Oct. 27, 2010

Conference tournament time is here! Six conferences will begin the first rounds of their respective tournaments this week with the ultimate prize of an automatic berth to the 2010 NCAA Division I Championship on the line. Thirty of the 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament bracket automatically qualify by winning their conference crown, while 34 squads receive at-large bids. Four leagues - the Big Ten, Ivy League, Pac-10 and West Coast Conference - use the regular season champion as the conference's automatic qualifier. But for those remaining 26 leagues, a tournament title will guarantee a spot in the NCAA bracket. That championship quest starts this weekend for the America East, Atlantic Sun, BIG EAST, Horizon League, Mid-American Conference and Southern Conference. bostonu_heist.jpgAmerica East First round action begins on Oct. 28 with contests between Hartford-Maine and Albany-New Hampshire with the winners advancing to semifinal games at No. 1 Boston University and No. 2 Stony Brook on Oct. 31. BU has won 11 consecutive games and is unbeaten in league play entering the conference tournament. The Terriers also take a shutout streak of 1,000:02 minutes into the weekend, which ranks sixth all-time in NCAA history. The highest remaining seed will host the championship game on Nov. 6 or 7. Atlantic Sun Four teams will compete in the first round of the six-team tournament as No. 3 North Florida hosts No. 6 Stetson, and No. 4 Kennesaw State squares off versus No. 5 East Tennessee State on Oct. 30. The winners will meet No. 2 Mercer and No. 1 Jacksonville, respectively, in the semifinals on Nov. 4 in Jacksonville, Fla. It is UNF's first time qualifying for the tournament since becoming a Division I member, while KSU is the league's defending champion. BIG EAST The 10-team tournament starts off on Oct. 28 with a pair of No. 4 vs. No. 5 match-ups as Connecticut hosts Louisville and DePaul welcomes Pittsburgh to commence action. Marquette earned the No. 1 seed of the American Division after going 11-0-0 in BIG EAST play, while Notre Dame won the National Division for the sixth straight season. Both have first round byes and will host the winners of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 contests in quarterfinal match-ups on Oct. 31. In the other quarterfinal games Georgetown takes on USF and West Virginia faces Rutgers. The Irish puts their NCAA Division I-record 77-game (72-0-5) unbeaten streak on the line, while West Virginia enters the tournament riding a school-record nine-game winning streak. Horizon League Wright State's upset of then-league-leading UW-Milwaukee last weekend bolstered the Raiders' tournament seed to No. 4, as they earned the right to host No. 5 Loyola in a first round contest on Oct. 31. The winner will advance to play top-seeded Butler at the Butler Bowl in Indianapolis on Nov. 5. Mid-American Conference Tournament seeding will be finalized after the last regular season games on Thursday, but Toledo has already secured the No. 1 spot and will host its' quarterfinal meeting on Oct. 31 against the No. 8 seed. The Rockets enter the tournament on a program-record 13-match unbeaten streak. Southern Conference UNC Greensboro has already clinched the top seed in the SoCon Tournament with a perfect 10-0-0 mark in league play so far, but Wednesday and Thursday's contests will help nail down the other seven qualifiers for the Oct. 31 quarterfinal games.