If you’re just getting caught up with college basketball now, in preparation for March Madness, there’s something you need to be extremely aware of—Butler is in serious trouble. Maybe you caught highlights of their November win over Indiana and their last-second buzzer-beater against Gonzaga. Great wins, to be sure, but within Atlantic 10 play, the Bulldogs have been reeling. They’re 9-5 in the conference, just lost by 32 to Virginia Commonwealth and suddenly face a key game tonight against Massachusetts (7, NBC Sports Network) that I would consider the most compelling on the Thursday daily sports docket.
Butler is projected as a #7 seed by Joe Lunardi over at ESPN.com, which would give them plenty of cushion. But while I’d be surprised if they collapse out of the Big Dance entirely, should we really be shocked? Let’s just consider three very realistic points—Lunardi, as much as I respect his work, can be off by a seed or two. Then let’s say Butler loses to UMass tonight, and then flames out in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament—as of today, that opponent would be Xavier, who just beat conference-leading St. Louis last night. Is it then unrealistic that Butler could be the team everyone is in shock over?
That just considers the Butler angle on tonight’s game. How about UMass? With electrifying point guard Chaz Williams, the Minutemen are 18-9 and while they’re on the outside looking in as of today, this is a team that has the opportunity to play its way. Sort of like Villanova had last night, and you saw what happened when the Wildcats upended Georgetown. The folks in Las Vegas certainly see a UMass win as realistic—the Minutemen are installed as a 1 ½ point favorite.
It seems a little surreal that the NBC Sports Network could not only have the biggest sporting event of the night, but that it wouldn’t be a hockey game. Be assured there are some good games in the marquee conferences on ESPN. The Pac-12 race went topsy-turvy for about the eighteenth time this season last night when UCLA and Cal both lost, and now Oregon can close out a league championship. The Ducks won’t have it easy though, going to Colorado (9 PM, ESPN2). It’s another case where the home bubble team is a slight favorite over the conference contender, as Oregon gets 2 ½.
The Big Ten is going down to the last weekend. We know Indiana has a share of the title in hand and can take it outright. We know Michigan controls its destiny to get a share themselves if they beat the Hoosiers. And the winner of tonight’s Wisconsin-Michigan State game in East Lansing (9 PM ET, ESPN) will also still be in contention come the weekend. The early game on ESPN is a must-win game for Kentucky when they go to Georgia. Keep in mind the Bulldogs just slowed down Tennessee’s NCAA push last Saturday.
Normally a Thursday night means the NBA on TNT gets top billing. The mad race in college basketball changes that for a few weeks, but it’s no fault of the schedule offered. The TNT twinbill starts at 8 PM ET with Kevin Durant taking the Thunder into Madison Square Garden, and it ends with LA Clippers-Denver, a key game in the race for Western Conference seeding. Denver is in a fight with Memphis for homecourt in the first round and the Clips can still move up to #2 or down to #4, either of which would be significant.
It’s a Keystone State showdown in hockey as the NHL Network brings us Pittsburgh-Philly at 7 PM ET. The Penguins have gotten themselves in good position, while the Flyers need to win. Pittsburgh sits at #2 in the East, and seeds #1 and #3 go head-to-head with Montreal and Carolina. The Canadiens are a slip away from tumbling down to fifth though—they only lead Boston by a point and Toronto by two points in the Northeast Division and a third-place team can get no higher than #5. The Leafs beat Ottawa last night and have to go into the Boston Garden tonight to face the Bruins as a substantial (+180) underdog.
Here at TheSportsNotebook we don’t cover the NFL draft, but over at Prime Sports Network, draft coverage gets intense today. Former NFL scout Dan Shonka will have a mock draft in a podcast with host Greg DePalma at 2 PM ET. Shonka is the owner of the scouting website OurLads.com, and his NFL depth charts are the source for the same posted at sites like CBSSports.com. In short, he knows what he’s talking about and if you want a good pre-free agency look at the draft, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the podcast.
CLEANING UP FROM LAST NIGHT
It was upsets all over. I mentioned Georgetown, UCLA, Cal and St. Louis. Let’s add to that Miami losing to Georgia Tech. So nothing more than four conference championships were dramatically affected. If you pay a visit to blogger Jeff Fogle at Stat Intelligence, he’ll break it all down for you.
Here at TheSportsNotebook, I lost my best bet of the night, as Michigan’s 80-75 win over Purdue missed the cover by a point and a half. My top play on the board tonight is a little off the radar. Louisiana Tech is leading the WAC, while New Mexico State is in third. They meet in Las Cruces tonight, and La Tech is getting two. I’ll look for the Bulldogs to break the trend of conference leaders losing road games.
Betting Unit Tally: (-1.2)—I assume one unit wagered on each game unless otherwise specified. You can use your imagination as to what the unit is worth. I’m 1-2 right now on even-up spots, so the tally reflects the full unit lost, plus two-tenths for the vig.