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2. CONFERENCES: Tracking the major men's races
October 20th, 2006 4:12AM

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With Senior Days being held last weekend and this weekend, that means the regular season is soon coming to an end. The first men's conference tournament games take place next Wednesday in the Big East. Going into the weekend, here's how the races shape up in the nine conferences that had two or more teams ranked among the top 48 teams in the first RPI rankings released by the NCAA:

ACC. Last year, eight of the nine teams in the ACC made the NCAA Tournament, and they could do it again. Seven teams already have 10 or more wins, and four are perfect in non-conference play. Only two games separate the first- and eighth-place teams in the standings. Two big matches will be played Friday night. First-place Duke (4-1-1) hosts North Carolina (2-3-1), and second-place Virginia (4-2-0) travels to Virginia Tech (2-3-1), winner of five in a row. All nine teams play in the ACC Tournament, which will be held Oct. 31-Nov. 5 at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

BIG EAST. Big East tournament play begins next Wednesday with four first-round games. West Virginia and Connecticut have clinched first-round byes in the Blue Division. Cincinnati and Rutgers go into the weekend with the edge in the Red Division. The Big East is the biggest conference in the country with 16 teams, and the season ends Sunday for the bottom two teams in each division: Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova and Syracuse. The quarterfinals follow Oct. 28 at campus sites, and the final four will be played Nov. 3-5 at Rutgers.

BIG TEN. First-place Indiana (4-0-1) carries a six-game winning streak into its game at Penn State (2-2-0) on Fox Soccer Channel (live, 8 pm ET). Only Wisconsin (3-1-1) has a chance of catching the Hoosiers. Penn State, hit hard by injuries, is only 5-8-2 overall. The Nittany Lions won the conference regular-season and tournament titles last year but will need to win the Big Ten tournament title to return to the NCAA Tournament. All seven teams will participate the Big 10 Tournament Nov. 2-5 at Ohio State.

BIG WEST. Cal State Northridge, UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine share first place with 12 points, though Northridge has played an extra game. All three teams face each other again in the conference's double round-robin format, beginning with Cal State Northridge at UC Santa Barbara next Wednesday. The Matadors won at home, 5-0, in the first game. The regular-season champion gets the conference's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The Big West has no tournament.

CAA. Towson, which jumped into the Soccer America Top 25 at No. 20, leads the highly competitive CAA with a 7-0-1 record. George Mason (6-1-1) had its nine-match winning streak come to an end with a 1-0 loss at third-place Old Dominion (5-2-1) last Friday. Defending champion Hofstra is also 5-2-1. The CAA Tournament is one of the toughest tickets in the country. Only six of the 12 teams advance to the conference tournament. After two first-round games at campus sites on Oct. 31, the four remaining teams move to the Virginia Beach Sportsplex Nov. 3-5.

CONFERENCE USA. No. 1 SMU isn't having an easy time of it in conference play. The Mustangs were held to a 1-1 tie by South Carolina on Wednesday and lead the Gamecocks by only one point. Only seven points separate first-place SMU from last-place Marshall, which knocked off USC, 2-1, last Saturday. The top eight teams advance to the conference tournament Nov. 1-5 in Tulsa.

IVY LEAGUE. Harvard and Penn share first place with 3-1-0 records, though Penn beat the Crimson, 3-1, when they met on Sept. 23. Their remaining league games: Harvard -- Oct. 21 at Princeton, Oct. 28 at Dartmouth, Nov. 4 vs. Columbia; Penn -- Oct. 21 at Yale, Oct. 28 vs. Columbia, Nov. 4 at Princeton. Brown and Dartmouth are tied for third place at 2-1-1. The regular-season champion goes to the NCAA Tournament. The Ivy League doesn't sponsor a tournament.

PAC-10. California (5-1-0) has won four games in a row to take over first place, ahead of Stanford (4-1-1), UCLA (3-1-1) and San Diego State (3-2-0). Washington opened with eight straight wins but has lost of five out of its last six games, all in conference play, to jeopardize its NCAA Tournament hopes. The Pac-10 doesn't offer a tournament to give the Huskies an alternative path to the postseason.

WCC. Like the Big West and Pac-10, the WCC uses a double round-robin format, and its regular-season champion gets the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Santa Clara (4-1-2) leads two-time defending champion San Francisco (4-2-0) by two points. Only eight points separate SCU and last-place Portland.


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