Bracket Watch: It’s conference tournament season, baby

Several smaller-conference tournaments are already underway, most notably the Missouri Valley, which holds it championship game Sunday in St. Louis. There’s been much discussion of late about the dearth of mid-major at-large berths in recent years with many hoping that trend reverses itself this year.

There are in fact a few — but only a few — viable mid-major at-large candidates right now.

Wichita State (27-4): Barring a stunning early ouster at Arch Madness, Wichita will be in the dance. The Shockers have already cracked the Top 10 on KenPom, even higher than where they were last year when they made the First Four. This despite just one RPI Top 50 win all season (over Illinois State).

Middle Tennessee (26-4): The Blue Raiders, which beat bubble contender Vanderbilt, are in decent shape should they reach the Conference USA tourney final but lose. I currently have them as a No. 11 seed, higher than my last three at-large teams. A Top 25 non-conference schedule rating certainly helps.

Illinois State (25-5): The Redbirds — top seeds in the Missouri Valley tournament — will have a chance even if they lose to Wichita State in their tourney final, but their resume is admittedly very thin (just two RPI Top 100 wins). It may be a tough sell.

Saint Mary’s (26-3): The Gaels missed the cut last year at 27-5. No such concern this year. They’re a consensus Top 25 team who I have as a six seed. Lock it up.

And that’s it. All due respect to Vermont, Monmouth, Princeton and the like, but you’re going to need to win that conference tourney. This is March.

A reminder: Selection Sunday is March 12, and the tourney begins March 14. The Final Four is April 1-3 in Phoenix.

* — Denotes projected conference champion, automatic berth

This edition’s bracket is Midwest vs. West and East vs. South in the national semifinals, based on the order of my No. 1 seeds. UPDATE: A previous version had some game sites in the wrong places. They have been corrected below.

BRACKET WATCH

MIDWEST REGION (KANSAS CITY)
Seed Team Location
1 Kansas* at Tulsa
16 UC Irvine*/New Orleans*
8 South Carolina
9 Michigan State
4 Purdue* at Milwaukee
13 Princeton*
5 Notre Dame
12 Vermont*
6 Saint Mary’s at Orlando
11 USC/Vanderbilt
3 Florida State
14 Bucknell*
7 Wisconsin at Sacramento
10 Wichita State
2 UCLA
15 NC Central*
WEST REGION (San Jose)
Seed Team Location
1 Gonzaga* at Salt Lake City
16 North Dakota*
8 Marquette
9 Arkansas
4 West Virginia at Buffalo
13 Nevada*
5 SMU*
12 UT Arlington*
6 Minnesota at Greenville, SC
11 Providence
3 Duke
14 Akron*
7 Virginia Tech at Sacramento
10 Seton Hall
2 Oregon*
15 Cal State Bakersfield*
EAST REGION (NEW YORK)
Seed Team Location
1 Villanova* at Buffalo
16 Texas Southern*/Mount St. Mary’s*
8 Northwestern
9 Oklahoma State
4 Florida at Orlando
13 Monmouth*
5 Virginia
12 UNC Wilmington*
6 Maryland at Milwaukee
11 Middle Tennessee*
3 Butler
14 Florida Gulf Coast*
7 Iowa State at Indianapolis
10 VCU
2 Louisville
15 UNC Greensboro*
SOUTH REGION (MEMPHIS)
Seed Team Location
1 North Carolina* at Greenville, SC
16 South Dakota*
8 Dayton*
9 Michigan
4 Arizona at Salt Lake City
13 Belmont*
5 Cincinnati
12 Illinois State*
6 Creighton at Indianapolis
11 Wake Forest/Illinois
3 Kentucky*
14 Oakland*
7 Miami at Tulsa
10 Xavier
2 Baylor
15 Winthrop*

LAST FOUR BYES: Xavier, Seton Hall, Wichita State, Providence

LAST FOUR IN: USC, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Illinois

FIRST FOUR OUT: Syracuse, Kansas State, Cal, Iowa

NEXT FOUR OUT: Ohio State, Rhode Island, TCU, Georgia

MULTIPLE BID CONFERENCES: ACC (10), Big Ten (8), Big East (7), Big 12 (5), SEC (5), Pac-12 (4), A-10 (2), American (2), WCC (2)