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Vegas Madness returns as prelude to March Madness

The prelude to NCAA March Madness begins this week in Las Vegas.

We like to call it Vegas Madness.

Eight college basketball conference tournaments will be played in Las Vegas in the next two weeks beginning Sunday with the Mountain West women’s tournament. College basketball will occupy the city and its various venues every day until March 14. The men’s NCAA Tournament begins March 17 and the women’s March 20.

Teams will jockey for automatic bids and seeding privileges in Las Vegas.

Here’s what to watch for:

Pac-12 men

When and where: March 11-14, T-Mobile Arena

What to watch for: Defending tournament champion and No. 14 Oregon will defend its crown as one of the top teams in the country. UCLA is improved under first-year coach Mick Cronin, and Arizona State is frisky under Bobby Hurley. No. 21 Colorado has been ranked in the top 25 for most of the season.

Nico Mannion, Zeke Nnaji, and Josh Green (Arizona), Onyeka Okongwu (Southern California), and Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart (Washington) are likely first-round NBA draft picks.

Local ties: Oregon forward Shakur Juiston (UNLV); Colorado forward Tyler Bey (Las Vegas High); Arizona center Chase Jeter (Bishop Gorman) and guard Jake DesJardins (Coronado); Washington guards Jamal Bey and Travis Rice (Bishop Gorman).

Pac-12 women

When and where: Thursday-March 8, Mandalay Bay Events Center

What to watch for: No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Stanford are again national championship contenders. They played last year in the tournament championship game, which the Cardinal won 64-57. Oregon senior point guard Sabrina Ionescu is among the most decorated players in NCAA history and a virtual lock to be the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft. Teammates Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard are also top pro prospects.

No. 9 UCLA, No. 13 Arizona and No. 17 Oregon State are viable contenders.

Local ties: Arizona guard Sam Thomas (Centennial); Arizona State forward Eboni Walker (Centennial); Oregon State forward Madison Washington (Oregon State).

Mountain West men

When and where: Wednesday-Saturday, Thomas & Mack Center

What to watch for: No. 5 San Diego State is a viable national championship contender and played in the conference title game last season. Defending Mountain West tournament champion Utah State is the No. 2 seed. The hometown Rebels are much improved under first-year coach T.J. Otzelberger and are responsible for San Diego State’s only loss. UNR, Boise State and Colorado State also have winning league records.

San Diego State’s Malachi Flynn and Boise State’s Derrick Alston are among the league’s top NBA prospects.

Non-UNLV local ties: San Diego State forward Nathan Mensah (Findlay Prep); Fresno State forward Nate Grimes (Desert Pines) and center Orlando Robinson (Centennial); Wyoming guard A.J. Banks (Cheyenne).

Mountain West women

When and where: Sunday-Wednesday, Thomas & Mack Center

What to watch for: Fresno State will seek to pair its regular-season championship with a tournament title. Defending conference tournament champion Boise State finished second in the league. Wyoming and San Jose State round out the top four, and UNLV finished tied for fifth.

Top players include Fresno State’s Maddi Utti, Hanna Cavinder and Haley Cavinder, and UNLV’s Rodjanae Wade.

Non-UNLV local ties: UNR guard Essence Booker (Spring Valley); Colorado State forward Megan Jacobs (Bishop Gorman).

West Coast Conference men

When and where: Thursday-March 10, Orleans Arena

What to watch for: Perennial national power and No. 3 Gonzaga returns as a bona fide national championship contender. But St. Mary’s won the conference tournament last season. No. 17 Brigham Young is a surefire NCAA Tournament team, and Pacific, San Fransisco and Pepperdine also have winning records in the league.

Gonzaga features three of the WCC’s best three players in Filip Petrusev, Corey Kispert and Killian Tillie. St. Mary’s guard Jordan Ford leads the league in scoring, and Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross is second in scoring and first in assists.

Local ties: None.

West Coast Conference women

When and where: Thursday-March 10, Orleans Arena

What to watch for: No. 11 Gonzaga will try to pair a conference tournament title with its regular-season crown. Defending tournament champion Brigham Young and San Diego tied for second and Portland finished fourth as the only other team with a winning record in league play.

Portland’s Alex Fowler and Haylee Andrews are two of the league’s top players, along with Pacific’s Valerie Higgins and Gonzaga’s Jill Townsend.

Local ties: Loyola Marymount forward Raychel Stanley (Bishop Gorman).

Western Athletic Conference men

When and where: March 11-14, Orleans Arena

What to watch for: Defending conference champion New Mexico State has won the tournament three straight years and seven of eight. The Aggies were unbeaten in league play and have won 17 consecutive games. Their stiffest competition might be from regular-season runner-up Cal Baptist. Third-place finisher Seattle was the only other team in the league to finish with a winning record in league play.

Local ties: Utah Valley guard Trey Woodbury (Clark, UNLV); Grand Canyon assistant Marvin Menzies (UNLV).

Western Athletic Conference women

When and where: March 11-14, Orleans Arena

What to watch for: Defending conference tournament champion New Mexico State took a step back this season and is tied for fifth. Missouri-Kansas City is leading the league with a week to play, with Grand Canyon and Utah Valley on its heels.

Local ties: New Mexico State forward Shania Harper (Sierra Vista); Cal-State Bakersfield forward Jayden Eggleston (Centennial); Chicago State guard Aja Phoumiphat (Centennial).

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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