Three conferences send their best teams onto the floor in college basketball’s tournament action. The Big East, Pac-12 and Big 12, all gearing for Saturday championship games are into the quarterfinals. It’s also all-day action in the Big Ten, ACC, SEC and Atlantic 10, which are in the preliminary rounds. So meaning no disrespect to some interesting NBA & NHL games, its college basketball that drives the daily sports docket right now. TheSportsNotebook will break it down by time slot, so you can pick the best games to watch tonight, or to cut away from work to check in on…
EARLY: These games have all tipped off as this post goes online, shortly after noon EST. ESPN will televise all four Big East games and has Cincinnati-Georgetown. The Big 12’s afternoon session is on ESPN2 and has Iowa State-Oklahoma. The Pac-12, with its time zone difference, isn’t in action yet. In preliminary games, you can get Georgia Tech-Boston College on ESPNU, the network that will show all four ACC games. Minnesota-Illinois have started action on the Big Ten Network. There’ no major TV coverage on the SEC today, and LSU-Georgia starts it off at 1 PM ET. The Atlantic 10, shown all day and night on NBC Sports Network, has started with Charlotte-Richmond.
The most significant storyline early would be Minnesota’s NCAA chances. I think the Gophers are in serious trouble, having lost 10 of 15. Others think Minnesota is safe. I don’t see how ever argue that a nine-seed in a league tournament is “safe”, so even if you’re confident in the chances for Tubby Smith’s team, surely they need to get a win here and remove all doubt.
MID-AFTERNOON: Starting at 2 PM ET it’s Syracuse-Pitt on ESPN, and Texas Tech-Texas on ESPN2. The ACC show on ESPNU is Virginia Tech-N.C. State, with the Big Ten Network offering Michigan-Penn State. Pac-12 action will start on their conference’ s network with Arizona State-UCLA (3 PM ET) and the NBC Sports Network continues on with the A-10 and Dayton-Butler. The SEC game will be Mississippi State-Tennessee.
The storylines here are pretty good—Arizona State desperately needs to win here—and probably tomorrow too—to keep its NCAA hopes alive. Tennessee is squarely on the bubble. And in the conference tournament previews earlier this week, TheSportsNotebook identified N.C. State, Butler and Michigan as two teams who should be thinking about winning their tournaments as redemptions for lost regular season success.
EARLY EVENING: If you get the Pac-12 Network, their second game of Colorado-Arizona starts at 5:30 PM ET. Then after dinner, ESPN2 shifts its focus to the Big Ten, with a 6:30 PM ET telecast of Nebraska-Purdue and at the same time the NBC Sports Network has St. Joe’s-Xavier. It’s Villanova-Louisville at 7 PM ET on ESPN from Madison Square Garden and Wake-Maryland at the same time on ESPNU. Non-TV games include Texas-Kansas State in the Big 12 and Vanderbilt-Arkansas in the SEC.
Colorado and Arkansas have the most at stake in this slot. The Buffs are likely in, after avoiding disaster yesterday against Oregon State, and the Hogs are likely out. But Arkansas won a couple games that could change the conversation and with Colorado, they did finish 10-8 in conference play and in the Pac-12 that should never leave you feeling too comfortable. Beating Arizona would eliminate doubt and also give the Buffaloes a chance at second straight tournament title.
PRIME-TIME: One day after the Catholic Church elected its first Jesuit pope, Notre Dame and Marquette take the floor at MSG (9 PM ET, ESPN) to try and do the Jesuits proud (as does Villanova in the 7 PM game for that matter). ESPN2 has Northwestern-Iowa in the Big Ten, and Atlantic 10 action goes to George Washington-UMass on NBC Sports Network. Away from the TV cameras are Utah-Cal in the Pac-12, Baylor-Oklahoma State in the Big 12 and Texas A&M-Missouri in the SEC.
There’s a lot of significance in these games. Notre Dame is another team TheSportsNotebook put the onus on to win a tournament and redeem a season that should have been more. Iowa, Baylor and UMass have no time for such abstract reflections—they need to win and survive. Any of the three are realistically finished with a loss and probably need to win tomorrow as well.
If you’re still up late, or are on the West Coast, you can cap the night off on ESPNU, which will pick up the final game of the night with Washington-Oregon at 11:30 PM ET.
One thing to note is that the Mountain West takes today off. They pared down the semis yesterday, with the notable event being Boise State’s loss that keeps the Broncos sweating out the bubble. The top four teams in the brackets all moved on and will resume action on Friday.
NBA & NHL NOTES
You have to be going through sports media hell if you don’t like college basketball, but be assured that Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and the TNT gang will have their usual Thursday night doubleheader. It’s Dallas-San Antonio and New York-Portland, starting at 8 PM ET. The Spurs got a big win over the Thunder on Monday and continue to lead the West. The Blazers could still make a final push at the last playoff spot in the conference, especially if Kobe Bryant’s injury yesterday keeps him out for an extended number of games. The Knicks continue a tough road swing that we discussed earlier in the week at TheSportsNotebook.
The NHL Network shows Washington-Carolina at 7 PM ET. The Capitals are having a bad year, and the network is passing on more interesting games like Pitt-Toronto, where each are playoff contenders, Los Angeles-San Jose or Vancouver-Nashville, where all four teams are packed in the Western Conference race. Or the best game of the night with the NY Rangers-Winnipeg, with each team tied for the last playoff spot in the East. How often do you get the New York market playing the best game of the night and that game not be televised? Welcome to the NHL’s public relations campaign.