If you’re an old-style college basketball fan who still clings to the illusion that regular season conference championships matter (count me among the guilty) and if you live in the state of Missouri, then this week promises its share of excitement. The week in TV sports is highlighted by big games with championship implications, with no less than four involving teams from the Show-Me State.
Yesterday at TheSportsNotebook’s we chronicled the race in the Atlantic 10 and St. Louis is right at the heart of that race, tied with Virginia Commonwealth in the loss column and a game up on more heralded Butler. This is money week for the Billikens—on Tuesday night they host VCU (9 PM ET, CBS Sports Network) and on Friday they pay a visit to Butler (7 PM ET, ESPNU). The kids and coaching staff that overcame the passing of Rick Majerus earlier this year have two chances in four nights to make their season really special.
Missouri has fallen well off the pace in the SEC race, four games back of Florida, but the Tigers still have a chance to make a significant statement this week, and build some momentum for the stretch drive. On Tuesday night they host the Gators (9 PM ET, ESPN) and then they go to Kentucky on Saturday night, a game that will be ESPN’s prime-time showcase. Tip time Saturday night is also at 9 PM ET and if Missouri is really going to make some noise in either SEC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament, they certainly need to beat a Kentucky team that has lost center Nerlens Noel for the year.
If those four big games aren’t enough for the good people of the Show-Me State, there’s some hockey going as well. The Blues have won three straight and play Colorado on Wednesday night (10 PM ET, NBC Sports Network). And if you’re a hockey diehard and have the Center Ice package, you can also watch the Blues on Tuesday night when they play slumping San Jose, a rematch of last year’s first-round playoff series. And if all this still isn’t enough…well, spring training is at hand and the region’s beloved Cardinals will gear up for another playoff drive.
Beyond the confines of the state of Missouri, there are more big games lined up. Here are the most significant matchups on the college hoops docket…
Tuesday: Indiana-Michigan State (7 PM ET, ESPN)– The Hoosiers & Spartans are tied for first atop the Big Ten. Virginia-Miami (9 PM ET, ESPNU)—Miami survived a couple ugly road games last week at Florida State and Clemson and now returns home as they continue their push for an undefeated ACC season.
Wednesday: Get ready to stay up late for the best college games, with Colorado State-UNLV (10:15 PM ET, CBS Sports Network) being a big game in the Mountain West race, with Washington-Arizona (11 PM ET, ESPN2) having great significance in the tight Pac-12 race. Nights like this make you realize that sports needs an all-encompassing TV czar because the best TV game in the NBA is Celtics-Lakers (10:30 PM ET, ESPN), and in hockey it’s the aforementioned Blues-Avalanche game. In short, the best four events of Wednesday all start at 10 PM ET or late. Does anyone actually gain by all this?
Thursday: It’s Cal-Oregon (9 PM ET, ESPNU) with the Golden Bears playing well and the Ducks battling Arizona and UCLA for first place. Although it’s really a good night for the NBA, with TNT’s doubleheader being Miami-Chicago and San Antonio-LA Clippers, starting at 8 PM ET. That’s arguably four of the top five teams in the league on display, depending on how good you think the Rose-less Bulls are.
Friday: The St. Loo-Butler game covered above is the best of the usual light night that is Friday. In pro hoops, San Antonio-Golden State is a good game (10:30 PM ET, ESPN) and you can mix in San Jose-Chicago on the hockey side (8:30 PM ET, NHL). The Blackhawks are atop the Western Conference, while the Sharks have cooled down considerably after a hot start and need a win.
Saturday: You don’t need to get to the TV set anytime before 4 PM ET. But when that time hits, Georgetown-Syracuse on CBS is perhaps the best game of the week, with both teams tied with Marquette atop the Big East standings. Speaking of Marquette, you can catch them at 6 PM ET in a tough road trip to Villanova on ESPN. That’s a nice Big East late afternoon-early evening doubleheader package.
Other conference twinbills could involve the Mountain West—start with the best of New Mexico-Colorado State (4 PM ET, CBS Sports Network) immediately followed up on the same network by San Diego State-Nevada. Three of the four (save Nevada) are in contention for both conference honors and the NCAA Tournament. Or double down on the SEC and use Arkansas-Florida (7 PM ET, ESPNU) as a warmup for the Gameday affair of Mizzou-Kentucky.
Sunday: NASCAR is back, and the Daytona 500 goes this afternoon on Fox at 1 PM ET. Here at TheSportsNotebook we’ll preview the season on either Friday or Saturday. The basketball is best in the Big Ten, with Illinois-Michigan (1 PM ET, ESPN), followed by Michigan State-Ohio State (4 PM ET, CBS) and the best NBA game is a late start, with Chicago-Oklahoma City going at 9:30 PM ET on ESPN. The way the TV schedule unfolds today is the exact opposite of Wednesday—it’s all spaced, well-balanced and fan-friendly. See, was that so hard?
And to end this column, let’s bring it back to the beginning—it all starts tonight with ESPN’s Monday night college hoops doubleheader. It starts with Notre Dame-Pitt (7 PM ET, ESPN) and then has West Virginia-Kansas State immediately following. Losses by the Irish and Panthers this weekend cooled the intensity on the opener. And while K-State is very much alive for the Big 12 title, I doubt that this year’s WVA team can cause much of a problem on the road.