After you make it through November, December, and January, soon the calendar turns over to February, and you realize the season is rapidly moving towards its conclusion. Considering that there's only a week's worth of regular season games in March, I've lumped these days in with February. (Not that I didn't sneak a few Championship Week entrants in here too.) Conference play dominates the last five weeks of the season, but there are a couple of interesting (and rare for this stage of the season) non-conference tilts that are featured in this list.
My nightly pick for February/early March picks are after the jump. Further TV information, as always, can be found at MattSarzSports.com.
Monday, February 1
Connecticut at Louisville (ESPN, 7 ET)
The Huskies finished a game behind the Cards in the Big East standings last year, despite the fact that UConn won their only meeting by 17 at Freedom Hall. The teams didn't meet again, as Syracuse upset the Huskies in the Big East quarterfinals (more on this shortly), preventing a rematch in the conference championship game.
Tuesday, February 2
Michigan at Northwestern (Big Ten, 7 ET)
The Wolverines swept the Wildcats last year, with the 60-57 overtime result in Evanston being particularly damaging to NU's tournament chances.
Friday, February 5
Jacksonville at Belmont (CSS, 7 ET)
The Dolphins, the preseason pick of many for the A-Sun crown, have to visit Nashville to take on the 2006-2008 champion Bruins, who should be in the thick of the race again this year.
Saturday, February 6
Xavier at Dayton (ESPN2, 12 ET)
These two teams are close and favored in the A-10, with the Musketeers being the powerhouse in a slight rebuilding phase and the Flyers the loaded opposition ready to knock them off their perch.. I don't think I need to say much more.
Sunday, February 7
North Carolina at Maryland (FSN, 2 ET)
Ignore all of the Super Bowl pregame and watch this one instead. Last year, the Terps' 88-85 overtime win over the Tar Heels served as a major boost to their tourney hopes.
Tuesday, February 9
Purdue at Michigan State (ESPN, 9 ET)
The two Big Ten preseason favorites will meet twice in the month, with the first game taking place at the Breslin Center, where the Spartans won by 11 last season.
Wednesday, February 10
Connecticut at Syracuse (ESPN, 7 ET)
Sure, I could've gone with the easy choice, Duke at North Carolina, but you can't ignore the rematch of one of the greatest games ever played, even if the cast of characters will be slightly different.
Friday, February 12
West Virginia at Pittsburgh (ESPN, 9 ET)
The Backyard Brawl unseats the Horizon League and Atlantic Sun from their usual Friday night spot. (I'll probably be watching the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics live, however, leaving this one for the DVR.)
Saturday, February 13
Xavier at Florida (ESPN, 6 ET)
Valentine's Eve is a late date for a non-conference game. But the Gators and Musketeers apparently feel that getting a potential resume boosting win is a better use of a conference bye than resting.
Monday, February 15
Connecticut at Villanova (ESPN, 7 ET)
The two Big East Final Four teams meet. Maybe they can award the winner a third place trophy...
Tuesday, February 16
Creighton at Northern Iowa (FS Midwest, 8 ET)
It is the Valley, so things could very well change by mid-February, but this one could very well determine the conference's regular season title.
Wednesday, February 17
UNLV at Utah (the mtn., 10 ET)
These two split last season, with each winning at home. Both programs are allegedly rebuilding, but I'm not sure that word exists in either of Lon Kruger or Jim Boylen's vocabularies.
Thursday, February 18
California at Oregon State (FSN, 10:30 ET)
If the Beavers are going to challenge for a bid, they'll need to at least repeat their 11 point home win over the Golden Bears. (OSU did earn the sweep last year.) I will be at Syracuse at Georgetown, while somehow paying attention to Auburn at Florida.
Friday, February 19
ETSU at Campbell (CSS, 7 ET)
After a rare Friday appearance from the Big East, the A-Sun returns to its rightful Friday spotlight.
Saturday, February 20
Kentucky at Vanderbilt (SEC, 6 ET)
I suspect that John Calipari will probably remind his team that UK hasn't won in Memorial Gym since 2005.
Sunday, February 21
Dayton at Duquesne (ESPN2, 1 ET)
The trip to the Palumbo Center could be a tricky one for the Flyers.
Monday, February 22
Oklahoma at Kansas (ESPN, 9 ET)
The other half of Big Monday, West Virginia at Connecticut, is also an appetizing matchup, but the Big 12 deserves some attention too. While the Sooners won't quite be as strong as they were last season, they'll still be a good challenge for the Jayhawks.
Tuesday, February 23
Tennessee at Florida (ESPN, 9 ET)
I wonder if Lane Kiffin will be making the trip to Gainesville to support the Vols in this one. UT has actually won two straight at UF. One thing I know for sure, since the Gators aren't one of the Vols' "big rivals" in hoops, fans at the O'Dome will be spared the sight of Bruce Pearl's hideous orange blazer.
Wednesday, February 24
Pittsburgh at Notre Dame (ESPN2, 7 ET)
This should be an important for seeding in the Big East Tournament, as both teams could be fighting for at least a single bye.
Thursday, February 25
Tulsa at Duke (ESPN or ESPN2, 7 ET)
A win at Cameron at this late stage could really put the Golden Hurricane on the map.
Friday, February 26
Butler at Valparaiso (ESPNU, 9 ET)
The Bulldogs head to Northern Indiana to take on a Crusader team that's still trying to find its way in the Horizon League.
Sunday, February 28
Northwestern at Penn State (Big Ten, 12 ET)
In a year when both were on the bubble, these two teams only met once, with the Nittany Lions winning by 4 in Happy Valley (in front of about 10 people, as it was New Year's Eve). As both could be on the bubble again this year, the later date is a smart move by the Big Ten.
Monday, March 1
Oklahoma at Texas (ESPN, 9 ET)
The second hoops installment of the Red River Rivalry could have significant bearing on who finishes second in the Big 12, if Kansas indeed takes the top spot.
Tuesday, March 2
Vanderbilt at Florida (ESPN, 7 ET)
The Commodores have had some good teams recently, but they don't win in Gainesville that often. This year, they have an excellent chance.
Wednesday, March 3
Duke at Maryland (ESPN, 9 ET)
To give you an understanding of how disliked the Blue Devils are in the DC area, they'll often flash a Duke logo on the Jumbotron at Wizards games to get fans to boo.
Thursday, March 4
UCLA at Arizona (potential FSN game, 10:30 ET)
We're now getting to the point of the season where networks will put "Wild Card" games in as placeholders, just so they have some wiggle room to put the most timely and impactful matchups on TV. If the newcomers on these two teams mesh, I expect the Bruins visit to Tucson to be the game to watch for the last Thursday of the regular season.
Friday, March 5
Missouri Valley Quarterfinals (FS Midwest, 1 ET and 7 ET)
Trust me, you'll want to take the day off and watch all four of these games, if you can. Arch Madness is one of the most unique and competitive conference tournaments out there.
Saturday, March 6
Atlantic Sun Final (ESPN2, TBA)
It's finally time for bids to be handed out. Depending on what happens in the Ivy League (and if any other conference tournament games are scheduled earlier in the day, I'm looking at you, Big South.), the A-Sun Champ may be the first team officially in the field of 65. For a regular season game, let's go with a battle between two of the projected top teams in the Big East, West Virginia at Villanova (CBS, 12 ET).
Sunday, March 7
Missouri Valley Championship Game (CBS, 2 ET) and West Coast Semifinals (ESPN2, 8:30 ET)
These are three games that could help determine whether these leagues receive mutliple bids this season. My final regular season pick is Florida at Kentucky (CBS, 12 ET). Will the Gators need a win at Rupp to boost their chances for a bid? Will the Wildcats be fighting for an NCAA top seed?
That wraps up my "Game a Night" feature. Keep in mind that this is just the start, as I'll have a full preview column for just about every night of the regular season.