Tuesday Teaser

March 19, 2024

NCAAM: Colorado State vs. Virginia 

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Both these teams are happy to be dancing in the NCAA Tournament, even if it means a quick turnaround and trip to Dayton to play in the First Four of this year’s March Madness. It’s better than the alternative.

The committee revealed on Sunday afternoon that Colorado State was the last team in the field of 68 and Virginia the second-to-last team. A few unexpected conference tournament winners squeezed the bubble on both of these squads, but they did just enough during the regular season and their conference tournaments to get in.

Virginia finished 23-10 overall, with a 13-7 record in the competitive ACC. CSU went 24-10 and 10-8 in the Mountain West, a conference that got six teams in the dance, but all earning lower seeds than expected. 

For UVA, it really has been a story of two different seasons. There’s before Feb. 10 and what happened after.

When the Cavaliers beat Florida State that day by a final score of 80-76, they improved to 19-5 overall and 10-3 in ACC play. They were comfortably in the tournament and having the type of season fans expect out of Virginia.

But then something strange occurred. The Cavaliers won just four games the rest of the way (4-5 overall), including needing overtime to outlast a very mediocre Boston College team in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. They lost to eventual champ NC State in the semifinals, a bid stealer, and had to sweat out Selection Sunday.

Points have been an issue during the slump. UVA scored just 48 in a loss to Duke on March 2, 44 in a loss to UNC on Feb. 24 and 41 to Virginia Tech in a defeat on Feb. 19. Those are concerning totals. 

Meanwhile, Colorado State came flying out of the gate to start the season, cruising out to a 13-1 start and getting ranked as high as No. 13 in the country in the AP poll. That was their best mark ever and Rams fans were thinking about a premium seed in the NCAA Tournament.

They scored a big win over No. 8 Creighton in beatdown fashion, 69-48, and also won the Rocky Mountain Showdown against Colorado by a final score of 88-83. Things were looking good in Fort Collins, and then the harsh realities of the Mountain West set in.

CSU never got more than three games over .500 in conference play, peaking at 7-4 after a win against San Jose State on Feb. 9. But much like Virginia, things didn’t go so hot down the stretch. The Rams finished the season just 5-5 from that point on, but they did get two wins in the Mountain West Tournament that ultimately secured their place in the field.

The Rams lost to eventual champion New Mexico, another bid stealer, in the semifinals. Many thought they’d be a No. 8 or 9 seed, not playing on Tuesday night to just make the field of 64. 

Hoops Harlan’s Pick: Colorado State -2.5 (-110) 

There are some pretty upset fans of Oklahoma, Indiana State, Providence, Seton Hall, Pittsburgh, St. John’s and others that Virginia was awarded a spot in the dance. They were not special at all down the stretch and two wins over BC, one over Wake Forest and one over Georgia Tech shouldn’t have been enough to make the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers have just two players who average double-digit points on the year, and that’s led by senior Reece Beekman at 14.3 points per contest. They simply don’t have enough firepower to fill it up. On the other side, CSU has four guys averaging 10+ PPG and stud guard Isaiah Stevens averages 16.5 per contest plus seven assists. It’s why the Rams score 76.4 points per night. UVA averages just 63.6. No one says it’ll be pretty, but the Rams do have the more talented roster. Colorado State advances to face No. 7 Texas with a 62-55 win.


NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Vegas Golden Knights

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Two recent Stanley Cup champions will meet in Sin City, although both currently find themselves in a wild card position and not atop their respective conferences like they’re used to. Vegas won the championship last season, the first in the history of their young franchise. Tampa Bay won the title in both 2020 and 2021 and played for a three-peat in 2022 before losing to the Avalanche.

Even though the Lightning have “just” 78 points on the season, while the Golden Knights have “only” 79 points, they’re not teams anyone wants to face in the postseason. They both have the experience and leaders to go on deep runs, regardless of whether they’re playing on home-ice or on the road. Both Tampa Bay and Vegas have plenty to play for still, so this should be a good one. 

For the Lightning, they’re hot as of late. Winners of three in a row and putting up some big goal totals, they’ll definitely have confidence going into Las Vegas on Tuesday night.

They’re coming off a 5-3 victory over the Panthers, a 6-3 shellacking of the Rangers and a 7-0 beatdown of the Flyers. Those are three teams that are currently in the playoffs, and two Cup contenders in Florida and New York.

Those are statement wins from Tampa Bay who is now 6-2-1 over their last nine games. Getting back into the race in the Atlantic Division is going to be a task, but perhaps not impossible. Currently Toronto has the third and final spot with 85 points, so the Lightning will need to make up seven points in the final 15 games. It’s a steep mountain to climb, but given how well they’re currently playing, who knows? 

For the Golden Knights, there’s no denying it’s been a tough stretch. Vegas is just 5-9-1 over its last 15 games and that includes separate three- and four-game losing streaks. Things have gotten a little better of late, as the Golden Knights have won three of their last four, including wins by two-plus goals over the Red Wings and Devils.

Vegas was active at the trade deadline and up to their usual tricks with some of the LTIR stuff, so everyone knows they’re not worried about the regular season. They’re gearing up for the playoffs. Currently tied with the Kings for the final top-three spot in the Pacific Division, there’s definitely a chance they could meet Edmonton in the postseason in Round 1.

Considering they dispatched of the Oilers in six games last year, the Knights would gladly welcome that rematch. If they want it, they’ll have to pass L.A., and a win on Tuesday night would help that cause.  

Norm LaChatlier’s Pick: Tampa Bay ML (+119)

Yes, Vegas seems to be slowly digging out of its slump, but you can’t deny the Lightning are hot right now and playing with a lot of confidence. To get Tampa Bay with juice as an underdog on the road is a rare treat, especially when the Golden Knights are just 2-5-0 over their last seven home games. Meanwhile, the Lightning are 5-1-0 over their last six road contests. The trend will continue, as Tampa Bay wins it 5-3 in what feels like a Stanley Cup preview, even if they both might take different paths than usual to get there.

And Keep an Eye On…

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Minnesota Timberwolves (Tuesday, 9:00 p.m. ET)

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The battle for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference is going to go down to the wire. This matchup in the Twin Cities will go a long way toward determining who captures home-court advantage up until the NBA Finals. Currently, the Nuggets and Timberwolves are both 47-21, just 0.5 games behind the Thunder for the top spot. With just 14 games to play in the regular season, Tuesday night’s game will catapult the winner into a tie with Oklahoma City atop the standings.


NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. ET)

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Many expect this to be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals. And for good reason. Currently, Boston is running away with the No. 1 seed, as well as home-court advantage throughout the postseason. The Celtics are 10.0 games ahead of the Bucks, the current No. 2 seed in the East. The C’s are showing no signs of slowing down, despite having a Secretariat-type lead down the stretch. They’ve won six in a row and are a dazzling 31-3 at home this season. But Milwaukee is playing good basketball, as well, going 7-3 over their last 10 games. If Giannis Antetokounmpo returns to the lineup after being sidelined with a bad hamstring, an upset could be brewing.


NCAAM: Colorado vs. Boise State (Wednesday, 9:10 p.m. ET)

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Colorado has been one of the hottest teams in the country of late. In the last month, they’ve posted an 8-1 record, getting themselves back into the tournament conversation. Despite riding an eight-game winning streak all the way to the Pac-12 title game, where their winning ways finally came to an end against Oregon, the Buffs are going to have to prove they belong in the dance. They’ll take on a Boise State team that has lost two of their last three. But the Broncos did finish third in a very good Mountain West, so this should be a fascinating game in Dayton.