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NCAA Tournament mid-major breakdown: Ivy League, Summit, West Coast

Saint Mary's players celebrates with fans after

Saint Mary's players celebrates with fans after a 70-67 victory over Gonzaga in a game in Moraga, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. Credit: AP / Tony Avelar

As Selection Sunday approaches on March 13, the mid-major conferences in Division I men’s basketball start to gain attention.

Here’s a primer on three such conferences as the regular season winds down for the Ivy League, Summit League and West Coast Conference.

Ivy League

(No conference tournament. In the event of a tie, a one-game playoff will be held on March 12 at a location to be determined)

The favorite: Princeton

Record: 20-5, 10-1 Ivy

RPI: 33

Best wins: vs. Yale, vs. Columbia (twice)

Worst loss: None to a team outside the RPI top 150.

Princeton and Yale have distinguished themselves as the class of the Ivy League this season. There remains a very real possibility that both teams could finish with 13-1 league records and meet in a one-game playoff.

Since losing at Yale on Jan. 30, the Tigers have won eight in a row. They finish out the regular season with three games against sub-.500 teams: on the road against Harvard and Dartmouth and at home against Penn.

Freshman guard Devin Cannady has emerged as a go-to guy for the Tigers and is the favorite to win Ivy Rookie of the Year honors. His 35-footer with 3.3 seconds to go that forced overtime in Princeton’s game against Columbia (an 88-83 Tigers win) may ultimately be remembered as a season-saving shot.

Princeton flirted with upsets against Saint Joseph’s, Maryland and Miami earlier in the season.

The other favorite: Yale

Record: 20-6, 11-1 Ivy

RPI: 54

Best wins: vs. Princeton, vs. Columbia, vs. Vermont

Worst loss: None to a team outside the RPI top 150.

It’s been 53-plus years of frustration and heartbreak for Yale, which hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 1962. Last year, the Bulldogs blew a chance to clinch the Ivy title in the regular season and lost to Harvard in a one-game playoff, 53-51, on a jumper with 7.2 seconds to play.

This year’s squad has been powered by reigning Ivy Player of the Year Justin Sears. The senior forward should be in the conversation for the award again as he’s averaging 16.7 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game. Sears’ jab step is one of the best in the country.

Yale likely will have to hold serve and sweep Cornell (9-17, 2-10) and Columbia (20-9, 9-3) on the road this weekend to feel good about at least forcing a playoff, which is easier said than done.

An off-court controversy is also developing around the team. Junior captain Jack Montague withdrew from the university on Feb. 10. In the wake of Montague’s departure, Yale players wore warmups with his nickname emblazoned on the back in a show of support. Since then, posters depicting the warmup and asking the Yale basketball team to “stop supporting a rapist.”

Yale administrators have refused to comment on the reason for Montague’s withdrawal.

Summit League

(Conference tournament: March 5-8, Sioux Falls, South Dakota)

The favorite: South Dakota State

Record: 23-7, 12-4 Summit

RPI: 42

Best wins: vs. UCSB, vs. Middle Tennessee, vs. IPFW

Worst loss: at UMKC

The Jackrabbits have been in a pitched battle with IPFW for first place in the Summit League all season. The two split their head-to-head matchups this season, with each side winning at home.

Freshman forward Mike Daum has quickly taken over South Dakota State’s offense. He’s averaging 14.8 points in 20 minutes per game. He’s scored in double figures in 17 straight games.

Around Daum, the Jackrabbits also boast sharpshooter George Marshall, who is shooting 39.6 percent from the three-point line on 5.8 attempts per game.

South Dakota State has the inside and outside game to pull an upset or two in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament — that is, if it can even get that far.

The contender: IPFW

Record: 23-8, 12-4 Summit

RPI: 68

Best wins: vs. South Dakota State, vs. Oral Roberts (twice), vs. Nebraska-Omaha (twice)

Worst loss: vs. Navy (neutral site)

Not to be outdone, IPFW (that’s Indiana University/Purdue University — Fort Wayne) has a stellar freshman of its own right.

Guard John Konchar is shooting 58.9 percent from the field while averaging eight shots per game. In the Mastodons’ 91-79 win over South Dakota State on Feb. 18, Konchar hit seven of nine shots and finished with 22 points.

A rubber match between IPFW and South Dakota State in the conference final seems inevitable. Whoever wins likely will be seeded in the 13-14 range.

Dark horse: North Dakota State (18-12, 8-8 Summit) has won two consecutive conference titles, though it enters the tournament having lost four of its last six games.

West Coast Conference

(Conference tournament: March 3-8, Las Vegas)

The favorite: Saint Mary’s

Record: 25-4, 15-3 WCC

RPI: 38

Best wins: vs. Stanford, vs. BYU, vs. Gonzaga (twice)

Worst loss: None to a team outside the RPI top 150

A perpetual challenger to Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s has a rare opportunity in 2016 to take advantage of a weakened Bulldogs team and capture the conference title. The Gaels are the only team other than Gonzaga to have won the tournament since 2009.

This was the first season where Saint Mary’s swept Gonzaga since 1995. Sophomore forward Calvin Hermanson led the way in both contests, scoring 10 points in the Gaels’ home win on Jan. 21 and 12 on the road on Feb. 20.

Even if the Gaels come up short in the conference tourney, they’ll still be in good shape to receive an at-large bid. They’ve gone 6-2 in games against the RPI top 100.

The contender: Gonzaga

Record: 23-7, 15-3 WCC

RPI: 64

Best wins: vs. Washington (neutral site), vs. Connecticut (neutral site), vs. Tennessee (neutral site)

Worst loss: None to a team outside the RPI top 150

A high-major program in a mid-major conference, Gonzaga hasn’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 1998.

If they don’t win the WCC tournament this year, though, the Bulldogs could be on the wrong side of the bubble. They went 0-5 against teams in the RPI top 50 and won’t have a chance at another resume-boosting win unless they play Saint Mary’s in the conference tournament final.

Gonzaga suffered a big loss when senior center Przemek Karnowski was lost for the season with a back injury in December. But frontcourt veterans raised their game. Senior Kyle Wiltjer is averaging a career-high 20.8 ppg, while sophomore Donatis Sabonis is averaging 17.2 ppg and 11.9 rpg.

If the tournament-tested Bulldogs get in, they’ll be a team high-majors will want to avoid.

Dark horse: BYU (22-9, 13-5 WCC) split its head-to-head series with Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga and could easily steal the automatic bid.

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