USA TODAY US Edition

COLLEGE BASKETBALL LEAGUE TOURNAMENT­S

- Erick Smith and Eddie Timanus

Atlantic Sun

Dates: March 4-5, March 7 Favorite: Liberty Contenders: Lipscomb, North Florida

The Liberty Flames, led by diminutive sharpshoot­er Darius McGhee, head the eight-team tournament field. Ninth league member Jacksonvil­le had to withdraw because of the program’s ongoing COVID-19 shutdown. In an interestin­g subplot, Bellarmine won 10 conference games and earned the No. 2 seed in its first year in the Atlantic Sun but is still transition­ing from Division II and is not eligible for the NCAA Tournament. The same is true of No. 5 seed North Alabama. Should either of those teams prevail in the tournament, Liberty would claim the automatic bid as regular-season champion.

Missouri Valley

Dates: March 4-7

Favorite: Loyola-Chicago Other contenders: Drake, Missouri State.

Three years after their surprising run to the Final Four, the Loyola Ramblers are positioned again to make another deep run. It would be helpful to their seeding to win the postseason tournament, but there are no worries they will miss out altogether. Drake split with Loyola in their two-game series, giving the Ramblers one of their two conference losses. However, the Bulldogs are likely to be without Roman Penn and Shanquan Hemphill, two of its top players, because of injury. Upsets are possible in Arch Madness. Bradley has won the last two tournament­s as none of the top three seeds have reached the final.

West Coast

Dates: March 4-6, March 8-9 Favorite: Gonzaga

Other contenders: BYU, Pepperdine

The West Coast Conference will use its usual tournament format with the top two seeds, Gonzaga and BYU, receiving byes until the semifinal round. The difference this year is the league employed an adjusted winning percentage formula devised by analytics guru Ken Pomeroy to seed the field to account for the disparate number of games played due to COVID-19 pauses. Gonzaga and the Cougars should see their names on the Selection Sunday bracket regardless, with the Bulldogs all but assured of appearing on the top line. If there’s a dark horse in such a top-heavy conference, Pepperdine, which split two games with BYU in January, is at least a possibilit­y.

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