- Gonzaga, Nevada and Lipscomb lead those who still have intriguing regular season matchups left in February and early March.
No, this is still not March. In fact, we still have over a month before conference tournaments get rolling, but there's no better time to start scouting out mid-major teams that could make big runs in the NCAA tournament. Teams like Gonzaga, Nevada, Lipscomb and Buffalo all have tough games ahead, and in a down year for the Pac-12 and Big East, you won't notice a big dropoff in quality, either.
Here are 10 mid-major games to circle on your calendar going forward:
Feb. 5: Utah State at Fresno State
This list tips off Tuesday night as Utah State travels to Fresno State for a critical Mountain West matchup at 10:30 p.m. Both teams are both firmly on the bubble in a stacked Mountain West, and though our bracket watch has both teams out right now, this game will be pivotal to both team's resumés going forward. Utah State's only two conference losses have been to this Fresno State team and Nevada, and avenging the previous loss to the Bulldogs with a road win would be huge for Craig Smith's team. Utah State sits at No. 37 in the NCAA's NET rating this year, ahead of presumed "safe" teams like St. John's, Oklahoma and Florida. However, a loss for the Aggies would be a huge boon for Fresno State's dwindling at-large hopes, as it is the only non-Nevada game against a quality opponent left on its schedule. Both teams feature stellar guard play: Utah State's Sam Merrill and Fresno State's Braxton Huggins have been very impressive this season.
Feb. 7: San Francisco at Gonzaga
It appears that Frankie Ferrari and the Dons are not headed for an NCAA tournament appearance despite their best season in years. Two tough losses at San Diego and Saint Mary's have left San Francisco with scarcely any hope of an at-large bid. However, a road win against Gonzaga could change all of that very quickly. The last game these two teams played (a 96–83 Gonzaga win) was one of the best WCC games of the season, and the offensive fireworks from Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Ferrari are worth the watch. If you need to get a look at Gonzaga playing a good team before deciding whether to pick them in the NCAA tournament, this is one of your last chances.
Feb. 7: Wofford at East Tennessee State
Fletcher Magee and Wofford are going to be the hot First Round upset pick if they can survive the SoCon Tournament. Why not take a look early and watch them try to stay undefeated in conference with a trip to East Tennesse State? While Wofford has made plenty of headlines, East Tennessee State has quietly put together a stellar season of its own, starting the year 9–2 in conference with only losses to UNC Greensboro at home and Wofford on the road. If any team is going to play spoiler in the SoCon Tournament, it's going to be the Buccaneers. With conference supremacy on the line and kenpom marking the game as a toss-up, this is a must-watch for college basketball junkies.
Feb. 9: New Mexico State at Grand Canyon
The atmosphere in Phoenix is going to be electric for this game. Grand Canyon has built up quite the fanbase since joining Division I in 2014. This is likely to be the biggest regular season game in Grand Canyon history: the Lopes have never made the NCAA tournament, this is the best team they've had since Dan Majerle arrived and they will be looking for revenge after New Mexico State beat them with a half court buzzer beater in Las Cruces on Jan. 10. Both teams are also very good. They are the class of a top-heavy WAC and this game could very well be key to deciding the regular season crown. ESPN3 is broadcasting it so there's no excuse not to watch.
Feb. 13: Liberty at Lipscomb
Liberty and Lipscomb have dominated the Atlantic Sun this year. This game is on the list purely because both teams are good at basketball. While the real test will be in the conference tournament, the Atlantic Sun does give home court advantage to the higher seed, meaning that the regular season title is a major boost to the victor. Liberty's lone conference loss came to Lipscomb on Jan. 29, meaning this is Liberty's last chance to regain momentum. For Lipscomb, this will be the last test on the road to a potential undefeated conference season.
Feb. 15: Buffalo at Toledo
After spending most of the season in the AP top 20, Buffalo took a hit after a dismal loss to Bowling Green, dropping to No. 23. However, while the Bulls are in good position to challenge for an at-large bid (our Bracket Watch has them as a No. 7 seed), Toledo is well off the map despite hanging around in the top 70 in kenpom for the last month. The Rockets should, at the very least, should provide an exciting game. As of Tuesday, Toledo is No. 33 in the country in three-point field goal percentage, while Buffalo has a top-25 offense on kenpom and has played a series of very entertaining MAC road games. While also looking out for themselves, the Rockets will be looking to play spoiler and give Buffalo something to think about before the MAC tournament. #MACtion, basketball edition, is definitely worth your time.
Feb. 16: UNC Greensboro at Wofford
Is UNC Greensboro for real? The Spartans sit at 20–3 with just one conference loss (home against Wofford) and two competitive losses to LSU and Kentucky. Otherwise, Wes Miller's team has been excellent. UNC Greensboro has been rolling through the SoCon, knocking off East Tennessee State on the road and easily handling Furman at home. Traveling to Spartanburg is a tough ask, but Francis Alonso and the Spartans could very well be up to the task.
Feb. 16: VCU at Dayton
The Atlantic 10 is wide open this year. There are seven teams with legitimate aspirations at the regular season title, and the conference tournament is due to be wide open. That makes seeding and matchups even more important, and this VCU-Dayton game will be key in deciding how the rest of the season shakes out. The first game in Richmond went 76–71 in favor of VCU. Dayton won four of its next five after that disappointment with freshman forward Obi Toppin breaking out in a big way. He's averaged 23.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in his last three contests.
Feb. 23: Harvard at Yale
For one, the nerds seem to take this rivalry very seriously, so that already makes this game notable. Second, these are the two best teams in the Ivy League on kenpom. Although Princeton heads the table at 4–0 in conference, it has not played Harvard or Yale yet and its last three wins have come against Columbia, Cornell and D-III Wesley College. It's fair to assume Harvard and Yale are going to be in the mix for a regular season title come late February, which makes the second of their two encounters all the more important.
March 2: Nevada at Utah State
Going full circle back to Utah State's at-large hopes, the Aggies must have this game to make their resumé bulletproof. Eric Musselman's Nevada squad is what it is at this point, an elite offensive team with more talent than any team in the Mountain West. But Nevada's abysmal loss at New Mexico earlier this season should provide a blueprint for Utah State to earn a big win at home. Utah State's defense in top 30 on kenpom. If Craig Smith's side can limit Nevada and ride the home crowd to an early lead, we could be in store for an upset.