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by Ben Burns - 03/03/2009
The madness has begun.
The little guys take center stage this week, with 12 conference tournaments tipping off.
If you havenâ€™t kept up on your Atlantic Sun or Ohio Valley Conference basketball, whatâ€™s wrong with you?
Luckily, weâ€™ve put together this quick breakdown of this weekâ€™s tourneys.
This Weekâ€™s Conference Tournaments
First three rounds in Albany, N.Y.; Championship game at higher seed.
Hot team: Vermont has won 14 of 15, including an impressive 78-70 Bracketbuster win over Buffalo.
Team to watch: Binghamton is responsible for two of Vermontâ€™s three conference losses. The Bearcats enter conference tournament having won nine games, including a two-point victory at Vermont.
Atlantic Sun, March 4-7
Hottest team: Lipscomb, the host team at the tournament, is peaking at the right time. The high-scoring Bison have won nine straight, averaging 83.8 points during that stretch. Lipscomb also is an exceptional rebounding team.
Team to Watch: If Belmont gets hot, watch out. The Bison average 9.9 made 3-pointers per game, third most in the nation.
March 3-March 7
Higher seed hosts first-round; Semifinals at Radford, Va.
Championship game at higher seed
Hottest team: Winthrop turned its season around in February and enters the conference tourney on a five-game win streak. The Eagles are the Big Southâ€™s best defensive team, allowing 66 points a game.
Team to watch: VMI leads the nation in scoring offense at 94.3 points per game and owns an early-season win over Kentucky.
Hottest team: Old Dominion has won 9 of 10. The well-coached Monarchs donâ€™t give away points and commit only 15 fouls per game, the 12th fewest in the nation.
Team to watch: The gritty Dragons will scratch and claw with anyone. Drexel is 18-9 against the spread this season.
Hottest team: Illinois-Chicago found something down the stretch, winning their last four games, including a solid 74-67 Bracketbuster win over Southern Illinois.
Team to watch: Butler is the overwhelming favorite, but the Bulldogs are extremely young and have proven beatable as of late. Butler can probably afford a loss in the conference tournament and still earn an at-large berth in the NCAA tourney.
Metro Atlanta Athletic Conference
Hottest team: Niagara is doing all it can to make a its case as a bubble team. The Purple Eagles have won 10 of 11, highlighted by last weekâ€™s 15-point rout of regular-season champion Siena.
Team to watch: The Saints are considered the tournament favorite, but theyâ€™ve done little to separate themselves from the rest of the field. Siena is just 11-15-1 against the spread this season.
Higher seed hosts games
Hottest team: After a tough start to the season, Sacred Heart mounted a late rally and is riding a five-game win streak into the tourney. The Pioneers are extremely efficient offensively. They lead the conference in assists and field-goal percentage.
Team to watch: Robert Morris won the regular-season title and is the favorite to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. But the Colonials are not a good defensive team, especially against teams that shoot the three well.
Ohio Valley Conference
First round on campus sites / Championship Game in Nashville
Hottest team: Tennessee State surges into the tournament on a six-game win streak that includes a strong win at Austin Peay.
Team to watch: Tenn.-Martin, led by the nationâ€™s No. 2 scorer Lester Hudson, won the regular-season title. But the Skyhawks were shaky down the stretch, losing by 15 at Murray State and by two to a bad Missouri State team.
Hottest team: The Citadel turned on the switch in late January and enters the conference tournament having won 13 of 14 games. The Bulldogs have been one of the most profitable teams in the nation for bettors, going 17-6-1 against the number.
Team to watch: Itâ€™s hard to talk about the Southern Conference without mentioned Stephen Curry and the Davidson Bulldogs, who fell one game short of reaching the Final Four last year.
Curry appears to have recovered from an ankle injury that hampered him in February.
Sioux Falls, S.D.
Hottest team: North Dakota State went 16-2 to win the regular-season title in its first year in the Summit League. The Bison won 15 of 16 to end the season, highlighted by a 75-72 win at defending conference champion Oral Roberts.
NDSU is second in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage.
Team to watch: IUPU-Ft. Wayne has been known to get hot from behind the 3-point line as well. The Mastodons, who have won three straight, are fourth in the nation in 3-point percentage.
Sun Belt Conference
First round games on campus sites; all other games in Hot Springs, Ark.
Hottest team: Troy handed regular-season champion Western Kentucky its only loss in February. The Trojans have won nine of 10, heading into the tournament.
Team to Watch: Western Kentucky has been the best team in the Sun Belt throughout the season. The Hilltoppers, who advanced to the second round of last yearâ€™s NCAA tournament, are solid and balanced, but not spectacular.
West Coast Conference
March 6-March 9
Hottest team: Gonzaga has put together the more impressive rÃ©sumÃ©, including two wins over St. Maryâ€™s. But the Gaels were without superstar guard Patty Mills for both games.
Mills is expected back for the WCC tourney, making St. Maryâ€™s extremely dangerous.
In the second meeting between the two conference juggernauts, St. Maryâ€™s lost by only two to Gonzaga without Mills.
Team to watch: Portand is the only team that could legitimately prevent a Gonzaga-St. Maryâ€™s final. The Pilots faltered down the stretch, with losses to Santa Clara and San Diego. But Portland has enough offensive weapons to compete with anyone. The Pilots opened the season with a win over Washington.