Ranking College Basketball Conferences by Projected 2017 NCAA Tournament Bids

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystSeptember 13, 2016

Ranking College Basketball Conferences by Projected 2017 NCAA Tournament Bids

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    North Carolina's Nate Britt (0) and Virginia's London Perrantes (32)
    North Carolina's Nate Britt (0) and Virginia's London Perrantes (32)Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    From the ACC all the way down to the MEAC, we've ranked the 32 men's college basketball conferences based on projected representation in the 2017 NCAA tournament.

    After we power through a few slides filled with conferences unlikely to produce multiple bids, you'll find the following designations for the top 13 conferences: "Locks," "Should Dance," "Might Dance" and "Outside Shot"; the definitions of which should be self-explanatory. Locks will definitely make the tournament, while the Outside Shots are teams that could conceivably get in if things break the right way.

    You may disagree with which teams are in which categories, but Locks were given 100 points, Should Dance teams got 85 points, Might Dance teams got 60 points and Outside Shots received 25 points. Each conference's score was added up and divided by the total number of teams in the conference for the final score listed on each slide. They were then ranked in ascending order of score.

    In a nutshell, the more likely a conference is to send more than half of its teams to the 2017 NCAA tournament, the better it ranked on the list.

One-Bid Leagues with Little to No Upset Potential

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    South Dakota State's Mike Daum
    South Dakota State's Mike DaumYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    32. Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

    The MEAC has been awful for more than a decade and its best team from last season (Hampton) lost five of its top six players to graduation. 

    31. Southwestern Athletic Conference

    Like Hampton, the SWAC's best team from 2016 (Texas Southern) was ravaged by graduations. The Tigers do still have Derrick Griffin, who should put up huge numbers as a sophomore, but this conference offers little else to suggest it could beat a major-conference team, let alone send two teams to the NCAA tournament.

    30. Northeast Conference

    The NEC's NCAA tournament representative has been a No. 16 seed in five consecutive years, including three trips to Dayton, Ohio, for the First Four. It lost all three of those games. This conference has a long way to go before it can even consider the possibility of two teams dancing.

    29. America East Conference

    Both Stony Brook and Albany had upset potential in 2016, but both teams lost three of their best players. This conference is now up for grabs between Vermont and New Hampshire, but there's no chance either one receives an at-large bid and almost no chance either one pulls off a tournament upset.

    28. Western Athletic Conference

    New Mexico State would normally be enough to get this conference into the "Potential Cinderella" conversation, but losing head coach Marvin Menzies and stud big man Pascal Siakam brings the Aggies back to the pack. Meanwhile, Cal St. Bakersfield lost its two leading scorers to graduation, and Grand Canyon won't be eligible for postseason play until 2018.

    27. Summit League

    The Summit League has one of the country's best minor-conference players in South Dakota State's Mike Daum. He nearly steered the Jackrabbits to a tournament upset of Maryland last year as a freshman. But four of his primary teammates graduated, leaving little hope for a Summit Surprise in March. North Dakota State is probably the top candidate, but even that's a bit of a stretch.

    26. Big Sky Conference

    The Big Sky had some potential in years past with Eastern Washington's Tyler Harvey and Weber State's Damian Lillard, but there's no one left in this conference. North Dakota might have some upset potential with all six of last year's leading scorers returning, but it would take some kind of miracle for the Big Sky to get two tickets to the NCAA tournament for the first time in history.

One-Bid Leagues with Potential Cinderellas

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    Texas-Arlington's Kevin Hervey
    Texas-Arlington's Kevin HerveyPaul Vernon/Associated Press

    Just so we're clear on the differentiation between this group, the previous group and the next one, these are the conferences that might have a Cinderella team if the correct one makes the NCAA tournament, but it's almost impossible to see said team earning an at-large bid if it happens to lose in the conference tournament. The next slide features conferences with Cinderella candidates that could conceivably receive an at-large bid if its top team trips up in the conference tournament.

    25. Southland Conference

    Though Stephen F. Austin lost most of its production from last year, the Lumberjacks know a thing or two about winning in the NCAA tournament. They should remain the cream of the Southland crop, but mostly because there are no other options. Playing 18 games against the likes of Lamar, Northwestern State and Central Arkansas ensures SFA's computer profile will be too ugly to warrant consideration for an at-large bid.

    24. Ohio Valley Conference

    If Murray State couldn't get an at-large bid two years ago with a 27-5 record, no team from this year's OVC is going to find much favor in the eyes of the selection committee. But if they are able to survive the loss of Craig Bradshaw, the Belmont Bruins have been an ever-present Cinderella candidate for the past decade.

    23. Big South Conference

    The Big South should be a two-horse race between Winthrop and UNC-Asheville, but it's not a race likely to produce an at-large bid. If it's Winthrop that gets in, the combined force of Keon Johnson and Xavier Cooks might be enough to break a lot of brackets.

    22. Big West Conference

    UC Irvine lost five of its top eight scorers, and Hawaii lost each of its top eight guys from its 2016 Cinderella story. As a whole, the Big West should be considerably worse than last year. But watch out for Long Beach State. Even with Nick Faust graduating and Travis Hammonds transferring out of the program, the addition of former Loyola Marymount star Evan Payne should make the 49ers a dangerous team.

    21. Sun Belt Conference

    The Sun Belt has made significant waves in recent years. Arkansas-Little Rock knocked off Purdue last year, Georgia State beat Baylor two years ago and the conference sent two teams to the Big Dance in 2013. Look for Texas-Arlington to keep that stretch of postseason success going. The Mavericks return all six leading scorers from a squad that won 24 games last season, including upsetting Ohio State and Memphis and nearly knocking off Texas.

    20. Patriot League

    Lehigh brings back all four of last year's leading scorers, including two-time Patriot League Player of the Year Tim Kempton. This conference hasn't done anything the past few years, losing three consecutive first-round games by a margin of at least 39 points. But let's not forget it was Lehigh that shocked the world in 2012 with its upset of No. 2 seed Duke. The Mountain Hawks would be a legitimate threat again this year if they win the Patriot League tournament.

    19. Atlantic Sun Conference

    NJIT and Florida Gulf Coast each return the vast majority of last year's primary scorers, and North Florida still gets one more year of Dallas Moore. It's hard to see any of those three teams sneaking into the at-large conversation, but it's not crazy to think that whichever one makes the NCAA tournament will be a threat to pull off a big upset.

Possibly Good Enough for an At-Large Bid

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    Valparaiso's Alec Peters
    Valparaiso's Alec PetersJeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    18. Horizon League

    Valparaiso arguably should have gotten an at-large bid last year, but the rest of the conference wasn't quite good enough to give the Crusaders the boost they needed. This year probably won't be any different with Oakland, Wright State, Green Bay and Milwaukee losing so many key players, but anything's possible with Valpo's Alec Peters returning for one final season.

    17. Southern Conference

    Getting Casey Jones back after playing just eight games last season will be a huge boost for a Chattanooga team that was already clearly the best in the SoCon. As is the case with the Horizon League, though, the big question is whether the rest of the conference will be good enough for the Mocs to be an at-large candidate, if necessary. But another 29-win season for this team is a definite possibility.

    16. Conference USA

    Between Western Kentucky adding a bunch of graduate transfers, UAB returning all but one player and Middle Tennessee getting Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw back, this should be Conference USA's best year since losing Memphis. We'll see what those three teams can do in nonconference play to help bolster their resumes, though. 

    15. Mid-American Conference

    The MAC always seems to enter the season as the league right on the cusp of potentially producing two NCAA tournament teams. This year, it's Ohio that might give the MAC multiple bids for the first time since 1999. Led by the trio of Jaaron Simmons, Antonio Campbell and Kenny Kaminski, the Bobcats get just about everyone back from a team that won 23 games last year. They'll need to improve on defense, but this should be one of the best mid-major teams in 2016-17.

    14. Colonial Athletic Association

    The CAA quietly had an atypically strong 2015-16 season with four teams finishing in the KenPom.com top 90, while another four ranked in the top 160. Hofstra and Northeastern will likely take a sizable step backward after losing a bunch of seniors, but the rest of the conference remains pretty well intact. Expect UNC-Wilmington, William & Mary and perhaps Towson to end up with better computer profiles than a lot of major-conference programs.

13. Ivy League

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    Devin Cannady
    Devin CannadyPatrick Smith/Getty Images

    Locks: N/A

    Should Dance: N/A

    Might Dance: N/A

    Outside Shot: Princeton, Harvard

    Score: 6.3

    With the addition of the four-team conference tournament, this might finally be the year the Ivy League sends two teams to the NCAA tournament.

    Yale busted up brackets last year by upsetting Baylor as a No. 12 seed, but the Bulldogs lose four of their five leading scorers. Meanwhile, Columbia should also fall off the radar after losing each of its three leading scorers. That leaves Princeton and Harvard as the two candidates most likely to dominate the league, possibly producing a bubble team.

    Harvard had a brutal 2015-16 season, but should be back in the mix this year with Siyani Chambers returning from a torn ACL. Corey Johnson and Tommy McCarthy played well in his stead, but look for Chambers and incoming freshman Bryce Aiken to be the primary guards for the Crimson, while Zena Edosomwan continues to man the post.

    Princeton is the bigger at-large threat, though, as the Tigers return everyone from a team that finished last year at No. 47 in the RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com. Led by lethal scorers Devin Cannady and Henry Caruso, Princeton was one of the nation's more efficient offensive units. This is a team that could go 14-0 in Ivy League play after quality nonconference tests against BYU, VCU, California, Monmouth and Saint Joseph's.

12. Missouri Valley Conference

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    Markis McDuffie
    Markis McDuffieRick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    Locks: N/A

    Should Dance: N/A

    Might Dance: Wichita State

    Outside Shot: Southern Illinois

    Score: 8.5

    The Missouri Valley Conference is usually a multi-bid league, but inertia is a poor barometer for making preseason predictions. In fact, the Valley almost didn't get two bids last year, as Northern Iowa only got in because of the auto bid and Wichita State just barely made it into the First Four.

    Can either team even be that good again this year?

    Northern Iowa does add Iowa State transfer Jordan Ashton, but that's not enough to make up for the loss of Wes Washpun, Matt Bohannon and Paul Jesperson. Unless Jeremy Morgan routinely has games like he did in the NCAA tournament, averaging 26.0 points and 7.5 rebounds, it will be a down year for the Panthers.

    Meanwhile, Wichita State lost Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Evan Wessel and Anton Grady, leaving behind a slew of role players. Markis McDuffie is a big-time breakout candidate. Texas A&M transfer Peyton Allen should be a valuable addition to the backcourt. But this team doesn't have anywhere near the proven talent it has had in recent years.

    And if the Shockers aren't as good as usual, the MVC won't be, either.

    Evansville and Illinois State tied for second place in the conference standings last year, but the former lost both of its leading scorers and the latter said goodbye to five of its top nine guys. If any team is going to rise up and make a run for a tournament bid, it might have to be Southern Illinois, even though the Salukis lost leading scorer Anthony Beane.

11. Mountain West Conference

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    San Diego State's Malik Pope
    San Diego State's Malik PopeOrlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

    Locks: N/A

    Should Dance: N/A

    Might Dance: San Diego State

    Outside Shot: New Mexico, Nevada

    Score: 9.2

    Early in the 2010s, the Mountain West was the country's best mid-major conference. Over the past three seasons, though, it has fallen so far that even San Diego State's 25-9 record wasn't enough for a bid last year. (Losses to San Diego and Grand Canyon didn't much help the Aztecs' case, though.)

    But they should be the team to beat again this year with most of last year's main components returning. Replacing Winston Shepard and Skylar Spencer won't be easy, but they have a lot of major-conference transfers to help absorb the blow. Montaque Gill-Caesar (Missouri), Max Hoetzel (Indiana) and Valentine Izundu (Washington State) will each play a key role on this relatively young roster.

    Fresno State was the MWC's tourney representative last year, but it lost four of its five leading scorers. Boise State also had a strong 2015-16 season, but will need to move on without James Webb, Anthony Drmic or Mikey Thompson.

    But New Mexico should be a major threat following a pair of disappointing years. The Lobos get back all 11 of last year's leading scorers except for Cullen Neal. The Elijah Brown and Tim Williams tandem will be tough to stop once again. And Nevada should be in the mix this year behind Cameron Oliver, D.J. Fenner and a quartet of key transfersKendall Stephens (Purdue), Jordan Caroline (Southern Illinois), Leland King (Brown) and Marcus Marshall (Missouri State).

10. Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

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    Monmouth's Justin Robinson
    Monmouth's Justin RobinsonWillie J. Allen/Associated Press

    Locks: N/A

    Should Dance: N/A

    Might Dance: Monmouth

    Outside Shot: Siena, Saint Peter's

    Score: 10.0

    This isn't a conference we typically consider for multiple bids. It has only happened twice since becoming an auto-bid eligible conference 33 years ago (1995 and 2012). Yet, the MAAC has a handful of legitimate bubble candidates this year.

    The obvious one is Monmouth. King Rice's Hawks were the biggest snub from last year's NCAA tournament, and they get back everyone from last year, except for Deon Jones. Six of last year's nine leading scorers will be seniors this year, and sophomore Pierre Sarr could be headed for a breakout season after having the start of his freshman campaign delayed by the NCAA clearinghouse.

    But Monmouth's path to the MAAC auto-bid won't be any easier than it was this past season.

    Iona doesn't figure to pose too much of a threat after losing A.J. English, Isaiah Williams and several other key role players, but Siena gets back all five guys who averaged double figures for a 21-win team last seasonfour of which will be seniors. Were it not for Monmouth's Justin Robinson, Siena's Brett Bisping (15.9 PPG, 10.4 RPG) would be the clear favorite for MAAC Player of the Year with teammate Javion Ogunyemi not far behind. That frontcourt duo is going to cause major problems for mid-major opponents.

    Saint Peter's might also be in the mix this year, adding three noteworthy transfers to a roster that is already bringing back all six of last year's leading scorers. The Peacocks only went 14-16 last season, but they finished strong and always battled. They have been rebuilding for the past five years, and this might finally be the one where they do some damage.

9. Atlantic 10

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    Rhode Island's Jarvis Garrett (1) and Dayton's Scoochie Smith (11)
    Rhode Island's Jarvis Garrett (1) and Dayton's Scoochie Smith (11)Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Locks: N/A

    Should Dance: Rhode Island, Dayton

    Might Dance: VCU, Davidson

    Outside Shot: N/A

    Score: 20.7

    Though only No. 9 in the rankings, the A-10 is light-years ahead of every conference behind it, scoring twice as many ranking points as the No. 10 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Those conferences in the 10-15 range might be good enough to send two teams, but each one from here on out should be able to get at least three bidsprovided the ACC allows the rest of the country to have that many tournament teams.

    Rhode Island and Dayton are firmly in the "should dance" category. Maybe they don't open the season ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, but they'll each receive a good number of votes. Rhode Island will be a popular "sleeper" team with E.C. Matthews returning from injury to a rotation that improved in his absence. And even if Dayton wasn't loaded with talented seniors, the Flyers have won at least 25 games in each of the past three seasons. At this point, just assume Archie Miller will produce a quality team.

    Beyond those top two teams, though, this conference is wide-open. St. Bonaventure, Saint Joseph's and George Washington each lost a ton of key players, leaving VCU and Davidson as the top candidates for the A-10's second, bubbly tier.

    The Rams lost Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury, so three-point shooting could be a real issue. But stud freshman De'Riante Jenkins will be joining one of the country's most experienced teams, as JeQuan Lewis and Mo Alie-Cox headline VCU's plethora of seniors. And Davidson still has Jack Gibbs and Peyton Aldridge, which ought to be the highest-scoring duo in the nation.

8. West Coast Conference

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    Gonzaga's Josh Perkins and Saint Mary's Joe Rahon
    Gonzaga's Josh Perkins and Saint Mary's Joe RahonJames Snook-USA TODAY Sports

    Locks: Gonzaga

    Should Dance: Saint Mary's

    Might Dance: BYU

    Outside Shot: N/A

    Score: 24.5

    Most of the conferences in the top 10 are open for plenty of debate, but the West Coast Conference is just about an open-and-shut case.

    Gonzaga is clearly going to make the tournament and is on the short list of teams that could win the whole thing. Saint Mary's was snubbed last year, but it brings back everyone from a 29-win season. The Gaels should be a preseason Top 25 team before clearly emerging as one of the top two teams in the WCC yet again. Meanwhile, Pepperdine and San Francisco each lost two of their best players, making them significantly less likely to pose a threat to the top dogs this year.

    The only bubbly team in the bunch is BYU, whichdespite losing Kyle Collinsworth, Chase Fischer and Nate Austinshould be even better than last year. Transfers Elijah Bryant (Elon) and L.J. Rose (Houston) will join Eric Mika (returning from LDS mission) and freshmen T.J. Haws, Payton Dastrup and Yoeli Childs as incoming players expected to make a major impact.

    Along with those newbies, the Cougars still have Nick Emery, Kyle Davis, Jamal Aytes and Corbin Kaufusi.

    But will it be enough to score at least one win over Gonzaga or Saint Mary's? If they go 0-5 against those teams without doing much damage in nonconference play, they'll likely be headed back to the NIT. Even one marquee WCC win might be enough to push BYU over the top and into the dance.

7. American Athletic Conference

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    Connecticut's Jalen Adams and Cincinnati's Troy Caupain
    Connecticut's Jalen Adams and Cincinnati's Troy CaupainLogan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

    Locks: N/A

    Should Dance: Cincinnati, Connecticut, SMU

    Might Dance: N/A

    Outside Shot: Houston

    Score: 25.5

    We're just a couple of weeks away from "preseason predictions" season, at which point Cincinnati and Connecticut will likely split the various expert votes for projected AAC regular-season champion.

    Both teams will have those hopes pinned heavily to an incoming transfer. With Octavius Ellis, Coreontae DeBerry and Shaq Thomas all graduating for Cincinnati, former NC State transfer Kyle Washington will likely be the starting center. Meanwhile, the Huskies will probably plug in VCU transfer Terry Larrier as their primary small forward after losing Daniel Hamilton, Sterling Gibbs, Shonn Miller, Omar Calhoun and Sam Cassell Jr.

    But those teams also have excellent returning weapons. If you like Connecticut to win the AAC, it's primarily because of Rodney Purvis, Jalen Adams and Amida Brimah. Or if you're riding with Cincinnati this year, Troy Caupain, Gary Clark and Jacob Evans are a big reason why.

    If you don't like either of those teams, SMU is probably for you, and that's also thanks in part to an incoming transfer. The Mustangs lost Nic Moore, Jordan Tolbert and Markus Kennedy, but there's hope former Duke player and No. 26 overall recruit in the class of 2013 Semi Ojeleye will finally make a major impact this year for SMU.

    Don't sleep on Houston contending for the conference title, either. The Cougars surprised a lot of people by winning 22 games last season, and they get back Rob Gray Jr., Galen Robinson Jr., Damyean Dotson and Danrad Knowles. If redshirt freshman Chris Harris is able to provide any value, they'll compete again this year.

    There's a steep drop-off from there, though. Memphis, Temple and Tulsa combined to lose nine of their 12 players who averaged at least 9.0 points per game last season, and not one of those teams landed so much as a 4-star freshman or an impact transferunless you count Memphis getting Coppin State's Christian Kessee. And if you think anyone from last year's bottom four in this conference (UCF, USF, ECU or Tulane) is jumping up to claim a spot in the NCAA tournament, you're alone on that island.

6. Southeastern Conference

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    Kentucky head coach John Calipari
    Kentucky head coach John CalipariNati Harnik/Associated Press

    Locks: Kentucky

    Should Dance: N/A

    Might Dance: Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt

    Outside Shot: Ole Miss, Arkansas

    Score: 27.9

    The SEC is only two points ahead of the AAC and nearly 20 points behind the next two conferences on the list. That's because if you're fully convinced that any specific SEC team other than Kentucky is making the NCAA tournament, you're only fooling yourself.

    That isn't to say the SEC will be a one-bid league. That would be insane. This is at least a two-bid league with three being the most likely outcome and four a reasonable possibility. Even if Kentucky doesn't lose a game in conference play, its computer resume will be too strong to allow this conference any less.

    Inevitably, a couple of teams will go at least 11-7 and sneak into the tournamentlike Vanderbilt last year, Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss two years ago or Tennessee in 2014. Perhaps even a Texas A&M or a Florida lives up to its potential with a 14-4 conference record and gets in with plenty of room to spare.

    But if you could bet 100 brownie points to win 80 brownie points on any non-Kentucky SEC team making the NCAA tournament, would you do it? In order to profit brownie points, you would have to get your one pick correct or make three picks and get two of them right.

    Texas A&M is probably the safest bet, which is really saying something, considering the Aggies lost all four of their leaders in minutes played, lost two former top-60 recruits as transfers early in the season (Alex Robinson and Elijah Thomas) and don't add any top-60 recruits this year. Tyler Davis is a stud, and big things are expected of DJ Hogg and Admon Gilder in expanded roles, but if this is a second-surest thing for a tournament bid in the SEC, we're all just throwing darts at this conference.

5. Pac-12 Conference

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    Oregon's Tyler Dorsey (5) and UCLA's Aaron Holiday (3)
    Oregon's Tyler Dorsey (5) and UCLA's Aaron Holiday (3)Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Locks: Arizona, Oregon

    Should Dance: UCLA

    Might Dance: California, USC, Utah

    Outside Shot: Colorado, Stanford, Washington

    Score: 45.0

    The Pac-12 had a pretty dreadful showing in the 2016 NCAA tournament. Seven teams got in as a No. 8 seed or better, Oregon was the only team still standing in the Sweet 16. All seven were eliminated by an inferior seed, including No. 4 California getting upset by No. 13 Hawaii and No. 3 Utah getting blown out by No. 11 Gonzaga.

    But we're only interested in how many teams will get into the tournament, regardless of how those teams perform after receiving a bid. From that perspective, the Pac-12 was just about the best conference in the country last season and figures to be one of the top leagues again this year.

    Arizona and Oregon will open the season comfortably ranked in the top 10, and UCLA shouldn't be far behind. However, we're putting the Bruins in "should dance" instead of "locks" because they're coming off an ugly 15-17 season. Even if they were a lock, though, the Pac-12 would still be No. 5, so let's agree to play it safe with that projection.

    After those top three teams, the Pac-12 is a convoluted mess.

    Stanford (if healthy) and Washington (with Markelle Fultz) have some breakout potential, but will it be enough to leapfrog into the top half of the conference standings? Or can Cal, USC and/or Utah withstand the sheer volume of departures from their rosters to remain in the top half of the conference? And is it possible Colorado is going to get better despite losing Josh Scott and Xavier Talton?

    At least two of those six teams will figure things out and make the tournament, but the Pac-12 could be headed for another great Selection Sunday if four or more of those teams reach their potential.

4. Big Ten Conference

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    Maryland's Melo Trimble
    Maryland's Melo TrimblePatrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Locks: Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin

    Should Dance: N/A

    Might Dance: Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State

    Outside Shot: Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern

    Score: 46.8

    With four locks for the NCAA tournament, the Big Ten has more sure things than any other conference.

    Unfortunately, its second tier leaves something to be desired, keeping it well behind the top three conferences, each of which has at least 40 percent of the league either in the "locks" or "should dance" category.

    As was the case with the SEC, this shouldn't be interpreted as a prediction that the Big Ten will only send four teams to the NCAA tournament. Rather, I'd guess seven Big Ten teams go dancing with eight a more likely outcome than six. Aside from Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin, though, it's hard to say with any certainty who those other teams will be.

    Despite losing a ton of transfers this offseason, Ohio State is probably the top candidate, considering it gets all six of last year's leading scorers back. Michigan is in a nearly identical boat, losing four reserve transfers while bringing back all five of its leading scorersexcluding Caris LeVert, who was already lost to injury midway through the season.

    Maryland is the biggest wild card after losing four starters, but the combined force of Melo Trimble and a litany of capable perimeter options might be enough to win 10 or 11 conference games.

    Iowa also lost four starters, but the Hawkeyes aren't nearly as equipped to handle those departures. They also did not finish last season in as strong of a position as the Terrapins did. If Illinois can stay healthy for a change, it has the pieces to compete. And Northwestern has to go to the NCAA tournament one of these years, right? One of those outside shots will likely get it there.

3. Big East Conference

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    Georgetown's Jessie Govan
    Georgetown's Jessie GovanKathy Willens/Associated Press

    Locks: Villanova

    Should Dance: Butler, Creighton, Xavier

    Might Dance: Georgetown, Marquette, Seton Hall

    Outside Shot: Providence

    Score: 56.0

    At this point, it'd be quicker to just discuss the teams from each conference that definitely won't make the NCAA tournament. In the Big East's case, that's only St. John's and DePauland the Johnnies should be much better than they were in 2015-16.

    Unfortunately, the Big East doesn't have many stone-cold locks to dance. Otherwise, it would have ranked No. 1 on the list.

    Creighton is this conference's "expected surprise" story. Despite suffering 15 losses last year, the Bluejays might open the season ranked in the Top 25 for just the third time in school history. They should be a Sweet 16 threat with a backcourt tandem of Mo Watson Jr. and incoming Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster.

    The actual surprise story might be Marquette. Poor nonconference scheduling and home losses to Belmont and DePaul kept the Golden Eagles from making much noise last year, but their senior-less roster won 20 games one year after going 13-19. Replacing Henry Ellenson will be tough, but transfers Katin Reinhardt and Andrew Rowsey might make it possible.

    Keep an eye out for Georgetown, too. The Hoyas never tapped into their potential last year, but they are loaded with impact players, including transfers Rodney Pryor and Jonathan Mulmore. Jessie Govan might not even start for this team, and he's one of the Big East's best NBA prospects.

    In the end, the Big East's bid count will depend on how benevolent Villanova is. If the Wildcats run the table, it's a four- or five-bid league. If they dole out a couple of marquee wins to help boost the conference's collective computer resume, though, six or even seven bids could happen.

2. Big 12 Conference

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    Texas' Tevin Mack and Kansas' Devonte' Graham
    Texas' Tevin Mack and Kansas' Devonte' GrahamOrlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Locks: Kansas

    Should Dance: Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas

    Might Dance: Texas Tech, West Virginia

    Outside Shot: TCU

    Score: 58.5

    After a multiyear run as the country's best conference, the Big 12 slips just barely to No. 2—a mere 2.5 points behind the ACC. The latter will rightfully be heralded as the country's best conference without a close challenger; but from a top-to-bottom percentage of teams that will make an impact perspective, the former is still doggone good.

    Kansas remains the cream of the crop for the one-millionth 13th consecutive season. But the main reason the Big 12 slipped to No. 2 is because it doesn't have a clear-cut second-best team behind the Jayhawks.

    Texas might have more raw talent than any team in the country aside from Duke and Kentucky, but the Longhorns are young and unproven. Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma are the other top candidates, however, each is clearly less talented than it was a year ago, each one losing three key starters to graduation.

    Each of those four teams should dance, though, meaning that half of this conference's fanbases can already start saving up for travel and tickets for the second half of March.

    Texas Tech could join that quintet if Chris Beard's JUCO transfers work out even half as well as they did last year at Arkansas-Little Rock. And if Press Virginia truly can work regardless of the individuals, count the Mountaineers in for some dancing, as well.

    And no need to get your eyes checked. That is, in fact, TCU you see in the "outside shot" category. It has been nearly two decades since the Horned Frogs made the tournament, but the return of Kenrich Williams and the additions of Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson should make them more competitive than they have been in many moons.

1. Atlantic Coast Conference

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    Duke's Grayson Allen
    Duke's Grayson AllenGerry Broome/Associated Press

    Locks: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia

    Should Dance: Clemson, Louisville, Syracuse

    Might Dance: Florida State, Miami, NC State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh

    Outside Shot: N/A

    Score: 61.0

    For the ACC, it feels like the worst-case scenario is still at least eight bids.

    The top three teams are among the seven or eight favorites to win the national championship. The next three teams will likely open the season ranked in the AP Top 25. And the next six teams are good enough that, in any other conference, they would each be projected to reach the NCAA tournament.

    KenPom.com hasn't yet published its team rankings for the 2016-17 season, but it's possible the ACC opens the year with 12 teams in the top 40.

    Could they all make the tournament?

    Even if Georgia Tech, Boston College and Wake Forest lose every single game they play against the top 12 teams, it's almost mathematically impossible for this conference to produce that many bids. Inevitably, one or two of the "might dance" teams will end up with 11 or more conference losses, which is beyond difficult to turn into an at-large bid.

    But 10 bids seems realistic, and even 11 isn't completely crazy. That's how deep and strong the ACC is.

    We'll have to wait and see where the ACC's collective RPI stands when conference play begins, but as long as November and December don't completely go off the rails, it should send significantly more than half of its teams to the Big Dance.

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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