Friday, February 24: WEEKEND EDITION
TheSportsNotebook is looking ahead to a big weekend, and we’ll have a lot of preview articles going up throughout the day. Furthermore, I’ll be podcasting over at PrimeSportsNetwork.com with Greg DePalma at 3 PM EST to look ahead at the weekend, specifically the race for March Madness. Tune in at 3 or catch the archived show at your convenience.
Here’s the rundown of what will going up online here TheSportsNotebook throughout the morning and into the afternoon for those in the East…
*It’s All-Star Weekend in the NBA, so we’ll have a complete first-half evaluation.
* The Daytona 500 kicks off the Sprint Cup Series in NASCAR, and we’ll welcome the insights of my brother Bill as he gets us ready for both the season as a whole, with a review of the Top 20 drivers, and the specifics of what to watch for at Daytona. I’m excited about this feature, as Bill will make the knowledge of a NASCAR junkie available in a way comprehensible to those of us who have a casual interest in the sport and would like to understand it better.
*College basketball weekend previews, highlighted by the Missouri-Kansas showdown in the Big 12.
*A look at the weekend ahead in the NHL.
*The Road To The Triple Crown continues two with two prep races for the Kentucky Derby. On Saturday it’s the Risen Star Stakes in Louisiana and Sunday is the Fountain of Youth Stakes in Florida. We’ll preview both.
Thursday, February 23
Its showdown night in the ACC, as the nation’s best conference race comes to EPSN at 7 PM ET. Duke visits Florida State, with the winner able to stay in a three-way tie with North Carolina, who won on Tuesday. TheSportsNotebook’s college basketball feature today is a full-fledged game preview, along with a brief check-in on other good conference races.
The West Coast Conference has a big night ahead, with St. Mary’s visiting Portland (11 PM, ESPNU). The Gaels have lost two straight, including a bracket-buster game to Murray State and are by no means a lock for an at-large bid. Neither is BYU, which visits Gonzaga in an 11 PM ET tip on ESPN2. And maybe I’m drinking too much of the Kool-Aid that’s being dished out by my PrimeSportsNetwork associate Greg DePalma in our twice-weekly podcasts (Mon & Fri, 3 PM ET), but I’m starting to get sold on Loyola Marymount’s chances to make a run at an at-large out of this conference. Marymount plays San Diego.
Thursday night in the NBA means its TNT night, and the network is loving the Lin-LeBron showdown set for tonight when the Knicks head to Miami. If New York wins this game, watch for the Lin For MVP buzz to pick up some real steam. The night cap is the Lakers visiting Oklahoma City. Los Angeles got a big win last night over Dallas and with a record of 20-13 is starting to get some momentum going in the West. Also worth noting are the night’s other two games, with San Antonio going to Denver and Orlando visiting Atlanta.
Its showdown night in the NHL’s Western Conference, as Vancouver goes to Detroit. The Red Wings’ home win streak is on the line against the defending conference champs, and so is the top spot in the West, as the teams are separated by just two points. In the middle of the West playoff chase is St. Louis-Nashville, with both teams angling for a top-four finish and home ice in a first round series that could be against each other. And at the bottom of the postseason ladder, Phoenix is playing some decent hockey right now and goes to Calgary, with the Flames still having hopes of playing their way in. One team not playing is the red-hot New Jersey Devils, who’ve taken the East by storm, and they’re the subject of TheSportsNotebook’s NHL feature.
Wednesday, February 22
There are only three hockey games on the NHL schedule tonight, but every one is a good one. The biggest is Washington-Ottawa. The Capitals have shown a phenomenal ability to first beat Florida, the team they have to catch in the Southeast Division, and then go immediately into the tank in winnable games right after (see Tampa & Carolina in the most recent post-Panther hangover). Washington’s still two points back for both the Southeast and the final playoff spot and makes a trip to a quietly surging Ottawa team that has closed to within two points of Boston in the Northeast. The slumping Bruins make a trip to St. Louis, while Los Angeles meets Colorado. The Kings are coming off blowing a 3-0 lead in Phoenix last night and have their own playoff berth in jeopardy.
ESPN’s NBA doubleheader has Boston-Oklahoma City and LA Lakers-Dallas, with the Celtics joining the Bruins in making life rough for Hub sports fans right now, of which I am one. Another team slumping in the Atlantic Division is Philadelphia, which plays a good Houston team on the road. Today’s NBA feature hones in on the 76ers and asks if they are being exposed by a recent spate of tough games.
And in college basketball, the Big East has two big games on the NCAA bubble, with South Florida visiting Syracuse, and West Virginia going to Notre Dame. It’s be unfair to South Florida and WVA to say they have to win these games specifically—particularly South Florida—but they both need to get 2-3 more wins here in the last two weeks of the regular season. In the Big Ten, Michigan State, featured here yesterday, visits Minnesota for a tough road test against a team still with an outside shot at the Dance. And out in the Atlantic 10, it’s not the juiciest game on the card, but St. Joe’s is sneaking into the NCAA picture and plays Richmond. I bring this up because the Atlantic 10 is our college basketball feature today, both the race for the conference championship and the intriguing race for NCAA Tournament bids, which could go anywhere from 2-4.
Tuesday, February 21
Last night in college basketball Texas missed its chance to really nail down an NCAA bid when they lost at home in a 73-70 decision to Baylor. Tonight several other teams face big moments. Here’s a brief rundown…
*Illinois is imploding, but a win at Ohio State could get them back on the right track.
*Northwestern has a home game tonight with Michigan and another with Ohio State. Win both, and they can grab their first NCAA bid ever.
*Mississippi State is another team that’s losing its grip on the field, but if they got a home upset of Kentucky tonight, all’s forgiven.
*I don’t want to say Virginia’s in a meltdown, but prior to a big win this past weekend over Maryland, they had been showing some slippage and still need to win a couple more games. Getting one tonight at Virginia Tech is important.
*Xavier is playing with desperation to save a season of great expectations and they go to fellow A-10 contender UMass.
*Miami’s squarely on the bubble and a road trip to Maryland could break them.
*Seton Hall is another team that’s a flip of a coin, and they go at home against Georgetown.
Then we mix in big games in the race for conference championships, like Kansas State-Missouri, where the Tigers just need to take care of this game and set the stage for Saturday’s showdown with Kansas. And in the Mountain West, New Mexico has bolted to the top and is close to wrapping it up when they play a Colorado State team that desperately needs a win.
In the NHL, the NBCSN game of the night is Detroit-Chicago. With the Red Wings on the road, the home win streak won’t be a topic, but Chicago still needs to play much better. They’ve stopped the bleeding the last couple games and now need a full-scale recovery. This game is a good place to start. For Detroit, Vancouver is right on their heels for the top seed in the West, and the Canucks visit a solid Nashville team. At the edges of the playoff race, LA plays Phoenix. I’m vacationing near Phoenix as I write this and it seems either the Coyotes or the Suns are playing an LA team every time I turn around. I half expect a Diamondbacks-Dodgers spring training game to break out.
It’s a light card in the NBA, put NBA-TV has good late-night fare when San Antonio takes its 11-game win streak to Portland (10 PM ET). And Memphis is a team that’s coming together right now and hosts Philadelphia.
Here at TheSportsNotebook, we’re following the presidential candidates to the state of Michigan. In hockey we’ll go inside the Red Wings, look at the team overall and whether this win streak can translate into playoff success. In college basketball, Michigan State’s surprising run to the top of the Big Ten is the lead topic, with a brief look at New Mexico’s equally unexpected run in the Mountain West mixed in.
Monday, February 20
Today is President’s Day, so at least some people can enjoy an extended weekend. The NBA is always happy to step into the breach and will have a 4 PM ET tip today on ESPN with Atlanta-Chicago. It’s a good game that highlights a good overall card on Monday, including Western Conference playoff contenders Memphis-Houston, Minnesota-Denver and San Antonio looks to push its win streak to 11 at Utah. There’s also a prime-time doubleheader on TNT, an honor normally reserved for Thursday, with the slumping Celtics visiting Dallas, while Portland goes to Los Angeles.
The Celtics aren’t the only Boston team in the doldrums. The Bruins lost for the sixth time in ten games yesterday in Minneapolis, and the opportunity still exists for Ottawa to steal an unlikely Northeast Division title. The Senators have a chance to close the gap to two points tonight in Long Island when they face the NY Islanders.
College basketball has its usual light Monday card highlighted by two prominent ESPN games, and both will impact the NCAA bubble. UConn couldn’t turn its recent slide around this weekend at home against Marquette and now faces Villanova’s worst team in several years. Texas missed a chance to give themselves some cushion when they lost at Oklahoma State and now host Baylor.
In the world of racing Monday holidays mean action at the track and nowhere is it more significant than in Arkansas, where Oaklawn Park hosts the Southwest Stakes, a $250,000 race that counts toward a horses’ graded earnings needed to qualify for the Triple Crown races. Jockey Martin Garcia, who won a Derby Prep race in Santa Anita yesterday aboard Drill, got on a plane and is in Arkansas with the favorite, as Longview Drive goes off at 5-2 on the morning line. Another highly regarded horse is Castaway, trained by nationally renowned Bob Baffert and ridden by Rafael Bejarano. Two longshots with good jockeys are Unbridled Note (10-1), with Julian Leparoux looking to pick up his third win of a young prep race season. And Calvin Borel, who recently won three Kentucky Derbies in four years, does most of his work at Oaklawn and will look to make his patented move to the rail aboard Laurie’s Rocket at 15-1. The Southwest Stakes starts at 5:40 PM ET and will be televised on HR-TV, which is stacked amidst the sports channels on your cable/satellite package.
Here at TheSportsNotebook today, we’ll be taking our talents to South Beach. It starts with a look at the play of the Miami Heat, who’ve are red-hot and have nudged ahead of Chicago for the best record in the East and the NBA overall. And in college basketball, both Miami and South Florida are right at the heart of NCAA bubble discussion. We’ll look at both and include a broader look at the bubble in their conferences of the ACC and Big East respectively.
Today at 3 PM EST I’ll be on my twice-weekly podcast with Greg DePalma over at PrimeSportsNetwork.com, where NCAA bubble conversation will be a prominent topic.