The next two weeks are just a warmup for the real tournament, the NCAAs, but the conference tournaments will provide some exciting games, individual performances, and upsets. To some they are meaningless, but when I watch, I see some great competition with teams playing with great effort.
A look at the conference tournaments that begin this week.
(Wednesday, March 6, March 11)
At higher-seeded team
Favorite: Vermont. The Fightin’ Coppenraths went 16-0 in the league, the first time that’s happened in AE.
Contenders: Stony Brook, New Hampshire. The Brook is the only team to play Vermont semi-tough this season. UNH has been a pleasant surprise all season.
Long shot: Hartford. If the Hawks can recapture the form that produced victories over Boston College and Navy, then . . . .
(Monday, Thursday, Sunday)
At higher-seeded team
Favorite: Florida Gulf Coast. The Ospreys are an excellent shooting team (50 percent, fifth in the country) and they’ll have the home-court advantage.
Contenders: Lipscomb, North Florida. Lipscomb won eight of its last nine, including a win at Gulf Coast.
Long shot: Kennesaw State. Coached by Al Skinner, which means if he wins, he’d get back to the NCAAs before his ex-employer BC.
(Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday)
Quarterfinals, semifinals at Winthrop
First round, final at higher-seeded team
Favorite: Winthrop. The Eagles are led by phenomenal guard Keon Johnson, who averages 21.8 ppg. He’s listed at 5-7 but he looks even shorter. Check out this team photo. He’s No. 5.
Contenders: North Carolina Asheville, Liberty. Asheville split two 3-point games with Winthrop.
Long shot: Radford, which actually holds a victory over Asheville.
Prediction: Winthrop. The NCAA Tournament deserves a first-round performance from Johnson.
At Charleston, S.C.
Favorite: North Carolina Wilmington. The Seahawks were dominant for most of the season but slipped a tad near the end. They’re still the best team in the league.
Contenders: Charleston, Towson. Charleston will not be playing on its home court but does have the hometown advantage.
Long shot: Northeastern. The Huskies have the potential to beat anyone in the league.
Prediction: North Carolina Wilmington.
Favorite: Valparaiso. The Cruasaders may not be the No. 1 seed but I believe they are still the best team with the best player, Alec Peters.
Contenders: Oakland, Green Bay, Northern Kentucky. Quick trivia: Did you know Northern Kentucky plays in a arena that seats 9,400 with a court decorated with a huge Norse ship? Amazing, right? If they win this tournament, everyone will be talking about it.
Long shot: Wright State. The Raiders (They really should try to swap nicknames with the Dayton Flyers) hold a victory over Oakland, which is seeded first.
Prediction: Valpo. Peters could have transferred for his senior season and played in a Power 5 conference; he was loyal so he deserves this.
At Albany, N.Y.
Favorite: Monmouth. The Hawks were snubbed on selection Sunday in 2016 and they need to win this to get into this season’s tournament even thought they are 26-5 with a 16-game winning streak.
Contenders: Iona, Saint Peter’s, Siena. Iona is talented, led by Sam Cassell Jr., but erratic. They’re capable of rolling through this bracket.
Long shot: Canisius. The leading scorers are Kassius Robertson and Jermaine Crumpton; sounds almost poetic that they’re playing for Canisius.
Prediction: The top seed never wins this tournament; Siena has been improving and will win on its home floor. Coach Jimmy Patsos will throw his jacket into the front row.
At St. Louis
Favorite: Wichita State. The Shockers finished the season with a 12-game winning streak. This is a rapidly improving team.
Contenders: Illinois State. This is truly a two-team league, and the Redbirds deserve an NCAA bid no matter what happens in this tournament.
Long shot: Indiana State. Larry Bird U has some potential, evidenced by a victory over Butler.
Prediction: Wichita State
(Wednesday, Saturday, March 7)
At higher-seeded team
Favorite: Mount St. Mary’s. After a 2-11 start, the Mounties flipped their season, going 14-4 in the NEC, but this is a well-balanced league; they’re not a lock.
Contenders: LIU Brooklyn, Wagner, St. Francis of Pennsylvania. LIU Brooklyn finished strong, including victories over the Mount and Wagner.
Long shot: FDU. The Knights underachieved and ended the season with a five-game losing streak, but the talent is there to win this tournament.
Prediction: LIU Brooklyn.
(Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday, March 8)
At higher-seeded team
Favorite: Bucknell. The Bisons have a great 1-2 punch in versatile Zach Thomas and big man Nana Foulland, and will be difficult to dislodge.
Contenders: Boston University, Lehigh. The Terriers can win this, but they’ve rarely showed the consistency needed.
Long shot: Holy Cross. The Crusaders will need to put together a run similar to last year’s. Not impossible.
At Asheville, N.C..
Favorite: UNC Greensboro. The Spartans won late-season games over Furman and East Tennessee to get the No. 1 seed.
Contenders: East Tennessee, Furman, Chattanooga. East Tennessee and Chattanooga were both disappointing this season but could rebound and win this.
Long shot: Mercer. The upset will be led by Jordan Strawberry, son of former New York Met Darryl Strawberry.
Prediction: Furman. On a netural court, the Palladins are the best team in the league.
At Sioux Falls, S.D.
Favorite: South Dakota. The Coyotes had zero expectations with zero starters returning but meshed as the season progressed and then closed with a rush, winning their last six to win the regular-season title.
Contenders: North Dakota State, Omaha. North Dakota State is the opposite of South Dakota — great expectations but disappointing results.
Long shot: Fort Wayne. The Mastodons’ victory over Indiana seems like a long time ago but it does indicate they have a chance.
Prediction: Fort Wayne.
At Las Vegas
Favorite: Gonzaga. The Zags are no longer perfect, but one bad shooting night shouldn’t ruin a season.
Contenders: Saint Mary’s, BYU. Even if BYU gets past Saint Mary’s in the semifinals, there will not be a repeat of Saturday’s upset of Gonzaga.
Long shot: San Francisco. The Dons are young and talented and would have to go a 3-point shooting binge
Prediction: Gonzaga.Joe Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan