The day after February 28 is ordinarily March 1. This year, it’s February 29. Technically, then, this piece isn’t being written in the month of March.
The month in which reputations are affirmed (or transformed); legacies change (or remain intact); and coaches shed their baggage (or collect more of it) is finally here.
Much more on March will flow through The Student Section, today and every day. Let’s start with a quick primer on the first week of the month.
What — in addition to the small-conference tournaments — do you simply HAVE to find a way to watch if you want to go to the center of the drama in college hoops?
We’re here to help. Let’s give you a list without any elaborate fanfare:
TUESDAY: KENTUCKY AT FLORIDA (7 Eastern, ESPN)
Kentucky is struggling as the NCAA tournament approaches. The Wildcats are trying to get a relatively high seed, one which would enable them to be kept close to home, but they have to accumulate some wins to ensure they’ll receive a favorable opening-weekend placement. Florida is squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble. Vanderbilt beat Kentucky at home to move to the good side of the bubble on Saturday. The Gators are presented with the same basic opportunity here. This game should sizzle.
TUESDAY: GEORGIA TECH AT LOUISVILLE (8 Eastern, ESPN3)
This was always going to be Louisville’s home finale for the season, but when the Cardinals became ineligible for the ACC and NCAA tournaments, this date acquired a lot more emotional centrality for a community and its team. That alone made this game a compelling one. Now, however, Georgia Tech — don’t laugh — has entered the periphery of the NCAA tournament conversation. If the Yellow Jackets can win here, they will be very much on the bubble heading into the ACC Tournament. If they lose, their hopes pretty much die.
This has become a far bigger game than anyone could have imagined a month ago.
WEDNESDAY: MIAMI AT NOTRE DAME (7 Eastern, ESPN2)
Miami plays Virginia Tech later in the week. That’s not a layup, but it’s a game the Hurricanes should win. This road trip to South Bend is the really tough one for Jim Larranaga’s crew. If The U can pull through, a share of the ACC regular season championship seems extremely likely. If Miami loses and North Carolina wins Monday night at Syracuse, the Tar Heels would clinch the No. 1 seed for the ACC Tournament.
WEDNESDAY: OREGON STATE AT USC (11 Eastern, FS1)
Oregon State is trying to make its first NCAA tournament since 1990. The Beavers were extraordinarily fortunate to be granted a win over Washington last week, given a timing error at the end of regulation. That victory could mean the difference between making the field and being left at the front door without a set of keys.
USC seemed to be safe, but the Trojans have entered a tailspin. They very probably need at least one win this week to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday. If they lose to both Oregon State and Oregon, they’ll face withering pressure at the Pac-12 Tournament. This is high-stakes poker on Wednesday night.
THURSDAY: CONNECTICUT AT SMU (9 Eastern, ESPN2)
Connecticut should be fine in the hunt for an at-large bid, but a win over SMU on Thursday would remove any last shreds of doubt for Kevin Ollie’s team. This game is also the last SMU home game for the season. The Mustangs — like Louisville — are ineligible for their conference tournament and the Big Dance, so this will be an emotional night in Moody Coliseum. SMU won’t get a trophy for anything it does this season, but the Ponies want to at least tie Temple at the top of The American standings. Defeating UConn is essential to that pursuit.
FRIDAY: PRINCETON AT HARVARD (7 Eastern, ESPN3)
Harvard has represented the Ivy League in each of the last four NCAA tournaments, but the Crimson will not be in the parade this year. Now, they’re trying to play spoiler. If they can knock off a Princeton team which has just one loss in league play, the Crimson would help an ancient foe. Yale — which has not made the NCAAs since 1962 — would take a one-game lead in the loss column over Princeton if Harvard can pull the upset.
SATURDAY: VANDERBILT AT TEXAS A&M (Noon Eastern, ESPN2)
Vanderbilt is likely in, but the Commodores aren’t yet a lock. A win here would punch the ticket to the tournament and put an end to the notion (a very credible one a month ago) that VU was the biggest disappointment in the country. That honor will go to Georgetown if Vanderbilt makes its way to the Big Dance.
SATURDAY: KANSAS STATE AT TEXAS TECH (3 Eastern, ESPNEWS)
No, this is not a sexy game, but it’s likely to be a very big game, and that’s the point of focus in March: The drama creates the event.
Assuming Texas Tech loses at West Virginia in the middle of the week, the Red Raiders would need to win this game in order to feel safe about their NCAA tournament prospects. Texas Tech is very likely in, but consider this scenario: Tubby Smith’s team loses here to the Wildcats and then loses to TCU in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament. Is Tech still an absolute lock under that scenario? No.
The Red Raiders need this game to avoid unnecessary anxiety on Selection Sunday. That’s the kind of game which demands viewer interest.
SATURDAY: NORTH CAROLINA AT DUKE (6:30 Eastern, ESPN)
Carolina. Duke. Cameron. Coach K. Roy. A one-point Duke win a few weeks ago.
SATURDAY: LOUISVILLE AT VIRGINIA (8:30 Eastern, ESPN)
Louisville’s last game of the season is simultaneously a chance for likely ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to showcase his talents one last time in a UVA home game. Virginia is playing for seeding and positioning. Louisville is playing with the awareness that it won’t take the court again until November. The odd nature of this game, combined with the quality of the matchup, will create a fascinating passion play in Charlottesville.