(USA TODAY) -- A dizzying lineup of 30 men's basketball conference tournaments will begin to tip off Tuesday, perhaps providing much-needed clarity to one of the most unpredictable seasons in the history of the sport.
But more likely, coast-to-coast thrilling finishes and inexplicable outcomes will continue to leave fans, coaches and players slack-jawed in the days leading up to the March 17 unveiling of the 68-team NCAA tournament field. Consider how atypical the season already has been:
The most anticipated ACC tournament matchup is not Duke-North Carolina. The nation's top-ranked team, Gonzaga, still could be squeezed out of a No. 1 seed. The First Four in Dayton could include Kentucky, the defending national champion. And the Big East will stage its final tournament in its current form before selling off its name to a new league.
"The whole season has been a little crazy already with the best teams losing," North Carolina coach Roy Williams told USA TODAY Sports in a telephone interview Monday. "The word upset is so overused, it is ridiculous. I think we'll see some other occasions where the higher-seeded team may lose during their conference tournament."
To cut through the craziness of the next 13 days, here are the most important conference tournaments to keep an eye on, ranked in order of most intriguing:
1) Big East
Expect Madison Square Garden to be awash in nostalgia, with coaches stirring memories of Lou Carnesecca's sweaters, John Thompson's larger-than-life persona and Rollie Massimino's unmistakable voice.
After this season, the Catholic 7 will depart for its new league and Pittsburgh and Syracuse will be off to the ACC. Perhaps the conference that played such an integral role in the growth of college basketball the past 34 years will produce another indelible memory before the curtain falls on the league as we know it.
UConn will not be competing because of a poor Academic Progress Rate. But Louisville and Georgetown are vying for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Villanova is clawing for one of the final at-large berths. And the tournament is sure to showcase Georgetown's Otto Porter, a strong contender for national player of the year honors.
"It's very disappointing for me," Louisville coach Rick Pitino told USA TODAY Sports about the dismantling of the Big East. "I thought it was the greatest basketball alignment in the history of college basketball."
Granted, this is not your father's ACC. It lacks depth. But few stories this season have been as compelling as the emergence of Miami, whose coach Jim Larranaga is looking to make a return to the Final Four after leading George Mason there in 2006.
Duke is one of the favorites to win the national championship now that forward Ryan Kelly is not only back after missing 13 games, but again playing at an elite level.
The Hurricanes and Blue Devils have split their regular season series, and a third meeting in the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C., could help decide which becomes a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.
"We could have been good, and we could have made a run (without Kelly)," Duke's Mason Plumlee said. "But with Ryan, we were playing as good as anybody in the country before he went down. With him back, we still have work to do ... but our ceiling is higher."
3) Big Ten
There are plenty of hot college basketball debates, but which league is the nation's best is not one of them. The Big Ten is almost universally regarded as the nation's best conference by a considerable margin.
Tune in for a collection of seven solid NCAA tournament-bound teams, all of which likely to earn single-digit NCAA tournament seeds. Watch Michigan's Trey Burke and Indiana's Victory Oladipo, two strong contenders for national player of the year honors. Check out Indiana attempt to earn the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament. And try to ascertain whether Michigan or Michigan State can give the league another No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.
"Those teams," Roy Williams said of the Big Ten, "just keep beating each other up."
4) Atlantic 10
Multiple intriguing story lines will be at play in Brooklyn. It's the first and possibly last Atlantic 10 tournament for Butler. Will the Bulldogs get a rematch with VCU, which ran them off the court in Richmond? Can Saint Louis, which has thrived this season under Jim Crews, earn a top-four seed in the NCAAs by winning the Atlantic-10 tournament?
A host of teams --- Temple, La Salle, Massachusetts - need to solidify at-large berths. And never discount Xavier from making a run in its final Atlantic 10 tournament to cause utter chaos.
If you're into gallows humor, this is the tournament for you. It's the weakest power conference in the nation, one that may find itself sending just two teams - Florida and Missouri - to the NCAA tournament.
The SEC features a handful of bubble teams with flawed résumés, most notably Mississippi, which inexplicably lost to the worst team RPI-wise in a major conference, lowly Mississippi State (RPI: 237). Don't count out Kentucky, which likely will need one more quality victory to feel even relatively confident about earning one of the final at-large berths.
"We've got enough players and enough athletes to do this - and really make a run (in the NCAAs) - if we choose to," Calipari said. "But you must fight. You must have a will to win. And winning must be important, not just how you played."
6) Mountain West
Expect fiercely competitive, well-played games. The only question is what is really at stake. New Mexico is unlikely to earn a No. 1 seed even if it wins the tournament.
The Mountain West ranks first nationally in conference RPI. And it is positioning itself to earn perhaps twice as many NCAA tournament bids (five) than the SEC. New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV and Colorado State are all tourney-bound, and Boise State is poised to earn a bid with a respectable showing in Las Vegas.
From New Mexico's Kendall Williams to San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin to UNLV's Anthony Bennett, there are several marquee players to watch.
7) West Coast Conference
The spotlight will be on Las Vegas again to see if Gonzaga can leave the NCAA tournament selection committee with a lasting impression. The Bulldogs are looking to become the fourth team since 2000 from outside a BCS conference to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
They have the makings of Mark Few's best team in his 14 seasons at Gonzaga. There's no shame in either of their losses this season, to Butler and Illinois, two tournament teams. But their résumé is diminished because of their league schedule. Will beating St. Mary's, a team needing to bolster its at-large hopes, be enough to overcome what other top seed contenders do in more marquee league tournaments?
"People are saying things about Gonzaga, that they have not played continually that kind of (tough conference) schedule," North Carolina's Williams said. "But they've beaten about everyone they played. And they played some pretty doggone good teams."
8) Big 12
Though it has been better in the past, the league probably has been a bit undervalued this season. It remains Kansas' tournament to lose, but everyone should be rooting for a third meeting between the Jayhawks and fast-rising Oklahoma State.
You would see arguably the nation's two best freshmen - Kansas' Ben McLemore and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart - on the court for the rubber match in this series. If not for the loss to lowly TCU, which was ranked 236 in the RPI, the Jayhawks would be in outstanding shape for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They can still get one, but it may require winning this event in Kansas City.
Iowa State needs a good performance to solidify an at-large berth. And Baylor has plenty of work to do, to say the least.
This league's tournament could really cause some chaos around the country. It's not out of the question for a surprise team to get hot, win, and claim the league's automatic berth, which would take an at-large slot away from some bubble team elsewhere.
Arizona has been a late-season disappointment. UCLA is rounding into form at the right time. And Oregon has been bolstered with the return of point guard Dominic Artis, who had missed nine games with a foot injury. Arizona State and Stanford are just about done as at-large possibilities.
10) Missouri Valley Conference
Arch Madness, as it is called, usually equates to some unpredictability. And that could be bad news for bubble teams nationwide. Creighton is a likely NCAA tournament team, and Wichita State could very well earn an at-large berth. So if another team wins the MVC tournament, it could take an at-large slot away from a bubble team because Creighton and Wichita State would get in anyway.
The MVC has been better in recent years, but the potential chaos factor remains high.
"Usual Arch Madness wackiness," Stevens said. "With the distinct possibility of bid thievery if Creighton and Wichita State don't close the deal."