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 here at 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.