With just eight teams able to earn spots into the Big West Conference Tournament, the final four games will be crucial for both the Cal State Northridge Matadors (2-11) and the Cal State Fullerton Titans (1-11).
CSUN currently holds the final spot in the tournament, despite some imperfect play. Cal State Fullerton is not so lucky -- on the outside, looking in from ninth place. That is why Thursday night's matchup between the Matadors and Titans will be crucial for who gets that last berth in Anaheim from March 12-14.
Despite the poor records of the two teams, this will be the game of the night in Big West hoops.
The Titans' lone victory was against the Matadors, a 69-53 win, three weeks ago. Another victory for the Titans on Thursday will technically put them into the tournament, as they would own the tiebreaker.
But a few other things must occur for the Titans to remain in.
Fullerton must get help from UC Riverside and Long Beach State - the last two teams on the Northridge schedule. A clean sweep against the Matadors would all but assure the Titans were in.
Fullerton could also help themselves with at least two victories in its last four games of the 2014 regular season.
But that is not so easy for the Titans. They are on a five-game losing skid and Thursday's game begin a set of three on the road. To add to the uphill climb, the Titans might be without star guard Alex Harris.
Harris leads the team in minutes, points, assists, and steals per game. There is no question that if Harris were to push himself to come back from a severe thigh contusion, it needs to be against the Matadors.
According to the Daily Titan, Fullerton head coach Dedrique Taylor said there is no timetable for a Harris return. He has been missing in action for the last three games.
Cal State Northridge has been riding an upset win on the road against UCSB back on Jan. 15, to get to this point. They are the leader in the clubhouse for that ..., well, eighth spot.
CSUN will look to put the hammer down on the Titans out of fear of the tiebreaker. They will rely on their own star, senior Stephan Hicks. Hicks officially moved into the top 10 in career scoring in Big West history after scoring 16 points in a loss Saturday to UC Irvine.
Hicks averages 20 points per game at home, five points better than his overall season average. The slight difference could very well be the shot that his team needs to secure its spot in the Big West tournament.
Northridge needs no reminder of the importance of the Thursday prime time showcase, with so many variables present that will impact who is in and who is out, much like last season. It is hard to forget that Cal Poly entered the Big West tournament as a 7th seed and ended up beating the Matadors in the conference final.
That should serve as a reminder to everyone: we can not doubt these lower seeded teams.