The battle on the NCAA Tournament bubble enters the final week of the regular season for the power conferences, and for a lot of the smaller conferences—including a couple notable mid-majors—tournament play starts up later this week. Two teams in must-win spots are Cincinnati and Baylor and with both teams on ESPN they headline our daily sports talk.
Cincinnati travels to Louisville to start the doubleheader at 7 PM ET on ESPN. The Bearcats got a badly needed home win over UConn on the weekend, and ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has them projected as a #9 seed. I generally defer to Lunardi, although I’d like to note that I’m not nearly as sold on the Bearcats being that comfortable. I’ve got them in if the season ends today, but they’ve got some work to do. I’m not saying they have to beat an excellent team on the road, but I think Cincy still needs to show something. A competitive game tonight, with the 11-point spread serving as a baseline measurement, would be a good place to start. Louisville can still get a piece of the Big East title if they win tonight, beat Notre Dame at home and then hope Georgetown stumbles in its season finale with Syracuse this weekend.
The doubleheader then shifts to the Big 12 where Baylor goes to Texas. The 17-12 Bears have really struggled of late and this is a big underachiever this year. Lunardi currently has them as one of his first four out, and in this case the bracket maven and I are on the same page. It speaks volumes to how bad Baylor has played that they’re only giving a point and a half to a team that’s been an absolute train wreck. This game is just the first of a two-step process for Baylor—they will likely also need to find a way to knock off Kansas on Saturday. I’d be sarcastic and say good luck with that, but Baylor has the personnel, if they just put it together on the floor.
TheSportsNotebook will talk plenty about the NCAA bubble and some of this week’s coming conference tournaments when I appear on Prime Sports Network at 4 PM ET with Greg DePalma. If you want to get caught up on the results from the weekend, I’d pay a visit to Jeff Fogle’s Stat Intelligence, which leads off with a fine analysis of the crazy last two minutes of yesterday’s Michigan-Michigan State game, won by the Wolverines. There was another Big Ten game of note yesterday, where Wisconsin lost to Purdue. As a Badger fan, I’m about to go get electroshock therapy as the loss cost UW a shot at the Big Ten crown.
Tonight’s best game in the NBA is Atlanta-Denver, although it won’t be on TV anywhere. NBA-TV coverage will reserve its coverage for LeBron, who takes the Heat up to Minnesota. Even with LeBron having banged up his knee yesterday, he’s still expected to play, though I would wonder how much. With Miami perhaps resting its star a bit and with yesterday marked by a big come-from-behind win in Madison Square Garden, maybe this is a time to go against the Heat. No, not to lose outright—I’m not going to go crazy with Kevin Love not in the lineup for the T-Wolves. But to grab ten points and hope Miami goes easy? It’s realistic.
As to Atlanta-Denver, I’m not sure why the Hawks are ten-point underdogs. Denver is the better team and playing at home, but they aren’t that much better and there’s no notable injury situations being reported. Other key games include Utah-Milwaukee, with the Jazz needing a road win, as they try and hold off the Lakers. And the Knicks have to lick their wounds and be ready to go in Cleveland.
It’s a light schedule in the NHL, but all the games are compelling. Tampa-Pittsburgh is the main TV event (7:30 PM ET, NBCSN) and features Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby going head-to-head. The NHL Network has a late-night show with Nashville-Los Angeles at 10:30 PM ET, with both teams just on the outside looking for the playoffs—remember, we’re about halfway through the abbreviated schedule, so there’s no time for these teams to waste. If you’ve got the Center Ice package, you can also check Anaheim-Phoenix, where the Mighty Ducks are second-best in the West right now and the Coyotes are on the playoff fringe. And Toronto, featured last week in TheSportsNotebook’s NHL analysis, hosts New Jersey, with both teams narrowly in the top eight coming into tonight.
BEST TV OPTION: Don’t complicate this one—it’s the ESPN college hoops twinbill of Cincy-Louisville and Baylor-Texas, with preference given to the opener, since there’s both NCAA bubble and Big East title implications.
BEST BETTING OPTION: I’m not a bettor, but if I were, I’d take the Devils (+110) to win in Toronto on the ice.