If your alma mater or college of choice has bona fide NCAA Tournament aspirations, the final days of February possess pennant race-style tension.
So it is with the 18th-ranked USF women, whose 7 p.m. home game tonight against Houston has big bracketology implications.
The Bulls (22-5, 11-2), seemingly peaking at the perfect juncture (seven-game win streak), can lock up the No. 2 seed in the upcoming American Athletic Conference tournament with a victory. They also can further fortify their odds of a favorable NCAA seeding.
ESPN women's bracketologist Charlie Creme currently projects USF as a six-seed. A top-60 RPI triumph (Houston is 57th) against a 20-win team would only add luster to USF's resume.
It won't be easy.
The Cougars (20-7, 9-4), winners of five of their last six, press…and press…and press. They rank seventh nationally in steals (319) and ninth in 3-point percentage defense. Four players own double-figure scoring averages, led by sophomore Jasmyne Harris (20.4 ppg).
For USF, coming off a 20-turnover effort in Sunday's overtime win at UCF, protecting the ball will be a prerequisite. The Bulls also will have to work harder for open looks on the perimeter, which could drain a rotation that has been limited to eight players lately.
Expect high intensity and high pressure, accompanied by high stakes.
You can smell March from here.