- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2012

For all the trends, whether it is over the past few weeks or historically, filling out an NCAA tournament field ultimately comes down to the overall profiles of teams in this particular season.

The league doesn’t matter. The school’s history doesn’t matter. The coach doesn’t matter. It’s just how the results of 30-some games over four months stack up with everyone else.

Fourteen regular-season champions will begin play in conference tournaments by the weekend, and this week brings a look at bubble implications in those conferences, with the other 16 leagues to be looked at next week:

America East: It’s a one-bid league no matter what, but top-seeded Stony Brook (under ex-George Washington assistant Steve Pikiell) has a chance to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time.

Atlantic Sun: More one-bid-territory. Top-seeded Belmont is moving to the Ohio Valley after this season and is seeking its fourth NCAA berth in six years.

Big South: The regular-season champ has won this tournament just once in the past four years despite enjoying home-court advantage. It’s not a good trend for UNC Asheville, which likely would be a No. 16 seed even if it wins out.

Colonial: Drexel (25-5) and Virginia Commonwealth (25-6) own gaudy records. They also own one top-50 win between them (VCU over South Florida). In most seasons, both would be NIT fodder without a conference title, and that’s probably still the case.

Nonetheless, with an uninspiring bubble, VCU especially could emerge as an alternative for one of the last few places in the field of 68. Just don’t count on it.

Horizon: Unlike most years, this won’t be a tournament to monitor for bid thieves. Two-time national runner-up Butler (18-13) is rebuilding, and Cleveland State boasts the league’s highest RPI at 78 (per CollegeRPI.com). Only the winner will be an NCAA team.

Metro Atlantic: Iona is interesting, with a solid RPI (39), superb nonconference schedule strength (41), stout against the top 100 (5-3) and excellent away from home (14-5). The Gaels’ problem is the absence of a top-50 win, and they won’t get that in the MAAC tournament. They’d be well served to win their next three.

Missouri Valley: Once utterly unpredictable, Arch Madness (the Valley tournament is played in St. Louis) got back to its roots when a No. 3 seed won last year. If it happens again, someone’s getting squeezed from the field. Bank on Wichita State and Creighton to earn at-large bids if needed.

Northeast: Another one-bid league, though an interesting national story would emerge if Wagner (coached by Dan Hurley, who is assisted by his brother and former Duke star Bobby Hurley) won the tournament as a No. 2 seed. Defending champ Long Island won the regular season.

Ohio Valley: All eyes are on Murray State (28-1), which probably would poach a bid if it somehow lost this weekend. The good news for bubblers? The Racers only need to win two games thanks to a tournament format friendly to the top seeds.

Patriot: In more than two decades, the Patriot never has sent two teams to the NCAA tournament. That won’t change this year, even if regular-season winner Bucknell is upset.

Southern: Thanks to pedigree, talent and one eye-opening result (winning at Kansas), Davidson has a chance to be an unpleasant draw next month. What the Wildcats (22-7, RPI: 64) won’t be is an at-large selection. Only the tournament winner moves on in the SoCon.

Summit: Even with a top-50 RPI, Oral Roberts (26-5) doesn’t own a profile that warrants at-large inclusion. That said, a possible Oral Roberts-South Dakota State final would rank among the most underrated conference tournament matchups of the year.

Sun Belt: Meet Middle Tennessee (24-5), which owns a very Drexel-like profile - lots of wins, none against top-50 opponents, many against poor competition. Making matters worse is a staggeringly bad loss at Western Kentucky to finish the regular season. That probably ended the Blue Raiders’ at-large hopes.

West Coast: Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are safely in the field, and Brigham Young probably gets in as well without a foolish loss. Don’t look for head-scratching results in this league; a No. 1 or No. 2 seed has won the WCC all but one year since 1999. That was 2008, when third-seeded San Diego made a run and then upset Connecticut a week later in the NCAA tournament.

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