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Tourney Week Primer

Tourney Week Primer

Tourney Week Primer
The Gold Sheet

There are a number of college basketball aficionados who strongly believe that the week before Selection Sunday, and not the first week of the NCAA Tournament itself, is the most-exciting sporting time of the year. ESPN certainly capitalizes upon the excitement as it promotes “tournament week” on its family of networks.

And why not? After all, in the week or so leading up to the announcement of the Big Dance pairings, practically every team in the country still has a shot at gaining entry to the NCAA Tourney via conference tournament action. And almost every year, there are at least a couple of teams making dramatic runs out of nowhere in these hoopfests, realizing their only ticket to the Big Dance is by winning their respective league’s postseason extravaganza.

And, from a fan’s perspective, the non-stop basketball buffet from Wednesday thru Sunday this week is hard to top. In recent years, we’ve spent the week touring the country, watching several of these colorful events (check out our website as we revisit our great trip from last March that took us to Indianapolis, Atlanta and an accompanying tornado, and Anaheim in a 3-day conference tourney whirlwind). Now based in Las Vegas, we don’t have to go nearly as far to watch the action, be it in person (last weekend’s WCC Tourney at the Orleans Hotel Arena, or this week’s Mountain West festivities at the Thomas & Mack Center) or at the nearest sports book, where hoops action from across the country fills the big screen TVs from morning until late in the evening.

Trust us, for college hoop junkies, there really isn’t anything that compares to tourney week.

Indeed, almost like the baseball All-Star Game, conference tournaments are entities unto themselves. At one time they were mostly considered as gimmicky alternatives, offensive to many hoops “purists” that decried their existence and maintained that true champions, and resultant NCAA berths, should be awarded based solely upon regular-season, or, more specifically, conference-season standings. Eventually, however, the league tourneys became staples of the college hoop landscape, mainly because they were such good fun for the fans, and money-makers for the schools. Indeed, many conference tournaments resemble raucous old political conventions, with each team bringing its own supporters, who cheer on winning teams which then set sail for greater glory in the national tournaments. Some have even been exported to resort destinations; the Atlantic 10 is holding its tournament in Atlantic City at renovated Boardwalk Hall (where once upon a time Bert Parks would crown Miss America) for the third consecutive year, while the aforementioned West Coast Conference, flush with success from last weekend’s event, is apparently ready to sign on for three more seasons at Las Vegas’ Orleans Hotel and its modern 8,000-seat arena. Buffets and basketball, indeed!

To say that conference tourneys haven’t altered the landscape of college basketball, however, would be a mistake. It’s a fact that the NCAA, which often moves at tortoise-like speed when it comes to making significant policy adjustments, was apparently so moved by the epic 1974 ACC Tourney final, won by Norm Sloan’s eventual NCAA champion North Carolina State over Lefty Driesell’s Maryland, 103-100 in a pulsating overtime classic, that it decided tournament invitations could thereafter be extended to include “at-large” teams that didn’t win the automatic bids from their conferences. After all, there were likely two of the three best teams in the nation that were squaring off in the Wolfpack-Terrapin classic, and it didn’t seem fair that one of them should have to go home and not participate in the Big Dance (Driesell and Maryland were so crestfallen at that defeat that the Terps didn’t even bother to accept a subsequent invitation from the NIT). That result triggered the first significant expansion of the Big Dance to 32 teams in 1975, and eventually to 64 teams a decade later (and, subsequently, to 65).

Mention of conference tournament history also wouldn’t be complete without bringing up the ACC Tournament, which began in 1954 and was being held long before the NCAA decided to invite at-large teams. Adding to the drama was the fact it was a true do-or-die event until 1975. Although a few other leagues (such as the old Southern Conference) held conference tourneys decades ago, it was the ACC that was the lone wolf for many years, drawing lots of ridicule and scorn from different parts of the country for the quirky way it determined its lone NCAA rep. Coaches in those old days of the ACC Tourney were known to come up with all sorts of gimmicks; aforementioned N.C. State coach Norm Sloan took the air out of the ball in a 1968 semifinal game vs. favored Duke, hoping to pull Vic Bubas’ Blue Devils out of a tightly-packed zone that had flustered the Wolfpack on both occasions during the regular season. But when Duke refused to take the bait, N.C State continued to stall. At halftime, it led 4-2, and when the dust settled (such as it was) that night, the Wolfpack was a 12-10 upset winner, denying the folks in Charlotte of the chance to watch two Top Ten teams (North Carolina & Duke) go at it for the title the following night. Fittingly, perhaps, Dean Smith’s Tar Heels took no prisoners in that ACC title game vs, Sloan’s NCS, winning by an 87-50 count en route to reaching the NCAA title game, where they lost to Lew Alcindor’s UCLA Bruins. And it’s been said that favored South Carolina’s bitter 42-39 double overtime loss to another Sloan-coached N.C. State in the 1970 ACC Tournament final at Charlotte (when Sloan again effectively slowed the pace), finally wrapped up on two Richard Anheuser free throws in the final seconds, triggered the Gamecocks’ departure from the conference, with HC Frank McGuire devastated that one of his best SC teams (which recorded a perfect 14-0 ACC mark and was never lower than 4th in the national rankings) wouldn’t get a chance in the Big Dance. Indeed, many hoop aficionados have long wondered how many of John Wooden’s great UCLA teams would have escaped unscathed from the ACC Tourney in those days (we’d guarantee that not every one of those Bruin championship teams would have survived). It’s also worth noting that after losing that bitter 1970 ACC title game, the Gamecocks decided that conference affiliation wasn’t worth the trouble, and were soon competing as an independent, a status they maintained for several years.

Curiously, after the ACC, the second longest-running conference tournament belongs to none other than the Big West, which was known as the PCAA (Pacific Coast Athletic Association) when it debuted its tourney in 1976. Hoop historians might get a kick out the fact that ‘76 PCAA postseason festival was held in the very-friendly (or was it scary?) confines of the old, quirky Stockton Civic Auditorium, a 2,901-seat theater that doubled as the home court of the Pacific Tigers before the futuristic Spanos Center opened in 1981. Anyone who remembers that San Diego State beat UOP in the finale of that initial PCAA Tourney (which consisted of only four teams, by the way) should qualify for some sort of prize. It’s also worth noting that the PCAA/Big West was able to briefly challenge the Pac-10 for regional superiority in the ‘80s, largely because of the appeal of its conference tourney (which the Pac-10 didn’t hold until 1987, then cancelled after 1990 before reviving it again in 2002). Indeed, between 1983-88, the PCAA/Big West held its event at the Inglewood Forum, then home of the glamorous L.A. Lakers, hosting big crowds mostly there to cheer for Jerry Tarkanian’s legendary UNLV teams as well as Boyd Grant’s best Fresno State teams (the hot UNLV-Fresno rivalry of the day, which would really boil over in the conference tourney, is still talked about reverentially by long-time west coast hoop enthusiasts).

But by the early ‘80s, conference tournaments were truly en vogue, and many credit them with hastening alignments that eventually made independent status practically obsolete. Remember, before the NCAA tournament expanded in 1975, it probably was preferable for the South Carolinas of the world to go independent, and not be inhibited by conference rules that allowed only one rep to go “dancing” in those years. Many schools were “indies” in those days, including almost all of the eastern universities save those in the Ivy League; most of the major, private Catholic schools of the midwest (Notre Dame, Marquette, DePaul, Loyola-Chicago, etc.), much of the lower midwest and mid-south (Louisville and Memphis State were both independents when they reached Final Fours in the early ‘70s); and one of the legendary teams of all-time, Guy Lewis’ late ‘60s Houston Cougars, including the back-to-back Final Four squads featuring Elvin Hayes in 1967-68s. But the independent appeal had worn off by the late ‘70s, and with conference tourneys as a major draw, leagues such as the Metro Conference were eventually formed, corralling many of those wayward independents, with a conference tourney one of the main enticements. The east went through several gyrations, with the Eastern Eight originally rivaling the Big East for primacy, and the Atlantic 10 (which once actually had ten teams!) another alternative for those long-time independents. Eventually, the Big East rose above all in the region, really catching lightning in a bottle in the early ‘80s, with its wild success fueled largely by its enormously-popular conference tournament right in the heart of Manhattan at Madison Square Garden. And it was that Garden venue for the conference tourney that many believe really established the Big East as the major brand name for college hoops in the region.

After several conferences whetted our appetites with their tourneys last week, the “big boys” are ready for center stage this week, and we can’t wait. Following are brief previews of those events, complete with dates, location, last year’s NCAA, NIT, and CBI qualifiers, and a brief handicap of each remaining event.

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Re: Tourney Week Primer

ACC...Tourney March 12-15 at Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA. Last year...NCAA-4 (North Carolina-Final Four, Duke-2nd round, Miami-2nd round, Clemson); NIT-3 (Virginia Tech-Quarterfinals, Maryland-2nd round, Florida State); CBI-1 (Virginia-Quarterfinals). What to expect...The setting will be a little different this season, as the cavernous Georgia Dome in Atlanta is far from Tobacco Road and not as intimate as the usual sites for this event. North Carolina wears the bulls-eye this season, but as usual the story isn’t who might win this tournament, but who might help their chances to get into the NCAA field. Right now, we’re projecting six teams solidly into the Big Dance (the Tar Heels, Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State, and, after escaping on Saturday vs. Georgia Tech, Boston College), but most of the focus will be on teams such as Maryland, Miami-Florida, and Virginia Tech that must make strong showings in Atlanta to keep the Committee interested. As for UNC, the Heels are on course for a top regional seed, and anything other than a loss in the quarterfinals probably assured Roy Williams’ crew of as much. Darkhorses worth a look?...With even bottom-feeding Georgia Tech proving on its best nights that it can trade punches with the big boys, no result would particularly startle us. And the Jackets do enjoy a hometown edge in this event. Having said that, we’d still keep an eye on a team like NC State, which has proven plenty pesky on its own and could easily register an upset or two. TGS team to beat...North Carolina.

ATLANTIC TEN...Tourney March 11-14 at Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, NJ. Last year...NCAA-3 (Xavier-Elite 8, Saint Joseph’s, Temple); NIT-4 (UMass-2nd place, Dayton-Quarterfinals, Charlotte, Rhode Island). What to expect...Although Xavier enters as the top seed, the Musketeers are approaching Atlantic City a bit differently than the others, as they already have an NCAA bid tucked away. For that reason, we might even slightly favor Dayton, which looks to be in good shape for a Big Dance invite but isn’t quite in the “sure thing” category as the X. But the A-10 Tourney is set for an outsider to make a surprise run; last year it was Temple, and it could be the Owls once more, as Fran Dunphy’s squad enters having won 7 of 9, and with the sort of take-charge performer in Dionte Christmas that can dominate proceedings. Rhode Island’s longshot NCAA at-large hopes took a hit in last Saturday’s loss vs. bipolar UMass, but Jim Baron’s Rams had won six straight (including an OT win over Dayton) prior to that loss. Darkhorses worth a look?...Plenty. There are some wide contrasts of styles in the A-10. If you like athletic teams that can get up and down the court, then Duquesne and emerging La Salle are teams to watch. If a slower pace and strategy appeal to you, check out Rick Majerus’ Saint Louis and Phil Martelli’s St. Joseph’s. TGS team to beat...Dayton.

BIG EAST...Tourney March 12-15 at Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY. Last year...NCAA-8 (Louisville-Elite 8, West Virginia-Sweet 16, Villanova-Sweet 16, Georgetown-2nd round, Pitt-2nd round, Notre Dame-2nd round, Marquette-2nd round, UConn); NIT-1 (Syracuse-Quarterfinals); CBI-(Cincinnati). What to expect…Anything, really. That’s because it’s a little different world in this year’s Big East, wherein the favored teams (Pitt, UConn, and Louisville) are all playing for top NCAA regional seeds, and a handful of others (Villanova, West Virginia, Syracuse, and Marquette) are simply looking to improve their seeding prospects. Marquette, in particular, could use a win or two to put itself back in line for a possible “protected” (top four in region) NCAA seed after losing four straight to close the regular season minus now-injured G Dominic James. Results in the past few weeks have also somewhat thinned out the loop’s “bubble” teams, from which we believe only Providence enters the Garden as still in that category. Too many late-season losses by the likes of Cincinnati, Georgetown, and Notre Dame have likely limited their NCAA hopes to winning this event. Darkhorses to watch...We’d keep an eye on Seton Hall, which owns a dynamic backcourt combo in Jeremy Hazell & Eugene Harvey, and played well down the stretch (including extinguishing Cincinnati’s flickering at-large hopes with a road win last Saturday over the Bearcats). Unlike the loop’s heavyweights, the Pirates are using the Big East Tourney as an audition for the NIT, CBI, or new CollegeInsider.com tourneys. TGS team to beat...Pittsburgh, although we wonder if the Panthers can really score a hat-trick over UConn if facing the Huskies in the finale.

BIG TEN...Tourney March 12-15 at Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN. Last year...NCAA-4 (Wisconsin-Sweet 16, Michigan State-Sweet 16, Purdue-2nd round, Indiana); NIT-2 (Ohio State-Champs, Minnesota). What to expect...Don’t expect many artistic masterpieces this week in Indianapolis, but the Big Ten’s Tourney is full of more intrigue than most of the others. That’s because there are probably only three sure NCAA-bound teams (Michigan State, Illinois, and Purdue) entering the conference tourney, and with many pundits predicting as many as five to seven Big Ten teams receiving bids, it could turn into quite a scramble in Indy. Our best guess is that three from among Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Penn State will also get bids, so it is imperative for all of those teams to avoid early exits if possible. The latter three are all being forced to play in first-round action on Thursday, whereas the top five conference seeds (which includes a 4-5 game Friday between Ohio State and Wisconsin) don’t have to begin until Friday. Darkhorses worth a look?...By the end of the season, Iowa was competitive with every team in the league. HC Todd Lickliter’s ability to control pace and tempo, the Hawkeyes’ various defensive looks, and the emergence of 6-6 soph Jake Kelly as a hellacious matchup at PG (all the more ironic after replacing injured starter Jeff Peterson at the point) makes Iowa a team to avoid if possible (which, unfortunately, Michigan won’t in opening-round action). Similarly, Northwestern (which won at reg.-season champ Michigan State) is potentially troublesome, and the Wildcats can rue a couple of bitter, narrow home losses vs. Purdue & Illinois that might eventually keep them out of the NCAA at-large mix. They’ll pose a very-tricky opening-round matchup for “bubbling” Minnesota, which also drew Bill Carmody’s NU in a difficult first-round matchup a year ago (one the Gophers had to rally to win, 55-52). At least Penn State gets to catch cellar-dweller Indiana in the opening round. TGS team to beat...Purdue.

BIG XII...Tourney March 11-14 at Ford Center, Oklahoma City, OK. Last year...NCAA-6 (Kansas-Champ, Texas-Elite 8, Oklahoma-2nd round, Kansas State-2nd round, Texas A&M-2nd round, Baylor); NIT-2 (Nebraska-2nd round, Oklahoma State). What to expect... With most of the league heavyweights safely into the NCAA field, this event is more for Big Dance seeding purposes. Oklahoma definitely remains in the mix for a spot on the top line, and regular-season champ Kansas, as well as Missouri, appear in line for protected seeds. Texas and recently-surging Texas A&M (won 6 in a row) have probably done enough to secure at-large bids as well. Still with some work to do are Oklahoma State and Kansas State, but as long asd each avoid early exits in Ok City, we project both into the NCAA field, and believe there will be seven loop entries making the Big Dance. Darkhorses worth a look?...We have a hard time seeing any team outside of the top three (Oklahoma, Kansas, and Mizzou) actually winning the event, except for perhaps hot Texas A&M. Baylor faded down the stretch and doesn’t appear a serious threat. Nebraska, however, might be able to pull an upset or two, as the Cornhuskers likely use this event as a tuneup for the NIT. TGS team to beat...Oklahoma, especially with the tourney held in such close proximity to Norman.

BIG WEST...Tourney March 11-14 at Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, CA. Last year...NCAA-1 (CS Fullerton). What to expect...Anything, really, from a watered-down yet competitive loop that will be happy its tourney winner isn’t banished to the 64 vs. 65 play-in game at Dayton. Literally, any of the eight entries have a realistic chance to advance. Darkhorses worth a look?...Since every team appears to have a chance, there are no true darkhorses in this event. Having said that, we’d still keep an eye on recenty-surging UC Irvine, which also enters Anaheim on the heels of 7 straight pointspread covers. TGS team to beat...Pacific, but really, we wouldn’t be surprised if any of the teams won.

C-USA...Tourney March 11-14 at FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN. Last year...NCAA-1 (Memphis-2nd place); NIT-1 (UAB-2nd round); CBI-3 (Tulsa-Champs, Houston-Semifinals, UTEP). What to expect...Perhaps they should just change the name of this event to the “Memphis Invitational” instead, as it serves as nothing more than a coronation party for the Tigers, who haven’t lost a league game since the GOP was in control of both houses of Congress (January of 2006...58 straight C-USA wins!). The only intrigue is if another team can do enough to gain the attention of the Selection Committee, and at this point only Tulsa and perhaps Houston sit on the periphery of the Big Dance bubble. Darkhorses worth a look?...Every team save the heavily-favored Tigers is a darkhorse in this event, so for the rest it is basically an audition for other postseason events such as the NIT, CBI, or new CollegeInsider.com tourneys. Besides, Tulsa and Houston, UAB, UTEP, and perhaps UCF will be looking to go somewhere in the postseason. TGS team to beat...surprise, it’s Memphis! MAC—..Tourney March 11-14 at Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH. Last year...NCAA-1 (Kent State); NIT-1 (Akron-2nd round); CBI-2 (Ohio-2nd round, Miami-Ohio). What to expect...This is a tourney only a hoop aficionado could love. At least it’s a wide-open event, with no fewer than five reps (Buffalo, Bowling Green, Akron, Miami-Ohio, and Kent State) from the stronger of the league’s halves, the East, figuring to have a real chance. It’s worth noting that none of the league’s six Western reps either finished above .500 in league play or .500 overall. Darkhorses worth a look?...Given that we think the champ is going to come from the Eastern half of the loop, and that the top five teams in the East all finished within one game of each other in the league standings, we’re not sure who would actually qualify as a MAC darkhorse. TGS team to beat...Bowling Green, which enters the league tourney as the East’s number one seed based upon its pair of regular-season wins over the Buffalo Bulls. Louis Orr’s Falcons, 9-3 in their last 12 games, also enter Cleveland as the league’s hottest team.

MOUNTAIN WEST...Tourney March 10-14 at Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV. Last year...NCAA-2 (UNLV-2nd round, BYU); NIT-2 (New Mexico, San Diego State); CBI-1 (Utah-2nd round). What to expect...We’re not sure recently-struggling UNLV can duplicate what it did the last two years, which was winning the MWC Tourney on its home floor. Without much (if any) inside presence and laboring from the perimeter in recent weeks, we’re not sure HC Lon Kruger can pull another rabbit out of his tournament hat. Plus, the Rebs’ opening MWC Tourney assignment is vs. San Diego State, which beat UNLV twice this season. The consensus seems to be that Utah and BYU are securely into the Big Dance field, with the host Rebels, Steve Fisher’s aforementioned Aztecs, and Steve Alford’s New Mexico all on the periphery of the bubble and needing strong showings in Vegas to enhance their NCAA arguments. Darkhorses worth a look?...With a potent backcourt combo of sr. Gs Brandon Ewing and Sean Ogirri, Wyoming could potentially cause problems, but it would be hard to envision the Cowboys actually winning this event unless it was held in Laramie. TGS team to beat...Utah, thanks to its sr.-laden lineup, legit “big” in 7-2 C Luke Nevill, and intense defensive work ethic imposed by non-nonsense 2nd-year HC Jim Boylen. But don’t be shocked if host UNLV is on the victory stand next Saturday.

PAC 10...Tourney March 11-14 at Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA. Last year...NCAA-6 (UCLA-Final Four, Washington State-Sweet 16, Stanford-Sweet 16, Arizona, Oregon, Southern Cal); NIT-2 (Arizona State-Quarterfinals, Cal-2nd round); CBI-1 (Washington). What to expect...For the most part, this event will be more about teams trying to improve their NCAA seeding prospects. Washington, UCLA, Arizona State, and Cal all safely project into the Big Dance field, and the winner of this event should be guaranteed no worse than protected-seed status (NCAA sub-regional venues in the west this season are at Portland and Boise). The only real “bubble” intrigue is Arizona, which needs a strong showing at Staples Center to enhance its NCAA case. A very-intriguing first-round matchup vs. rival Arizona State will be a game to watch on Thursday. Darkhorses worth a look?...There are a couple to keep an eye on for sure, those being Washington State and Southern Cal. The Cougs seemed to hit their stride the past few weeks, knocking off UCLA, both Arizona schools, and pushing regular-season champ Washington to the limit last Saturday in Seattle. Wazzu has a legit “big” in C Aron Baynes and has found some real pop in the backcourt now that frosh Klay Thompson has emerged as a potent scoring threat opposite sr. Taylor Rochestie. This team also has a few more gears than typical Dick/Tony Bennett-coached squads, so keep an eye on the Cougs. As we would athletic Southern Cal, playing these games just a few miles from its home campus. Depth, however, has been an issue for Troy all season, and that could really prove problematic in a grueling conference tourney format. TGS team to beat...Herb Sendek’s Arizona State, which beat UCLA twice and will be looking to avenge a pair of losses vs. U-Dub, the second of which was a bitter OT setback in Seattle when ASU star James Harden fouled out.

SEC...Tourney March 12-15 at St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, FL. Last year...NCAA-6 (Tennessee-Sweet 16, Arkansas-2nd round, Mississippi State-2nd round, Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt); NIT-2 (Florida-Semifinals, Ole Miss-Semifinals). What to expect...Is there a more wide-open conference tourney than the SEC? No dominant team emerged from the loop this season, and when LSU threatened to do so, it was rudely dumped by Vanderbilt and Auburn. Entering Tampa, only LSU and Tennessee appear to have their NCAA tickets punched, although we think Florida and South Carolina are in pretty good shape as well. Chemistry-poor Kentucky’s Big Dance chances have bene basically reduced to winning this event after losing four straight to close the regular season. Fast-closing Auburn, which has won 8 of its last 9, probably sits in better shape on the bubble than Billy Gillispie’s Wildcats. Darkhorses worth a look?...We’re intrigued by Vanderbilt, which has never won this tournament but nonetheless looks as if it means business after winning three straight to close the regular season. 6-11 soph C A.J. Ogilvy, finally healthy after battling nagging injuries much of the season, has twice set career scoring highs in his last three games, and Kevin Stallings’ bevy of highly-touted frosh were beginning to make a real impact down the stretch. Last week’s win at LSU is an indication not to take the Commodores lightly. Similarly, keep an eye on Alabama, which has played well enough down the stretch that interim HC Philip Pearson ought to be given strong consideration to get the Crimson Tide job on a full-time basis. And, while we’re talking about teams rising to the occasion, we might as well mention Kentucky, now in the darkhorse category but still with potential game-changers in Jodie Meeks & Patrick Patterson. TGS team to beat...a weak vote to South Carolina, with arguably the league’s best G duo in Devan Downey & Zam Fredrick and which might be approaching this event with a bit more urgency than other top contenders LSU, Tennessee, or Florida.

WAC...Tourney March 10-14, Lawlor Events Center, Reno, NV. Last year...NCAA-1 (Boise State); NIT-1 (Utah State); CBI-1 (Nevada). What to expect...Things have changed in the WAC in the past few weeks. First of all, Utah State, cruising along unbeaten in league play and breaking into the national rankings in February, lost three games in a 2-week span (including a Bracket Buster setback at Saint Mary’s) to jeopardize its Big Dance at-large hopes. Second, tourney host Nevada, which had been curiously ineffective in Reno for most of the season, suddenly began to hit stride, winning an exciting Bracket Buster at the Lawlor Center vs. Virginia Commonwealth, then popping the Utags the following week. Suddenly, the maturing Wolf Pack (watch soph G Armon Johnson and frosh PF Like Babbitt) appears to have rediscovered its homecourt edge just in time for the conference tourney. And if we were Utah State, we wouldn’t want to chance an NCAA bid on an at-large invitation. The Utags are going to have to approach this tourney with a win-or-else mindset. Darkhorses worth a look?...Idaho was one of the pleasant surprises in the nation this season and even beat the Wolf Pack on this court in early January, but we’re not sure the Vandals have the necessary quality depth to survive the tourney format. Boise State won this event in Las Cruces with a much-different team last season, and has occasionally looked menacing, but the Broncos’ so-so backcourt production is usually not the recipe for a deep tourney run. TGS team to beat...Nevada, which finally looks as if it can capitalize upon its homecourt advantage in Reno.

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