February is a key month for college basketball teams in determining their fate in the field of 68 for the NCAA tournament.
Here’s a look at five teams that spiraled in January during the first half of conference play, and now have something to prove in February — on high alert as March Madness nears. (Seeds are based on USA TODAY Sports’ tournament bracketology as of Feb. 6.)
► Seton Hall (projected No. 11 seed): The Pirates (13-9, 4-6) beat Kentucky in an overtime thriller and have another quality road win over Maryland. But they haven’t fared well in Big East action, having lost their last six of eight — including two against perennial bottom feeder DePaul. Winning in February will be key considering Seton Hall’s last two games of the Big East season are against the top two teams, Villanova and Marquette. Myles Powell (21.6 ppg) and others need to step up.
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►Indiana (projected No. 10 seed): The Hoosiers (13-9, 4-7) snapped a seven-game losing streak that nearly foiled their Big Dance hopes by taking down a projected No. 3 seed, Michigan State, on the road last Saturday. But one huge win won’t revive a stained résumé. Indiana has its work cut out in February, with every Big Ten matchup against an NCAA tourney-caliber team, starting with Iowa on Thursday. If freshman star Romeo Langford can start connecting from beyond the arc, Indiana is a different team (currently ranking 321st nationally in made three-pointers). Coach Archie Miller’s ability to get Indiana playing defense like his old Dayton teams will be key heading into March.
► Ohio State (projected No. 9 seed): Coach Chris Holtmann had this team in the top 25 with only one loss at the end of December. Then the New Year saw OSU (14-7, 4-6) take a turn for the worse as it lost five in a row in January. Ohio State’s February schedule will be tough with road tests at Indiana, Michigan State, and Maryland. Defensively, this team is sound, allowing 65 points a game. Big man Kaleb Wesson also has excelled in his sophomore season, scoring 27 points in Ohio State’s Feb. 2 win over Rutgers.
► Ole Miss (projected No. 7 seed): Four consecutive losses have pushed the Rebels (14-7, 4-4) back on the seeding line — and they’ve yet to face the SEC’s top teams in projected No. 1 seeds Tennessee and Kentucky. Ole Miss can’t afford to lose to lower-tier teams if they want to avoid the NCAA tournament bubble. Breein Tyree and Terence Davis give Ole Miss a dynamic backcourt to lean on.
► Oklahoma (projected No. 7 seed): The Sooners (15-8, 3-7) have lost five of their last seven and seven of their last 11. But thanks to a non-conference slate that only featured one loss — to a respectable Wisconsin team — there’s enough on the résumé to keep OU in the safe zone, for now. The Sooners have the country’s fifth-best strength of schedule and also hold a top-10 non-conference SOS, which gives them a profile cushion. But the selection committee can only give a team so much leeway. With three of the next five on the road against NCAA tourney-forecasted teams, Oklahoma will be tested.