The madness begins tonight as the Big South, Horizon League and Ohio Valley kick off conference tournament play. Though each league has clear favorites, you can bet that just as sure as Dick Vitale needs decaffeinated coffee, upsets will occur.

The Daily News will take a look as each conference begins its postseason tournament, starting with the three leagues today.

Big South

Regular-season champ: Coastal Carolina (26-5) is coached by Cliff Ellis who also has guided South Alabama, Clemson and Auburn to 20-win seasons. The Chanticleers were 11-20 last year.

Watch out for: Radford (18-11, 13-5) and senior center Art Parakhouski, the conference leader in scoring (21.6), rebounding (13.2) and field goal percentage (58.3%). Parakhouski decided on Radford out of junior college after seeing a picture of coach Brad Greenberg with Allen Iverson. Greenberg was the general manager when the Sixers drafted A.I.

RPI watch: Coastal Carolina 120, Radford 162.


First Round/Tonight

8-VMI at Coastal 1-Carolina, 7

7-Charleston Southern at 2-Radford, 7

6-Liberty at 3-Winthrop, 7

5-High Point at 4-UNC Asheville, 7


At Conway, S.C.

Radford/C. Southern vs. Winthrop/Liberty, 6

C. Carolina/VMI vs. UNC Ash.-High Point, 8:30


At higher remaining seed, 4 p.m. (ESPN2)

Horizon League

Regular-season champ: Butler (26-4, 18-0) is ranked 12th in the nation and is the only team to go undefeated in any conference this season. The Bulldogs are also the third Horizon League undefeated team, but both of the previous two - Xavier (1994-95) and Wisconsin-Green Bay (1995-96) - were knocked out before the conference championship game.

Watch out for: Everybody else. The No. 1 seed has won this tournament just 15 of the previous 30 times. Seventh-seeded Detroit, which could only play top-seeded Butler in the championship, hung twice with the Bulldogs before losing by one and five points, respectively.

RPI watch: Butler 16, Wright State 96.


First Round/Tonight

10-Youngstown St. at 3-Wisconsin-GB, 8

7-Detroit at 6-Valparaiso, 8

8-Loyola (Ill.) at 5-Cleveland St. , 7

9-Illinois-Chicago at 4-Milwaukee, 8

Second Round/Friday

At Indianapolis

Wisc.-GB/Youngs. St. vs. Valpo-Detroit, 6

Wisc.-Milw./Ill.-Chi. vs. Cleve. St. -Loyola, 8


At Indianapolis

2-Wright St. vs. WGB/YSU/Valpo/Det., 5:15

1-Butler vs. Milw./Ill.-Chic./Cle. St./Loyola, 8

Championship/Tuesday, March 9

At higher remaining seed, 9 p.m. (ESPN)

Ohio Valley

Regular-season champ: Murray State (27-4) is chasing the school record of 29 wins set by the 1997-98 squad. That club got a No. 9 seed in the NCAAs, where it lost to Rhode Island in the first round.

Watch out for: Morehead State was the only OVC team to beat Murray State during the regular season. Kenneth Faried, a 6-8 junior, is second in the nation in rebounding at 13.0 per game.

RPI watch: Murray State 69, Morehead State 93.


First Round/Tonight

8-Jacksonville St. at 1-Morehead St., 7:30

5-E. Kentucky at 4-Eastern Illinois, 8:30

6-Tennessee Tech at 3-Austin Peay, 8:30

7-Tennessee St. at 2-Murray St., 8

Semifinals/Friday, March 5

At Nashville

Murray St./Tenn. St. vs. E. Ill./E. Ky., 7 or 9:30

More. St./Jack. St. vs. APU/Tenn. Tech, 7 or 9:30


At higher remaining seed, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)


Today: Big South, Horizon League, Ohio Valley Conference

Tomorrow: Atlantic Sun, Patriot

Thursday: America East, Missouri Valley, Northeast

Friday: Big Sky, CAA, MAAC, Southern, Summit, Sun Belt, West Coast

Monday: MEAC

Tuesday: The remaining 14 conferences