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.