State (26-5, 14-4 MWC)

The skinny: The Mountain West has been arguably the most fun league to watch this season, with fantastic finishes and top contenders trading punches. Can the conference get a record six NCAA Tournament teams? It will probably depend on how New Mexico fares this week. The league is so deep that San Diego State, last year’s national runner-up and a top-16 seed in the selection committee’s early bracket reveal last month, finished fifth.

Pac-12

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: Las Vegas

Title game: Saturday, 9 p.m., Fox

Top seed: Arizona (24-7, 15-5 Pac-12)

The skinny: This is the end. The last major event in the Pac-12’s storied history. The league is limping to the end in basketball, trending toward just two NCAA Tournament bids unless a team like Colorado or Utah can make some noise in Vegas. At least it has a legit national title contender in Arizona and one of the best stories this season in No. 2 seed Washington State.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Let the madness begin! Your guide to the early conference tournaments

SEC

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: Nashville

Title game: Sunday, March 17, 1 p.m., ESPN

Top seed: Tennessee (24-7, 14-4 SEC)

The skinny: This is one of the deepest leagues in the country, with seven teams angling for single-digit NCAA Tournament seeds, plus an intriguing bubble team in Texas A&M. No. 2 seed Kentucky completed the season sweep of Tennessee on Saturday.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Kentucky’s exhilarating season continues with thrilling win over Tennessee

SWAC

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: Birmingham, Ala.

Title game: Saturday, 9:30 p.m., ESPNU

Top seed: Grambling (17-14, 14-4 SWAC)

The skinny: Grambling finished the 2023 calendar year 2-10 but still secured the regular-season title. The winner of this event is all but guaranteed a spot in the First Four as a No. 16 seed.

WAC

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: Las Vegas

Title game: Saturday, 11:30 p.m., ESPN2

Top seed: Grand Canyon (27-4, 17-3 WAC)

The skinny: Bryce Drew’s Antelopes beat San Diego State in the nonconference and would have been in line for a possible at-large bid if not for some close league road losses. They’re led by Tyon Grant-Foster, the former Kansas and DePaul player who collapsed at halftime of a 2021 game and sat out for 16 months. Tarleton State finished second but is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament as it completes its transition to D1. The bracket will be finalized Sunday.

(Photo of Duke’s Kyle Filipowski from 2023 ACC tournament: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)





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