For many of the smaller conferences in Division I, the season hasn't truly begun yet.
Sure, all the teams have played 10 games in non-league play, but none will have any impact whatsoever on league-title aspirations or the double-digit seed that goes along with it. For them, only the games in parentheses really count.
So with seven weeks of available game tape on the one-bid conferences, it's time to roll out our fifth annual Not-So-Fearless Predictions for the 20 leagues fighting over a single ticket.
America East: Vermont Catamounts (6-3) -- Tom Brennan began waxing eloquent speak from a Bristol studio four summers ago, but this could be the Dance debut for the Mike Lonergan-era Cats.
Marqus Blakely looks poised to repeat as league POY, and the team offers hot, fast offense and freezing interior defense.
Atlantic Sun: Belmont Bruins (5-4 overall, 1-1 A-Sun) -- Belmont's valiant near-miss at Tennessee on Dec. 20 proved it is still as dangerous as it was in that Duke game from last season's NCAAs. The four senior scorers are really sharing the offensive load well, posting assists on 70 percent of their baskets.
Big Sky: Portland State Vikings (9-3, 1-0 BSky) -- A crushing 72-45 win over Montana showed they're ready for the league, and a 77-70 shocker at Gonzaga showed they're capable of accomplishments more national in scope. The Vikings should dominate the league again and return to Bracketville as a dangerous low seed.
Big South: VMI Keydets (9-2, 2-0 BSC) -- With a young Winthrop team in a 1-9 tailspin, it looks like the Eagles' decade-long chokehold is over. In the third year of Duggar Baucom's high-octane, triple-digit-scoring system, VMI looks ready to replace them. They did beat Kentucky, after all.
Big West: Long Beach State 49ers (5-6) -- It would be one of 2009's best stories if it only takes Dan Monson two years to dig LBSU out from under the recruiting scandals that marred the accomplishments of the 2007 NCAA team. The 49ers are one victory away from matching last year's thin win total (6-25), and Fresno State transfer Donovan Morris is leading the way with 17.1 points per game.
Colonial: Virginia Commonwealth Rams (7-4, 1-0 CAA) -- VCU didn't get the statement win it needed at Oklahoma, but Eric Maynor and Co. are still the class of a league that's fallen a bit off its recent two-bid peak. The defense is a bit behind that of last year's snubbed regular-season champs, but no team on this list shoots as well from all spots on the floor.
Ivy League: Cornell Big Red (5-6) -- Louis Dale is steadily strengthening in the past week after returning from injury, and that's bad news for seven of the Ancient Eight. The Big Red should feature the same efficient offense and ball control as last year's breakthrough champs, while keeping the perennial Ps (Penn and Princeton) at bay.
Metro Atlantic: Niagara Purple Eagles, (9-2, 1-0 MAAC) -- The Purple Eagles, a year removed from the MAAC title, have won eight of their past nine and have locked down the perimeter. Big East transfer guards Bilal Benn and Rob Garrison have been stellar, combining for 25 ppg.
Mid-Eastern: Hampton Pirates (5-5, 1-0 MEAC) -- Hampton's stock in trade is defense, and it has maintained a 63 points-against average versus a tough schedule. Kevin Nickleberry's crew has already nabbed wins over George Mason and the aforementioned Zag-beaters -- Portland State.
Mid-American: Miami (Ohio) RedHawks (6-4) -- Size, speed and shooting should take Miami back to the top of the heap.
Michael Bramos can hit from anywhere on the floor, leading all MAC scorers with 19.6 ppg. The 12th-hardest schedule in the country should have them plenty tough for league play.
Missouri Valley: Creighton Bluejays (10-2) -- The Valley, as a whole, just doesn't have the big wins it needs to get back to a multi-bid status.
But Creighton does. The Bluejays, led by POY candidate Booker Woodfox, head into Valley season with seven straight wins, including victories over Saint Joe's, Dayton and DePaul.
Northeast: Central Connecticut State Blue Devils (5-5, 1-0) -- The NEC's most consistent team this decade slipped after key graduations to the 2007 league champions, but players grow up quickly under Howie Dickenman. These Blue Devils are paced by sophomore Ken Horton's 20.6 points per game output and haven't lost a game by double digits since a season-opening 80-65 defeat to Boston College.
Ohio Valley: Jacksonville State Gamecocks (6-3, 1-0) -- Some call it the "3-League," due to teams' propensity to jack up long bombs. This year, this young team has been fearless about testing the new distance, making nearly 40 percent of its attempts. Early wins over UMass and VMI have shown that the Gamecocks can play a little defense, too.
Patriot League: American Eagles (5-6) -- Navy and Lehigh have put up gaudy records in the early going, but expect American's senior leadership -- a core led by Garrison Carr -- to come through in the clutch. Gutting out a league title in 2008 and hanging with Tennessee for a half in the first round has taught the Eagles that March is what matters.
Southern: Davidson Wildcats, (8-2, 1-0) -- Don't forget that last year's Davidson noncon story was missed opportunities against BCS teams. This year, there are wins over West Virginia and NC State. They won't go 20-0 again, but they'll find a way into the NCAAs. There's still a chance another SoCon team could edge them out and force a second bid for the first time in league history.
Southland: Lamar Cardinals (8-3) -- There are a lot of SLC teams with winning records, but none has hung as tough with superior competition as Lamar has. While the Cardinals are as guilty of beating up on Division II and NAIA teams as anyone in this conference, they've also taken out Rice and Texas Tech.
Summit League: North Dakota State Bison (7-4, 2-0) -- In their first year of postseason eligibility, the Bison have all the markings of a casual fan's beloved Cinderella. NDSU has already won two league games, are high on the national list in every offensive category, and already have a folk hero in Ben Woodside, the senior guard who scored 60 in a game against Stephen F. Austin.
Sun Belt: Arkansas State Red Wolves (9-3, 1-1) -- Western Kentucky has the big wins, but the Toppers' erratic inconsistency (a 72-40 loss to Evansville?) will likely cost them during the league grind. John Brady's squad takes charges under the basket as if they get scoreboard points for them.
Southwestern Athletic: Alabama State Hornets (2-7) -- So far, Clemson has won one fewer game (12-0) than this entire league (13-94). But ASU has the seniors and the scoring left over from a team that ran the league with a 15-3 record, got bumped in the SWAC semis, then gave Arizona State a scare in the NIT.
Western Athletic: Utah State Aggies (9-1) -- Stew Morrill's squad once again has the most dangerous combination of elements a mid-major can have: great shooting, low turnovers and three scoring options. You want to talk consistency? The Aggies have not won fewer than 23 games since the 1998-99 season.