In college basketball, March gets all the love. But Selection Sunday's drama is significantly impacted by the games that take place in February. This is the month when signature wins are either attained or squandered in the push for top seeds in the NCAA tournament. In the leagues that depend on automatic berths, seeding for conference tournaments will be decided, too.
February is also a chance for every team to build momentum. Yes, there's a great debate about the authenticity of momentum in college basketball, but every coach in America would love to enter March on a winning streak.
Those opportunities will arrive now, in the most crucial month of the regular season in college basketball.
Here's our list of the most important games in every league this month.
Navigate to each league:
American | America East | ACC | Atlantic Sun | A-10 | Big 12 | Big East | Big Sky | Big South | Big Ten | Big West | CAA | C-USA | Horizon | Ivy | MAAC | MAC | MEAC | MVC | MW | NEC | OVC | Pac-12 | Patriot | SEC | SoCon | Southland | SWAC | Summit | Sun Belt | WCC | WAC
American Athletic Conference
Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson eats adversity for breakfast. OK, that's a little cheesy, but the truth is, he never seems fazed by the hurdles that tend to disrupt entire seasons for other programs. In late December, Houston lost both Marcus Sasser, who led the team in scoring at 17.7 PPG, and Tramon Mark (10.1 PPG) to season-ending injuries. Yet, the Cougars still enter February on a 10-game winning streak, and undefeated at the top of the AAC. An SMU squad led by Kendric Davis (20.6 PPG) enters February in second place (7-1) after winning 13 of its past 14 games. The Feb. 9 game could set up a rematch in Houston on Feb. 27 that could determine the league's champion.
America East Conference
The Catamounts have been unstoppable in league competition. Through their first six conference games, they set a school record by scoring 80 points or more in each matchup. Ryan Davis (17.5 PPG), Ben Shungu (15.2 PPG) and Isaiah Powell (10.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG) are arguably the top three players in the league, and they're on pace to lead this squad into the NCAA tournament with an unblemished record in 2022 (Vermont's last loss was Dec. 7 at Providence). Vermont's NET is in the 60s, but it doesn't have a signature win to anchor its résumé. A win at the end of this month over the River Hawks -- who have held opposing America East teams to a league-leading 44.2% clip inside the arc -- could, barring any upsets, extend Vermont's winning streak to 18 games.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Sure, there are more important games in Duke's pursuit of a top seed in the NCAA tournament and Mike Krzyzewski's 13th ACC regular-season title -- a chance for the soon-to-be-retired coach to avenge a prior loss to Florida State (Feb. 19), for example.
But, c'mon. The biggest game in the ACC this month really is Coach K's final game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill this weekend. The spirited rivalry between the two programs has anchored college basketball for decades. No matter the circumstances, it is always a significant affair. The Tar Heels, who will return to Cameron Indoor in March, are fighting for a spot in the 68-team NCAA field. A win over the Blue Devils would elevate their résumé. A win for Duke, meanwhile, would send Krzyzewski off with a final road victory over his archrival.
Also, will UNC join the other schools who have given Coach K a gift on his retirement tour? If it does, will that be awkward, since the schools have been trying to crush one another for the past 40 years? We'll find out.
Atlantic Sun Conference
Jacksonville State is vying for a historic moment. Since joining the Division I ranks in 1995, the Gamecocks have never won a regular-season conference championship. That could change this season. They enter February with an 8-0 record and the top spot in the Atlantic Sun's West Division, following a 77-67 road win over Liberty (No. 1 in the East Division) on Saturday. And they're projected to win every league game on their schedule the rest of the way on KenPom -- except this matchup at Bellarmine, which is 7-1 and in second place in the West Division. The last time the two teams met, a 65-60 home win for Jacksonville State on Jan. 24, Kayne Henry (24 points) had his best game of the season for the Gamecocks.
Atlantic 10 Conference
Entering the week, there were six teams with two or fewer losses in Atlantic 10 play. That logjam should get broken up in February. Dayton begins the month with a 6-2 record in conference play and an aim to avenge its Jan. 5 one-point loss to VCU, which beat Davidson (No. 1 in the conference standings) last week to split the series. This is a critical matchup for both teams but especially the Flyers, who hope to avoid a losing sweep against the Rams and build momentum before their lone matchup against the Wildcats on March 5. Dayton and VCU also happen to be the top defensive teams in the league: The former, led by DaRon Holmes (2.7 BPG), is ranked first in defensive efficiency in league play on KenPom, while the latter is ranked second in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Big East Conference
On the day after Valentine's Day, will Providence get the love it deserves? Ed Cooley is out here cruising in the Big East, despite playing without the injured A.J. Reeves (10.7 PPG) for the past three weeks. His Friars enter February leading the Big East at 8-1, edging Villanova (9-2), which has won seven of the past eight conference titles. Collin Gillespie (17.1 PPG, 43% from the 3-point line) & Co. are 9-1 in their past 10 games, and doing what Villanova tends to do at this point in the season.
They also see the Friars again this season, in March. It's difficult to imagine Providence maintaining its hold on the conference race if it can't win at least one of these matchups. But getting that road victory over a late-season Jay Wright, who has not lost a home game in March since the 2011-12 season, is like trying to fight Thanos after he gets the last infinity stone. Yet, Providence has been Villanova's Captain Marvel, splitting its past four games with the Wildcats. It's is a good team. And if the Friars beat Villanova on Feb. 15, I might call them a Final Four sleeper.
Big Sky Conference
This game could play a major role in the seedings for the Big Sky Conference tournament at Idaho Central Arena in Boise about a month from now. Weber State has been the most efficient offensive and defensive team in league play. Koby McEwen (17.3 PPG), who arrived after stops at Utah State and Marquette, leads a Wildcats squad that is playing at a ridiculous pace (72.6 possessions per game) and forcing turnovers on nearly one-quarter of its Big Sky opponents' possessions. But Thursday's game against Montana comes before a matchup against Montana State (Saturday), both of them 8-2 and one game apiece behind first-place Weber State. The Wildcats lost at Montana on New Year's Day, and this week's run will position the victor for a better spot in the league's tournament and in the competition for an automatic NCAA tournament bid.
Big South Conference
Longwood enters February also chasing history. The school, which joined the Division I ranks in 2007, could secure its first NCAA tournament appearance based on its performance -- Justin Hill is one of four players averaging double figures this season. The Lancers are in first place (7-0) in the Big South's North Division. A win over Campbell, right behind Longwood in the North Division, could seal an undefeated conference season, and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
Lancers head coach Griff Aldrich had left college coaching for nearly 20 years before returning three years ago. Here's a passage from his Wikipedia page: "Aldrich was a partner at Vinson & Elkins law firm, and also was the founder of an oil and gas company in Texas, as well as a managing director and chief financial officer at a private investment firm." Is Longwood a basketball team or a Netflix show? If the Lancers make history this season, they might be both.
Big 12 Conference
Are Kansas and Baylor OK? Both teams, which entered last weekend with top seeds in Joe Lunardi's bracketology, suffered humbling losses to Kentucky and Alabama, respectively, in the Big 12-SEC Challenge on Saturday -- nonconference losses that extended turbulent chapters for both teams. Before the Jayhawks came up 18 points short at the Phog on Saturday, they had eked out close wins over Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas Tech (in double overtime). The Bears' 87-78 road defeat on Saturday was their third loss in six games. Are these two teams slipping at this critical juncture of the season as they both contend for top seeds?
Kansas is in the middle of an Iowa State (road)-Baylor (home)-Texas (road) stretch. Baylor is starting a West Virginia (home)-Kansas (road)-Kansas State (road)-Texas (home) stretch. The winner of their first encounter of the season on Saturday will get a much-needed boost through a tough February slate. The loser, on the other hand, might have to do trust falls together at a retreat to regain whatever chemistry it appears to be losing in this key moment.
Johnny Davis' two clutch buckets help Wisconsin avoid upset
Johnny Davis gets two late buckets, helping Wisconsin take down Minnesota 66-60.
Big Ten Conference
The traffic jam currently at the top of the league standings includes these two teams. Few expected the Badgers to be here, but their magical season -- which began with limited buzz -- could conclude with a Big Ten title. This is also an important game for Johnny Davis (21.7 PPG). Prior to 2021-22, the sophomore guard's most impressive feats had been orchestrated on the football field, as a former all-state high school quarterback. Now, he's competing for the top individual award in college basketball. Another stellar performance against a top-10 team could elevate him in the Wooden Award race. Meanwhile, Tom Izzo's trying to get his Spartans to play consistently. They beat Wisconsin on the road last month but couldn't handle Illinois (without Kofi Cockburn or Andre Curbelo) four days later. Get your popcorn ready for this one.
Big West Conference
COVID-19 issues within the Rainbow Warriors' program -- undefeated in league play at 6-0 -- wiped out its first three Big West matchups of the season, including a scheduled Jan. 6 road game against the Titans, who have entered the month tied for second place. Seeding for the conference tournament has also generally been complicated by COVID-related pauses. So a win for either Noel Coleman (15.1 PPG, 44% from beyond the arc) and Hawai'i or E.J. Anosike (17.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG) and CSU Fullerton on Feb. 12 -- their lone matchup of 2021-22 -- will impact the race for the conference championship and seeding in the postseason tournament.
Colonial Athletic Association
When Towson and UNC Wilmington met for the first time two weeks ago, the latter outscored the former 16-12 in overtime to seal its 81-77 win. It was Towson's only loss in its previous eight games. UNC-Wilmington -- the worst-shooting team inside the arc in league play -- entered the week in first place with an undefeated CAA record, but KenPom projects a rocky finish for the team. The numbers also suggest, however, that Towson, the top defensive team in the CAA, could go undefeated the rest of the way. So there could be an opening for the Tigers, currently in second place at 7-2, to surpass the Seahawks this month. Securing a regular-season split here will increase their chances of winning the conference title.
These two teams entered last Saturday's matchup against each other tied for first place in CUSA's West Division. Louisiana Tech had a 17-point lead on its home floor with 16 minutes to go in the game, but squandered that advantage in a 63-62 loss. The Mean Green's fabulous comeback will set the stage for their second matchup of the season. It's also an opportunity for Kenneth Lofton (17.2 PPG, 10.7 RPG) to solidify his campaign for the CUSA Player of the Year award, one year after earning a spot on the all-conference third team. There will be fireworks when these two squads meet again.
A battle between the top two teams in the Horizon League -- Oakland at Cleveland State -- could decide the victor in the title race. On the same day, however, Antoine Davis (24.0 PPG) and Detroit Mercy will play Purdue Fort Wayne in the final game of the regular season. There's a chance the Titans could make a run to the top of the league standings by then. But this game is important because it could seal Davis' shot at winning the NCAA scoring title, which he lost to Oral Roberts' Max Abmas last year -- by 0.2 PPG. Davis is putting up big numbers for father Mike Davis' program again this season. He has made 39% of his 3-point attempts this season and 90% of his free throw attempts. Abmas (23.1 PPG) is right behind him in another close race for the scoring crown.
Three of Yale's Ivy League games in January were postponed due to COVID-related issues, which led to a nearly three-week gap in the program's schedule. But the Bulldogs have grown with each game they've played since they returned to action in mid-January. An 80-74 road win at Princeton last Saturday tied the two teams atop the league standings, with one conference loss apiece. The outcome of this month's rematch could affect the conference race. Seeding in a tight league will matter too -- the Ivy League created a conference tournament for the first time in 2017 -- which makes this an important matchup beyond the league's title race. Plus, Princeton's Tosan Evbuomwan (14.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.6 SPG) and Yale's Azar Swain (19.4 PPG) are competing for the league's player of the year award. This one should be good.
Berrick JeanLouis secures the upset win for Iona with huge block
Berrick JeanLouis denies Jahvon Quinerly to help the Gaels upset the Crimson Tide.
In his second season at Iona, Rick Pitino has turned the program into a powerhouse in the MAAC. The Gaels are undefeated in conference action, and first in the league in offensive efficiency (54.2% inside the arc). They enter the month with a three-game lead over their closest opponent (Saint Peter's). Rider meanwhile is near the bottom of the standings, with no real shot at the conference title. A win over Rider at the end of February, assuming Iona remains undefeated in league play, could stretch its winning streak to 15 games and punctuate the team's first league title run since 2019.
Plus, Pitino would enter March with substantial buzz. A few years ago, it seemed like he would have no shot at another big job. But the FBI didn't rock college basketball the way any of us thought it would: Bruce Pearl just got a huge extension at Auburn, Will Wade is still coaching at LSU and Arizona got rid of Sean Miller only when he failed to lead the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament last season. Get ready to hear Pitino's name on the coaching rumor mill as he potentially enters March riding one of the nation's longest winning streaks.
Ryan Rollins (20.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.5 APG) and Toledo enter February tied for first place with Mark Sears (19.9 PPG, 42% from 3) and Ohio in the MAC. But Toledo bullied Ohio in an 87-69 road win on Jan. 21. The next matchup could settle the conference title hunt. That matters. Plus, there's a history in this league that can't be ignored. Five of the past eight conference tournament championships and automatic berths have gone to teams that won the regular-season crown outright, or shared it. Toledo has led the league shooting 38% from 3 in league play, and Ohio is No. 2 in defensive efficiency in the MAC.
The MEAC schedule has been disrupted by COVID-related challenges: Entering the month, four teams had played four or fewer conference games. But even after being sidelined for three weeks, Norfolk State has won its first six MEAC games. Led by Joe Bryant (16.5 PPG), the Spartans are in the driver's seat for a conference title and the top seed in the league's tournament. LeVelle Moton's group is always tough, though. And this battle could represent the newest rivalry for a league that lost North Carolina A&T to the Big South Conference. While the second game between these two teams could seal the conference race, it could also set the stage for future battles between the two programs.
Missouri Valley Conference
Porter Moser is the head coach at Oklahoma now. Cameron Krutwig is playing pro basketball in Belgium. But the Loyola Chicago alums who took their team to the Final Four in 2018 could be overshadowed by 30-year-old Drew Valentine, who has helped the Ramblers contend for an MVC championship in his first year on the job. Lucas Williamson, a fifth-year senior who played on that 2018 squad, is averaging 12.4 PPG this season. But Loyola Chicago is also coming off a 77-68 road loss to Drake that cost it sole possession of first place in the league. It'll get another chance in the rematch on Feb. 19. If Valentine can lead this team to another league crown, it would be a remarkable achievement for one of Division I basketball's youngest coaches.
Mountain West Conference
In Lunardi's latest bracketology, the Mountain West has three teams (Colorado State, Boise State and Wyoming) in the field of 68. Wyoming, which plays in a building that sits 7,200 feet above sea level, is listed in the "first four out" category. But the Cowboys' offense should be considered: They're currently ranked within the top 30 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom. They'll need that shooting touch (57.4% inside the 3-point line) to beat Colorado State, listed as a 7-seed, in Fort Collins. But this game also represents a significant opportunity for Wyoming to secure a Quad I victory just weeks before Selection Sunday. The Rams begin February ranked 36th in the NET. Barring a major slide this month, a road victory over them could give Wyoming the boost it needs to contend for an at-large berth.
A decade ago, Bashir Mason was in his late 20s when he was picked to succeed Danny Hurley at Wagner, and like any young coach, he experienced some turbulence. But his program is on the rise right now and controlling the Northeast Conference championship race. Mason, 37, could lead Wagner to its third league crown in five seasons.
This game, however, means more than a chance to potentially lock up the conference championship. It's also a chance to make history: Wagner (8-0 in the NEC) might not lose another game in league play leading up to it. And if that happens, a win over Bryant -- which enters February in second place in the league -- would extend the team's winning streak to 19 games, surpassing the program's top mark of 16 straight in 1978-79. Can Raekwon Rogers (11.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG) & Co. pull it off? We'll find out.
Ohio Valley Conference
Tevin Brown was a freshman when now-Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant led the Racers to the second round of the 2019 NCAA tournament after an upset win over Marquette. (Google the Joey Hauser dunk if you haven't already seen it.) Three years later, Brown (17.5 PPG, 40.2% from 3), who set a league record with his 319th career 3-pointer in a Saturday win over Morehead State, is the veteran leader for a Murray State squad that has raced to the top of the conference with a 10-0 start.
A second win over the Eagles might seal the OVC title. The Racers could take that confidence into the conference tournament, where a championship would give the program its first NCAA tournament appearance since Morant was on the roster.
The last time UCLA and Arizona met, the Bruins corralled projected lottery pick Bennedict Mathurin (5-for-22) in a 75-59 win at Pauley Pavilion. The stakes are high for this week's rematch, too. Right now, this game is the last opportunity for either team to pull off a top-20 victory in the NET rankings, a major Quad I opportunity for a pair of teams listed as 2-seeds in Lunardi's most recent bracketology.
Johnny Juzang (18.1 PPG, 39.5% from beyond the arc) is quietly making a case to shock the field in the Wooden Award competition. The Bruins are 11-1 in their past 12 games. On the other side, Mathurin is one of four players from this matchup in the first or second rounds of the latest ESPN mock draft -- he's projected to be picked 10th. Thursday is a chance to avenge his rocky performance in the first game and carry Tommy Lloyd's squad to sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 (the winner will also have that distinction).
Army's history in the sport is strong. The Black Knights are one of the original programs in Division I basketball, and legends Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski coached there early in their careers. But the program is still searching for its first NCAA tournament appearance. Well, it has a real shot this year. The Black Knights have forced turnovers on a league-leading 21% of their opponents' possessions in the Patriot League. Jalen Rucker (15.9 PPG, 39% from 3) has already helped his team secure an overtime road win over rival Navy (the two teams enter February tied for first place). Winning their rematch could help the Black Knights secure their first conference title ever, and carry that momentum into the postseason to make more history by winning the Patriot League tournament -- and an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
Alabama hasn't entirely lived up to the hype that began to grow after a nonconference win over Gonzaga in December, but the Crimson Tide are still solidly in the NCAA tournament field because they keep knocking off titans: Houston, Tennessee, LSU and Baylor have all lost games in Tuscaloosa this season. Enter Kentucky, a program that turned heads with an 18-point victory at Kansas in the Big 12-SEC Challenge last Saturday. Alabama, meanwhile, had just lost to Georgia (ranked 213th in the NET) on the road before it beat Baylor last Saturday in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. This Saturday's game comes a week before the start of a Florida (home)-Tennessee (away)-Alabama (home)-LSU (home) stretch that will impact the SEC race, and Kentucky's seeding on Selection Sunday. The Wildcats look great right now. But Alabama has been humbling teams all season.
Malachi Smith gets the layup to fall vs. Kansas Jayhawks
Malachi Smith gets the layup to fall vs. Kansas Jayhawks
Chattanooga's Malachi Smith is one of the most dominant players in the country. His stat line belongs on the Super Nintendo version of NBA Jam. He's averaging 21.4 PPG. He has made 83.2% of his free throw attempts. He's connecting on 43.1% of his 3-point attempts -- up from 24% when he was a freshman at Wright State in 2018-19. He also scored 21 in the Mocs' Jan. 15 win over Furman, which is currently in second place behind Chattanooga in the league. Another victory in the rematch could give Lamont Paris his first conference crown as head coach, and the school its first league title since the 2015-16 season.
In 2017, New Orleans won its first conference championship in 20 years. The Privateers, first in the Southland Conference standings entering the month, could repeat that feat this season. While it's difficult to figure out exactly what's going on in the conference since it has been significantly impacted by COVID-related issues -- every team has played just five conference games until now -- New Orleans is undefeated, and Texas A&M Corpus-Christi is in the pack of teams right behind it.
If the Privateers pull this off, however, they won't do it the way many teams around the country have approached basketball in recent years. They're ranked last in the country on KenPom in 3-point attempts percentage -- the amount of 3s a team attempts relative to its total shot attempts -- at 22.1%. There are 130 Division I programs at 40% or higher. To each their own.
After leading Oral Roberts' captivating run to last season's Sweet 16 with wins over Ohio State and Florida, Max Abmas returned for another year. Thus far, the Summit League has welcomed the challenge. After suffering losses to first-place South Dakota State and North Dakota State (third place), Oral Roberts (second place in the conference) will have to fight in the coming weeks to surpass the Jackrabbits. A win over them on Feb. 24 could be a must for the Golden Eagles, who are chasing a league title and the top seed in the conference tournament. Plus, Abmas (23.1 PPG) hopes to top Antoine Davis (24.0 PPG) for the NCAA scoring title.
Sun Belt Conference
Last year, Georgetown was praised for its miraculous run to the Big East tournament championship after a challenging season. On a smaller scale, Appalachian State pulled off a similar accomplishment when it entered the Sun Belt Conference tournament after finishing 7-8 in league play, then won four games in a row to secure the league's automatic NCAA berth and tournament championship. This year, Adrian Delph (17.2 PPG, 40% from 3) is playing like a senior who isn't satisfied with last year's achievements. The Mountaineers started the week 8-2 in league play and have a higher winning percentage than the Red Wolves, who also have two league losses (5-2). Appalachian State won the first matchup, 61-54, last week, and won't surprise anyone if it wins this rematch and goes on to earn the league's title.
There isn't much separation at the top of SWAC right now: Four teams start the week with two losses in league play. But Texas Southern might be heating up. Johnny Jones' squad made headlines when it beat Florida in Gainesville on Dec. 6. The Tigers, winners of three games in a row, have shot 50% from inside the arc in league play. But the Jaguars are ranked first in offensive and defensive efficiency in the league. Plus, they're in the top 15 nationally with a 38.5% clip from 3. If Jones' squad can stop that train on Valentine's Day, it might just control the race in the SWAC.
New Mexico State spent the bulk of the 2020-21 season at a Phoenix spa and resort. Seriously. Due to COVID-19 regulations at home, the Aggies weren't allowed to play any games at their arena, so they had to get creative, and moved to Arizona for the majority of the season. Chris Jans' team is happy to be back home, though. And would be even happier with a conference championship following last season's chaos, which included holding team meetings as tourists wandered through the resort. To reach that goal, the Aggies need a win over first-place Seattle at home three weeks before the rematch on the road.
West Coast Conference
Joe Lunardi's most recent bracketology features four teams (San Francisco, Saint Mary's, BYU and Gonzaga) from the WCC -- just one shy of the five reps that the ACC is projected to have on Selection Sunday. Listed as an 11-seed, Todd Golden's team could be nervous on Selection Sunday. That's why this Feb. 17 matchup -- rescheduled after the Dons and Gaels' original meeting was postponed due to COVID-related challenges -- is so important. It's one of the most significant Quad I opportunities San Francisco has on its remaining schedule (banking on a win over Gonzaga, which San Francisco hosts on Feb. 24, is never a good plan).
But the Dons also suffered a two-point loss to Saint Mary's in their first game. Ending the season with a road victory over a Saint Mary's team that started the week with a NET ranking in the mid-20s could be the opportunity that helps San Francisco secure its first NCAA tournament berth since 1998.