Breaking down the conference tournament fields

Originally Published: May 24, 2007
By Aaron Fitt | Baseball America

ACC
Site: Jacksonville, Fla.
Dates: May 23-27
Format: Round-robin play within two pools of four teams. Team with the best record from each bracket advances to title game.
The field: Division A bracket: No. 1 Florida State, No. 4 Clemson, No. 5 Miami, No. 8 Wake Forest. Division B bracket: No. 2 North Carolina, No. 3 Virginia, No. 6 North Carolina State, No. 7 Georgia Tech
Who's hot: North Carolina has won five straight and 13 of 15 since losing a series at Florida State. The Tar Heels have a deep pitching staff conducive to the tournament format, and starters Alex White and Luke Putkonen both ended long winless streaks this past weekend against Maryland. Miami also got hot after dropping a series to the Seminoles, winning nine of its next 10 games heading into the ACC tournament. Of course, that stretch came against Wright State, Wake Forest and Duke -- not the strongest part of Miami's schedule. North Carolina State won back-to-back series at Virginia and home against Clemson heading into the tourney. The Wolfpack's somewhat maligned offense carried the load, scoring 8.75 runs per game in the four wins.
Who's not: Georgia Tech finished the regular season by losing its last three conference series -- at Clemson, at North Carolina and home against Florida State. The Yellow Jackets have dropped their past four games by a combined score of 58-26.
Bubble watch: Wake Forest snuck into the ACC tournament field with a sub-.500 conference record, but its RPI is strong (24) and its résumé includes a series win over Virginia. Still, the Demon Deacons padded their conference record with sweeps over Maryland and Duke and a series win over Virginia Tech. Wake needs to win a couple of games this week to solidify itself as the ACC's eighth regional team.
The favorite: Florida State lost one series all season, to Clemson, and won the ACC's regular-season crown by three games over UNC. The Seminoles enter the tournament on a roll, having demolished Georgia Tech in Atlanta this past weekend. The key will be the starting pitching after rock-steady Bryan Henry; right-hander Michael Hyde has struggled down the stretch, but Ryan Strauss looked sharp in his return to the weekend rotation against the Yellow Jackets.
The dark horse: Clemson's stable of arms is as deep as any in the country. That could be an advantage in a condensed tournament.

America East
Site: Farmingdale, N.Y.
Dates: May 24-27
Format: Four teams, double-elimination.
The field: No. 1 Binghamton, No. 2 Stony Brook, No. 3 Albany, No. 4 Maine
Who's hot: Stony Brook has won seven of its last nine. Power arms Tom Koehler and Gary Novakowski have both come on strong, each winning their past two starts.
Who's not: Maine dropped its final two regular-season games, against Binghamton.
Bubble watch: The team that wins the conference tournament will represent the one-bid America East in the NCAA Tournament.
The favorite: Binghamton went 17-5 in conference play and captured its first America East regular-season title. The balanced Bearcats led America East in ERA (4.17) and were second in fielding percentage (.965) and batting (.291).
The dark horse: Maine, the defending conference champion and preseason favorite, limped to a 5-18 start (0-4 in the conference) before rebounding to make the league tournament. Pitching has been a problem (5.78 staff ERA), but the Black Bears are capable of slugging their way to the league title. They topped the league in batting (.304) and home runs (36), led by junior third baseman Curt Smith (.342 with seven homers) and senior first baseman Joel Barrett (.364 with seven bombs).

Atlantic Sun
Site: DeLand, Fla.
Dates: May 23-26
Format: Six teams, double-elimination.
The field: No. 1 Stetson, No. 2 Mercer, No. 3 Belmont, No. 4 Jacksonville, No. 5 Gardner-Webb, No. 6 Lipscomb
Who's hot: Gardner-Webb won its final four conference series to earn the fifth seed in the tournament.
Who's not: Lipscomb limped into the A-Sun tournament, losing 13 of its last 16 games. Offense has been a big problem, as the Bison have scored three or fewer runs in nine of those 13 losses.
Bubble watch: Stetson has a strong enough résumé and RPI (30) that it is safe as an at-large team even if another team wins the conference tournament. If the Hatters win the conference tournament, this will be a one-bid league.
The favorite: Perennial league power and tournament host Stetson is gunning for its third consecutive conference championship. The Hatters went 21-6 and won the conference by four games. Corey Kluber ( 2.09) and Chris Ingoglia (2.94), Stetson's one-two punch, are the only two starting pitchers in the A-Sun with sub-3.00 ERAs.
The dark horse: Mercer has won 30 games in back-to-back years for the first time since 1981-82. Closer Cory Gearrin ( 2.08 ERA, conference-leading 13 saves) is the single greatest weapon in the conference, capable of bailing the Bears out of a tight spot.

Atlantic 10
Site: Dayton, Ohio
Dates: May 23-26
Format: Six teams, double-elimination
The field: No. 1 Charlotte, No. 2 Fordham, No. 3 Richmond, No. 4 Xavier, No. 5 Rhode Island, No. 6 St. Bonaventure
Who's hot: Fordham closed its regular season with 10 consecutive wins to overtake Richmond for the second seed in the tournament. The Rams have a formidable one-two punch atop the rotation in right-handers Cory Riordan and Javier Martinez, and the first-round bye afforded the Rams as the No. 2 seed allows them to throw one of those two pitchers against top-seeded Charlotte, as long as they win their opener against either Richmond or St. Bonaventure.
Who's not: Richmond lost six of its final eight regular-season games, culminating in a sweep at home against Charlotte. The Spiders were outscored 20-2 in the three-game sweep.
Bubble watch: Should a team topple the 49ers and earn the league's automatic bid, Charlotte is still a lock to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The 49ers have a chance to get a No. 2 seed in a regional if they can win the tournament and some other fringe No. 2s have poor weeks.
The favorite: Charlotte dominated the league wire to wire, going 44-10 overall and 23-4 in conference. Charlotte's 44 wins are a school record, and the 23 conference wins are an A-10 record. Senior right-hander Adam Mills has had a season for the ages, leading the nation in ERA (1.06), ranking third in strikeouts (132) and tying for third in wins (12). The staff behind him isn't bad, either -- the 49ers lead the nation with a 2.29 ERA.
The dark horse: Fordham is the hot hand and has enough talent on the mound to at least give Charlotte a run. But the 49ers are as heavy a favorite as any team in the nation heading into its respective conference tourney.

Big Ten
Site: Ann Arbor, Mich.
Dates: May 23-26
Format: Six teams, double-elimination
The field: No. 1 Michigan, No. 2 Minnesota, No. 3 Penn State, No. 4 Iowa, No. 5 Illinois, No. 6 Ohio State
Who's hot: Penn State made a late charge for a first-round bye in the conference tournament but fell just short when it lost to Ohio State in its regular-season finale. Still, the Nittany Lions won their final three conference series against Purdue, Michigan and Ohio State. They've won six of their past seven games -- four of them one-run affairs.
Who's not: Ohio State, one of the conference's preseason favorites, lost 10 of its last 15 contests. The loss of ace left-hander Dan DeLucia to elbow surgery back in April took a major toll on Ohio State's pitching depth, which was supposed to be a strength heading into the year.
Bubble watch: Michigan and Minnesota are both likely to receive bids regardless what happens this weekend, and if a third team wins the tournament, the Big Ten could be a three-bid league. The Wolverines can secure a No. 2 seed in a regional with a strong showing. With an RPI of 71, Penn State is probably on the wrong side of the bubble, although its strong finish and tough early schedule (at North Carolina, at Wichita State, at Oral Roberts) gives it a chance. The Nittany Lions need to win a couple of games to have a chance.
The favorite: Michigan captured its second consecutive regular-season conference title and will try to add a second-straight Big Ten tournament title to its trophy case. Outfielder/right-hander Zach Putnam is the Big Ten's premier player; he leads the Big Ten in RBIs (57) and ranks second in strikeouts (67) off the mound.
The dark horse: Minnesota has advanced to the tournament's championship game a record six consecutive years. The Golden Gophers are a well-balanced club, ranking fourth in the conference in ERA (4.80) and third in batting (.322). Minnesota was deprived of a crack at Michigan in April when cold weather and snow forced the cancellation of the four-game series. The Gophers would love a second shot at the Wolverines.

Big 12
Site: Oklahoma City
Dates: May 23-27
Format: Round-robin play within two pools of four teams. Team with the best record from each bracket advances to title game.
The field: Pool A: No. 1 Texas, No. 4 Nebraska, No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 8 Kansas State. Pool B: No. 2 Missouri, No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Oklahoma
Who's hot: Missouri won its final five regular-season series -- including huge road sets against Texas and Oklahoma State. The Tigers won 11 of their last 13 games.
Who's not: Kansas State was swept by Baylor in its regular-season finale. The Wildcats dropped six of their last seven conference series, with the lone win coming at Kansas.
Bubble watch: Nebraska has rode out its tumultuous season and finished above .500 in the league (14-13). With an RPI of 26, the Cornhuskers should be safe, although it would help to win a game or two this week. Fellow bubble teams Baylor and Oklahoma also have strong RPIs (the Sooners rank 25th, the Bears 32nd), but both teams probably have to win some games in the conference tournament because of poor conference records (Baylor is 12-15, OU 11-16).
The favorite: Texas won the regular season by two games and capped its campaign with a sweep of Texas A&M. The high-powered Horns boast the nation's leading home run hitter in sophomore outfielder Kyle Russell (27 long balls), but -- as is typical of a Texas team -- its true strength is on the mound (conference-leading 3.33 staff ERA) and in the field (conference-best .978 fielding percentage).
The dark horse: Oklahoma State will have plenty of crowd support in its home state, and the Cowboys are capable of bashing their way to the conference title. They led the Big 12 in batting (.329) and home runs (76) in the regular season.

Big East
Site: Brooklyn, N.Y. Dates: May 22-26
Format: Eight teams, double-elimination
The field: No. 1 St. John's, No. 2 Rutgers, No. 3 Louisville, No. 4 Pittsburgh, No. 5 South Florida, No. 6 Villanova, No. 7 Notre Game, No. 8 Connecticut
Who's hot: All the favorites won their tournament openers Tuesday except Pitt, which dropped a 2-1 decision to South Florida. Rutgers won 12 of its last 14 games, and St. John's has won eight straight weekend series, all in conference play.
Who's not: Preseason conference favorite Notre Dame lost seven of its last eight games, including series losses to UConn and Louisville. The Irish scored three or fewer runs in six of the seven losses.
Bubble watch: The Big East has a pretty good chance to be a three-bid league this year. St. John's (49th in the RPI), Rutgers (50th) and Louisville (41st) all have solid conference and overall records, and all are solid contenders for at-large berths. If a fourth team wins the conference tournament, one of those top three is likely to be squeezed out, though, because this will not be a four-bid league.
The favorite: St. John's is the league's most balanced team. The Red Storm led the conference in batting (.334) and finished second in ERA (3.45) behind Louisville (2.89). And the Johnnies are playing close to home, which might provide a bit of an edge.
The dark horse: Louisville's deep pitching staff figures to be a major factor in a grueling eight-team, double-elimination tournament. The Cardinals have nine pitchers who worked at least 30 innings during the regular season and posted ERAs below 4.00.

Big South
Site: Rock Hill, S.C.
Dates: May 22-26.
Format: Eight teams. Bottom four teams played a single-elimination round Tuesday, with the winners advancing to the six-team double-elimination bracket. The field: No. 1 Coastal Carolina, No. 2 Winthrop, No. 3 Liberty, No. 4 Virginia Military, No. 5 High Point, No. 6 UNC Asheville, No. 7 Charleston Southern, No. 8 Radford. In Tuesday's games, High Point eliminated Radford and UNC Asheville eliminated Charleston Southern.
Who's hot: Coastal Carolina did not lose a conference series in the regular season. The Chanticleers won 10 of their last 12 games, capped by a midweek win at Virginia and a series victory on the road against preseason conference favorite Winthrop. That series clinched the regular-season crown for Coastal.
Who's not: VMI lost five of its final eight games. The Keydets finished the regular season by losing a home series against Liberty, which VMI plays in its first game of the conference tournament.
Bubble watch: Winthrop is on the wrong side of the bubble. The Eagles were in good shape until being swept at Liberty two weeks ago. With an RPI of 77, Winthrop probably needs to win the conference tournament to make a regional, but if it can at least reach the finals, it has a shot at an at-large bid.
The favorite: Coastal Carolina has dominated the league from the outset. The Chanticleers are a lock to host a regional and are playing for a potential national seed this week.
The dark horse: Despite its poor finish, Winthrop has enough firepower in its lineup and pitching staff to make a run all the way through. The key will be getting a quality performance from its beleaguered bullpen.

Colonial
Site: Wilmington, N.C.
Dates: May 23-26
Format: Six teams, double-elimination
The field: No. 1 Old Dominion, No. 2 Delaware, No. 3 Virginia Commonwealth, No. 4 UNC Wilmington, No. 5 George Mason, No. 6 Georgia State
Who's hot: Defending champion UNC Wilmington rides a 10-game winning streak into the conference tournament. The Seahawks' furious blitz landed them in a four-way tie with ODU, Delaware and VCU atop the regular-season standings, but head-to-head tiebreakers caused UNCW to earn the fourth seed.
Who's not: George Mason has dropped four straight, including the last three to the surging Seahawks. The Patriots have surrendered 13.25 runs per game in the four losses.
Bubble watch: The CAA is likely to be a one-bid league, so winning the conference tournament is paramount. UNCW and VCU have outside shots at earning at-large bids, thanks to RPIs in the low 80s.
The favorite: The Seahawks are the hot hand; they're the defending champs; and they're the hosts. Freshmen Daniel Cropper (5-4, 3.43) and Jesse Haney (1-0, 2.77 out of the bullpen) have provided major boosts to the pitching staff.
The dark horse: Old Dominion was denied an at-large bid a year ago despite going 39-17 (21-9 in the CAA). The Monarchs want to make sure their NCAA Tournament destiny is in their own hands this year, and they have the arms to do it. ODU's 4.01 staff ERA leads the league. Sophomore right-hander Anthony Shawler (10-2, 2.30) is a workhorse capable of coming back on short rest.

Conference USA
Site: Greenville, N.C.
Dates: May 23-27
Format: Eight teams, double-elimination
The field: No. 1 Rice, No. 2 East Carolina, No. 3 Southern Mississippi, No. 4 Houston, No. 5 Memphis, No. 6 Alabama-Birmingham, No. 7 Tulane, No. 8 Central Florida
Who's hot: Rice carries the nation's longest winning streak -- 18 games -- into the conference tournament. Southern Miss is also hot, having won 10 in a row, capped by a crucial sweep at Houston. The Golden Eagles allowed just two runs in the three-game sweep.
Who's not: Tulane lost 11 of its last 12 conference games. The Green Wave closed the regular season with a three-game series against Chicago State, which entered the weekend with a 3-47 record. Tulane proceeded to drop the opening game of the series.
Bubble watch: Rice, Southern Miss and ECU are all safely into the NCAA Tournament, and the Golden Eagles and Pirates are jockeying for a No. 2 seed. Houston and Memphis are probably on the wrong side of the bubble, thanks to poor finishes.
The favorite: Rice has gone 48-4 over its first two seasons in Conference USA, counting last season's run to the C-USA tournament title. The nation's preseason No. 1 team is firing on all cylinders and is the prohibitive favorite this week.
The dark horse: East Carolina is very tough at Clark-Leclair Stadium, where the Pirates feed off the energy of their passionate fans. ECU has a strong bullpen anchored by hard-throwing closer Shane Mathews (12 saves) and enough depth in the rotation to make a run. The Pirates will get a big boost if shortstop and leading hitter Dale Mollenhauer is back from his broken hamate.

Horizon
Site: Chicago
Dates: May 23-27
Format: Six teams, double-elimination
The field: No. 1 Illinois-Chicago, No. 2 Wright State, No. 3 Wisconsin-Milwaukee, No. 4 Cleveland State, No. 5 Butler, No. 6 Youngstown State
Who's hot: Wright State won seven of its last nine games. The Raiders closed out the regular season with a series win over Illinois-Chicago.
Who's not: Youngstown State lost its final three games against Cleveland State and dropped its last five conference series.
Bubble watch: The team that wins the conference tournament will secure the Horizon's lone regional bid.
The favorite: Tournament host Illinois-Chicago did not win the event the previous three times it was held in Chicago, but that could change this year. The Flames won their sixth straight regular-season title behind a strong pitching staff led by right-handers Steve Crnkovich (conference-best 2.44 ERA) and Zach Peterson (6-0 in league play). Senior outfielder Larry Gempp Jr. (.375/.459/.538) anchors the lineup.
The dark horse: Battle-hardened Wright State opened its season with a series win at Mississippi and a series loss at Tulane. The Raiders also have traveled to Miami for a three-game series. Wright State could bash its way to the league title with an offense that boasts four of the league's top seven hitters.

MAAC
Site: Fishkill, N.Y.
Dates: May 24-26
Format: Four teams, double-elimination
The field: No. 1 Le Moyne, No. 2 Manhattan, No. 3 Marist, No. 4 Canisius
Who's hot: Le Moyne has won six straight, including a sweep of then-first-place Manhattan. After starting the season 2-13, the Dolphins have won 29 of their last 33 and captured the MAAC's regular-season crown.
Who's not: Manhattan was in the conference driver's seat before being swept at home by Le Moyne two weeks ago. The Jaspers have lost five of their past eight.
Bubble watch: The team that wins the conference tournament will capture the MAAC's lone regional berth.
The favorite: Led by MAAC batting champion Andy Parrino (.396/.464/.648 with nine homers), Le Moyne has been nearly unstoppable in the second half of the season. The Dolphins also have the league's best starter in fierce right-hander Bobby Blevins (8-2, 2.91) and the premier closer in senior right-hander Ryan Woods (5-1, 1.10, 14 saves).
The dark horse: Manhattan was the darling of the NCAA Tournament a year ago after upsetting Nebraska, and the Jaspers still have plenty of pieces in place to make a run. The one-two punch of Jesse Darcy (8-3, 2.30) and Josh Santerre (7-4, 3.22) is formidable, and the offense features mashers Matt Rizzotti (.355/.502/.604 with 11 homers) and Nick Derba (.288/.447/.595 with 11 homers).

Mid-American
Site: Ypsilanti, Mich.
Dates: May 23-26
Format: Six teams, double-elimination.
The field: No. 1 Eastern Michigan, No. 2 Kent State, No. 3 Central Michigan, No. 4 Miami (Ohio), No. 5 Northern Illinois, No. 6 Toledo
Who's hot: Kent State, with hard-throwing right-hander Chris Carpenter back in the rotation, won 12 of its last 13 games to capture the Eastern Division title by two games over Miami.
Who's not: Central Michigan led Eastern Michigan by a game in the Western Division standings entering the final weekend of the regular season, when the Chippewas dropped two of three at Ball State.
Bubble watch: The MAC is traditionally a one-bid league, and it probably will be again this year, but Central Michigan does have an outside shot at an at-large berth if it does not win the conference tournament. The Chippewas have the league's highest RPI (76).
The favorite: Central Michigan leads the MAC in batting (.308) and ERA (3.51). The Chippewas boast the league's top hitter in junior outfielder Tyler Stovall (.409) and the league's top pitcher in junior right-hander Josh Collmenter (9-3, 1.49).
The dark horse: EMU has the advantage of being the host, and it can match the Chippewas arm for arm. Leading the way are junior righty Jeff Fischer (7-4, 2.87) and senior righty George Biddle (7-4, 2.25).

Mid-Continent
Site: Macomb, Ill.
Dates: May 24-26
Format: Four teams, double-elimination
The field: No. 1 Oral Roberts, No. 2 Western Illinois, No. 3 Valparaiso, No. 4 Centenary
Who's hot: Perennial league powerhouse Oral Roberts has won 13 straight, culminating in a four-game sweep at second-place Western Illinois this past weekend. The Golden Eagles have won 22 of 23.
Who's not: Western Illinois had a chance to usurp ORU before being swept in four games to end the season.
Bubble watch: The Mid-Con is a one-bid league unless Oral Roberts gets upset, in which case the Golden Eagles likely would get an at-large bid, thanks to a strong RPI (42).
The favorite: Oral Roberts is the overwhelming favorite to win its 10th consecutive conference championship. ORU has utterly dominated the Mid-Con again, going 19-1 and leading the league in homers (52) and ERA (3.51 ). Ace right-hander Chance Chapman has recorded a 17-strikeout game and a 19-strikeout game this season.
The dark horse: Led by Mid-Con batting champion Brett Pendell (.363) and RBI co-leaders Travis Check and Matt Newquist (50), Western Illinois could slug its way to the conference title, but it would be a major upset.

Missouri Valley
Site: Springfield, Mo.
Dates: May 23-26.
Format: Six teams, double-elimination.
The field: No. 1 Wichita State, No. 2 Creighton, No. 3 Bradley, No. 4 Evansville, No. 5 Southern Illinois, No. 6 Missouri State
Who's hot: Creighton won 21 of its last 23 games despite scoring four or fewer runs in eight of them. That's a testament to the Bluejays' outstanding pitching and defense.
Who's not: Defending champion Evansville lost its final series at Bradley and fell to fourth place in the conference. The Purple Aces went just 6-8 down the stretch.
Bubble watch: Wichita State and Creighton are in -- the Shockers as a likely No. 1 seed and regional host, Creighton as a probable No. 2 seed. Evansville (58th in the RPI) and Southern Illinois (65th) are probably on the wrong side of the bubble and need to make deep MVC tourney runs just to gain consideration for at-large bids.
The favorite: Wichita State entered the season ranked 10th in the nation and has remained remarkably steady all year long. The Shockers have not lost a conference series this year, and their reward is facing probable first-round pick Ross Detwiler of host school Missouri State. They could get a boost if Aaron Shafer has recovered enough from his sore elbow to make a start.
The dark horse: Evansville is a senior-laden club on the mound and in the lineup, and that experience could be a factor this week. Veterans Kasey Wahl (.356 with eight homers) and Jim Viscomi (.377 with 22 stolen bases) lead a strong offense, and senior righty Ben Norton (8-4, 2.46) anchors an accomplished pitching staff.

Mountain West
Site: Las Vegas
Dates: May 23-26
Format: Six teams, double-elimination.
The field: No. 1 TCU, No. 2 BYU, No. 3 Utah, No. 4 San Diego State, No. 5 New Mexico, No. 6 UNLV
Who's hot: TCU won nine of its last 10 games and 25 of its last 29. The Horned Frogs won the regular-season conference title by 3 1/2 games over BYU.
Who's not: San Diego State has crumbled down the stretch, losing 11 of its last 12. The slide started in earnest when the Aztecs dropped a pair of one-run games at Texas Christian on April 27-28, and it culminated in back-to-back 13-inning losses to end the regular season against BYU.
Bubble watch: Brigham Young has made a strong, late push for an at-large bid, winning 13 of its last 15 to take over second place in the conference. Like every team in the MWC, the Cougars take a hit in the RPI by having to play lowly Air Force, but BYU still has a respectable 84 RPI. If the Cougars can reach the tournament finals, they've got a shot at an at-large berth, thanks to a strong finish and a résumé that includes wins over Washington, Gonzaga and Missouri.
The favorite: TCU is the MWC's superpower, and there's no reason to believe the Horned Frogs' dominance of the league will end this year. Junior right-hander Jake Arrieta (8-3, 3.36) leads a deep stable of power arms, and the offense tied for the league lead in hitting (.314) and led it outright in homers (54).
The dark horse: BYU can pitch with any team in the league -- its staff ERA (3.74) was the best in the conference. Leading the way is fifth-year senior right-hander Jesse Craig (10-2, conference-best 2.80 ERA).

NEC
Site: New Britain, Conn.
Dates: May 24-28.
Format: Four teams, double-elimination.
The field: No. 1 Quinnipiac, No. 2 Mount St. Mary's, No. 3 Monmouth, No. 4 Central Connecticut State.
Who's hot: Quinnipiac won nine of its last 11, including three wins at then-first-place Mount St. Mary's, as the Bobcats roared to a tie atop the standings with the Mountaineers.
Who's not: Central Connecticut State has lost its past five games -- four of them one-run affairs and two of them extra-inning contests.
Bubble watch: The team that wins the conference tournament will earn the conference's lone regional bid.
The favorite: Quinnipiac's potent offense is led by conference batting champion Tim Binkoski (.425/.488/.564), helping the Bobcats post a conference-best .309 average and 55 home runs. Quinnipiac will try to bludgeon its way to the NCAA Tournament.
The dark horse: Mount St. Mary's was the team to beat in the Northeast Conference early in the year. The Mountaineers actually outscored Quinnipiac 376-314 this season (in 10 additional games), so there could be some high-scoring contests if those two teams meet in the tournament.

Ohio Valley
Site: Paducah, Ky.
Dates: May 23-26
Format: Six teams, double-elimination
The field: No. 1 Austin Peay State, No. 2 Jacksonville State, No. 3 Southeast Missouri State, No. 4 Samford, No. 5 Eastern Kentucky, No. 6 Murray State
Who's hot: Austin Peay has won six straight conference series and 14 of its past 17 games, including a pair of midweek wins against Mississippi State.
Who's not: Murray State has dropped four consecutive series and nine of its last 12 games overall.
Bubble watch: The team that wins the conference tournament will secure the OVC's lone regional bid.
The favorite: Austin Peay, which won the OVC tournament two years ago, has the league's strongest pitching staff -- its 3.74 ERA led the league. The Governors have three reliable starters: right-handers Shawn Kelley (10-3, 2.65) and Ryne Mantooth (7-3, 3.62) and lefty Matt Reynolds (9-3, 3.28). The deep bullpen is anchored by closer Ben Wilshire ( 3.13 ERA, eight saves).
The dark horse: There is not a dominant offensive team in the OVC, but Jacksonville State's .313 batting average led the league. Junior outfielder Clay Whittemore (.396, 67 RBIs) is one of the league's most dangerous hitters.

SEC
Site: Hoover, Ala.
Dates: May 23-27
Format: Eight teams, double-elimination
The field: No. 1 Vanderbilt, No. 2 Arkansas, No. 3 South Carolina, No. 4 Mississippi State, No. 5 Mississippi, No. 6 Florida, No. 7 Alabama, No. 8 Tennessee
Who's hot: Vanderbilt won 14 of its last 16 games to win its first SEC regular-season crown. The Commodores have won eight straight conference series since suffering their only series loss of the year, at Arkansas in March.
Who's not: Arkansas suffered its only three weekend series losses of the year over the past three weeks against Louisiana State, Alabama and Mississippi. Two of those series were at home. Injuries have ravaged Mississippi State down the stretch, and the Bulldogs have lost six of their last eight games.
Bubble watch: Florida enters the tournament on precarious footing. The Gators are 28-28 on the season, so they must win at least two games in the double-elimination tournament just to finish at .500 overall, the minimum requirement to receive an at-large bid. If Florida can pull that off, it has a decent chance at a bid, thanks to a top-40 RPI. Tennessee and Alabama played their way into the conference tournament by winning three of their final four conference series. Both remain on the bubble and could use a win or two this week to solidify their position, but the strong regular-season finishes should make both safe.
The favorite: Vandy has been the best team in the nation all season long. The Dores boast the nation's best pitcher in left-hander David Price (10-0, 2.76), one of the best hitters in third baseman Pedro Alvarez (.382/.450/.684) and an elite closer in Casey Weathers (10-2, 2.21, seven saves). Vanderbilt also has enough pitching depth to run all the way through the tournament, although two wins could be sufficient for Vandy to lock up the No. 1 national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The dark horse: Defending champion Mississippi has played 20 one-run games this year, going 8-12 in those contests. The Rebels have the talent to make a deep postseason run, particularly on the mound. All they need is for their luck to turn.

Southern
Site: Charleston, S.C.
Dates: May 22-26.
Format: Ten teams. Bottom four played a single-elimination round Tuesday, with the two winners advancing to the eight-team double-elimination round.
The field: No. 1 College of Charleston, No. 2 Western Carolina, No. 3 Elon, No. 4 Appalachian State, No. 5 UNC Greensboro, No. 6 Georgia Southern, No. 7 The Citadel, No. 8 Furman, No. 9 Wofford, No. 10 Davidson. Wofford eliminated Furman on Tuesday, and The Citadel eliminated Davidson.
Who's hot: Western Carolina won 12 of its last 14 games to draw even with College of Charleston atop the standings (CofC got the tiebreaker by virtue of sweeping the head-to-head series against the Catamounts in March). Appalachian State won eight of its last 10.
Who's not: Preseason conference favorite Elon dropped six of its last nine games, including home series against College of Charleston and Wofford.
Bubble watch: College of Charleston (33 RPI) and Western Carolina (35) are both very strong at-large contenders. If a third team wins the conference tournament, it is possible the SoCon could be a three-bid league.
The favorite: College of Charleston gets the edge, playing in its home city (though The Citadel is the host). The high-powered Cougars not only lead the nation in slugging (.569) and rank third in batting (.351) but also own the conference's best team ERA ( 4.70). Chris Campbell (.388/.417/.651 with 10 homers and 77 RBIs), Ben Lasater (.384/.433/.680 with 14 homers) and Graham Maiden (.374/.496/.620 with 10 homers) make for a potent heart of the order. Nick Chigges (11-0, 2.63 ) is the league's best pitcher.
The dark horse: Western Carolina might be able to trump CofC's pitching depth in this grueling event. Left-handers Drew Saberhagen (8-1, 2.97) and Tyler Sexton (8-2, 4.21) are a quality one-two punch, and Greg Holland ( 3.07 ERA, 10 saves) holds down a decent bullpen.

Southland
Site: Natchitoches, La.
Dates: May 23-26
Format: Six teams, double-elimination
The field: No. 1 Texas-San Antonio, No. 2 Lamar, No. 3 Texas State, No. 4 Sam Houston State, No. 5 McNeese State, No. 6 Stephen F. Austin
Who's hot: UTSA won 10 of its last 12 games to capture its first Southland title. The Roadrunners finished with a Southland-record 24 conference victories.
Who's not: Texas State went just 7-9 down the stretch, dropping series to Lamar and UTSA.
Bubble watch: The Southland is very likely to be a one-bid league, but UTSA does have an outside chance at an at-large bid if it reaches the conference finals but does not win the title. The Roadrunners rank 67th in the RPI.
The favorite: UTSA's solid offense is powered by junior first baseman Trent Lockwood (.385/.441/.704 with 13 homers and 54 RBIs). Senior right-hander Josh Blakley (6-0, 2.73) and freshman righty Zach Calhoon (4-2, 2.54, six saves) lead a good bullpen that is the strength of UTSA's pitching staff.
The dark horse: Lamar, the preseason favorite, boasts the two top prospects in the league: outfielder Collin DeLome (.329/.387/.578 with nine homers) and catcher Michael Ambort (.380/.444/.639 with 11 homers).

Sun Belt
Site: Mobile, Ala.
Dates: May 23-26.
Format: Eight teams, double-elimination.
The field: No. 1 Louisiana-Lafayette, No. 2 New Orleans, No. 3 Middle Tennessee State, No. 4 Troy, No. 5 Louisiana-Monroe, No. 6 Florida Atlantic, No. 7 Western Kentucky, No. 8 South Alabama
Who's hot: Louisiana-Lafayette has won 11 of 13 games since being swept at Arizona State. The Ragin' Cajuns bludgeoned Arkansas-Little Rock two weeks ago by a combined score of 50-11 in a three-game sweep.
Who's not: Louisiana-Monroe lost its final three conference series and has dropped nine of its last 13 games overall.
Bubble watch: Troy (53 RPI) probably can secure an at-large bid with a couple of wins in the conference tournament. The Trojans' résumé is bolstered by a quality series win against Coastal Carolina and isolated wins over Southern Mississippi, Michigan, Alabama and Arkansas.
The favorite: The Cajuns are playing for a No. 1 seed and a home regional. With an RPI of 13, UL-L probably can sew up a host site by reaching the finals of the conference tournament. The best-pitching team in the conference (3.79 ERA) is well-suited for the tournament format. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy (.373 with 15 homers) anchors a strong offense.
The dark horse: Troy has gotten inconsistent pitching all season (5.63 ERA, sixth in the conference), but bullpen ace Josh Dew (7-1, 2.26, 10 saves) can bail the Trojans out of some tight spots. Slugging first baseman Clint Robinson (.370/.457/.685 with 17 home runs) leads a potent offense.

WAC
Site: Reno, Nev.
Dates: May 24-27
Format: Six teams, double-elimination.
The field: No. 1 Fresno State, No. 2 Nevada, No. 3 Louisiana Tech, No. 4 San Jose State, No. 5 Hawaii, No. 6 Sacramento State
Who's hot: Hawaii won its final two regular-season games against Fresno State, both one-run contests. It's hardly a hot streak -- the Rainbows had lost their previous four games -- but it'll have to do because nobody else is any hotter.
Who's not: Sacramento State has lost four straight and six of seven.
Bubble watch: The WAC is very likely a one-bid league, as Fresno State owns the highest RPI at 104. If the Bulldogs can't add a conference tournament title to their regular-season championship, they probably will wind up on the outside looking in come selection day.
The favorite: Fresno State has power threats up and down the lineup -- six players have hit six or more home runs. Sophomore left-hander Justin Wilson has been outstanding in conference play, posting a WAC-best 1.46 ERA.
The dark horse: Louisiana Tech. The WAC's highest-scoring team is led by multitooled outfielder Brian Rike, who leads the conference in homers (20), RBIs (65), runs (74) and slugging percentage (.722). Hulking right-hander Luke Burnett, the conference's strikeout leader (109), can be dominant at times, but he has been inconsistent in the second half and finished 5-7, 4.41 after getting off to a strong start.

Editor's note: ESPN.com has entered a partnership with Baseball America, which will provide weekly updates, analysis and Friday notebooks on college baseball.

ALSO SEE