Duke favored as conference tourneys begin

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Chelsea Gray and Duke come into the ACC tournament with momentum after wins over Miami and UNC.

Championship Week kicks off Wednesday. Here is a breakdown of the six major conference tournaments:

ACC

Dates: March 1-4

Site: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C.

The Favorite: Duke. The Blue Devils come into the tournament with momentum after back-to-back wins over Miami and rival North Carolina.

The Dark Horse: Virginia. Could Joanne Boyle's Cavaliers be the team that upset the balance of power in a conference that has seen Duke, Miami and Maryland all spend time as the team to beat this season?

Keep an eye on: Elizabeth Williams, Duke, the Blue Devils' freshman post -- named the ACC Rookie of the Year -- is one of the most exciting young players in the country; Alyssa Thomas, Maryland, is the ACC's leading scorer this season, averaging 17.0 points and 8.5 rebounds a game; Shenise Johnson, Miami, is the only player in the ACC to rank in the Top 10 in scoring, rebounding and assists. Johnson needs just six rebounds to become only the third women's player in Division I to finish with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists.

Storyline: Duke and Miami look to be in line for No. 2 seeds in the NCAA bracket. But a quick exit might mess with that scenario.

Big East

Dates: March 2-6

Site: XL Center, Hartford, Conn.

The Favorite: Notre Dame. The Irish cemented this status with Monday night's decisive win over Connecticut in the same building where they will play for a tournament title. Notre Dame's win over Connecticut gave the Irish their first outright conference title in program history.

The Dark Horse: St. John's. The Red Storm, who have won eight in a row heading into the tournament, knocked off Connecticut on the Huskies' home court a couple of weeks ago and have wins over Georgetown, Louisville and Rutgers already this season.

Keep an eye on: Sugar Rodgers, Georgetown, leads the Big East in scoring at 19.1 points a game; Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Connecticut, a freshman who will be embarking on her first postseason with the Huskies after being named Big East rookie of the year; Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame, an Irish junior point guard, is on her way to being an All-American again. Diggins is averaging 17.4 points a game and has led her team in scoring in 15 games this season.

Storyline: A new format. All 16 teams have been invited to this year's field with the top four teams getting a first-round bye.

Big 12

Dates: March 7-10

Site: Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City, Mo.

The Favorite: Baylor. Yeah, going 30-0, winning your games by an average of 25.0 points in conference play makes you a pretty heavy favorite in the conference tournament. The Bears are going to be very tough to beat.

The Dark Horse: Oklahoma. Sherri Coale's team has two of the conference's best young players in sophomore Aaryn Ellenberg and freshman Sharane Campbell.

Keep an eye on: Chelsea Poppens, Iowa State, the only player in the conference averaging a double-double; Chassidy Fussell, Texas, the sophomore who needs 11 points to reach 1,000 for her career; Casey Morris, the Red Raiders junior guard, has led her team in scoring in four of their past five games.

Storyline: Is this tournament just a stop on the way to a national title for Baylor?

Big Ten

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

Ohio State guard Tayler Hill led the Big Ten in scoring this season.

Dates: March 1-4

Site: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

The Favorite: Penn State won the conference regular-season title for the first time since 2003-04.

The Dark Horse: Nebraska. The newest team in the conference has the potential to make some noise in the conference tournament if it can build on the momentum after closing the regular season with a win over Ohio State on Sunday.

Keep an eye on: Rachel Banham, Minnesota, the Big Ten freshman of the year who has scored in double figures in 26 straight games; Tayler Hill, Ohio State's senior guard, is averaging 20.7 points a game and will try to lead the Buckeyes to their fourth straight conference tournament title; Jordan Hooper, Nebraska, a sophomore who finished as the Big Ten's top rebounder (9.3) and fourth-leading scorer (19.1).

Storyline: Fourteen of the tournament's 17 title games have been decided by 10 points or fewer.

Pac-12

Dates: March 7-10

Site: Galen Center/Staples Center, Los Angeles

The Favorite: Stanford. The Cardinal haven't lost in the Pac-12 tournament since the 2007 title game against UCLA.

The Dark Horse: USC. The Women of Troy survived a tough early-season schedule, a devastating injury to Jacki Gemelos and some conference stumbles, but this is their best shot to reach the NCAA tournament.

Keep an eye on: Gennifer Brandon, Cal -- the Bears' junior forward has been among the NCAA's leading rebounders all season and is averaging 10 a game; Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford -- Nneka's younger sister is becoming a star in her own right; Markel Walker, the UCLA guard/forward, pulled off the Pac-12's first triple-double since 2004 earlier this season; Briana Gilbreath, USC. The lithe senior guard has one last chance to lead her team to an NCAA berth.

Storyline: Potentially, this league could only get two teams into the tournament. Could a strong run by someone like USC, or even Oregon State, make it three for the Pac-12?

SEC

Dates: March 1-4

Site: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.

The Favorite: Kentucky. The Wildcats finished with the No. 1 seed and won their first SEC title since 1982. But a run of three straight losses (followed by three season-closing wins) makes one wonder whether UK is the team to beat.

The Dark Horse: Georgia. The Bulldogs are the No. 4 seed and finished the regular season strong with a 62-46 win over LSU on Sunday.

Keep an eye on: A'dia Mathies, Kentucky guard, is the second-leading scorer in the conference at 15.3 points a game; Christina Foggie, Vanderbilt, is the SEC's leading scorer at 17.9; Shekinna Stricklen, Tennessee forward, is an SEC first-team pick and led the Lady Vols in SEC scoring at 15.8 points a game.

Storyline: Can Tennessee's all-senior lineup put together a weekend's worth of consistent performances to win another SEC tournament title?

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