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Bubble teams look to make big noise during Championship Week

Baylor is the top seed in the Big 12 tournament, which opens Friday, but Kristy Wallace and the Lady Bears don't play until Saturday. AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Some coaches like them, some hate them, and the players and fans tend to enjoy them. It's conference tournament time in women's basketball, which means the last opportunity for teams on the NCAA tournament bubble to make their cases that they belong.

For those already safely in the field, it's a chance to move up (or down) a seed line, depending on the selection committee's point of view year-to-year. There are the procedures and principles we all know, but some years the committee gives league-tournament results more weight than in other years.

In the five major conferences -- which accounted for five automatic and 27 at-large NCAA berths last year -- there are some bubble guppies and bubble sharks. The guppies don't have much NCAA tournament history, while the sharks do -- but as the "bubble" part of their description suggests, both are in precarious positions in regard to this year's tournament.

Let's take a quick look around the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC as they get set to face off for conference supremacy and automatic tickets to the Big Dance.

ACC: A three-peat for the Irish?

When the school moved to the ACC in 2013-14, Notre Dame's women's basketball team didn't just join the league, the Irish took it over. They have lost just one game to a conference foe since then, and that was last season in a defeat at Miami.

Jewell Loyd left for the WNBA draft in April, and Taya Reimer left the team this season and will transfer. Yet the Irish keep rolling, with their only loss coming in early December at UConn. They are again the favorites to leave Greensboro, North Carolina, with another trophy.

One of the top challengers is No. 2 seed Louisville, which started the season by losing four of its first five games. But the Cardinals' only losses since then came Dec. 10 at Kentucky and Feb. 7 at home against Notre Dame. No. 3 seed Syracuse had a surprising early loss in league play to North Carolina, but the Orange's only other ACC losses were to Notre Dame and Louisville. No. 4 seed Florida State also had just three losses in league play: to the Irish, the Cardinals and the Orange.

Two teams the Irish have supplanted atop the ACC -- Duke and North Carolina -- are at risk of missing the NCAA tournament. The 14-17 Tar Heels were devastated by transfers and must win the ACC tournament and automatic bid to get in.

The 19-11 Blue Devils have felt the effects of injuries and are on the bubble as one of the first four teams out, according to espnW bracketologist Charlie Creme. The No. 8 ACC seed, Duke opens against Virginia, with the winner facing Notre Dame. If Duke misses the NCAA tournament, it will be the first time since 1994.

Big Ten: Terps, Buckeyes ... or a surprise?

Top-seeded Maryland took the regular-season title as No. 2 seed Ohio State lost twice in the past week. But the Buckeyes won both meetings with the Terps this season. Last year in greater Chicago, they met in the Big Ten title game, and Maryland squeaked out a 77-74 victory, then went on to a second consecutive Final Four appearance. Ohio State lost to North Carolina on a buzzer-beater in the 2015 NCAA tournament's second round.

Maryland and Ohio State have been among the NCAA selection committee's top 10 seeds in each of the three "reveals" in February. In the latest, released Monday, the Terps were the No. 8 overall seed, and the Buckeyes were No. 9.

Besides those two, which team has the best odds to win the Big Ten tournament? This year, the event returns to its familiar home, Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, which will also be the site of the Women's Final Four.

Perhaps that will favor one of the two Indiana schools: No. 4 seed Indiana and No. 6 seed Purdue. The Boilermakers have won the Big Ten tournament nine times, by far the most of any school. The Hoosiers' one title came in 2002.

No. 3 seed Michigan State comes into the tournament on the strength of a 107-105 triple-overtime victory against Ohio State. No. 5 seed Minnesota, with scoring star Rachel Banham, is the most discussed bubble team in the country. Right now, Creme has the Gophers among the first four out, so they have work to do in Indy.

Big 12: Another green and gold coronation?

It appears this is Baylor's tournament to lose, and the Lady Bears aren't likely to do that. They are going for their eighth league tourney title and sixth in a row. Top-seeded Baylor has lost just once this season -- Dec. 30 at Oklahoma State -- but didn't have senior point guard Niya Johnson in that game.

Baylor sent a chill through any Big 12 challengers with its 74-48 demolition of No. 2 seed Texas on Tuesday in the regular-season finale. Other than the Cowgirls' upset victory, the closest a league team has come to Baylor was No. 3 seed West Virginia's five-point loss to the Lady Bears on Jan. 12. Baylor's big motivation -- other than taking home yet another Big 12 trophy -- is securing one of the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, though they likely have one regardless of what happens in Oklahoma City.

As for everyone else, this tournament could be important for seeding. Texas, which hasn't beaten Baylor since 2010 but did move ahead of the rest of the conference at 15-3 in league play this year, is currently projected by Creme as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Also projected as sure bets in the field are West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, though one of the latter two won't be long in the Big 12 tournament. The No. 4 seed Cowgirls and No. 5 seed Sooners meet at noon ET Saturday in the quarterfinals.

Kansas State is not on the bubble, according to Creme's projection, but rather is a No. 9 seed in the NCAA bracket. That said, the Wildcats, who are 18-11 overall and 8-10 in the Big 12, certainly would feel more secure if they could get a quarterfinal upset of West Virginia.

Pac-12: Will the real league boss please stand up?

This conference can brag about having the most teams -- three -- in the NCAA's projected top 10 seeds. League co-champs Oregon State and Arizona State and tied-for-third UCLA each have a chance to leave Seattle with the automatic bid. Stanford, which tied with the Bruins for third place, does as well; by tie-breaker, UCLA got the No. 3 seed.

The Pac-12's tournament dates back to only 2002. Stanford is the defending champion and has won 11 of the 13 tournaments. The Cardinal are in the rare, historic position of being something of the underdogs this year, but no one's counting them out -- especially not after they beat Oregon State on Friday.

The Beavers got the top seed via tiebreaker and will look to win the league tournament for the first time. Oregon State has played in the championship game once: in 2014, when it lost to USC.

Speaking of the Trojans, they hit the skids at the end of the regular season, as they lost their last four and six of their last seven. But even at 6-12 in the league, they are among Creme's first four out of the NCAA tournament. If the No. 8 seed Trojans can go on a run in Seattle, perhaps they can claw their way back in. Granted, that would probably take a victory over Oregon State.

Things are much rosier for the Trojans' crosstown rivals, the Bruins, who won six of their last seven, including the regular-season finale against Arizona State. UCLA will return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013. The Bruins won the WNIT title last year.

Arizona State (2002) and UCLA (2006) have each won the Pac-12 tournament once. No. 5 seed Washington, which has never made it to the league championship game, appears to be the fifth Pac-12 team to have an NCAA bid secured.

SEC: Can anyone stop the Gamecocks?

Creme projects the SEC to have the most teams in the NCAA tournament of any conference, with nine. Thursdays in particular have made for some fun SEC-watching this season, with several upsets and "history-making" games, such as Mississippi State's first victory over Tennessee. There were some topsy-turvy results on other days with this league too.

Other than top-seeded South Carolina, which made it through unscathed at 16-0, every team lost at least one game it wasn't expected to. Even the bottom four in the standings -- Vanderbilt, Alabama, LSU and Mississippi -- won at least one game they weren't expected to.

What do we expect to happen in the SEC tournament in Jacksonville, Florida? It seems likely there will be a few upsets, but the Gamecocks, whose only loss this season came against UConn, appear a pretty good bet to win their second SEC tournament title in a row. The league team that came closest to beating South Carolina this year was Texas A&M, which lost 59-58 on Jan. 17, after a mistake foul by the Aggies sent the Gamecocks to the line for the winning free throw.

Another team to keep an eye on is Kentucky, which lost five of seven games -- including two to South Carolina -- in a stretch from mid-January to early February. Since then, however, the Wildcats have knocked off three ranked teams in winning six in a row.