Men’s college basketball conference tournament guide: The early high-stakes drama

The madness has arrived.

The first men’s basketball conference tournaments start this week, led by the first round of the Atlantic Sun tournament on Monday. The first automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament will be awarded Saturday night in the Ohio Valley tournament title game. In many of these early events, the drama is as high as it gets, because only the winner will hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

Here’s your guide to the 15 conference tournaments that begin between now and Sunday. Brackets are included in those leagues where they’ve already been set. New brackets will be added to this story when they become available, and we’ll be back next Monday for the other 17 conference tournaments.

(Conferences are listed in alphabetical order; all times ET.)

America East

When it starts: Saturday

Where: Campus sites

Title game: Saturday, March 16, 11 a.m, ESPN2

Top seed: Vermont (25-6, 14-1 America East)

The skinny: The regular season wraps up Tuesday night, Vermont is once again the No. 1 seed, as it has been for seven of the past eight AmEast tourneys. The Catamounts are seeking their 10th NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003.

Atlantic Sun

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Monday

Where: Campus sites

Title game: Sunday, March 10, 2 p.m., ESPN2

Top seed: Eastern Kentucky (17-13, 12-4 Atlantic Sun)

The skinny: Led by Isaiah Cozart, who is one of the nation’s top shot-blockers despite standing 6-foot-7, Eastern Kentucky is looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. No. 8 seed Queens is ineligible for the automatic bid as it is still transitioning to Division I.

Big South

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: High Point, N.C.

Title game: Sunday, March 10, Noon, ESPN2

Top seed: High Point (24-7, 13-3 Big South)

The skinny: High Point earned its first No. 1 seed since 2016 under first-year coach Alan Huss. The Panthers will have to hold off defending champion UNC Asheville and star big man Drew Pember, but High Point gets to host the tournament.

Big Sky

When it starts: Saturday

Where: Boise, Idaho

Title game: Wednesday, March 13, 11:30 p.m., ESPN2

Top seed: Eastern Washington (20-10, 14-3 Big Sky)

The skinny: The league finishes its regular season on Monday night, but Eastern Washington has already clinched the regular-season title for the second straight year. Weber State has one of the best mid-major players in America in 6-foot-6 forward Dillon Jones (20.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 5.3 apg).

Coastal Athletic Association

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Friday

Where: Washington D.C.

Title game: Tuesday, March 12, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network

Top seed: Charleston (24-7, 15-3 CAA)

The skinny: Charleston won its final nine games to repeat as regular-season champs and looks to make its second straight NCAA Tournament under Pat Kelsey. There will be plenty of challengers, including No. 4 seed UNC Wilmington, which beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena this season.

Horizon

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Tuesday

Where: Campus sites for early rounds; title game in Indianapolis

Title game: Tuesday, March 12, 7 p.m., ESPN

Top seed: Oakland (20-11, 15-5 Horizon)

The skinny: Oakland is looking for its first NCAA Tournament trip since 2011 and fourth under Greg Kampe, who is in his 40th (!) season at the helm. Want a Cinderella story? No. 11 seed Detroit Mercy went 1-30 this season.

Missouri Valley

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Thursday

Where: St. Louis

Title game: Sunday, March 10, 2 p.m., CBS

Top seed: Indiana State (26-5, 17-3 Missouri Valley)

The skinny: Arch Madness is always a must-see but even more so this season with a pair of potential NCAA Tournament teams in Indiana State and Drake. The Sycamores have become a feel-good story this season under Josh Schertz, while No. 2 seed Drake is led by superstar Tucker DeVries. Bradley is good enough to play spoiler.

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Northeast

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: Campus sites

Title game: Tuesday, March 12, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Top seed: Central Connecticut State (19-10, 13-3 Northeast)

The skinny: Central Connecticut State edged Merrimack on the final day of the season to earn its first No. 1 seed since 2007. Merrimack is eligible to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time this year.

Ohio Valley

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Wednesday

Where: Evansville, Ind.

Title game: Saturday, March 9, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Top seed: Little Rock (20-11, 14-4 Ohio Valley)

The skinny: Little Rock, UT Martin and Morehead State finished in a three-way tie at 14-4, with Little Rock earning the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed. No. 8 seed Southern Indiana is ineligible for the automatic bid as it is still transitioning to Division I.

Patriot

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Tuesday

Where: Campus sites

Title game: Wednesday, March 13, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network

Top seed: Colgate (22-9, 16-2 Patriot)

The skinny: Colgate might be the biggest favorite in any conference tournament, as it ran away with the regular-season crown by a full six games. The Raiders are looking to represent the Patriot League in the fifth straight NCAA Tournament.

Southern

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Friday

Where: Asheville, N.C.

Title game: Monday, March 11, 7 p.m., ESPN

Top seed: Samford (26-5, 15-3 Southern)

The skinny: Samford dominated the league and has won a school-record 26 games already. The Bulldogs are seeking their first SoCon tournament title.

Southland

When it starts: Sunday

Where: Lake Charles, La.

Title game: Wednesday, March 13, 5 p.m., ESPN2

Top seed: McNeese State (26-3, 15-1 Southland)

The skinny: The regular season continues until Wednesday when a bracket will be set. But Will Wade’s McNeese State Cowboys have already clinched the No. 1 seed.

Summit

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Friday

Where: Sioux Falls, S.D.

Title game: Tuesday, March 12, 9:30 p.m., CBS Sports

Top seed: South Dakota State (19-12, 12-4 Summit)

The skinny: South Dakota State won the league by two games, and the Jackrabbits are looking for their eighth tournament title since 2012. Kansas City, which was 10-15 on Feb. 8, closed out with six straight wins to take the No. 2 seed. The nation’s leading scorer, Tommy Bruner, plays for No. 7 seed Denver.

Sun Belt

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Tuesday

Where: Pensacola, Fla.

Title game: Monday, March 11, 6 p.m., ESPN2

Top seed: Appalachian State (26-5, 16-2 Sun Belt)

The skinny: James Madison got all the attention early, winning at Michigan State in the first week of the season and cracking the AP Top 25. But Appalachian State — which beat Auburn in December — swept the Dukes. There’s an outside chance both could make the NCAA Tournament.

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West Coast

Link to PDF bracket

When it starts: Thursday

Where: Las Vegas

Title game: Tuesday, March 12, 9 p.m., ESPN

Top seed: Saint Mary’s (24-7, 15-1 West Coast)

The skinny: Saint Mary’s claimed the regular-season title, but Gonzaga finished strong by winning on the road against the Gaels and No. 3 seed San Francisco in the final week. Saint Mary’s and the Zags should both make the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in this event since both got byes to the semifinals. Could a surprise winner make this a three-bid league?

Conference tournaments starting next week:

American: March 13-17
Atlantic 10: March 12-17
ACC: March 12-16
Big 12: March 12-16
Big East: March 13-16
Big Ten: March 13-17
Big West: March 13-16
Conference USA: March 12-16
Ivy League: March 16-17
MAAC: March 12-16
MAC: March 14-16
MEAC: March 13-16
Mountain West: March 13-16
Pac-12: March 13-16
SEC: March 13-17
SWAC: March 13-16
WAC: March 13-16

(Top photo of Colgate celebrating last year’s Patriot League tournament title: Adrian Kraus / AP)