Starting this week and leading up to the conference tournaments in March, we will do a breakdown of the conferences we think will earn multiple bids to the NCAA tournament, looking for sleeper teams.
This season should again produce between 8 to 10 double-digit bid conferences.
So (in alphabetical order) let's start:
AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Houston, Cincinnati, Temple, UCF
The surprise team here is surprisingly Houston. The Cougars achieved a milestone of sorts last season when they picked up their first NCAA tournament victory since 1984 and were an impressive 27-8 a year ago. but lost some key ingredients in guard Rob Gray and forward Devin Davis.
But guards Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks have picked up the pace, providing leadership from the backcourt.
Veteran coach Kelvin Sampson, who picked up his 600th career victory this week, clearly knows how to build and rebuild. The Cougars started the season as a fringe Top 25 team and have climbed steadily in winning 17 of their first 18 games, with their only set back being a 4-point loss at Temple.
Although they still aren't receiving much love from the coaches or writers in their polls (No. 17 and No. 21), they are No. 5 in the NCAA Net Rankings, which will be used as a primary evaluation guide by the N CAA selection committee.
""We're a team trying to evolve,'''' said Sampson in a mid-season conference call this week. "A lot of new guys are integrating with veterans.''
Sampson said his team was still finding its identity, feeling that the team was still making too many mental mistakes.''
Having said all of that, it would be foolish to discount the Cougars once March Madness arrives.
Most likely No. of bids (4)--Houston, Cincinnati, Temple, UCF
ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
Main Contenders--Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Syracuse, Louisville, NC State, FSU, Pitt, Clemson
How deep is the ACC this season?
Well, it can probably go 10 deep and still have quality teams left for the NIT field? It can have a situation such as occurred this week when Syracuse can lose by 13 points at home to Georgia Tech and come back and Duke at Duke in overtime a few days.
Want more? Consider what will be served up Saturday evening at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium when No. 1 vs. meets No. 1 Virginia. Huh?
This not like an NCAA tournament where two No. 1 seeds can meet in the Final Four. No this is a rare battle between two teams from the same conference who rare each ranked No.1 in the polls--coaches and Writers. Duke is No. 1 in the AP writers rankings, while Virginia is No. 1 in the Coaches poll. The NET rankings used by the NCAA selection committee as a key evaluation tool has the unbeaten Cavs ranked No. 1
That does not prevent wide scale results such as Duke losing to a second tier ACC team such as Georgia Tech at home and coming back and pulling off an upset win at Duke a few days later
""These teams ALL can play,'' said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who was part of the Big East in 1985 when a record 3 Big East teams--St. John's, Georgetown, Villanova--were in the Final Four.
Or in 2011, when a record 11 Big East teams made the 68 team NCAA tournament field.
Now we have this mid-season footnotes of one conference with TWO No. 1 (in the country) ranked teams facing off against each other in a regular season game. Small wonder tickets for the game are being sold for almost $600 each (and climbing).
There are no guarantees on what will happen at Duke on Saturday evening, but when you can book as a lock is that the ACC will have at least 6 and as many as 10 teams in the NCAA tournament field.
Most Likely No. of Bids (8)--Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, NC State, Louisville, Syracuse, FSU
Next: Big East, Big 12