President's Day's arrival in February means madness is approaching... March Madness.
March always begins with conference tournaments where automatic qualifying bids to the men's tournament are on the line. March Madness correspondent Andy Katz has predicted each conference tournament champion — before conference brackets are revealed.
Here's how Katz projects the automatic qualifiers, through the games played as of Sunday, Feb. 19.
- ASun: Liberty.
- Ritchie McKay’s experienced squad loves the big moments.
- America East: UMass-Lowell.
- Vermont has the history, but Lowell has a veteran squad primed for an upset W.
- AAC: Houston.
- The Cougars are far and away the best team and will be playing for a top seed.
- A10: VCU.
- The Rams have risen to the challenge of late and Ace Baldwin has been the MVP.
- ACC: Miami.
- Jim Larranaga’s squad is peaking at the right time and could make another deep run.
- Big 12: Kansas.
- The Jayhawks will have plenty to play for in Kansas City, hoping to be back in that same arena for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.
- Big East: UConn.
- The Huskies could bookend their season with elite play at beginning and end. And MSG will have a Huskie lean.
- Big Sky: Eastern Washington.
- The Eagles have been the best team all season and Steele Venters is the goods for them. Great name. Good scorer.
- Big South: South Carolina Upstate.
- Looking for an upset pick here but Upstate has already beaten UNC Asheville and Longwood once this season.
- Big Ten: Purdue.
- The Boilermakers will rise to the challenge of being the top seed and being on a neutral court will help.
- Big West: UC Santa Barbara.
- Ajay Mitchell gets the game-winner for the Gauchos. Ha!
- CAA: Hofstra.
- The Pride have quietly taken the mantel from Charleston, Wilmington and Towson as the team to beat.
- C-USA: Florida Atlantic.
- The Owls have been ranked but will need to win this tournament to get a bid. They will.
- Horizon: Cleveland State.
- The Vikings are getting hot at the right time.
- Ivy: Penn.
- The Quakers have won seven in a row and positioned for an Ivy title.
- MAAC: Iona.
- Rick Pitino. That’s all that needs to be said.
- MAC: Toledo.
- The Rockets are rolling into March.
- MEAC: Howard.
- Kenny Blakeney has done a great job rebuilding the Bison.
- MVC: Bradley.
- Brian Wardle’s Braves got healthy at the right time.
- MWC: San Diego State.
- I loved the Aztecs early in person and I’m back on the bandwagon late.
- NEC: Fairleigh Dickinson.
- This is a process of elimination since the two best teams Merrimack and Stonehill aren’t eligible.
- OVC: Morehead State.
- Consistency wins. They have taken advantage of the Murray State and Belmont absence.
- Pac-12: UCLA.
- Defense. The Bruins have it and can dictate tempo better than any other squad in the league.
- Patriot: Colgate.
- The Raiders always tend to step up in the big moments in late February and March against league competition.
- SEC: Alabama.
- The Tide have the best player/team. They will be playing for a No. 1 overall seed.
- Southern: Furman.
- The Paladins will be led by Mike Bothwell into the NCAAs.
- Southland: TAMU-CC.
- The Islanders have been the best team all season. That won’t change in the tournament.
- SWAC: Grambling State.
- The Tigers proved they can handle the big moment when they knocked off Colorado in November.
- Summit: Oral Roberts.
- Two words: Max Abmas.
- Sun Belt: Marshall.
- The Herd have two 20-point scorers in Taevion Kinsey and Andrew Taylor. Go with the high scorers.
- WCC: Gonzaga.
- Drew Timme won’t be denied in his final WCC tournament.
- WAC: Utah Valley.
- Mark Madsen was a winner with Stanford as a player in college, the Lakers as a pro and now as a coach in the WAC.
MORE: These 22 ingredients make up the DI men's basketball selection committee's top-16 rankings
Here are all of Katz's champions in table format:
|CONFERENCE||AUTOMATIC QUALIFIER prediction as of 2/20|
|Big Sky||Eastern Washington|
|Big South||South Carolina Upstate|
|Big West||UC Santa Barbara|
|Conference USA||Florida Atlantic|
|Mountain West||San Diego State|
|Southland||Texas A&M-Corpus Christi|
|Summit League||Oral Roberts|