CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT PREVIEWS

Frank Burlison takes a look at the four conference tournaments that are starting on Wednesday the Big East, the Atlantic 10, the Big West and Conference USA, and provides his analysis of who will ultimately emerge from each.

Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament
At Cincinnati (U.S. Bank Arena)
Wednesday-Saturday
Regular-season champion:
Saint Josephís (14-2 in conference)
Wednesday schedule: Richmond vs. Rhode Island; Massachusetts vs. La Salle; Fordham vs. Duquesne; Dayton vs. St. Bonaventure.
Thursday quarterfinals: Saint Josephís vs. Richmond/Rhode Island winner; Xavier vs. Massachusetts/La Salle winner; George Washington vs. Fordham/Duquesne winner; Temple vs. Dayton/St. Bonaventure winner.
Best potential non-championship matchup: Temple vs. George Washington in a semifinal.
Keep this in mind: Saint Josephís has just lost once in the last month and is a combined 4-0 vs. the next three top seeds (Temple, George Washington and Xavier). ... With John Chaney suspended, Temple is being led by assistant coach Dan Leibovitz.
Player to check out: Temple 6-foot-5 junior guard Mardy Collins is the best NBA prospect in the conference and is projected as a potential first-round selection in June.
Projected tournament winner: Saint Josephís over Temple. In light of the Feb. 22 meeting between the teams that resulted in Hawksí forward John Bryant being lost for the season with a broken arm and Chaney being suspended, it should be a highly emotional affair.
At-large Land: George Washington has the best resume but is advised against a Thursday stumble.

Big East Conference Tournament
At New York City (Madison Square Garden)
Regular-season champion:
Boston College and Connecticut (shared it at 13-3)
Wednesday schedule: West Virginia vs. Providence; Georgetown vs. Seton Hall; Notre Dame vs. Rutgers.
Thursday quarterfinals: Boston College vs. West Virginia/Providence winner; Villanova vs. Pittsburgh; Connecticut vs. Georgetown/Seton Hall winner; Syracuse vs. Notre Dame/Rutgers winner.
Best non-championship matchup: Villanova vs. Pittsburgh in a quarterfinal.
Keep this in mind: Three teams (Connecticut, Villanova and Pittsburgh) are playing extremely well right now. ... Georgetown, once seemingly a ìlockî for an at-large bid a few weeks ago, has dropped five in a row. Will getting to the tournament final be enough to get back in the selection committeeís good graces?
Player to check out: Connecticut sophomore point guard Marcus Williams has been marvelous of late (13.0 points and 9.7 assists per game during teamís six-game winning streak).
Projected tournament winner: Connecticut over Pittsburgh. The programs hook up for the title for the fourth year in a row, with the Huskies having titles sandwiched around Pittís win in 2003.
At-large Land: Boston College, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Villanova are in the field of 65, with solid seeds, regardless of what transpires in New York. Notre Dame and West Virginia seemed relatively assured of bids ñ assuming Wednesday victories and no bundle of upsets in many of the so-called ìmid-majorî conferences that would snap up at-large bids.

Big West Conference Tournament
At Anaheim, Calif. (Anaheim Convention Center)
Regular-season champion:
Pacific (18-0)
Wednesday schedule: UC Irvine vs. Idaho and Long Beach State vs. UC Santa Barbara.
Thursday quarterfinals: Cal State Fullerton vs. lowest remaining seed of Wednesday winners; Cal State Northridge vs. highest remaining seed of Wednesday winners (note: Pacific and Utah State have byes until Friday semifinals).
Best potential non-championship matchup: Cal State Fullerton vs. Utah State (semifinal).
Keep this in mind: Pacific, based on its unbeaten conference mark and overall 25-2 record, would seem to be an overwhelming favorite. But ... the Tigers had narrow escapes at Utah State and Cal State Fullerton in the second round of league, and Cal State Northridge played them tough twice.
Player to check out: Spencer Nelson of Utah State is a 25-year-old who also happens to be one of the most polished and most underrated post players in the country.
Projected tournament winner: Utah State over Pacific. The Aggies, in their final season in the conference before heading to the Western Athletic Conference, get the spot in the NCAA field they thought they were unjustly denied a year ago after being upset in the conference tourney semifinals by Cal State Northridge.
At-large Land: UOP is safely assured a spot in the 65-team field that will be unveiled Sunday, regardless of what happens in the arena located just across the street from Disneyland.

Conference USA Tournament
At Memphis (FedExForum)
Regular-season champion:
Louisville (14-2)
Wednesday schedule: TCU vs. Marquette; DePaul vs. Tulane; Saint Louis vs. Memphis; Houston vs. South Florida. Thursday quarterfinals: Louisville vs. TCU/Marquette winner; Alabama-Birmingham vs. DePaul/Tulane winner; Charlotte vs. Saint Louis/Memphis winner; Cincinnati vs. Houston/South Florida winner.
Best potential non-championship matchup: Memphis vs. Charlotte (quarterfinal).
Keep this in mind: Charlotte came into Louisville last week tied with the Cardinals for the conference lead and promptly lost that one and then was stunned in its finale at South Florida. ... Louisville is among the most sizzling teams in the country with 15 victories in its past 16 games.
Player to check out: Memphis freshman guard Darius Washington Jr. Heís as dynamic a player as there is in this field and the Tigers will need four great days out of him to capture the tourney title and secure a spot in the NCAA field. Projected tournament winner: Louisville over Memphis. And then the Tigers do some serious sweating on Sunday waiting for the CBS Selection Show.
At-large Land: The Cardinals, Cincinnati, Charlotte have no concerns if they stumble early in Memphis. DePaul and Alabama-Birmingham (which could meet in quarterfinals Thursday) need at least one win apiece, it seems.



Recently elected to the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and also covers college basketball for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com.

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