And then they were Four. Louisville, Wichita State, Syracuse and Michigan all punched tickets to Atlanta and the Final Four over the weekend, and their national semifinal games on Saturday will be the highlight of a sports week that also has all Major League Baseball teams swinging into action today and tomorrow for the first time. We also awake from our NCAA Tournament/MLB Spring Training slumber to see the NBA and NHL closing in on the end of the regular season.
In this space, we’ll have closing thoughts on regional finals action, then see what’s on tap in the daily sports TV action throughout the week, as we build to the big night of college hoops on Saturday.
CUTTING DOWN THE NETS
Syracuse 55 Marquette 39 – This was the first game on Saturday and you’ve likely already heard, read or saw how ugly it was, and I can’t add much more. The Golden Eagles shot a mere 23 percent from the floor. I’ve heard reports that say it’s very difficult to win games when that happens.
Michael Carter-Williams capped a great regionals weekend, as the Orange point guard had 12 points/8 rebounds/6 assists, adding that nice showing to an outstanding effort against Indiana last Thursday. James Southerland’s shooting—6/13 from the floor with 3/9 from behind the arc, was average, but this was a game where average basically amounted to being the second coming of Reggie Miller.
Wichita 70, Ohio State 66 – A continuation of ugly basketball on Saturday, where none of the four teams reached the 40 percent threshold. DeShaun Thomas had 23 points for the Buckeyes, but missed all six three-point attempts. It’s worth noting that Thad Matta was rightfully furious about a call at the end of the first half where Wichita picked up two cheap points on a ticky-tack foul 94 feet from the basket with just a couple seconds left. Those extra points altered the dynamic in the game’s final minutes.
Either way, I was happy to see the Shockers win. It’s the Missouri Valley Conference’s first Final Four appearance since Larry Bird and Indiana State in 1979. Perhaps more important, it’s Wichita’s biggest moment in the national spotlight since the 1989 movie Planes, Trains & Automobiles, where John Candy and Steve Martin’s plane was originally grounded there due to a snowstorm in Chicago.
Michigan 79, Florida 59 – Michigan saved the Big Ten from what would have been an embarrassing shutout of the Final Four. It was never close, and the Wolverines buried 10-of-19 from three-point range. It wasn’t Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr. doing the damage as the two guards both struggled shooting. It was the freshman Nik Stauskas who scored 22 and connected all six times he shot from behind the arc. And Burke showed that great players figure out ways to contribute when not shooting well, as he grabbed eight rebounds and dished seven assists.
It’s the third straight year that Billy Donovan and Florida have come up a win short of the Final Four. Although at least the losses to Butler in 2011 and Louisville in 2012 were close. This one never was.
Louisville 85 Duke 63 – So much for my theory that Louisville was not good enough offensively to beat other really good teams. The Cards merely shot 53 percent from the floor and Russ Smith capped off a magnificent weekend, with a 23-point game. Gorgui Deng controlled the interior with 14 points/11 rebounds, and Duke got nothing from Ryan Kelly, who had seven points and two rebounds.
It’s the second straight Final Four for Louisville and the third time they’ve gone under Rick Pitino. The Cards will be the favorites to win their first national title since 1986 when the ball tips in Atlanta.
The Saturday games will be Louisville-Wichita, followed by Syracuse-Michigan. The action will be on CBS and tip off at 6:09 PM ET. TheSportsNotebook will have a complete preview up later in the week.
THE REST OF THE WEEK
In the meantime, we’ve got pro basketball, hockey and baseball to watch and track. TheSportsNotebook wrapped up its preseason MLB coverage on Sunday, and we’ll pick up with a couple more baseball-related features this week. We’ll also get caught up with NBA commentary and NHL analysis, and between these three sports, this will get the lion’s share of the coverage between now and Friday’s Final Four preview. If you’re looking for something to watch, here’s how the daily sports schedule shakes out…
MONDAY: ESPN’s baseball quadruple-header is the highlight of the day, starting with Boston-NY Yanks at 1 PM ET and then rolling right through every third hour, with San Francisco-LA Dodgers, Philadelphia-Atlanta and St. Louis-Arizona. This is what stirs the juices because it’s fresh and new, but if it’s sheer consequence you want, try the NBA-TV doubleheader starting at 7:30 PM ET. It’s San Antonio-Memphis followed by Indiana-LA Clippers. The Spurs are fighting to hold off Oklahoma City for homecourt. Memphis and the Clips join Denver in a three-way dogfight in a seeding fight where all three spots are of significance. Indiana is right on New York’s heels for the two-seed in the East.
The NBC Sports Network has hockey coverage with Colorado-Detroit at 7:30 PM ET, although the more interesting games require the Center Ice package. The New York Islanders are even with the rival Rangers for the final playoff spot in the East. The Isles go to New Jersey (who happens to be in seventh), while the Rangers host Winnipeg. Big night for hockey in the Big Apple.
TUESDAY: TNT brings a big NBA twinbill into your living room and it starts with Melo vs. LeBron at 8 PM ET and is followed by Dallas-LA Lakers. With Melo, LeBron and Kobe playing on the same night at least we know what Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith will fight about on First Take for the next three days. Note that the Mavs are only a game back in the loss column as they chase both the Lakers and Utah for the playoff spot in the West.
The MLB Network has a late afternoon-late night doubleheader of Baltimore-Tampa Bay (3:10 PM ET) and San Francisco-LA Dodgers (10 PM ET). The Pittsburgh Penguins look to keep their 15-game win streak alive when they host Buffalo (7:30, NBC Sports Network).
WEDNESDAY: The city of New York has to decide what they want here. The Knicks visit Atlanta (7 PM ET, ESPN), the Rangers host Pittsburgh (7:30, NBC Sports Network) and the Yanks play their second game of the season against Boston (7 PM ET, ESPN).
THURSDAY: It’s a clash of the titans in the NBA’s Western Conference, with San Antonio-Oklahoma City (9:30 PM ET, TNT). Coming into the week the Spurs lead the Thunder by a game and a half for homecourt advantage. It’s not too much to say this game might decide who plays Miami in the Finals.
I know it won’t come as a surprise that the rest of the night has a New York-Boston feel to it. In addition to the Red Sox-Yanks finale (7 PM ET, MLB), you can see Brooklyn host Chicago in TNT’s early game at 7 PM ET. Or check the Boston Bruins host New Jersey at 7 PM ET on the NHL Network. Night owls can catch a good hockey game with surprising Minnesota visiting the Los Angeles Kings at 10 PM ET (NHLN).
FRIDAY: Please tell me that when ESPN decided to televise the Miami-Charlotte NBA game tonight at 8 PM ET that the schedule made it such that the Heat could tie or break the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers’ 33-game win streak record here? Miami’s bid at history ended last week and that’s the only rationale for putting such a hideous game on the tube, when the Eastern Conference race for #2 has compelling games with the Knicks hosting the Bucks and the Pacers getting a visit from the Thunder. Neither game is nationally televised, and the Houston-Portland game at 10:30 PM ET on ESPN is a yawner.
New York fans won’t have any problem finding something though—the Yanks’ visit to Detroit in the afternoon is televised at 1 PM ET and the Rangers go to Pittsburgh at night (7 PM ET, NHL).
SATURDAY: Fox baseball makes its debut on Saturday. The 4 PM ET slot has three games being shown to regional audiences. There are LCS rematches with Yanks-Tigers and Cards-Giants, to go with an AL West grudge match of Rangers-Angels. It’s a good appetizer for the Final Four feast that starts two hours later.
Surprisingly, ESPN went head-on with the Final Four in showing Sixers-Heat in a 7:30 PM ET NBA game. The NHL Network has its usual Saturday tripleheader with Edmonton-Los Angeles at 1 PM ET, a split showing of Boston-Montreal (both neck-and-neck in the Northeast and for the #2 seed in the East) and NY Rangers-Carolina at 7 PM ET and a yawner in Calgary-Vancouver at 10 PM ET.
SUNDAY: A good matchup for baseball fans as TBS shows the C.C. Sabathia-Justin Verlander duel with Yanks-Tigers at 1 PM ET. Once again, New York teams are all over your set, with ABC having Knicks-Thunders tip off its NBA doubleheader at the same time. And a heavy dose of Hollywood can’t be a surprise—it’s Lakers-Clippers in the second game of that doubleheader, and Angels-Rangers in Sunday Night baseball at 8 PM ET on ESPN2.
In the “Don’t Overlook” category would be NBC’s hockey coverage of St. Louis-Detroit at 12:30 PM ET. The Red Wings aren’t home free for the playoffs yet and the Blues are on the outside looking in as the week starts. And at night it’s Dallas-Portland in 9 PM ET game on NBA-TV. Utah-Golden State also plays, so with the Lakers, Jazz and Mavericks all in action it’s a huge day for the Western Conference playoff race.
Fox baseball makes its debut on Saturday. The 4 PM ET slot has three games being shown to regional audiences. There are LCS rematches with Yanks-Tigers and Cards-Giants, to go with an AL West grudge match of Rangers-Angels. It’s a good appetizer for the Final Four feast that starts two hours later.