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March 4, 2008

SCS.comAs we all know, there are two ways to receive a bid into the NCAA Tournament, have a solid enough season to garner an at-large berth or win your conference tournament. For the majority of the country, the latter is their only alternative with the season winding down; basically it is college basketball’s second season. Here is a preview of teams to keep an eye on that could burst some bubbles by shocking the college basketball landscape on their way to a conference tourney championship.

Atlantic 10: Saint Joseph’s

The faltering Hawks are the most talented team aside from Xavier in the rapidly fading Atlantic 10. The Hawks have ten losses on the season, only one of which was by double digits. The biggest problem for the Hawks is that they have not been able closeout opponents. If they could have found victory in at least half of the games that they seemingly gave away, Phil Martelli’s squad would be a lock at this point, now they find themselves on the bubble, yet a dangerous threat to claim victory in Atlantic City.

ACC: North Carolina State

With the exception of Duke and North Carolina, no team will be scared away from any ACC foe. Clemson and Miami (FL) both have had solid seasons but are more than beatable. Perhaps the coldest team in the conference is North Carolina State, but the Wolf Pack is still a dangerous squad as displayed by their game with Duke this weekend. North Carolina State has a lot of talent and should it all come together at the right time; the Pack could make a timely run.

Big 12: Oklahoma State

A terrible run in the middle of the season ruined the pokes’ season, but don’t look now, Oklahoma State has won five in a row and very well may be the playing the best basketball in the conference. Currently they are on the fringe of the bubble, but two wins to close out the regular season over Oklahoma and Texas would put Oklahoma State right in the thick of things. However, a sweep is not very likely, so Oklahoma State more than likely will need a lengthy run in the Big 12 Tournament, which is not out of the question. The mere fact that this team is 15-5 outside of a dreadful midseason run makes them dangerous to get an automatic bid.

Big East: Syracuse

The Big East looks to be loaded with as many as seven locks for NCAA bids. One of those teams certainly is not Syracuse. However the ‘Cuse has caused Big East Tournament miracles in the past and may need one more this season. If you take a glace as their schedule, it is littered with heartbreaking losses. They are certainly as athletic as any team and if they keep their head straight down the stretch of games unlike this weekend’s disaster versus Pitt in a must win game, then they are certainly more than capable of leaving the Big Apple with a conference championship.

Colonial: North Carolina-Wilmington

Virginia Commonwealth seems to be in good shape in regards to earning a bid to the big dance, so if they shall falter in the Colonial Tournament, that sound you hear will be one more bubble bursting. While George Mason may seem like the logical choice to upset VCU, the team to lookout for is going to be UNC-Wilmington. T.J. Carter is a great all-around guard who has had some success scoring the ball against the Rams this season. Granted, VCU did knockoff UNC-Wilmington twice this season, but beating a good team three times is never easy.

Pac-10: Arizona

Currently, the Wildcats are in the midst of a disastrous stretch run, so why should they be considered a team to watch when the Pac-10 Tournament tips off? Simple, talent, talent, talent. Jerryd Bayless can score with any player in the country, and is teamed with an extremely long, versatile player in Chase Budinger. That combined with playing in the toughest conference in the country, the Wildcats are probably better than they appear, although losing six out of eight does cause concern for Cat fans. Should Arizona find itself in an up-tempo style game in the Pac-10 Tournament, it may actually favor the Cats due to the deficiency of size compared to many of the conference favorites.

West Coast: San Diego

The West Coast Conference is a lock for two teams in the NCAA Tournament thanks to Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s having solid seasons. The next best team in the conference however is San Diego, host of the WCC Tournament. Having already knocked off Saint Mary’s and nearly defeating Gonzaga on their home court, San Diego has to be considered a factor to pull off an upset and play their way into the field of 65. The Toreros more than likely will also enter the WCC Tournament winning 10 out of their last 12. Gyno Pomare and Brandon Johnson are more than capable of outshining most tandems they will face in the WCC.

Missouri Valley: Southern Illinois

More than likely, Southern Illinois’ at-large hopes were popped with their home loss to Illinois State this weekend. But the Saluki’s have been playing extremely well down the stretch. Drake will receive a bid no matter what it does in the Valley Tournament, but if another team claims the crown, that will be one more at-large berth snagged away from a bubble team. Southern Illinois has had success in the conference tournament in the past and behind Randal Falker and Matt Shaw, Southern Illinois will without a doubt find a way to grab several wins and make a run at the conference championship.

Mountain West: New Mexico

The Lobos have played extremely well over the past month going 6-2 in February with its only two losses coming to conference leaders BYU and UNLV. The Cougars and Runnin’ Rebels have the inside track to at-large berths thanks to gaudy RPIs, but New Mexico still has some work that needs to be done. The Lobos could have used that overtime victory last week against BYU, but need to regroup and look towards UNLV Tuesday night. New Mexico very well could be on the right side of the bubble, but even a run to the conference championship would not ensure them of an at-large berth, so winning the title would be extremely beneficial to its post-season aspirations. In his fifth season, Senior J.R. Giddens will do everything in his power to lead the Lobos to a successful March.

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