Conference tourney kickoff

THIS IS THE biggest weekend at Drexel since somebody decided to build a bridge from Center City across the Schuylkill. The Dragons finally broke through and claimed their first Colonial Athletic Association regular-season crown, but Bruiser Flint's work is not complete.

Conventional wisdom suggests the CAA is getting only one bid to the NCAA Tournament. If Drexel is to dance for the first time since 1996, the Dragons need three more wins. They'll begin the trek by scouting today's James Madison-UNC Wilmington contest and play the winner tomorrow.

Here is a look at all the conferences starting their tourneys over the weekend:

STARTING TODAY

Colonial Athletic Conference

Regular-season champ: Drexel (25-5, 16-2) won its first CAA title ever and its first regular-season league championship of any kind since sharing the 1999 America East crown with Delaware.

CAA saayings: VCU and George Mason, the other top teams in the league, each lost at Drexel. With the tournament being held at Richmond, the surroundings will be in their favor should there be a rematch in the championship . . . Georgia State coach Ron Hunter said of his guard, James Fields, "He can't shoot, he can't pass, he's not really athletic. He just knows how to win."

Big Dance prospects: With VCU holding the best RPI at 60 (Drexel is 67), this feels like a one-bid league.

SCHEDULE

At Richmond, Va.

Today

James Madison (8) vs. UNC Wilmington (9), 12

Delaware (5) vs. Towson (12), 2:30

Northeastern (7) vs. William & Mary (10), 6

Georgia State (6) vs. Hofstra (11), 8:30

Tomorrow

Drexel (1) vs. James Madison/UNC Wilmington, 12

Old Dominion (4) vs. Delaware/Towson, 2:30

VCU (2) vs. Northeastern/William & Mary, 6

George Mason (3) vs. Georgia St./Hofstra, 8:30

Sunday

Drexel/JMU/UNCW vs. ODU/Delaware/Towson, 2

VCU/NE/Wm. & Mary vs. GMU/Ga. St./Hofstra, 4:30

CHAMPIONSHIP/Monday

Semifinal winners, 7 (ESPN)

MAAC

Regular-season champ: Iona won its first title since 2001. Point guard Scott Machado leads the nation with 10.1 assists per game.

MAAC AAttack: Second-seeded Loyola (Md.) set a school Division I record for wins overall and in conference by going 21-7 and 13-5, respectively . . . Manhattan, 6-25 last year, is 20-11 under first-year head coach Steve Masiello. Masiello, a former Manhattan assistant, most recently had been an assistant at Louisville for the last 6 years . . . Siena forward OD Anosike leads the nation in rebounding (12.9) and double-doubles (22). His first name is Oderah.

Big Dance prospects: This is a one-bid league. Iona (24-6, 15-3) has a respectable RPI of 39 and owns non-conference wins over Maryland, St. Joe's and WAC-leader Nevada.

SCHEDULE

At Springfield, Mass.

Tonight

Marist (8) vs. Saint Peter's (9), 7:30

Niagara (7) vs. Canisius (10), 10

Tomorrow

Fairfield (4) vs. Rider (5), 2:30

Iona (1) vs. Marist/Saint Peter's, 5

Loyola-Md. (2) vs. Niagara/Canisius, 7:30

Manhattan (3) vs. Siena (6), 10

Sunday

Fairfield/Rider vs. Iona/Marist/Saint Peter's, 2

Loy.-Md/Niagara/Canisius vs. Manh./Siena, 4:30

CHAMPIONSHIP/Monday

Semifinal winners, 7 (ESPN2)

Southern

Regular-season champ: Davidson (22-7, 16-2) was the best team in the league and the South Division winner. The Wildcats haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since Stephen Curry's squad nearly got to the Final Four in 2008.

Southern tips: UNC Greensboro won the North Division by going 10-8 in league play. They were (ugly alert) 12-18 overall . . . Georgia Southern was 1-17 in the league last year. The Eagles were 12-6 this season and grabbed the South Division's third seed . . . Western Carolina's leading scorer is Harouna Mutombo, Dikembe's nephew. Unlike Big Uncle Deek, Harouna is a 6-4 swingman.

Big Dance prospects: This is a one-bid league. One of Davidson's wins came against then-12th-ranked Kansas in December. It was Kansas that broke Davidson's heart in the 2008 Midwest regional finals.

SCHEDULE

At Asheville, N.C.

Seeds divided by North/South divisions

Today

Charleston (4s) vs. Appalachian St. (5n), 11:30 a.m.

Western Carolina (3n) vs. Citadel (6s), 2

Samford (4n) vs. Furman (5s), 6

Ga. Southern (3s) vs. Chattanooga (6n), 8:30

Tomorrow

UNC Greensboro (1n) vs. Charleston-App. St., 12

Wofford (2s) vs. W. Carolina-Citadel, 2:30

Davidson (1s) vs. Samford-Furman, 6

Elon (2n) vs. Ga. Southern-Chattanooga, 8:30

Sunday

UNC Greensboro/Charleston/Appalachian St. vs. Wofford/W. Carolina/Citadel, 6

Davidson/Samford/Furman vs. Elon/Ga. Southern/Chatt., 8:30

CHAMPIONSHIP/Monday

Semifinal winners, 9 (ESPN2)

 

STARTING TOMORROW

Big Sky

Regular-season champ: Montana (23-6) avenged its only league loss when it beat Weber State on Tuesday for the regular-season title. Both entered the game at 14-1.

Sky highlights: Weber State junior guard Damian Lillard, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, is 185 points shy of breaking the school record of 2,019 held by Bruce Collins (1976-80) . . . Montana State, the No. 6-seed, lost leading scorer Xavier Blount for the season after he was beaten up allegedly by MSU football player Roger Trammell on Feb. 12. Blount sustained a discloated shoulder and broken nose, his stepfather told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle . . . Northern Colorado leads the nation in three-point field goal shooting with a ridiculous 44.4 percent, the highest mark for a team in 19 years since Indiana hit 45.4 percent in 1994. The Bears, however, went just 9-19 overall and 5-11 in the league and did not qualify for the conference tournament.

Big Dance prospects: The one bid from this league is looking at a 15 or 16 seed.

SCHEDULE

Tomorrow

Idaho State (5) at E. Washington (4), 5

Montana State (6) at Portland State (3), 10

At Missoula, Mont.

Tuesday

Weber St. (2) vs. higher remaining seed, 7:30

Montana (1) vs. lower remaining seed, 10

CHAMPIONSHIP/Wednesday

Semifinal winners, 9 (ESPN2)

Summit

Regular-season champ: Oral Roberts (26-5, 17-1) tied the league record for best winning percentage and has won 19 of its last 20. It's only stumble was a 15-point loss at South Dakota State.

Summit pats: South Dakota State (24-7) has improved its win total each of the last 4 years since entering Division I in 2008-09 . . . IUPUI's Alex Young is the nation's active career scoring leader with 2,260 points.

Big Dance prospects: It will make some bubble teams very uncomfortable if Oral Roberts (42 RPI) doesn't win its conference tournament.

SCHEDULE

At Sioux Falls, S.D.

Tomorrow

Oral Roberts (1) vs. IPFW (8), 7

South Dakota St. (2) vs. IUPUI (7), 9:30

Sunday

Western Illinois (4) vs. North Dakota St. (5), 7

Oakland (3) vs. Southern Utah (6), 9:30

Monday

Oral Roberts-IPFW vs. W. Illinois-N. Dakota St., 7

S. Dakota St.-IUPUI vs. Oakland-S. Utah, 9:30

CHAMPIONSHIP/Tuesday

Semifinal winners, 9 (ESPN2)

Sun Belt

Regular-season champ: Middle Tennessee (25-5, 14-2) is having the best season in program history and is looking for its first tournament title since it joined the Sun Belt in 2000-01.

Belt buckles: Western Kentucky beat Middle Tennessee in the regular-season finale to snap MTSU's 14-game winning streak . . . Last year, Arkansas-Little Rock entered the tournament 15-16 and won it as a No. 5-seed. UALR won the West Division this season . . . Joe Scott, the former Air Force and Princeton coach, is graduating his first recruiting class at Denver. The Pioneers have won 21 games this year, a school Division I record . . . Louisiana-Lafayette freshman Elfrid Payton played the first 21 games of his collegiate career as a 17-year-old. He turned 18 on Feb. 22. Payton averaged 6.3 points per game before his birthday and 8.4 since turning 18.

Big Dance prospects: With an RPI of 47 and a strength of schedule at 175, MTSU almost surely must win this tournament to get the one bid this league is looking at.

SCHEDULE

At Hot Springs, Ark.

Tomorrow

South Alabama (6) vs. Troy (11), 7

Western Kentucky (7) vs. Florida Int'l (10), 9:30

Hot Springs Convention Center

Florida Atlantic (8) vs. Arkansas St. (9), 7:15

Sunday

Mid. Tennessee (1) vs. Fla. Atlantic/Arkansas St., 7

UALR (2) vs. Western Kentucky/Florida Int'l, 9:30

Hot Springs Convention Center

La.-Lafayette (4) vs. North Texas, 7:15

Denver (3) vs. South Alabama/Troy, 9:45

Monday

MTSU/Fla. Atl./Ark. St. vs. La.-Laf./N. Texas, 7

UALR/WKU/Fla. Int'l vs. Denver/S. Ala./Troy, 9:30

CHAMPIONSHIP/Tuesday

Semifinal winners, 7 (ESPN2)

Coming Monday: Mid-American Conference