Now that we've turned the calendar over for the first time in 2011, we're a month closer to the end of both winter, a positive development, and the college basketball season, a slightly depressing one. When the shortest month of the year, a 28-day span filled with conference contests, rematches, and BracketBusters, ends, the bittersweet experience that is elimination basketball will be right in front of our faces.
Since the postseason is no longer a distant thought, I've cast a wide net in selecting my February list of television picks. You'll see selections from the Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, Southern and West Coast, along with a trio of BracketBusters interspersed among the month's more high-profile contests to help prepare you for the madness to come
So, here are my February picks, along with a special bonus pick to start March.
Friday, Feb. 4: Harvard Crimson at Princeton Tigers, ESPNU (7 p.m. ET)
This may be the first time I've included an Ivy League game in a post like this, primarily because the Ancient Eight doesn't play college basketball to collect rights' fees from TV companies. The Crimson and Tigers will enter this contest with the Ivy lead on the line, which is important because of the conference's lack of a postseason tournament, and seven combined losses.
Saturday, Feb. 5: Butler Bulldogs at Cleveland St. Vikings, ESPN2 (Noon ET)
On a day featuring several contests with bubble and seeding implications, the pick is a potential changing of the guard in the Horizon League. The defending champion Bulldogs look increasingly likely to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006, while the Vikings (who demolished Wake Forest as a 13 seed in 2009) appear to be their most likely replacement. But don't expect the national runners-up to go quietly, as they blasted Gary Waters' team by 23 at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 7.
Sunday, Feb. 6: Ohio St. Buckeyes at Minnesota Golden Gophers, ESPN (2 p.m. ET)
Since it's Super Bowl Sunday, all of the TV games on this afternoon will be completed well before kickoff. It's a fairly hectic day, particularly in the Big Ten, which features three key games. If the Buckeyes top Michigan at home on Thursday and remain undefeated, the trip to the Barn may be their biggest test to date, as they only managed to beat the Gophers by three in Columbus.
Monday, Feb. 7: Pittsburgh Panthers at West Virginia Mountaineers, ESPN (7 p.m. ET)
It's the Backyard Brawl, hoops-style. Hopefully, everyone in Morgantown will be on their best behavior on this night. This game would also be a bit more interesting if Bob Huggins reinstates Casey Mitchell, but the Mountaineers should put up a fight against their archrival even if his suspension continues.
Tuesday, Feb. 8: Xavier Musketeers at Georgia Bulldogs, ESPNU (7 p.m. ET)
For the second season in a row, the Musketeers visit an SEC arena in February to better prepare for March Madness. Last year, Xavier visited Florida, ran out 76-64 winners, then won nine of their next 10 before falling to Kansas State in an epic double OT NCAA Sweet 16 game. Bulldogs, you're on notice.
Wednesday, Feb. 9: Georgetown Hoyas at Syracuse Orange, ESPN (7 p.m. ET) and North Carolina Tar Heels at Duke Blue Devils, ESPN/ACC Network (9 p.m. ET)
Clear your planner for the night, find your favorite couch or chair, and enjoy two of college basketball's most storied rivalries. I really don't think I need to type many more words to hype either of these games.
Thursday, Feb. 10: Penn St. Nittany Lions at Michigan St. Spartans, Big Ten Network (7 p.m. ET)
At the beginning of this season, who would have thought this would be a bubble game?
Friday, Feb. 11: Jacksonville Dolphins at East Tennessee St. Buccaneers, CSS/ESPN3/Full Court (7 p.m. ET)
Both of these teams are chasing Belmont, the runaway leader of the Atlantic Sun, so this one is for conference tournament seeding purposes. Feel free to take the evening off if you need a break.
Saturday, Feb. 12: Wichita St. Shockers at Northern Iowa Panthers, ESPN2 (10 p.m. ET)
As the season winds down, Wichita State in the Missouri Valley and Utah State in the WAC may each provide an interesting, but identical case for the selection committee--namely, can a team make it as an at-large without a single top 100 win? The Shockers can grab one in Cedar Falls against a Panther team that's stormed into the Valley race, thanks to wins at Wichita State and Missouri State. Oddly enough, Northern Iowa may have a better at-large profile, courtesy of those victories and one over New Mexico in Las Vegas.
Sunday, Feb. 13: Purdue Boilermakers at Illinois Fighting Illini, CBS (1 p.m. ET)
If the Fighting Illini can pull out of their skid, this contest may have significant impact on the protected seed race. Keep in mind, Purdue has struggled on the road in the Big Ten, an issue that could cost them a seed line or two if it continues, and Assembly Hall has proved to be a particularly difficult place for visitors this season.
Monday, Feb. 14: West Virginia Mountaineers at Syracuse Orange, ESPN (7 p.m. ET)
Given how the last two weeks have gone for these programs, there's no telling where the Mountaineers and Orange will be in 12 days time; however, this seems to be a better choice than the Kansas-Kansas State rematch in Manhattan.
Tuesday, Feb. 15: George Mason Patriots at VCU Rams, ESPNU (7 p.m. ET)
Heading into February, the Rams lead the Colonial Athletic Association with an 10-1 mark, and the Patriots, not Old Dominion, sit a game back in second. Given how the remaining seven windows of conference games go, this could be a preview of a semifinal or final in Richmond in early March.
Wednesday, Feb. 16: UAB Blazers at Memphis Tigers, CBS College Sports (7 p.m. ET)
Once again, Conference USA is looking like a one-bid league, thanks in part to UCF's spectacular January flameout. As has been the case over the past few seasons, the Blazers and Tigers are among the most serious contenders for the slot, alongside C-USA tournament host UTEP.
Thursday, Feb. 17: Washington St. Cougars at Arizona Wildcats, FSN (8;30 p.m. ET)
Don't laugh, but this is a crucial contest in an improved Pac-10. Both teams have at-large hopes, which I know seems silly given how bad the conference was last season, and the Wildcats have the record to challenge Washington for the conference's regular season title. With a win in Tucson, and a few others, the Cougars may find themselves in that class too.
Friday, Feb. 18: VCU Rams at Wichita St. Shockers, ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET)
Saturday, Feb. 19: Utah State Aggies at St. Mary's Gaels, ESPN2 (9 p.m. ET)
Sunday, Feb. 20: Cleveland St. Vikings at Old Dominion Monarchs, ESPN2 (1 p.m. ET)
The weekend of February 18-20 brings the return of the Bracketbusters series, which for its faults (giving the committee an easy excuse for eliminating teams from the at-large pool) has several benefits. For teams, it provides a quality non-conference matchup late in the year, and since the games have to be returned in a timely manner, helps to fill a scheduling hole in a future season. But for fans, the series allows a convenient opportunity to check out some of the teams who could be a March surprise. Of course, in this group, the only team which hasn't made the tournament in the past two years is Wichita State, and Utah State and VCU are the only two to not win a game (though the Rams came close against UCLA in 2009). So, if you want to be fully prepared for March, check out these three contests instead of the typical major conference games on offer.
Monday, Feb. 21: Syracuse Orange at Villanova Wildcats, ESPN (7 p.m. ET)
The Orange visit Philadelphia, where they last won in 2008, looking to avenge the Jan. 22 11-point loss at the Carrier Dome.
Tuesday, Feb. 22: Tennessee Volunteers at Vanderbilt Commodores, ESPN (9 p.m. ET)
When these two last met on Jan. 15 in Knoxville, the Volunteers won by three, after the Commodores blew a 17-point lead. Bruce Pearl, who will be back from suspension a few games before this one (so expect to see an orange blazer), will look to get to .500 at Memorial Gym with a victory in this one. If the early meeting is any indication, this one should be a close, but not necessarily aesthetically-pleasing, contest.
Wednesday, Feb. 23: UNLV Runnin' Rebels at New Mexico Lobos, CBS College Sports (9 p.m. ET)
Before the two Mountain West leaders meet in San Diego on Saturday, you'll want to check out two of the conference's other at-large contenders, who meet for the second time this season at The Pit. New Mexico will hope their famous home crowd advantage will give them a bit of boost in avenging their 63-62 loss in Vegas on Jan. 22.
Thursday, Feb. 24: Gonzaga Bulldogs at St. Mary's Gaels, ESPN2 (11 p.m. ET)
The Gaels needed a 10-footer from Mickey McConnell to beat the Bulldogs in Spokane on Jan. 27, St. Mary's first win at Gonzaga in 16 years. They'll hope to grab a more convincing win at home, one that could deal a fatal blow to their rivals dwindling at-large hopes.
Friday, Feb. 25: Detroit Titans at Wright St. Raiders, ESPNU (7 p.m. ET)
The matchup between the Horizon League's two I-75 travel partners is here for now, but both ESPN2 and ESPNU will have a Metro Atlantic matchup that's to be determined. Given how wild the Horizon race has been so far, it's worth checking out the Raiders, who are in the fight for a bye to the semifinals with Cleveland State, Valparaiso, and Butler.
Saturday, Feb. 26: BYU Cougars at San Diego St. Aztecs, CBS (4 p.m. ET)
The January 26th game between these two teams in Provo nearly broke Twitter, thanks to Jimmer Fredette's brilliance and the fact a lot of people had trouble finding the game on television. With this one slated for a national, not regional, network broadcast--after Syracuse at Georgetown and Florida at Kentucky--the second issue shouldn't be a problem. But the Jimmer, and the Aztecs' Kawhi Leonard for that matter, could still bring social networking to its knees.
Sunday, Feb. 27: Maryland Terrapins at Florida St. Seminoles, FSN (7:45 p.m. ET)
Right now, I have the Seminoles in and the Terrapins out. Things could very well be reversed in a month's time, particularly if the Seminoles well-chronicled offensive issues continue.
Monday, Feb. 28: Villanova Wildcats at Notre Dame Fighting Irish, ESPN (7 p.m. ET)
If it's Monday, it must be time for another crucial Big East game. While this one may not impact the race for a number one seed, both the Wildcats and Fighting Irish are in the race for a two or three.
BONUS: Tuesday, March 1: Boston College Eagles at Virginia Tech Hokies, ESPNU (9 p.m. ET)
Since Bracketology runs on Tuesdays, which means I usually remember to write this post late on Monday night when putting the finishing touches on the bracket, here's a bonus pick to start March. The Eagles and Hokies both enter February needing to grab some wins for their resume, and with the way the ACC race is shaking out, you can bet that will still be the case at the dawn of March.
My next Viewing guide will run on Wednesday, March 2, with a focus on the end of the regular season and key mid-major conference tournament games. For my nightly TV picks, be sure to visit Blogging the Bracket and follow me on Twitter