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Mar 11, 2015 12:26 AM

BUBBLE WATCH: Bubble teams face big conference tourney games

The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) Sin City becomes the western epicenter of March Madness this week with four conference tournaments at various arenas around The Strip.

There will be four automatic bids for the NCAA Tournament on the line and an awful lot of hand wringing for some of the teams that don't win tournament championships.

The Vegas hoops fest started this weekend with the West Coast Conference tournament. No. 7 Gonzaga capped it Tuesday night by beating Brigham Young 91-75 to wrap up its third straight WCC title after winning the regular-season championship.

BYU is in OK NCAA Tournament shape, helped by reaching the WCC final at Orleans Arena, but it sure would have been easier if the Cougars had pulled off the automatic bid instead of having to wait it out on Selection Sunday again.

BYU got into the tournament last year and is hoping its resume is strong enough to get a repeat invite.

"There's a committee that makes that decision and If they watched us play, I think they'd feel pretty good about putting us in their tournament," BYU coach Dave Rose said.

Gonzaga lost to BYU just two weeks ago and got all it could handle from the Cougars before pulling away in the title game.

After watching them all season, Gonzaga coach Mark Few had no doubt whether the Cougars should be in the bracket.

"There's no doubt that's a tournament team that's going to win a lot of games," Few said.

The Pac-12, which starts Wednesday at MGM Grand Arena, has several teams hoping to make a case with a few wins in the conference tournament.

No. 5 Arizona is a lock and No. 17 Utah is in good shape.

Oregon (23-8) made a strong case late in the season and is probably a tournament win away from sewing up a bracket spot. UCLA (19-12) and probably will need a couple of wins or even get to the title game. Just getting to the championship game may not be enough for Stanford; the Cardinal (18-12) will likely have to win the tournament to get in.

The Mountain West, which starts Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center, should have four teams in the mix for NCAA Tournament spots.

San Diego State (24-7) has a strong case despite finishing third in conference and No. 25 Boise State (24-7) was the regular-season champion, so should be in decent shape barring an early tournament exit.

Colorado State (26-5) has a weak strength of schedule (119), but a solid RPI of 26 one ahead of San Diego State and will likely be in the bracket if it doesn't lose its opening game in the MWC.

And watch out for Wyoming. The Cowboys (22-9) stumbled when leading scorer Larry Nance Jr. missed four games with mononucleosis, but have the type of team that could make a run through to the tournament

The Western Athletic Conference is most likely looking at one bid coming out of Orleans Arena.

New Mexico State (21-10) dominated the conference, winning the title by five games, and is expected to win the tournament. If another team does manage to pull off the upset, the Aggies might be sweating a little on Selection Sunday.


BIG WEDNESDAY: Several teams start important stretches that will determine their NCAA fates on Wednesday.

In the ACC, Miami, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State kick off their bids to get off the bubble in the second round of the conference tournament. The Wolfpack are in good shape with some big-ticket wins on their resume, but the Panthers pretty much need to win the tournament title to get in. The Hurricanes have the most gain without actually winning the tournament; a strong showing could punch their ticket.

The Big 12 has three teams needing strong tournament runs to enhance their chances: Texas, Kansas State and TCU.

The Longhorns boosted their chances and hurt Kansas State's by beating the Wildcats, but could still use a boost into the bracket.

The Horned Frogs need a strong run to have a shot, which would be helped by playing in arguable the nation's toughest conference.

Baylor, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, all hovering near the NCAA bubble, kick off the tournament on Thursday.

HORIZON FINAL: Valparaiso can rest easy after rallying to beat Green Bay in the Horizon League title game. The Crusaders (28-5) would have been an iffy NCAA Tournament choice had they lost, thanks in part the number of low RPI teams in the league.

Now Green Bay (24-8) and two-time Horizon League player of the year Keifer Sykes get to play the longshot waiting game.


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