After a wild night in the NBA playoffs on Wednesday, the daily sports focus shifts to a heavy NHL night on Thursday. The hockey playoffs will feature a nationally televised tripleheader, with the prospect of one team advancing to the conference finals, and both last year’s champs and this year’s favorite facing big games.
NBC Sports Network carries two of the games, and coverage starts at 8 PM ET with Chicago-Detroit. The Blackhawks are a slight betting line favorite to win this year’s Stanley Cup, but after falling behind the Red Wings 2-1 in games, Chicago now faces a big test in Game 4 from Joe Louis Arena in Detroit tonight.
Then the action shifts west, where the 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings had appeared to be in control of their series against the San Jose Sharks. That was before the Sharks grabbed two wins on home ice and knotted the series up 2-2. The pivotal Game 5 goes tonight in SoCal and puck drop is approximately 10:30 PM ET.
Boston is the team that has a chance to advance tonight, with a 3-0 series lead on the New York Rangers, and Game 4 from Madison Square Garden is at 7 PM ET. Another branch-off of the NBC family will have this game and you can find it on CNBC.
The Bruins-Rangers game is one half of a night that has Boston sports getting prominence. MLB Network will show most of the country the Red Sox-Indians game from Fenway at 7 PM ET. The Sox are in hot pursuit of the Yanks in the AL East, the Indians are the surprise of the American League as they lead the Central Division…and, oh yeah, it’s Terry Francona’s return to the Fens for the first time since the front office scapegoated him after the 2011 collapse and then tried to slander him on his way out the door.
Expect a big ovation from the Fenway crowd for Tito, and expect me—a Sox fan myself—to be joining in that ovation from the comfort of my living room (well, in delayed time anyway, because the Bruins will be the game I watch live, with the Sox saved for the DVR).
It’s otherwise a light card for baseball, with only five games going today. Portions of the country will get Detroit-Minnesota on MLB Network. The NBA playoffs are off today. The Memphis-San Antonio series in the West already has two games in, and Miami and Indiana will catch up on Friday.
Here at TheSportsNotebook will have more MLB coverage today. The last two days have been filled with All-Star & award leaders for both the American League and National League. Today we’ll have more coverage in the AL, with the topic still TBD. Our NHL analysis, with updated reviews of all four second-round series will get a fresh installment tomorrow, and Saturday morning will see a new edition of NBA commentary, with a breakdown of the first two games in each conference finals matchup.
And then they were Four. Louisville, Wichita State, Syracuse and Michigan all punched tickets to Atlanta and the Final Four over the weekend, and their national semifinal games on Saturday will be the highlight of a sports week that also has all Major League Baseball teams swinging into action today and tomorrow for the first time. We also awake from our NCAA Tournament/MLB Spring Training slumber to see the NBA and NHL closing in on the end of the regular season.
In this space, we’ll have closing thoughts on regional finals action, then see what’s on tap in the daily sports TV action throughout the week, as we build to the big night of college hoops on Saturday.
CUTTING DOWN THE NETS
Syracuse 55 Marquette 39 – This was the first game on Saturday and you’ve likely already heard, read or saw how ugly it was, and I can’t add much more. The Golden Eagles shot a mere 23 percent from the floor. I’ve heard reports that say it’s very difficult to win games when that happens.
Michael Carter-Williams capped a great regionals weekend, as the Orange point guard had 12 points/8 rebounds/6 assists, adding that nice showing to an outstanding effort against Indiana last Thursday. James Southerland’s shooting—6/13 from the floor with 3/9 from behind the arc, was average, but this was a game where average basically amounted to being the second coming of Reggie Miller.
Wichita 70, Ohio State 66 – A continuation of ugly basketball on Saturday, where none of the four teams reached the 40 percent threshold. DeShaun Thomas had 23 points for the Buckeyes, but missed all six three-point attempts. It’s worth noting that Thad Matta was rightfully furious about a call at the end of the first half where Wichita picked up two cheap points on a ticky-tack foul 94 feet from the basket with just a couple seconds left. Those extra points altered the dynamic in the game’s final minutes.
Either way, I was happy to see the Shockers win. It’s the Missouri Valley Conference’s first Final Four appearance since Larry Bird and Indiana State in 1979. Perhaps more important, it’s Wichita’s biggest moment in the national spotlight since the 1989 movie Planes, Trains & Automobiles, where John Candy and Steve Martin’s plane was originally grounded there due to a snowstorm in Chicago.
Michigan 79, Florida 59 – Michigan saved the Big Ten from what would have been an embarrassing shutout of the Final Four. It was never close, and the Wolverines buried 10-of-19 from three-point range. It wasn’t Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr. doing the damage as the two guards both struggled shooting. It was the freshman Nik Stauskas who scored 22 and connected all six times he shot from behind the arc. And Burke showed that great players figure out ways to contribute when not shooting well, as he grabbed eight rebounds and dished seven assists.
It’s the third straight year that Billy Donovan and Florida have come up a win short of the Final Four. Although at least the losses to Butler in 2011 and Louisville in 2012 were close. This one never was.
Louisville 85 Duke 63 – So much for my theory that Louisville was not good enough offensively to beat other really good teams. The Cards merely shot 53 percent from the floor and Russ Smith capped off a magnificent weekend, with a 23-point game. Gorgui Deng controlled the interior with 14 points/11 rebounds, and Duke got nothing from Ryan Kelly, who had seven points and two rebounds.
It’s the second straight Final Four for Louisville and the third time they’ve gone under Rick Pitino. The Cards will be the favorites to win their first national title since 1986 when the ball tips in Atlanta.
The Saturday games will be Louisville-Wichita, followed by Syracuse-Michigan. The action will be on CBS and tip off at 6:09 PM ET. TheSportsNotebook will have a complete preview up later in the week.
THE REST OF THE WEEK
In the meantime, we’ve got pro basketball, hockey and baseball to watch and track. TheSportsNotebook wrapped up its preseason MLB coverage on Sunday, and we’ll pick up with a couple more baseball-related features this week. We’ll also get caught up with NBA commentary and NHL analysis, and between these three sports, this will get the lion’s share of the coverage between now and Friday’s Final Four preview. If you’re looking for something to watch, here’s how the daily sports schedule shakes out…
MONDAY: ESPN’s baseball quadruple-header is the highlight of the day, starting with Boston-NY Yanks at 1 PM ET and then rolling right through every third hour, with San Francisco-LA Dodgers, Philadelphia-Atlanta and St. Louis-Arizona. This is what stirs the juices because it’s fresh and new, but if it’s sheer consequence you want, try the NBA-TV doubleheader starting at 7:30 PM ET. It’s San Antonio-Memphis followed by Indiana-LA Clippers. The Spurs are fighting to hold off Oklahoma City for homecourt. Memphis and the Clips join Denver in a three-way dogfight in a seeding fight where all three spots are of significance. Indiana is right on New York’s heels for the two-seed in the East.
The NBC Sports Network has hockey coverage with Colorado-Detroit at 7:30 PM ET, although the more interesting games require the Center Ice package. The New York Islanders are even with the rival Rangers for the final playoff spot in the East. The Isles go to New Jersey (who happens to be in seventh), while the Rangers host Winnipeg. Big night for hockey in the Big Apple.
TUESDAY: TNT brings a big NBA twinbill into your living room and it starts with Melo vs. LeBron at 8 PM ET and is followed by Dallas-LA Lakers. With Melo, LeBron and Kobe playing on the same night at least we know what Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith will fight about on First Take for the next three days. Note that the Mavs are only a game back in the loss column as they chase both the Lakers and Utah for the playoff spot in the West.
The MLB Network has a late afternoon-late night doubleheader of Baltimore-Tampa Bay (3:10 PM ET) and San Francisco-LA Dodgers (10 PM ET). The Pittsburgh Penguins look to keep their 15-game win streak alive when they host Buffalo (7:30, NBC Sports Network).
WEDNESDAY: The city of New York has to decide what they want here. The Knicks visit Atlanta (7 PM ET, ESPN), the Rangers host Pittsburgh (7:30, NBC Sports Network) and the Yanks play their second game of the season against Boston (7 PM ET, ESPN).
THURSDAY: It’s a clash of the titans in the NBA’s Western Conference, with San Antonio-Oklahoma City (9:30 PM ET, TNT). Coming into the week the Spurs lead the Thunder by a game and a half for homecourt advantage. It’s not too much to say this game might decide who plays Miami in the Finals.
I know it won’t come as a surprise that the rest of the night has a New York-Boston feel to it. In addition to the Red Sox-Yanks finale(7 PM ET, MLB), you can see Brooklyn host Chicago in TNT’s early game at 7 PM ET. Or check the Boston Bruins host New Jersey at 7 PM ET on the NHL Network. Night owls can catch a good hockey game with surprising Minnesota visiting the Los Angeles Kings at 10 PM ET (NHLN).
FRIDAY: Please tell me that when ESPN decided to televise the Miami-Charlotte NBA game tonight at 8 PM ET that the schedule made it such that the Heat could tie or break the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers’ 33-game win streak record here? Miami’s bid at history ended last week and that’s the only rationale for putting such a hideous game on the tube, when the Eastern Conference race for #2 has compelling games with the Knicks hosting the Bucks and the Pacers getting a visit from the Thunder. Neither game is nationally televised, and the Houston-Portland game at 10:30 PM ET on ESPN is a yawner.
New York fans won’t have any problem finding something though—the Yanks’ visit to Detroit in the afternoon is televised at 1 PM ET and the Rangers go to Pittsburgh at night (7 PM ET, NHL).
SATURDAY: Fox baseball makes its debut on Saturday. The 4 PM ET slot has three games being shown to regional audiences. There are LCS rematches with Yanks-Tigers and Cards-Giants, to go with an AL West grudge match of Rangers-Angels. It’s a good appetizer for the Final Four feast that starts two hours later.
Surprisingly, ESPN went head-on with the Final Four in showing Sixers-Heat in a 7:30 PM ET NBA game. The NHL Network has its usual Saturday tripleheader with Edmonton-Los Angeles at 1 PM ET, a split showing of Boston-Montreal (both neck-and-neck in the Northeast and for the #2 seed in the East) and NY Rangers-Carolina at 7 PM ET and a yawner in Calgary-Vancouver at 10 PM ET.
SUNDAY: A good matchup for baseball fans as TBS shows the C.C. Sabathia-Justin Verlander duel with Yanks-Tigers at 1 PM ET. Once again, New York teams are all over your set, with ABC having Knicks-Thunders tip off its NBA doubleheader at the same time. And a heavy dose of Hollywood can’t be a surprise—it’s Lakers-Clippers in the second game of that doubleheader, and Angels-Rangers in Sunday Night baseball at 8 PM ET on ESPN2.
In the “Don’t Overlook” category would be NBC’s hockey coverage of St. Louis-Detroit at 12:30 PM ET. The Red Wings aren’t home free for the playoffs yet and the Blues are on the outside looking in as the week starts. And at night it’s Dallas-Portland in 9 PM ET game on NBA-TV. Utah-Golden State also plays, so with the Lakers, Jazz and Mavericks all in action it’s a huge day for the Western Conference playoff race.
Fox baseball makes its debut on Saturday. The 4 PM ET slot has three games being shown to regional audiences. There are LCS rematches with Yanks-Tigers and Cards-Giants, to go with an AL West grudge match of Rangers-Angels. It’s a good appetizer for the Final Four feast that starts two hours later.
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.