By Ed Greif
Sunday is St. Patrick's Day for many folks, but fans of the 68 men's college basketball teams will watch the balance of the conference tournaments and then the Selection Sunday programing to see who gets bids to the "Big Dance," which begins Tuesday and Wednesday with a couple of games between the last four teams in the field.
Fans of women's basketball have to wait until Monday night to know where their favorites land.
Going into this week's conference tournaments, the following men's teams have earned automatic bids — Belmont (OVC), Creighton (Missouri Valley), Davidson (SoCon), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlanta Sun), Gonzaga (West Coast), Harvard (Ivy League), Iona (MAAC), James Madison (CAA), Liberty (Big South), LIU Brooklyn (Northeast), South Dakota State (Summit League), Valpariso (Horzon League) and Western Kentucky (Sun Belt). Liberty will take a 15-20 record into the NCAA Tournament.
Most of the "biggy" conferences, i.e., SEC, ACC, Pac-12, Pac-10, Conference USA, etc., are under way as this goes to press. There will be some upsets along the way which are going to burst the bubble of some teams.
For instance, MTSU was the regular season Sun Belt champ, but lost in the Sun Belt semi-finals to FIU. The Blue Raiders are 29-6 and should get one of the 37 at-large bids.
Florida is the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament. Tennessee (19-11), Kentucky (21-10), Mississippi (23-8) and Alabama (20-11) are on the bubble for NCAA bids, and need good showings this week to go "dancing." Don't count out Missouri (20-9) and Arkansas (19-12) to do some noise in the SEC tournament.
Mississippi State defeated South Carolina Wednesday night 70-59, and Texas A&M beat Auburn 71-62. The Vols faced Mississippi State Thursday, while Texas A&M battled Missouri.
Memphis should get an NCAA berth from Conference-USA. The Tigers are going to be challenged by Southern Mississippi (23-8) and UCF (20-11).
The SEC has five teams with 20+ wins this season, while the Pac-10, Big East, Atlantic 10 and ACC have six teams each with 20+ victories. The Pac-12, Big 12 and Mountain West have five teams with 20+ victories. Just those conferences have a combined total of 39 teams with 20 or more wins on the season.
Who will be the top four overall seeds is a big question. Gonzaga is the only top seed I see at this point.
Automatic bids secured on the women's side go to Baylor (Big 12), Chattanooga (SoCon), Duke (ACC), Gonzaga (West Coast), Liberty (Big South), Marist (MAAC), MTSU (Sun Belt), Notre Dame (BIg East), Princeton (Ivy League), Purdue (BIg 10), South Dakota State (Summit League), Stanford (Pac-12), Stetson (Atlantic Sun), Texas A&M (SEC) and UT-Martin (OVC).
Tennessee Tech, which lost to UT-Martin in OVC title game, could get one of the 33 at-large bids into the women's field.
Brittany Griner and her Baylor Lady Bears are the consensus overall No. 1. Notre Dame, which beat UConn for the Big East title Tuesday night, is another No. 1 seed. The other likely two top seeds are Stanford and Duke. SEC champion Texas A&M and runner-up Kentucky will both be two or three seeds somewhere.
Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, L.S.U. and Vanderbilt are also predicted to get bids. Kentucky is probably a No. 2 seed, while Tennessee could be either a two, three or four seed. The Lady Vols' seeding was hurt because of their loss to Texas A&M in the conference tournament semi-finals.
It would be fun to see the Lady Vols match up with UConn, Notre Dame or Stanford in a regional semi-final or final to get to the final four.
Chattanooga should get a decent seed, as the Lady Mocs have wins over Alabama and Tennessee during the regular season. They could be one of the Cinderella teams this year.
We'll just see how close the bracketologists were on their predictions on Monday and Tuesday.
Speaking of Notre Dame, they are going to join the ACC beginning in the fall of 2013, ending a successful run in the Big East, with the remaining Catholic schools — DePaul, Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall, Providence and Villanova — forming their own conference. Butler, Xavier and Creighton have been mentioned to join the "Catholic 7" in the new conference. Those schools don't have football.
Notre Dame will be going into the ACC, while Louisville is moving to the ACC in 2014. Rutgers is to join the Big 10.
Central Florida, Houston, Tulane and SMU is expected to join UConn, South Florida and Cincinnati to former a new conference to continue the conference shuffle.
You will see a lot of scheduling problems, as these "super conferences" approach the 14- to 16-team plateau, especially when the NCAA limits schools to 27 or so regular season basketball games.
How many "super conferences" of 14 to 16 teams for football and basketball are there going be in the future? How will this affect the football playoff in 2014?
Will the NCAA have to increase the men's basketball tournament field from 68 to 80, or even 90? Will the women's hoop tournament field have to be increased from 64 to 80 or 90?
Just a thought, why not double the tournament fields to 128? This way the regional rotations of Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and Wednesday, Friday and Sunday for the first week of play.
If this were to happen, let the highest seed host the Tuesday and Wednesday games before moving on to the weekend rotations. However, you would have to end all conference tournaments, both men and women, on the same date to start the regionals on Tuesday.
Both selection shows would have to be on Sunday.
Of course, money and TV will dictate what happens.
(Ed Greif is the Chronicle sports editor and his column appears periodically.)