Deserving teams are hard to find for the NCAA Tournament

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Unlike the 24-7-365 bracketologists who populate cyberspace, I refrain from serious NCAA tournament field projections until late February or early March.

More for sanity and domestic bliss than anything. A double-feature of "The Fighter" and "The King's Speech" was far more enjoyable than four hours of parsing Virginia Tech, Colorado State and Richmond.

Until now. Now's the time to unearth 37 worthy at-large teams to join the 31 automatic qualifiers for America's favorite office pool.

Thanks to expansion — the field has grown from 65 to 68 — and parity, this season's task seems especially grim. Teams with break-even records against the top 100, even the top 200, are in contention.

Why, it's like college football, where mediocrity (6-6) merits a bowl bid.

But enough carping. With little more than a week before Selection Sunday and Jim Nantz's emergence from his golf cocoon, here's a conference-by-conference look at the field. The numbers in parentheses are the minimum bids for each.

ACC (3): Duke, North Carolina and Florida State are in. Virginia Tech, Boston College and Clemson have work to do.

America East (1): Champion only with Vermont the favorite.

Atlantic Sun (1): Same as above, with Belmont in favorite's role.

Atlantic 10 (2): Xavier and Temple are secure, Richmond on the brink.

Big 12 (5): Kansas, Texas, Kansas State, Texas A&M and Missouri are in. Baylor, Colorado and Nebraska need to get busy.

Big East (10): Winning the Big East tournament may be more difficult than reaching the Final Four. Pitt, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Louisville, Villanova, St. John's, Syracuse, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Connecticut are good to go. And Marquette is probably a win away from making it 11 overall, 10 at-large.

Big 10 (3): Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin are secure, with Michigan State and Illinois close. Michigan could make it a six-pack.

Big Sky (1): Only the tournament champ, with Northern Colorado leading crowded field of contenders.

Big South (1): Winner of Saturday's tournament final between Coastal Carolina and UNC Asheville.

Big West (1): Champion only, with Long Beach State the likeliest.

Colonial (2): Old Dominion and George Mason are locks. If someone else wins the CAA tournament, the conference gets three bids for the first time.

Conference USA (1): Memphis and UAB are the sole at-large candidates, but neither has done enough — yet.

Horizon (1): Butler, last season's NCAA runner-up, is the best at-large hope. But the Bulldogs are far from guaranteed.

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