It’s the penultimate weekend of the college basketball regular season and the biggest game is on the ACC. First place is on the line with Syracuse-Virginia (4 PM ET, ESPN) going from Charlottesville. The Orange’s run at being undefeated and their two great games with Duke have dominated the headlines, but it’s UVA who is sitting atop the conference standings.
A Virginia win on Saturday clinches a tie for the conference title, with two opportunities to wrap up the crown outright. Syracuse would pull even with a win of their own. This game is the highlight of the college basketball TV schedule. Other games with significant conference championship implications include…
St. Louis-Virginia Commonwealth (6 PM ET, ESPN2): The Billikens still have a two-game lead in the Atlantic 10, but a road loss here could make the final week interesting. VCU is NCAA Tournament bound again.
Kansas-Oklahoma State (9 PM ET, ESPN): Gameday goes to Stillwater where the Jayhawks are going for an outright Big 12 title. Kansas has already locked up at least a co-championship and has games against Texas Tech and West Virginia—both below .500 in league play—up next week, so it probably doesn’t matter. But I’m sure Bill Self would like to get it done early and for the national TV audience.
Missouri State-Wichita State (2 PM ET, ESPN): What a year it’s been for college basketball in the Kansas-Missouri area. We’ve already touched on KU and St. Louis pushing for conference championships. And then there’s Wichita State, looking to reach 31-0 on Saturday.
Louisville-Memphis (2 PM ET, CBS):Rick Pitino’s Louisville team kept themselves alive for the American title with last week’s big road win at Cincinnati. Now the Cards have to sustain in a tough road setting at Memphis.
That’s the best in college basketball on what I would consider a fairly quiet weekend. As a Big Ten fan, I’m looking forward to a Sunday trifecta of Wisconsin-Penn State (Noon ET, BTN), Purdue-Iowa (2 PM ET, BTN) and Ohio State-Indiana (4 PM ET, CBS), but those games are unlikely to affect the race for the conference title.
The regular season for college basketball’s major conference teams is just sixteen days away from wrapping up and the battle for league championships is in full gear. Of the top nine conferences in the country only the SEC (Florida) and the Atlantic 10 (St. Louis) are really put to bed, with each leader holding a three-game cushion. The schedule for this Saturday and Sunday is stacked with good games.
Here’s a rundown on College Basketball Saturday, what’s on TV and what the implications are. We’ll go in chronological order through the TV schedule and conclude with a Sunday addendum, where there are still a couple big battles…
*Louisville-Cincinnati (Noon, CBS): This game is part of CBS’ split coverage, so some of you may get Florida-Ole Miss. The Bearcats are quietly one of the country’s really good stories. They’ve already beaten Louisville on the road and hold a one-game lead in the American Athletic Conference. A win here puts Cincy in command. Louisville can tie for first if they get the W. What’s more, a Louisville win opens the door at least a crack for SMU, UConn and Memphis, all of whom have four league losses to Cincinnati’s one.
*Wisconsin-Iowa (Noon, ESPN2): The Big Ten has the feel of a race that could end in a crackup, with multiple teams sharing league honors. Iowa is one game out in the loss column, Wisconsin is two back and the leaders, Michigan and Michigan State, go head-to-head on Sunday. For Big Ten fans such as myself, the Badgers-Hawkeyes is an ideal opening act.
*Notre Dame-Virginia (2 PM ET, ESPN2):Virginia was the big beneficiary of Syracuse’s stunning home loss to Boston College on Wednesday night. The Cavs are now tied in the loss column with the Orange and host Syracuse on March 1. But Virginia needs to take care of business in this spot on Saturday.
*UCLA-Stanford (6 PM ET, ESPN2): Arizona has started to stumble a bit in the Pac-12, losing in double overtime last Friday night against Arizona State. The beneficiary is UCLA, who is now a game back in the loss column. The Bruins don’t play the Wildcats head-to-head, so if UCLA wants a championship for first-year coach Steve Alford they probably need to win out. And as we’ll see in a few paragraphs, they can add some juice to a big prime-time game if they win here.
*Syracuse-Duke (7 PM ET, ESPN): It’s shocking this isn’t the game that ESPN’s Gameday will go to. Consider that Gameday went to the Carrier Dome for the first meeting and it was one of the best games of the regular season, if not the best. Further consider that when programming decisions were made it was reasonably assumed Syracuse would be undefeated coming into Cameron Indoor Stadium. Then further consider that ESPN would televise a Duke scrimmage in a prime-time spot if they could get away with it.
But even so, 7 PM ET doesn’t suck as a far as a time slot. And this game now has added importance. Syracuse could slip behind Virginia with a loss. Duke is currently three games back after last night’s loss at North Carolina, a game the Blue Devils failed to put away when they had the chance. If Duke gets the win, it at least opens up the door for them to maybe get a first-place tie if some crazy things happen down the stretch.
*Texas-Kansas (7:30 PM ET, ESPNU):Kansas is two games ahead of Texas, and the Jayhawks can join the ranks of Florida and St. Louis, as teams with conference titles all but sewn up if Bill Self’s kids can simply defend their home floor.
Arizona-Colorado (9 PM ET, ESPN): Gameday is going to Boulder, and while it wouldn’t have been my choice, this is still a good game. We noted that Arizona is feeling the heat from UCLA. Colorado is in third place in the Pac-12, almost certainly bound for the NCAA Tournament and will be a very tough out on their home floor with the Saturday night crowd juiced up—literally and figuratively.
San Diego State-New Mexico (10 PM ET, ESPN2): Don’t look now but the Lobos have stayed right with the potent Aztecs in the Mountain West. There is just one game difference in the standings and New Mexico will have their own fired up crowd set for a big-time game on Saturday night. When you combine quality of play with the stakes, this might be the best game of Saturday.
THE SUNDAY SCHEDULE
Michigan State-Michigan (Noon ET, CBS): The stakes are simple—sole possession of first place in the Big Ten to the winner in a heated rivalry game. Easily the best game of the weekend overall.
SMU-UConn (2 PM ET, CBS Sports Network): It only has conference championship implications if Louisville beats Cincy, but both teams are over the 20-win threshold already and Larry Browns’ coaching job at SMU has become another great story in this season.
Seton Hall-Creighton (5 PM ET, FoxSportsNetwork): Creighton is tied with Villanova in the Big East, but while the Bluejays casually drop points on ‘Nova (196 combined in two head-to-head wins) they haven’t always taken care of business elsewhere. There’s no room for error if Creighton wants to grab the title in this league’s first year since the basketball-only schools broke away and went solo.
The Super Bowl is in the books, and the sports calendar officially flips into the relatively quieter month of February. The Olympics will draw the attention of a lot of people, but here at TheSportsNotebook the subject that’s most interesting is the college basketball conference races. Our Notebook Nine, the nine points to focus on, will sweep through the nine major conferences in the country.
One thing to note before beginning, is that this focus is very specifically on the push for league championships. I’m perhaps one of the last holdouts in insisting that winning a conference title—not just getting a seed in the NCAA Tournament—should be the real motivator for top teams, and that such a championship has value regardless of what happens in March Madness. With that out of the way, here’s a primer on how the biggest of those races is shaping up…
*The Big Ten is considered the best conference in the land by a lot of people, and Michigan and Michigan State are in a dead heat at the top, having achieved separation from the pack. Wisconsin and Ohio State are big disappointments already, and each have difficult road games on Tuesday (at Illinois and at Iowa respectively) that could make things worse.
*Don’t look now, but Virginia is hanging right with Syracuse in the ACC. The Cavs got a big win over Pitt this weekend and have only one league loss. The Orange are still unbeaten after their thrilling Saturday night win over the Blue Devils. Syracuse has to try and win on a quick turnaround tonight against Notre Dame (7 PM ET, ESPN). This race could be tied by the weekend.
*The beat just keeps going on at Kansas. The Jayhawks have won the Big 12 regular season title nine times in a row, and after a loss at Texas, are still alone at the top. The Longhorns’ win over KU on Saturday did keep the race within one game. The big disappointment is Baylor, who can still save its season and make an NCAA Tournament push, but needs to start when they host Kansas on Wednesday night (7 PM ET, ESPN2).
*Perhaps no team’s dominance of their league is more surprising than Cincinnati being 10-0 and holding a two-game lead the loss column over Louisville in the American Athletic. The Bearcats knocked off the ‘Ville in Freedom Hall last Thursday to get control of the race. Let’s get head coach Mick Cronin in national Coach of the Year conversations.
*The newly revised Big East has a top-heavy race with Creighton and Villanova separating from the pack, each with one conference loss. Creighton won the first head-to-head game in Philadelphia when they rained treys all over the Villanova defense, but no team can stay as hot as the Bluejays were that night. The rematch and the rest of the race should be neck-and-neck.
*Florida is in control in the SEC at 8-0, but Kentucky and Ole Miss are each in striking distance at 6-2. The Wildcats host the Rebels on Tuesday night (7 PM ET, ESPNU), with the loser up against it in terms of the race for first place. Tuesday will be a good night of SEC hoops with Florida hosting Missouri at 9 PM ET on ESPN.
*Arizona’s loss to Cal over the weekend knocked the Wildcats from the ranks of the unbeaten and kept the Pac-12 race interesting from the time being. UCLA and Cal are still two games back. It’s tough to see this as more than a blip on the radar for Arizona though. Their Thursday night home game with desperate Oregon (9 PM ET, ESPN) will tell us is the loss of forward Brandon Ashley for the year has weakened the Wildcats enough to put this league back in play.
*The Atlantic 10 has an entertaining four-team race with St. Louis setting the tone at 7-0. The Billikens are a game up on Virginia Commonwealth and plus-two on George Washington and St. Joe’s. A key Tuesday night visit by St. Louis to Philadelphia and a game with St. Joseph’s offers the Billikens a chance to knock one challenger out.
*San Diego State is unbeaten in the Mountain West and no one really doubts they’re the best team in the league, but New Mexico is 8-1 and only a half-game back. Surprising Nevada has suddenly risen after a disastrous start in non-conference play, and the Wolfpack are 7-2. Nevada will have desperation going for them if nothing else, as their poor start means they almost certainly need a championship to even get in the NCAA Tournament.
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 sportspreview 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.
There are four major conference tournaments pared down to the semifinals, and of the 16 teams playing, 15 are already safely in the NCAA Tournament. The outlier is Utah. The Utes, seeded 10th in the Pac-12 have won consecutive upsets against USC and Cal to reach the semis and now stand as the team all the bubble contenders have to watch and keep and eye on. And they’ll have an exclusive TV audience. The Utah-Oregon game is the final one of Friday night, tipping at 11:30 PM ET on ESPN. As we did yesterday, TheSportsNotebook will break down the rest of the daily sports docket, looking at it by TV timeslot, so you can decide which games to watch or sneak a peek at from the office.
The eight power conferences have staggered brackets, with half in the semis and building to title games tomorrow and the other half in the quarters will Sunday championship games. The latter group—and hence the ones who dominate the daytime airwaves are the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, and Atlantic 10. The four leagues already down to four teams are the Big East, Pac-12, Big 12 and Mountain West. Here’s how the day shakes out…
EARLY: These games have noon ET tips, just as this article is going online. ESPN is in Chicago for the early Big Ten games that start with Indiana-Illinois. The ACC features Miami-Boston College on ESPN2. It’s LSU-Florida from the SEC on ESPNU, and St. Louis-Charlotte in the A-10 goes without national coverage.
It’s not a breathtaking early card, but Boston College has become an interesting team of late. They’ve pulled some late-season upsets (Virginia), played national contenders tough (Duke) and blew out Georgia Tech yesterday behind 41 points from freshman guard Oliver Hanlan. The Eagles are a very young team, so a late surge is not a coincidence and a credit to coach Steve Donahue. Now they play a team in Miami that everybody is doubting and at 16-16, BC is playing for a shot at the NIT.
MID-AFTERNOON: At 2 PM ET the same four conferences are all on the same networks (or lack thereof in the case of Atlantic 10. The games are Wisconsin-Michigan, Tennessee-Alabama, Virginia-N.C. State and LaSalle-Butler.
The most significant game is clearly Tennessee-Alabama. Both teams are on the bubble, with most projections showing the Vols in better shape than the Tide. Most observers also give LaSalle the benefit of the doubt for making the field of 68, but there’s just enough bubble there that the Explorers could use a win over Butler to seal the deal.
Michigan and N.C. State are two of the “pride teams” I identified in the conference tournament preview earlier this week. The pride teams are the ones who had enough talent to win a conference championship, but have not done so. They’re in the NCAA field safely, but there should be some pride there pushing them to win a tournament title and make sure they get a banner of some kind out of the year.
EARLY EVENING: The schedule cranks up between 6:30 PM ET and 7 PM ET as semifinal action in the Big East and Big 12 starts. ESPN shifts its coverage to New York and it starts with Georgetown-Syracuse. ESPNU hops over to Kansas City and picks up Kansas-Iowa State. Quarterfinal action rolls on in the other four conferences. ESPN2 carries Duke-Maryland from the ACC. You’ll need the Big Ten Network to watch the night session from Chicago that starts with Ohio State-Nebraska. The other games are Vanderbilt-Kentucky in the SEC and Virginia Commonwealth-St. Joe’s in the Atlantic 10.
The media hype has been all over Georgetown-Syracuse in all their games in this final year of the Big East as we know it, and it should hit a fever pitch tonight. It’s a great rivalry, but if your focus is either the NCAA bubble or looking for a “pride team”, this isn’t one of the big games in the early part of the schedule.
Of more significance on the bubble is the fate of Kentucky and Maryland. I can’t imagine the Wildcats surviving a loss to Vanderbilt, and in the case of Maryland they needed to do something big in the ACC Tournament to get back on the radar. A neutral site win over Duke with Ryan Kelly in the lineup certainly qualifies. The pride team in this time slot is Virginia Commonwealth.
PRIME-TIME: Now it’s full throttle with eight games, as the Pac-12 and Mountain West start, each tournament being played out in Las Vegas. You need the Pac-12 Network to watch UCLA-Arizona at 9 PM ET, while CBS Sports Network carries New Mexico-San Diego State. The Big East concludes with Louisville-Notre Dame on ESPN, and it’s Kansas State-Oklahoma State on ESPNU at roughly 10 PM ET.
For the quarterfinal leagues, the Big Ten closes it out with Michigan State-Iowa, while ESPN2 shows North Carolina-Florida State. Off the TV radar is Missouri-Ole Miss and Temple-UMass.
Iowa and UMass are both in must-win situations, and the same might be true to tomorrow if they pull upsets as #6 seeds. Arizona is the pride team of the prime-time slot.
NBA & NHL ACTION
As you might expect, it’s fairly quiet, as there aren’t any TV slots available. ESPN did an NBA doubleheader this past Tuesday to make up for the lack of their usual Friday twinbill. Pro basketball diehards can catch Minnesota-Houston on NBA-TV at 8 PM ET.
That’s one of three notable games in the Western Conference. The Lakers visit Indiana, and Memphis goes to Denver. The Grizzlies have passed the Los Angeles Clippers for the 3-seed, and between Memphis, Denver and the LA Clips, there’s only a game and a half separating them in the race for seeds 3 thru 5.
The NHL Network shows Philadelphia-New Jersey at 7 PM ET, the best of a light three-game schedule in hockey.
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 thatwe discussedearlier 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.
The Big East basketball race is coming down to the wire. Georgetown holds a one-game lead in the loss column on Marquette and Louisville, but a difficult final push for the Hoyas starts tonight. They visit Villanova (7 PM ET, ESPN2). The Wildcats are right on the NCAA bubble and desperate for a win themselves, having just coughed up consecutive games to Seton Hall and Pitt. The argument for Villanova is built around their success against the conference’s best—the Wildcats have home scalps against Louisville, Syracuse and Marquette. If ‘Nova can add Georgetown to that list, at a time when the Hoyas are the hottest team in the country, you would think it would seal the deal for an NCAA invite.
Georgetown-Villanova is the top game on today’sdaily sportsdocket, and for the fan looking to plan an evening around the TV set, they can have the remote control ready and be prepared to check in on another key game on the East Coast. This one’s in the ACC and its North Carolina-Maryland on ESPN. The Terrapins are likely on the outside looking in right now, but if they beat the Tar Heels, it gives Mark Turgeon’s team a real case heading into this weekend’s game with Virginia and the ACC Tournament next week.
The East Coast Parlay of Georgetown-Villanova and North Carolina-Maryland in the 7 PM ET window is the way for the fan with no rooting interests involved to spend the night. Other key games include Oklahoma State-Iowa State (7 PM ET, ESPNU), where the Cyclones need to keep winning, I think Iowa State should be much safer than they’re generally considered, but my vote doesn’t matter. This would be a good home win against an Okie State team whose freshman swingman Marcus Smart is as exciting as any player in the country. And if you get the Big Ten Network, don’t overlook Michigan-Purdue at 7 PM ET. Indiana’s home loss to Ohio State last night has opened up the conference race to three other teams, including Wolverines. And since Michigan is the team that hosts Indiana on the weekend, UM now controls its destiny for a piece of the Big Ten crown.
ESPN picks up with NBA coverage at 9 PM ET, and Chicago-San Antonio promises to be a good one. The Spurs are playing without Tony Parker for a few weeks and as such, their lead over Oklahoma City for the 1-seed in the West cannot be considered safe. The Bulls are part of an increasingly packed Eastern Conference middle and lower class. The 4 thru 8 spots in the bracket are up for grabs, something TheSportsNotebook made mention of in today’s NBA commentary on the Milwaukee Bucks, the current 8-seed. The Bucks visit the Clippers tonight, while the seventh-place Celtics go to Indiana. Both are good games, but you’ll need to be a League Pass subscriber to watch either one.
In the world of hockey, the Chicago Blackhawks kept it rolling with a win over the Minnesota Wild last night, erupting for four goals. They put their astonishing 20-0-3 start on the line tonight with a trip to Colorado. The game will be shown by the NBC Sports Network and the puck drops at 8 PM ET. Another key game in the Northeast Division is Ottawa-Toronto, where both teams aren’t far off the pace being set by Montreal and Boston in this competitive division.
CLEANING UP FROM LAST NIGHT
I mentioned Indiana’s upset loss to Ohio State. I’d refer you to Jeff Fogle at Stat Intelligence for some thoughts on the long-term implications of the loss for the Hoosiers and what it means. Iowa got a must-win game over Illinois. I don’t know if the Hawkeyes are an NCAA team—I personally have a problem with putting eight of twelve conference teams in the field, since it kind of eliminates the whole purpose of a regular season. But the Committee says such concerns do not matter, and at 19-11, Iowa kept itself alive. They have to take care of business against Nebraska on the weekend and probably make a little splash in the Big Ten tournament, where they would be lined up to play the top seed (anyone’s guess right now) in the quarterfinals.
Iowa was one of the few teams in must-win spots to get it done. Arkansas got crushed at Missouri. St. John’s got hammered at Notre Dame. Fights broke out in that game—could it be the Catholic schools are having the tension overflow as deliberations over the next pope have begun in Rome? Boise State lost a tough one to UNLV in spite of hitting 13 three-pointers. It sets up a big game between Boise and San Diego State this weekend. And Alabama fell to Ole Miss 87-83. Officially, both teams were on the bubble. In reality, ‘Bama probably had a better shot than Ole Miss, so this loss likely hurts the SEC.
I would mention Oklahoma City’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers, but it’s plastered all over ESPN, both the website and the talk shows, as the Lakers have blown away Tim Tebow in the category of Most Undeserved Air Time From A Major Sports Network. And in hockey, the Los Angeles Kings are playing with the urgency appropriate to a defending Stanley Cup champion being out of the playoffs at the halfway point. They beat St. Louis yesterday 6-4. It’s the Kings’ second straight win against a contender, and they’ve scored seven goals in the two third-periods to come from behind both times.
My best bets are now 1-1. I lost a pick’em hockey game on Monday night, and nipped out a pointspread cover with Alabama last night, as the Tide were getting five at Ole Miss. I’m going to go the other direction and look for Michigan to snap out of its funk and smell a conference championship in West Lafayette tonight. I’ll take the Wolverines and lay the (-6.5) against Purdue.
If you like college basketball, clear your Saturday schedule, because while there’s interesting games throughout the week, it’s the penultimate Saturday of the regular season that features big battles with possible conference championships at stake. So our walk through the week in TV sports will begin with the end in mind, as we start with all there is to look forward to on Saturday.
*Tip it off at noon EST with three big games. The juiciest is Louisville-Syracuse (CBS) and the ultimate significance does depend on what happens earlier in the week. Both teams are a game back of Georgetown in the Big East standings, but the Hoyas have a tough trip to UConn on Wednesday. A loss there, and Cards-Orange could be for a piece of first place.
In the Atlantic 10, both Butler and Virginia Commonwealth lost last week to St. Louis and need help, but both—especially the Rams, who are still just a game out—have a shot at the A-10 crown. They go head-to-head on ESPN2. And Alabama, featured hereat TheSportsNotebook last week, is two games back of Florida, but gets a shot at the Gators on ESPN. As noted in last week’s feature, the Tide are that rare power conference team who has a shot at a regular season championship, but is also fighting for its life for the NCAA Tournament.
*When the clock moves to 2 PM EST it’s a big battle between Jesuit schools—perhaps some viewing fare for Benedict XVI in his first weekend of retirement. Notre Dame pays a visit to Marquette on ESPN. Don’t overlook Arizona State-USC an hour later on FSN. The Sun Devils still have to work to do to nail down an NCAA bid and a tough closing schedule to do it with.
*Speaking of work to do, Kentucky can’t let up after Saturday night’s big win over Missouri. The Wildcats pay a visit to fellow NCAA bubble team Arkansas (4 PM ET, CBS). This isn’t necessarily the best game of the day, but it’s the biggest matching two teams who can both swing either way on Selection Sunday. By halftime of this game, there will be a 5 PM ET tip out west between Colorado and Cal. We looked at red-hot Cal yesterday here at TheSportsNotebook and the Buffaloes are right in the hunt themselves. The Buffs-Bears battle will be on ESPNU.
*It will be the dinner hour on the East Coast when the day’s best game starts at 6 PM ET. Miami makes the long-awaited return trip to Duke. The Hurricanes jumped on the national stage back in January when they smoked the Blue Devils in Durham. Its revenge time for Duke, but Miami can also bring a little chip on its shoulder. The ‘Canes haven’t played well in two weeks and suffered an embarrassing loss at Wake Forest over the weekend. The gap between the ACC is down to two games, so a once-secure regular season championship for Miami isn’t there just yet. If this game isn’t close in the final ten minutes, you can switch over to Iowa-Indiana at 7:30 PM ET on the Big Ten Network. The Hawkeyes still have an NCAA chance, but need a really big win. This would qualify.
*The prime-time showcase on ESPN is going to be Arizona-UCLA at 9 PM ET as the Gameday crew packs for Westwood. Both teams are in the mix with Oregon, along with fast-charging Cal for the Pac-12 title.
So settle in at noon and go for eleven straight hours with college basketball games of significance in each time slot, with the Miami-Duke battle in the ACC being the biggest. Here’s the rundown of other notable TV sports moments this week, including NBA & NHL action…
Monday: We mentioned that Louisville-Syracuse game that starts the Saturday marathon. If the Orange want to be in the hunt for a Big East title it starts tonight with a trip to Marquette (7 PM ET, ESPN). This game might have been a winner-take-all battle for first place before Saturday when the ‘Cuse lost to Georgetown and Marquette fell at Villanova. But it’s still plenty significant. And Big 12 co-leaders Kansas and Kansas State are each in action. The Jayhawks go to Iowa State (9 PM ET, ESPN), while the Wildcats host lowly Texas Tech (7 PM ET, ESPNU).
Tuesday: Florida’s got that two-game cushion in the SEC we mentioned, but with a road game at improving Tennessee (9 PM ET, ESPN), the race could tighten by Saturday. And Indiana puts its #1 ranking and two-game Big Ten lead on the line at Minnesota in the game just prior on ESPN. The Hoosiers still have a road trip to Michigan next week, so this is not a two-game lead that Tom Crean can feel comfortable with. And speaking of Indiana, the state’s NBA team is on a roll and up to second place in the Eastern Conference. They play Golden State tonight, though you’ll have to be a League Pass subscriber to get the privilege of watching.
Wednesday: The best college game of the night is Georgetown-UConn (7 PM ET, ESPN2), with a Hoya loss meaning good news for Syracuse, Marquette and Louisville. This is also a good night for professional sports. Across the state border from UConn, the Knicks will be in Madison Square Garden to host Golden State (8 PM ET, ESPN). Carmelo Anthony’s team is in a tough stretch right now and needs to right the ship. And NBC Sports Network offers an NHL doubleheader starting at 7:30 PM ET. In the East, Washington needs to start winning quickly, as goes to Philadelphia. As do last year’s Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, who host Detroit in the nightcap. The compressed hockey season is almost halfway through, so the Caps and Kings can’t be cavalier about these games.
Thursday: The TNT doubleheader in the NBA is dull, with Philadelphia playing early and Minnesota meeting the Los Angeles Lakers later. That’s three disappointments all in prime-time. Only Chicago, who hosts the Sixers isn’t a train wreck. The college fare offers an important appetizer though—Duke goes to Virginia (9 PM ET, ESPN) and if the Dookies want their big Saturday battle with Miami to be about more than revenge, they need to get this tough road win.
Friday: ESPN’s NBA coverage gives us LeBron & Durant, as Miami hosts Memphis in the opener and Oklahoma City goes to Denver in the nightcap. Action starts at 8 PM ET on ESPN. In hockey, no team is hotter than the 15-0-3 Chicago Blackhawks, who will be on the NHL Network at 8:30 PM ET against Columbus.
Saturday: For those who aren’t into college basketball, the NHL Network is offering an all-day quadruple-header. Start it with Ottawa-Philadelphia at noon ET, where the Senators are hanging with Montreal and Boston in the Northeast Division. Then it’s Washington-Winnipeg with the Caps facing the aforementioned urgency. At 7 PM ET, a good one between Pittsburgh and Montreal goes down, and it caps off with a big game out west with Los Angeles and Vancouver.
Sunday: The best college game on the board is Michigan State-Michigan (4 PM ET, CBS), but it only matters for conference title purposes if Indiana loses either at Minnesota on Tuesday or at home to Iowa on Saturday. If one of those happens, the Sparty-Wolverines is a big battle. For the NBA, it’s more LeBron & Durant. The Heat pay a visit to the Big Apple to start ABC’s doubleheader at 1 PM ET with their game against the Knicks. Then it’s Thunder-Clippers in the second game. At 8 PM ET, ESPN picks up the NBA with Bulls-Pacers being a key game in the Central Division race. Hockey fans can check out Montreal-Boston (7:30, NHL), a battle among Eastern Conference contenders and two blood rivals.
The week of the Harbaugh family’s conquest of the American sports culture isn’ t limited to Sunday night’s Super Bowl in New Orleans (6:30 PM ET, CBS). Nope, before Baltimore and San Francisco tee it up, the extended family gets into the act. The sister of the Brothers Harbaugh is married to Indiana basketball head coach Tom Crean, whose Hoosiers are not only in the spotlight on the weekend, but they have a Saturday night prime-time date with Michigan (9 PM ET, ESPN). You can block off about a 24-hour period where this entire extended family owns American TV sports.
Indiana-Michigan is a battle for the top of the Big Ten, and here at TheSportsNotebook we’re going to take a closer look at both teams on Friday, the same day the Super Bowl preview article will go up. (Heck, I may as well as get in on the Harbaugh craze and devote Friday on the website to them). But the Hoosiers-Wolverines is just part of what is a really good day in college basketball, with two more games that will significantly impact the races for major conference championships.
It all starts at 4 PM ET on CBS. Miami and N.C. State have each gotten their licks in on Duke in the early part of the ACC schedule but now, the Hurricanes and Wolfpack go head-to-head in Raleigh. Then at 7 PM ET, ESPN shows the Ole Miss-Florida game. Both are unbeaten in SEC play. It’s part of a big week for the Rebels, who host Kentucky on Tuesday night (9 PM ET, ESPN). Here at TheSportsNotebook, we’ll acknowledge the Rebels, with a feature on Ole Miss for Tuesday afternoon to get everyone up to speed on this darkhorse national title contender.
Therefore, the sports fan with a busy life can build his entire focus for the week to start late Saturday afternoon. Kick back and enjoy the weekend with a tripleheader of big college basketball games, with Miami-N.C. State, Ole Miss-Florida and Michigan-Indiana, then cap it off with the Super Bowl on Sunday.
LEBRON & LOUISVILLE
The Miami Heat lost a double-overtime thriller in Boston on Sunday, but they’re still atop the Eastern Conference. The Heat have two nationally televised games this week against competitive teams from the East. It starts Wednesday night with a trip to Brooklyn (8 PM ET, ESPN). The Nets are playing some very good basketball since P.J. Carleisimo took over the coaching reins, are up to #4 in the East and are on track to play Miami in the second round of the playoffs. The Heat are vulnerable to top post players, of which Brooklyn’s Brooke Lopez is one.
I don’t want to call a January game in the NBA “big” for anyone other than borderline playoff hopefuls, but Heat-Nets certainly qualifies as “interesting.” The same goes for Miami’s Friday night visit to Indiana( 7 PM ET, ESPN), a team they ousted in last year’s second round. The Pacers have done an admirable job keeping in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff outlook.
While LeBron’s boys occupy the middle of the week, slumping Louisville gets the TV cameras on the first and last days. Rick Pitino’s Cardinals have lost three in a row. Even though two of those were by just a basket, it’s still created an appropriate sense of urgency for Louisville. They’ll host Pitt on Monday (7 PM ET, ESPN) and then host Marquette as a Super Bowl appetizer on Sunday (2 PM ET, ESPN).
HOW GOOD IS OKLAHOMA?
Oklahoma basketball is having a nice year so far, and is hanging two games back of Kansas in the Big 12 race, and right in the mix with Baylor, Kansas State and others when it comes to being the challenger to Jayhawk reign. We find out this week what to expect from the Sooners the rest of the way. On Wednesday afternoon, TheSportsNotebook will feature them with an in-depth look, as they get set to visit Baylor that night (7 PM ET, ESPN) and then on Saturday it’s a home date with Kansas State (6 PM ET, ESPN2).
THE REST OF THE WEEK
Monday: Besides the Pitt-Louisville game, it’s dry tonight. Kansas visits West Virginia (9 PM ET, ESPN), but the Mountaineers aren’t doing much this year and it would take a lot more than even beating Kansas at home to make Bob Huggins’ team relevant for this year.
Tuesday: I mentioned Ole Miss’ game with Kentucky at 9 PM ET on ESPN. The first part of that doubleheader is Wisconsin-Ohio State at 7 PM. The Badgers have played two consecutive ugly games where neither team broke 50 points. However, the Badgers also currently lead the Big Ten in conference road wins (8 of the last 12 conference games), including a 63-60 win in Columbus last season. This is a big game for both UW and OSU, who are a game back of Indiana and Michigan in the Big Ten and know that at least one of them will lose this week.
Wednesday: If you like hockey and aren’t into Miami-Brooklyn in the NBA, check out the Chicago-Minnesota NHL game (8 PM ET, NBC Sports Network). The Blackhawks have won their first six, good enough for their best start in their 86-year franchise history, and have some excellent skaters on the offensive end. And yesterday at TheSportsNotebook we featured Villanova’s revival. The Wildcats go to Notre Dame on Wednesday (6 PM ET, ESPN2).
Thursday: TNT has got a good NBA game from the Western Conference with Memphis-Oklahoma City (8 PM ET). I suppose you could say the same about Dallas-Golden State immediately following on the same network, although that requires a lot of unwarranted faith in the Mavericks’ ability to become relevant again this year.
Friday: If the Heat-Pacers don’t do it for you, forget about sports and spend some time with the spouse or significant other.
Saturday: At the top we covered the highlights, which are the three big games starting at 4 PM ET and also mentioned Oklahoma’s game with Kansas State. Some of the other watchable games include a pair of Big East games. Syracuse is atop the conference and goes to Pitt (Noon ET, ESPN) and St. John’s is coming on strong and pays a visit to Georgetown (4 PM ET, CBS with split coverage on the Miami-NC State game). Hockey fans get a good one on the NHL Network at 1 PM ET with New Jersey—out to a strong start after going to the Finals last June—paying a visit to preseason Eastern favorite Pittsburgh.
Sunday: The only other Super Bowl appetizer besides Marquette-Louisville is the LA Clippers-Boston game on NBA TV (1 PM ET). Although that might be my pro-Celtics bias coming out in even putting it that high. With Rajon Rondo’s torn ACL, you don’t get a Rondo-Chris Paul battle at the point and there’s no real hope for Boston elevating themselves past the playoff bubble. Forget I brought it up.
Then the week—and in fact the sports year—reaches an end with the Super Bowl. The winner will be the last team we officially recognize as a 2012 champion.
After a weekend of intense college football, with conference championship, debates over the BCS and the final settling of the national title matchup, the time has come for the NFL to take center stage and basketball to get some increased prominence, as TheSportsNotebook takes its Monday morning look at the week in sports ahead.
The Redskins-Giants Monday night battle (8:30 PM ET, ESPN) represents New York’s chance to finally put away the NFC East and that game was looked at as a part of TheSportsNotebook’s overall NFL Week 13 preview on Friday. If we look ahead, Denver and Peyton Manning will be in the Thursday night spotlight when they visit Oakland (8:20 PM ET, NFL). The Broncos are in a three-way tie with New England and Baltimore for the #2 seed in the AFC playoff race.
We’ll look at this more closely in TheSportsNotebook in Tuesday’s NFL playoff projections, but just looking ahead, we see Baltimore with a tough visit to Washington on Sunday and New England hosting a monster Monday night game against Houston (8:30 PM ET, ESPN) on a week from tonight.
Fox has the doubleheader this week in the NFL and the 4:25 PM ET game of Saints-Giants has taken a hit with New Orleans falling to 5-7 and it gets worse if the Giants win tonight and remove any pressure in the division race. But even given that, New Orleans would still be trying to make their last desperate stand and the Giants would join the Packers in being a half-game back of San Francisco for the #2 slot in the NFC bracket and accompanying first-round bye.
Speaking of Green Bay, they’ll be on Sunday night, at home against Detroit (8:20 PM ET, NBC). The Packers are 8-4 and tied with the Bears in the NFC North, with Chicago playing Minnesota in a key game in Sunday’s early window. TheSportsNotebook’s going to take a closer look at the Bears’ slide in recent weeks and see what we can expect of this team down the stretch and into January. You can look for that feature in the middle of the week. Also of note on Fox’s early Sunday coverage is Dallas’ visit to Cincinnati, with both teams fighting for the playoffs. As always, TheSportsNotebook will do a complete preview of NFL Sunday that will run on Friday afternoon.
The college basketball week starts in earnest on Tuesday with an interesting ESPN doubleheader of Texas-Georgetown and N.C. State-UConn that starts at 7 PM ET. On Wednesday, highly regarded Florida pays a visit to Florida State (7 PM ET, ESPN2). The SEC—Florida and Kentucky in particular—are one of the conferences TheSportsNotebook has not yet done an early season look-in on, and that omission will be fixed in the early part of this week. You can also look for Pac-12 basketball coverage to run over the next few days.
With Saturdays finally open for hoops, there’s a series of intriguing college basketball games on the TV docket. I do say “intriguing”, not “dynamite”, because it’s nothing that should keep you from finishing up Christmas shopping (or starting it). But if you want to catch a game, the best ones on the board are a midafternoon ESPN2 twinbill of Temple-Duke and UCLA-Texas that begins at 3:15 PM ET. Earlier in the day on the same network is Illinois-Gonzaga. My podcasting colleague, Greg DePalma over at Prime Sports Network firmly believes this the best Gonzaga team in some time and has a real shot at the Final Four. Greg and I will be on the air againon Monday afternoon at 4 PM ET.
And in the NBA, I think it’s safe to say the nationally televised games will be taken seriously by the competing teams after David Stern hit the San Antonio Spurs with a $250,000 fine for sitting all their key players in a Thursday night TNT game at Miami last week. I understand where the commissioner is coming from, but it’s more than a little arrogant to sanction a team out of the blue. A fairer approach would have been to put a rule in place going forward that would cover situations like this. But David Stern, like Roger Goodell in the NFL, has never chosen fairness when arrogance was within his grasp.
The NBA’s Central Division is stacked right now, with Milwaukee, Chicago and Indiana all hovering around .500 and the Bucks are on NBA-TV tonight against Anthony Davis and New Orleans (8 PM ET). Then it’s Pacers-Bulls tomorrow in a non-televised game. The showcase game of Tuesday is Oklahoma City-Brooklyn (8 PM ET, NBA-TV). The Nets are playing well in their new home and TheSportsNotebook will take a closer look at this team this week.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are the big TV nights in the NBA, and ESPN’s Wednesday coverage is Denver-Atlanta & Dallas-LA Clippers starting at 8 PM ET. Dallas again gets coverage on Thursday when their game at Phoenix is the back end of TNT’s doubleheader that starts with Knicks-Heat at 8 PM ET. After what happened to the Spurs, I think it’s fair to say Dirk Nowitzki will play both games, even if they are back-to-back early in the season and he’s an older player. Friday’s doubleheader on ESPN is Celtics-Sixers followed by Lakers-Thunder, and it all starts at 7 PM ET.
And don’t think college football is forgotten. Later today, we’ll have a complete breakdown of the bowl schedule and then later in the week—likely Friday—TheSportsNotebook will break down the Heisman race, going conference-by-conference, in anticipation of the awards ceremony in New York City on Saturday night (8 PM ET, ESPN). There’s also one more football game, with Navy-Army at 3 PM ET on CBS.
The run of November marquee college basketball games begins on Friday with a tripleheader, including two games on military bases, with one of them over in Germany. For college basketball fans, it’s a time to start sizing up who can play, who can’t and who’s got the potential to grow into a March Madness force five months from now. For the average sports fan it can be tough to keep up with everything, as college football & NFL action tends to draw more attention. If you’re in that group of fans, but still want to key in some basics, here are the notable games coming up on the college basketball schedule between now and Thanksgiving week…
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 9
UConn-Michigan State (5:30, ESPN)
Maryland-Kentucky (8:30, ESPN)
Florida-Georgetown (9, NBC Sports Network)
The UConn-Michigan State game will be at Ramstein Air Force base in Germany, while Florida-Georgetown will be on a naval ship just off of the coast of Jacksonville here in the United State. And Kentucky-Maryland will be at the new Barclays Center in New York, as they bring some college hoops to the folks hit by Hurricane Sandy.
It’s a new era for UConn, as they move on without legendary head coach Jim Calhoun. Michigan State is expected, as usual, to be a Top 20 team. What’s unusual is that media experts love the Big Ten this year and Sparty ranks behind Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan in the early polls. We know Keith Appling can play at the point guard spot. We need to see how Tom Izzo will fill in the blanks around him.
Speaking of filling in the blanks no one does it better than John Calipari at Kentucky, and because he does it so well, no one has to do it more frequently, as his players put in their year or two and go to the NBA. He’s got another complete rebuilding job on his hands this year, as does Maryland. Mark Turgeon finished his first year with the Terps last year and has replenished the talent base. His predecessor, Gary Williams, was a terrific coach, but had lost some recruiting battles. Turgeon will bring his team up to New York for a game that will have a lot of good young talent.
Georgetown is another rebuilding program, while Florida is a veteran team that should be sharp right out of the gate. While it goes without saying that we shouldn’t be reading too many long-term conclusions—if any—from these games—if we wanted to, we might insist that Florida play well quickly, since it’s harder to see where the growth and upside would be down the line.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 11
Syracuse-San Diego State (4, Fox Sports Net)—Jim Boeheim needs a new point guard and a new center to complement good wing players in Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair. But this game won’t be easy—if anything, the Aztecs look better, at least right now. San Diego State has almost everyone back from what was a surprisingly good team a year ago, headlined by Mountain West Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin. Steve Fischer’s program is ranked #20 to start the year and this game will be a good way to keep themselves on the national radar.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 13
Michigan State-Kansas (7 PM ET, ESPN)
Duke-Kentucky (9:30 PM ET, ESPN)
We get another look Michigan State and Kentucky, and I’m very interested to see how Duke handles the point guard situation. As I mentioned in our brief rundown of the Top 16 teams nationally, I think this position on this team is the most important factor among the national elite—it’s the swing vote, if you will. The reason is that Duke has all the other component parts necessary for big year—ACC title, #1 NCAA seed, etc. But without a point guard, those other parts won’t mesh. I want to see what Coach K’s plans are in the early going.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 14
Wisconsin-Florida (7 PM ET, ESPN2)—Bo Ryan had some modest re-tooling to do when practice began. When guard Josh Gasser blew out his knee it turned into a full-scale renovation. Wisconsin still has a good three-point shooter in Ben Brust, a young developing center in Jared Berggren and a decent, albeit inconsistent small forward in Ryan Evans. But without Gasser no one can run the offense and Ryan will have to hope freshman grow up quickly. The head coach has a great track record of getting things to mesh when you don’t see how it can be done. As a Badger fan living but an hour’s drive from the Kohl Center that’s what I’m hoping for again. But I couldn’t sit here today and tell you how.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 15
N.C. State-Penn State (5 PM ET, ESPN)—This is a first-round game of a three-day tournament in Puerto Rico. Penn State’s Tim Frazier is one of the best players in the country—indeed, ESPN’s Jay Bilas called him “criminally underrated” and TheSportsNotebook chose him as national Player of the Year last season (you like how I put myself right next to Bilas in listing our opinions? Nothing like trying to elevate my stature). N.C. State is a very underrated team, even ranked #6. They’re the one team I don’t have any questions about. Except one—I want to see them handle high expectations the way their ACC brethren in Durham and Chapel Hill always have to. It starts by taking care of business at a winnable tournament in Puerto Rico.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16
Notre Dame-St. Joseph’s (7 PM ET, Tru TV)—Two Jesuit schools with great potential tip it off. St. Joe’s was an extremely young team that came on at the end of last season and nearly snuck off with an NCAA Tournament berth before coming up a little short. The Hawks have a great frontcourt, led by Carl Jones and C.J. Aiken, and Langston Galloway gives them excellent balance in the backcourt. This team’s only problem last year was closing games, something experience will take care of. I’m very high on St. Joe’s, and Notre Dame will be a solid test. The Irish also have all the pieces necessary to contend in the Big East, and I’m frankly mystified why they aren’t ranked higher.
Following ND-St. Joe’s, you can also catch BYU-Florida State (9:30 PM ET) on Tru TV, two programs consistently in contention. And late-night is North Carolina-Long Beach State (11 PM ET, ESPNU). Before you laugh, remember that LBSU gave Carolina a spirited game in Chapel Hill a year ago and was one of the best programs at the midmajor level. They’ve got a lot of rebuilding to do, but so does North Carolina. This game will give us an early indicator on where each is at in the process.
The college basketball prep period has begun, as teams have between now and the end of the year to get themselves situated for conference play. These games are a nice little introductory course, as we learn about the landscape.