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Small conference tourneys to watch

Five mid-major conference tournaments to keep an eye on as Championship Week unfolds.

Horizon LeagueDates: March 3, campus sites; March 6-7, quarterfinals, semifinals at ButlerChampionship game: Tuesday, March 10, at highest remaining seed (9 p.m., ESPN)

Why it matters: No league is in a clearer one-bid/two-bid situation than the Horizon. Regular-season champion Butler (25-4) is in the NCAA tournament even if it loses in the first round. No other team has a chance unless it wins the Horizon tournament. Green Bay and Cleveland State certainly have legitimate shots. Green Bay beat Butler 75-66 in early February, and Cleveland State lost to Butler by two points twice. Butler and Green Bay -- the top two seeds -- have byes to the semifinals.

Metro Atlantic Athletic ConferenceDates: March 6-9, Albany, N.Y.Championship Game: Monday, March 9, Albany (9 p.m., ESPN2)

Why it matters: Siena (23-7) is sitting squarely on the bubble. Positives: RPI of 29, strength of schedule of 73 and 23 regular-season wins. Negatives: 0-4 record vs. top 50, plus two 100+ losses. Siena needs to at least get to the final, but even that may not be enough. Second-place Niagra split with Siena during the season, and Rider has beaten both in the last three weeks. The Saints reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last year, but they may not get a chance to dance if they don't go 3-for-3 in their home city.

Southern ConferenceDates: March 6-9, Chattanooga, Tenn.Championship Game: Monday, March 9, Chattanooga (7 p.m., ESPN)

Why it matters:One word: Steff-in. If Davidson doesn't win this tournament, there will be no Steph Curry in the NCAA tournament. Curry electrified the nation with a stunning four-game NCAA run last March when he averaged 32 points against Gonzaga, Georgetown, Wisconsin and Kansas. Davidson won the league with an 18-2 record, but a 7-4 nonconference mark and an RPI of 67 (which may drop between now and Selection Sunday even with wins) are not going to be enough for an at-large bid. Davidson's road looks to be Appalachian State, Western Carolina and UT-Chattanooga, teams the Wildcats went 4-0 against this year -- a good sign, but beware: the championship game is at Chattanooga.

Missouri Valley ConferenceDates: March 5-8, St. LouisChampionship Game: Sunday, March 8, (1 p.m., CBS)

Why it matters: Annually the best mid-major conference tournament, Arch Madness will have intrigue this year with Creighton (25-6) trying to solidify its at-large status. If the Bluejays reach the finals, the MVC will be able to count two bids after having just one last year. If Creighton, winners of 10 straight, falls in the semis or quarters, it won't be a death sentence, but it will be an uneasy week waiting for Selection Sunday for Dana Altman.

West Coast ConferenceDates: March 6-9, Las VegasChampionship Game: Monday, March 9, (9 p.m., ESPN)

Why it matters: With regular-season champ Gonzaga guaranteed an at-large bid even if they don't win this tourney, the bubble team to focus on is St. Mary's. The Gaels will get star guard Patty Mills back from a broken hand after he missed nine games (plus a half against Gonzaga). St. Mary's is 24-5 (18-1 with Mills) with an RPI of 53. A berth in the final against Gonzaga, which should be relatively easy, should be enough. The WCC gives the top two seeds byes to the semifinal of the conference tournament, so a rested St. Mary's needs to beat a team that will be playing its second game in two nights or possibly its third game in three nights.

In the Atlantic Sun, Jacksonville holds the No. 1 seed and will need to win just two games in order to advance to the NCAA tournament just three years after going 1-26. The Dolphins were last in the tournament in 1986. ... VCU guard Eric Maynor's story is somewhat similar to Steph Curry -- big-time guard at small school makes splash at NCAA tourney. Maynor is a senior and will look to get his top-seeded Rams through the CAA tourney and back to the NCAAs for the first time since he eliminated Duke with a last-second jumper as a sophomore. VCU enjoys a solid home-court advantage at the Richmond Coliseum. ... North Dakota State is the top seed in the Summit League and has a chance to make the NCAAs in its first year of eligibility after a five-year transition period. Four senior starters redshirted as freshmen hoping for this opportunity, and they stand three wins from fulfilling that dream. At the worst, however, the Bison have earned a berth in the NIT as regular-season champs.

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