The bubble has been interesting all year in SEC basketball, and it’s no different in the conference tournaments. The SEC is one of four major conferences with semifinal action going, and they continue to have the most intrigue. 10th-seeded Vanderbilt knocked off Kentucky yesterday, perhaps pushing the Wildcats into the NIT. Ole Miss beat Missouri and kept their own hopes alive. Now ABC has to be kicking itself, because instead of a Kentucky-Missouri semifinal, they can show Vandy-Ole Miss to the nation at 3 PM EST. It’s anyone’s guess whether the Rebs are in or if they need to keep advancing. There’ s no doubt about the Commodores—it’s cut down the nets Sunday or go home.
On the top half of the draw, Alabama beat Tennessee yesterday, a potential worse-case scenario for the conference. Most projections coming into Friday had the Vols leaning in and the Tide leaning out. Rather than a winner-take-all game for a bid, ‘Bama’s victory might mean that both schools are out—unless of course the Tide beat Florida in the first half of ABC’s doubleheader at 1 PM ET.
The SEC is one part of a big day that can be summarized as semifinals by day, championships by night and a whole lot of small conference action wrapped around and in between. TheSportsNotebook’s daily sports preview will break it down by time slot, so you can pick the games you want to make a couple hours for…
EARLY: We already mentioned Florida-Alabama tips at 1 PM ET. At the same time the ACC, carried by ESPN, has Miami-N.C. State. A half-hour later you can switch over to CBS Sports Network for St. Louis-Butler in the Atlantic 10, and then at 1:40 PM ET, CBS starts its Big Ten coverage with Indiana-Wisconsin.
Or if you really want to get started early, ESPN2 has the America East championship between Albany and Vermont starting at 11:30 AM ET. Of more consequence to the bubble is Conference USA’s title game between Memphis and Southern Miss, carried by CBS at the same time.
From a bubble standpoint, the teams to watch are Alabama, as discussed above, and Southern Miss. It’s possible both C-USA teams are in the field, but most observers feel the Golden Eagles need to win the tournament. Memphis would not be a lock for an at-large, but their case would be considerably stronger than Southern Miss. So if you’re a fan in a place like Lexington, hunker down and root for Memphis and Florida early.
The Miami-N.C. State game is the most interesting among the secure teams playing for pride. TheSportsNotebook’s conference tournament previews pinpointed N.C. State as a team that’s not played up to its potential this year and that needs to win a tournament like this to at least do something noteworthy before the year is out. Miami’s been sluggish down the stretch and a win here would go a long way to rebuilding some momentum for next week.
MID-AFTERNOON: Besides Vandy-Ole Miss, the other major conference semifinals are North Carolina-Maryland (3 PM ET, ESPN), Michigan State-Ohio State (4 PM ET, CBS), and UMass-Virginia Commonwealth (4 PM ET, CBS Sports Network). If you want small college excitement, ESPN2 has the SWAC final with Southern-Prairie View A&M at 4:30 PM ET, and ESPNU carries the MEAC title game between Morgan State and North Carolina A&T thirty minutes later.
Maryland and UMass both needed big runs in their conference tournaments and both are delivering. The Terps beat Duke for the second time this season and while their hill to climb was steep, Maryland is at least in the discussion for an NCAA bid. Now imagine if they nail North Carolina today. UMass beat Temple, but almost surely needs a win over VCU. The Rams, along with Butler in the early time slot, are teams that should expect to win a tournament to make up for the lack of a regular season title.
EARLY EVENING: Now it’s time to pick up with the championship games in the big leagues. ESPN shifts its coverage to Kansas City, where the Big 12 final has regular season co-champs Kansas and Kansas State tipping off at 6 PM ET. CBS will show New Mexico-UNLV in the Mountain West. Your small conference action has Akron-Ohio in the MAC (6:30 PM ET, ESPN2)
Fans of the bubble teams would be prudent to root for Akron. It might not matter, but the Zips would at least be in the at-large conversation if they lost. I further think UNLV really needs this tournament title—they let New Mexico run away in the regular season and the tourney is in Las Vegas. The Big 12 final is a nice battle for pride of two in-state rivals settling a regular season race that ended without a clear winner.
PRIME-TIME: The Big East reaches its finale with Syracuse-Louisville (8:30 PM ET, ESPN). It’s the highlight of a time slot that’s otherwise marked by small conference championships, with Stephen Austin-Northwestern State (8:30 PM ET, ESPN2), Montana-Weber State (9 PM ET, ESPNU).
I don’t know that there’s a lot at stake here. I haven’t put Syracuse in the category of teams that need to win to redeem the regular season, because I think it was mostly Jim Boeheim’s coaching, rather than talent, that made them as good as they were to begin with. I think the value of a #1 seed is overrated, so that mitigates any importance for Louisville. I’m personally high on Stephen Austin as a possible upset pick, so I guess making sure they advance is the best part of this slot.
LATE NIGHT: If you’re not basketballed-out, or if late in the evening is the time when you can get to the TV set after putting the kids down, check out UCLA-Oregon in the Pac-12 final on ESPN. Tip time is 11:30 PM ET. Oregon helped bubble fans breathe a sigh of relief when they ousted Utah yesterday, and winning the tournament would help the Ducks atone for a last-week collapse that let UCLA take the regular season crown.
NBA & NHL
NBA-TV will show a prime-time doubleheader starting at 7:30 PM ET, with Indiana-Philadelphia and Memphis-Utah. The Jazz need to win, especially after the Lakers got a surprising win in Indiana last night with Kobe Bryant only playing 12 minutes because of his knee injury. Utah is a game back of Los Angeles for the final playoff spot, though the teams are tied in the loss column. Memphis is in a tough three-way fight with the LA Clippers and Denver, with the odd team out ending up as the 5-seed and on the road in the first round.
The NHL Network has a tripleheader that starts at 1 PM ET, with NY Rangers-Pittsburgh, and then the network picks up in prime-time. A split telecast at 7 PM ET has Montreal-New Jersey or Carolina-Tampa Bay. Then the night ends at 10 PM ET with Detroit-Vancouver. The Rangers need wins, as their loss to Winnipeg earlier this week dropped them two points out of a playoff spot.