THE WEEKEND EDITION: Fri, Feb 10 thru Sun, Feb 12
After last night’s games I feel like a little bit of the life is sucked out me. Coming as I do from the fan demographic that roots for the Boston-Madison Corridor (Boston pro sports, save the Redskins and Wisconsin college sports, making it a demographic of one), it was Rivalry Night, as the Badgers went to Minnesota and then the Celtics hosted the Lakers. Both games went to overtime. Ended up a split, and since there’s fewer college games than pro, I guess I should be happy it was Wisconsin that won, but the end of the C’s-Lakers game, both regulation and OT was enough leave you drained.
Speaking of having the life sucked out of one, a key part of the offense for the LSU football team has spoken up about the 21-0 rout at the hands of Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. Starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson has stepped up, done what leaders do…and said it was all the coaches’ fault. In an interview with a local radio station, Jefferson said that as players they can only do so much.
It’s ironic criticism, because while I do think Les Miles made a big error in judgment, the error was that he let Jefferson anywhere near the field, where Jarrett Lee had played better in the regular season and gave the Tigers a better chance to win. I’ve got a thing about not dumping on college kids the way we might rip a pro athlete who’s getting paid millions for his trouble, but Jefferson’s comments only further the conviction that he was the wrong player to start.
TheSportsNotebook has its weekend edition today and that means previews upon previews for the weekend ahead. Here’s what’s we’ve got…
*The college basketball weekend, focusing in on big games Saturday night.
*The NBA weekend, with a special focus on the marquee Sunday card
*The NHL weekend
*The Hutcheson Stakes, a key Kentucky Derby prep race running in Florida
And with Murray State’s loss Thursday night meaning there will be no unbeaten team in college hoops, the Historical Museum pays tribute to the last perfect team to win a national championship, the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.
Thursday, February 9
Well, I guess I put the jinx on Florida State. One day after featuring them and saying they were better than Duke and not far behind North Carolina, the Seminoles drop a stunner in Boston College. Then Duke furthers the jinx by nailing Carolina in one of the great finishes we’ll see in college basketball this year, Austin Rivers’ buzzer-beating trey to cap a run from double-digits down late in the game.
Wednesday’s stunning turn of events put Duke back into a first-place tie with Florida State and UNC, and gave new life to Virginia, who moved back within a game of the leaders. And a big shout-out to Boston College coach Steve Donahue. The team’s only 3-7 in the ACC, but playing with almost all freshman and sophomores I wondered if he’d even win a handful of games in league play. The folks in Chestnut Hill have reason to be excited about what they can accomplish as this group matures.
The best games of tonight are out west. The Pac-12 is a feature of TheSportsNotebook and Colorado-Arizona (9 PM ET, ESPN2) is a battle between two teams fighting for the NCAA Tournament. And the late show is St. Mary’s-Gonzaga (11 PM ET, ESPN2), with the lead in the WCC on the line and a good battle between the Zags’ frontcourt people and St. Mary’s superior backcourt. The Gaels have been the better team so far this year, but the game is in Seattle.
Other games to keep an eye on include slumping Illinois’ trip to Indiana. There are always a few teams that play their way out of the Dance at this time of year and Illinois could be one of them if they can’t stop the bleeding. N.C. State hopes to take care of business at Georgia Tech and avoid ACC upsets being in the news again tomorrow, and Ole Miss-Miss State (7 PM ET, ESPN2) Is a key game in the SEC bubble battles. MSU is in good shape regardless, but the Rebels need a big win.
In the NBA, the big focus is Lakers-Celtics from the Garden (8 PM ET, TNT) and you can catch Kevin Durant right after that as Oklahoma City goes to Sacramento. But the team we’re going to key in on in TheSportsNotebook is Houston. The surprising Rockets are right in the thick of the Western playoff race and we take a closer look at Kevin McHale’s team. They beat Portland last night and play Phoenix tonight.
A lot of games in hockey and the most interesting would have to be Toronto-Philadelphia (7 PM ET, NHL). The Leafs are rolling and ready to make things interesting for Boston in the Northeast Division. The Bruins’ dropped a 6-0 decision to Buffalo last night and Toronto win pulls them within four points of the lead.
Wednesday, February 8
It’s the biggest night of the year in college basketball so far. At 7 PM ET, ESPN has Syracuse hosting Georgetown. The Hoyas are two games out in the Big East and stealing a road win in the Carrier Dome would make this a live conference race down the stretch. At the same time on ESPN2 you have Kansas-Baylor, a huge game in the best league race anywhere in the country. The Bears are the one team in the trio that includes UK and Mizzou not to get a big head-to-head win, and they need to change that on their home floor tonight. Then at 9 PM ET on ESPN, it’s Duke-North Carolina, with the Blue Devils a game out of first place and needing to change the schedule dynamics after losing a home game to Miami on Sunday. And if that’s not enough, Notre Dame’s got a big trip to West Virginia (9 PM ET, ESPNU) with both teams battling for position to make the NCAA Tournament.
There’s plenty to love if you’re a college basketball fan, although as one who also loves the NHL and the Boston Bruins, I’m feeling torn. The B’s are on at 7 PM ET on the NHL Network against Buffalo. This is not a particularly consequential game, but I don’t get to see a ton of Bruins’ games, as I’m in the midst of relocation and my Center Ice Package hasn’t been re-installed. So on the one hand, it’s a favorite team you don’t get to see often in a nothing game, or it’s any of three huge games. I’m trying to figure out a way to jam in the hockey game and two basketball games into a tivo mix right around now.
The NBA doesn’t have a big TV schedule tonight, with Houston-Portland (10:30 ET, NBA-TV) being the best of the fare. But there are good games for those who have the League Pass package. The LA Clippers have to go on the road to Cleveland right after getting the news that Chauncey Billups is out for the year with a torn ACL. Dallas goes to Denver in the West, and San Antonio-Philadelphia tip it off in the East.
The 76ers are in first place in the Atlantic Division, but have to be seeing green in their rearview mirror. The Boston Celtics have won nine of their last ten after a slow start, and one of today’s features here at TheSportsNotebook is a look at the Celtic win streak and what it might tell us about this veteran team’s chances the rest of the way. In college, while North Carolina-Duke gets the hype, people are overlooking Florida State, who’s tied for first with Carolina, beaten then by 33 points and won at Duke. But TheSportsNotebook has the Seminoles very much on the radar and takes a close look at their personnel and see how it compares to their more well-publicized rivals.
Check back later this morning for the features on the Celtics and Florida State.
Tuesday, February 7
It’s going to be a big night in the state of Florida on Tuesday. In college hoops, the Gators are traveling to Kentucky (7 PM ET, ESPN), with first place on the line in the SEC. And in hockey, the Panthers are heading up to the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. to battle the Capitals for first place in the Southeast Division. Both teams are underdogs. The Gators are getting (+9) in Rupp Arena, and the Panthers are available at (+150) on the moneyline, so it might not be a happy night in the Sunshine State, but it will be a big one.
After the Florida-Kentucky game is over, ESPN switches to Columbus for Purdue-Ohio State. The Boilermakers could use a road win like this to make the NCAA Tournament, while Ohio State leads the Big Ten by a game in the loss column with an anticipated Saturday battle with Michigan State ahead. As much as the Buckeyes lack depth, I have a tough time seeing Purdue win on the road here. In the Big 12, Iowa State visits Oklahoma State, with the Cyclones only a game off the Missouri-Kansas-Baylor pace. And Maryland goes to Clemson, in a game between teams trying to jump-start a February push.
Hockey’s got Vancouver visiting Nashville in a battle of Western Conference contenders. The Predators have moved up to second in the Central and have only the red-hot Detroit Red Wings (who finally lost last night in Phoenix) to catch. And in the NBA, the game of the night is Utah-Indiana. The Pacers are firmly entrenches in the 4-5 area of the Eastern Conference playoff standings. Utah is officially listed at fifth in the West, but there’s a five-way tie stretching all the way to ninth, and the Jazz have started to struggle a bit.
Here at TheSportsNotebook today we’re going to take a closer look at Kentucky. The Wildcats are holding steady at #1 in the country and their only loss came on a buzzer-beater against Indiana. With Florida tonight and then a trip to Vanderbilt in Saturday night prime-time, it’s a big week for the ‘Cats, so we’ll break down the personnel and see if they’re ready to close the regular season as well as they’ve played it all year long.
And in hockey, the Eastern Conference has seen Pittsburgh surge lately, even without Sidney Crosby. The Western Conference has seen Chicago struggle. Can the Pens do it without their star? Are the Blackhawks goaltending problems catching up them? TheSportsNotebook will delve deeper into each team’s recent play in the look for answers.
Check back later this morning for both the Kentucky, and Chicago-Pittsburgh NHL features.
Monday, February 6
The football season was a journey that started way back on September 1, a Thursday night when ESPN’s season-opening college broadcast was Wisconsin-UNLV, on a 90-degree night in Madison. It came to an end last night in Indianapolis with an outstanding Super Bowl. Here are some closing thoughts from TheSportsNotebook…
*Before the game one of the conversations that was going on at our get-together was whether Tom Coughlin needed this win to become a Hall of Famer. I argued he already deserved to be there—consider the resume. He built Boston College from the ground-up. He literally built Jacksonville from the ground-up, taking them to two AFC Championship Games. Then he goes to New York and wins two Super Bowls, both times taking out the top two seeds in the NFC on the road and then beating New England. He ended the Patriots’ bid for a perfect season. He ended the Packer portion of Brett Favre’s career in Lambeau Field. He beat Dallas in Big D in the playoffs. I suppose in a world where Bill Parcells somehow didn’t go in on the first ballot this past weekend, I can’t rule out anything. But in a sane world, Coughlin would’ve been a likely Hall of Famer yesterday morning and a surefire one by late Sunday night.
*I’ve conceded the obvious—that Eli Manning has come into his own as a top quarterback. But can we cease and desist all comparisons of him with his brother and with Brady? If Eli were hurt and missed the season, the Giants wouldn’t be reduced to incompetent rubble the way the Colts were without Peyton. As to the argument that “Eli beat Brady twice,” I’ll answer that it’s a team game, in spite of what the media might tell us. And ask yourself this—if the teams trade quarterbacks last night, do you honestly think Eli still wins? Do you honestly think it’s even close? How the Patriots got to within a minute of the Super Bowl with no running game, no deep threat and minimal defensive talent is beyond me.
*The injury to Rob Gronkowski was obviously a big factor. I thought he should have made a play on the ball on the one interception, Brady’s up-for-grabs down the field toss after escaping pressure. And a more nimble Gronk might have had a crack at the final desperation pass into the end zone that hung in the air for a precious split second, with the tight end unable to make the move that would have made him a legend, and put his bum ankle on a par with Curt Schilling’s bloody sock in Boston sports lore.
TheSportsNotebook’s features today involve a little bit of closure and a little bit of looking ahead. A lot of fans start to get their first taste of college basketball right around now, so here is an overview of how the major conference races have shaped up. And since the Super Bowl is the event that officially closes the 2011 sports year, we take a look at which fan demographic had the happiest season.