If you define March Madness by college basketball being on TV all day during the week, then today is when it all kicks off. The Big East tournament tipped off the first of four games a few minutes ago, the Mountain West goes wall-to-wall, to go with the assortment of power conference preliminary rounds and small conference championships today. It’s sorting out and prioritizing the college hoops docket that will the daily sports focus of TheSportsNotebook today.
ESPN is on the job at Madison Square Garden, where Cincinnati-Providence tipped off at noon ET, and that game will be immediately followed by Syracuse-Seton Hall. The Cincy-Providence games is one to watch—right now the Bearcats are likely in the Dance, and the Friars almost certainly out, but a win could alter that on both counts. Although in Providence’s case they’d probably need to follow it up with an upset over Georgetown tomorrow in the same early time slot.
The Mountain West tournament is on CBS Sports Network, and that will start at 3 PM ET with Air Force-UNLV, followed immediately by Fresno-Colorado State. In yesterday’s conference tournament previews, I noted that I consider the Rebels one of the teams that should be feeling the pressure to win this event. They’re at home and this is too good a team to conclude the season without a banner of some kind to show for it. And Air Force is just good enough to make this a game if the Rebs aren’t ready to go.
After a lull for dinner and to let everybody get home from work, ESPN2 will pick up the night portion of the Big East, with St. John’s-Villanova and Rutgers-Notre Dame. These games start at 7 PM ET. I’ll admit the romance of the Red Storm-Wildcats is interesting—two traditional Big East schools playing at MSG in the last year of the league, but whether the historical romance trumps the fact that it’s a fairly bland baskeball game…well, I have my doubts. Over the last two weeks of the season these two bubble teams went in the opposite direction—‘Nova is likely in regardless, and the Johnnies surely need much more than this game to make the Dance. Notre Dame is a team like UNLV—I feel the Irish need to win the tournament. But unlike Vegas, Notre Dame isn’t playing a team that can think about beating them.
Mountain West action doesn’t resume until 9:30 PM ET, but if you’re hungry for two small conference teams playing for an NCAA bid, then check in with CBS Sports Network for their 7:30 PM ET telecast of Lafayette-Bucknell in the Patriot League. This is the league that produced Lehigh and its epic upset of Duke last season. When this game is over, MWC action picks up with top-seeded New Mexico playing Wyoming. Unfortunately the best game of the day in Las Vegas is at midnight ET when Boise plays San Diego State in the 4-5 game. The Broncos just beat the Aztecs on Sunday—did that put them in, or do they need to win the rematch? And if they do is San Diego State in trouble? Apparently the Mountain West didn’t want anyone east of the Rockies to find out—so no complaining about East Coast bias if you won’t put your best game in the 9:30 time slot.
The Big 12, Conference USA and the Pac-12 all have preliminary round action going. These games are the best in the Pac-12, though to watch them you need the Pac-12 Network as part of your cable/satellite package. Interesting items to watch in these four games are making sure that 5th-seeded Colorado takes care of business against Oregon State, with the Buffaloes currently in pretty strong position to make the NCAAs. Arizona State played its way off the bubble down the stretch, but can recover by beating Stanford today and UCLA tomorrow. And keep an eye on USC—since Kevin O’Neill was fired, this team is playing pretty well. They need to win the tournament to make the NCAA, but don’t put it past them. The Trojans play Utah and would then get Cal tomorrow.
Wednesday night still means the NBA at ESPN, and the doubleheader here starts at 8 PM ET with Utah-Oklahoma City followed by New York-Denver. The Thunder lost to the Spurs on Monday and still have to try and win the race for the 1-seed, while the Jazz have to crawl back past the Lakers for the final playoff spot in the West. And the nightcap is part of a tough road swing for the Knicks that we documented earlier in the week here at TheSportsNotebook.
NHL action is quiet, with only three games on the schedule, but NBC Sports Network offers a good blood rivalry in Philly-New Jersey at 7:30 PM ET. Ottawa-Montreal is a key game between contenders in the Northeast Division.