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Conference tourney primer: Past Racers, no midmajor guarantees

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Tim Cluess' Gaels, with Scott Machado, might not be making noise in March without a MAAC title. (US Presswire)  
Tim Cluess' Gaels, with Scott Machado, might not be making noise in March without a MAAC title. (US Presswire)  

There are still regular-season things to decide in the power conferences.

The ACC comes to mind.

So those leagues will spend the next seven days competing in contests that have long been scheduled, then come together in a neutral-court setting next week to play their championship events that, for the most part, won't determine much other than seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

But this is the week lives start to change elsewhere. Anthony Davis can lead Kentucky to an SEC Tournament crown next week or headline a team that loses in the SEC semifinals, and it won't matter. He'll still play in the NCAA Tournament. But what about Davidson's De'Mon Brooks? Or Oral Roberts' Dominique Morrison? Their margins for error seem much smaller, if not non-existent. Because they almost certainly have to earn their leagues' automatic bids or settle for the NIT.

So the so-called pressure is on.

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And it's intense.

And here's a quick primer to get you ready for the week.

The small-league school that's an exception to this rule is ... Murray State. The Racers own wins over St. Mary's, Memphis, Southern Miss and Dayton, and their lone loss is to Tennessee State. They're 3-0 against the Top 50, 4-0 against the Top 100 and in possession of a Top-30 RPI. So Steve Prohm's team is as safe as an Ohio Valley Conference team could ever be. Win out or lose in the OVC semifinals. Doesn't matter. Murray State is dancing. So if you're a fan of a bubble team you should spend this week rooting for the Racers because the last thing you want is for the OVC to be a two-bid league. (I'm looking at you, Pac-12 fans.)

What other non-BCS leagues can get multiple bids? The Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, Mountain West and West Coast will receive multiple bids regardless of what happens in those conference tournaments, and Conference USA probably will, too. But what about the Colonial? My pal Seth Davis tweeted this weekend that he guarantees the CAA gets at least two teams in the NCAA Tournament, and I think he's probably right. But it's not a given. Drexel is 25-5 and on a 17-game winning streak. That's strong. But the Dragons will be sweating if they don't get an automatic bid because their at-large resume lacks compelling victories -- proof being that they're 0-1 against the Top 50. It seems crazy that a school on a 17-game winning streak from a league that produced a Final Four team last season could miss the NCAA Tournament. But it's possible. That's all I'm saying. And Oral Roberts and Middle Tennessee State are pretty much in the same situation. They might be OK with a loss in their conference tournaments. Might. But they'd be wise not to test it.

What about Iona? The Gaels are the team lots of folks have pegged as the type of outfit that could advance in the NCAA Tournament with a proper draw and a couple of nice breaks, and I agree. But they won't even be in the NCAA Tournament unless they win the MAAC Tournament that starts Friday because they just didn't get enough done in the non-league portion of their schedule. So if you wanna watch one of the nation's best point guards (Scott Machado) compete in the NCAA Tournament -- not to mention the always entertaining MoMo Jones -- you'd better root hard for Iona to get the MAAC's automatic bid. Otherwise, check your local NIT listings.

You down with Arch Madness? I am down with Arch Madness -- otherwise known as the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. That five schools finished with 9-9 league records speaks to the competitiveness of the MVC, but that doesn't mean there isn't power at the top because Wichita State and Creighton could both advance deep into March. I'm heading to St. Louis later this week in hopes of spending Sunday watching the Shockers and Bluejays play for the title. But if that's not the championship matchup, fine. Because then I'll spend Sunday watching another school -- Northern Iowa? Illinois State? Drake? -- try to turn the MVC into a three-bid league, and that would be fun, too. So either way, I'm cool. Arch Madness is annually one of the jewels of early March. I suspect this year will be no different.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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