Danny’s can’t-miss games of the week: A wild Thursday night

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Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry reacts after making a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Saturday, March 2, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

This is a weird week in the sports year. Baseball is still a month away. March Madness is so close we can taste it, but it’s still the regular season for the majority of teams. The NBA and NHL playoffs are still a few weeks in the distance. That leaves us sports fans in limbo.

However, there are still some good games to watch, but you have to dig a little deeper to find them. Lucky for you, I already did that digging, and I have come up with five games you will definitely want to watch this week.

NCAAM: #20 Cincinnati Bearcats vs. #25 UCF Knights

Thursday March 7, 7 p.m. on ESPN2

Like I said, we are still a week away from the big conference tournaments and two weeks away from the Madness, but there are still a few regular season games left that are worth watching. This is one of them.

High off their win over No. 8 Houston, UCF will be facing the other ranked team in the American looking for back-to-back huge wins. Originally on the outside of the bubble teams, the Knights’ recent win put them back in the conversation, and another win over a quality ranked opponent like Cincinnati would almost certainly cement them in the bracket.

The Bearcats should treat this game just as importantly, as a win could improve an already impressive resume for the tournament. They stand tied for first in the American at 25-4 overall and 14-2 in the conference, while the Knights are not far behind at 22-6 overall and 12-4 in the conference.

Cincinnati won the first matchup between these teams 60-55 on Feb. 21 and have won their last five games, but UCF hasn’t lost since that game either, winning three straight. Both teams will be looking to end the season on a high note and better their seeding for the conference tournament next week.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Thursday March 7, 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Network

If hockey is more of your thing than basketball, then Thursday has something good for you too. Two teams fighting for a wild card spot will face off that night in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins have 77 points with a 34-22-9 record, and they have the first wild card spot in the East. The Blue Jackets have earned 75 points with a 36-26-3 record, and they are the first team out of the playoff picture right now.

This game is big for both teams because it would allow the Penguins to get a little separation in the wild card race with a win, but the Blue Jackets could tie or even pass Pittsburgh for the top wild card spot if they were to win. Columbus has lost three of its last four games, while Pittsburgh has won two of its last three.

Sidney Crosby is having yet another phenomenal season for the Penguins, as he is tied for fifth in the league with 83 points. For the Blue Jackets, Artemi Panarin leads the team with 73 points.

These two teams play each other in back-to-back games on Thursday and Saturday, and I expect both games to be all-out battles.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Portland Trail Blazers

Thursday March 7, 10:30 p.m. on TNT

These two teams have an identical 39-24 record, and they are the third and fourth seeds in the West as of right now. While not the powerhouse that the Warriors are, both these teams have elite talent and a chance to make a run in the postseason.

The Thunder have certainly had the advantage this season, as they have won all three of their meetings, but all three games were decided by single digits. This one will really be anyone’s game, especially with how good the Trail Blazers have been lately. Since their loss to the Thunder on Feb. 11, they have won six of seven games.

The Thunder, however, have not been playing their best basketball lately. They recently lost four games in a row before snapping the losing streak on Sunday against the Grizzlies.

Both teams have a duo of players averaging over 20 points per game this season. For the Thunder, it is Paul George and Russell Westbrook, and for the Trail Blazers, it is Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. These guys have been fantastic all season long.

NBA: Denver Nuggets vs. Golden State Warriors

Friday March 8, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN

A night after the third and fourth place teams meet up, the first and second place teams in the West will play each other. Neither team will be entering this game on a hot streak, as the Nuggets have lost three straight games, while the Warriors have lost three of their last five.

While it is no surprise that the Warriors are the No. 1 seed in the West right now (the only surprise is that they’ve lost 19 games), the Nuggets are a bit of a surprise two seed at 42-21. Nikola Jokic has been unbelievable this season, leading his team in points (20.6), rebounds (10.7) and assists (7.6) per game. He’s a big reason why they are in the position they are in.

As for the Warriors, their starting five is composed of all players that have made at least three All-Star teams. They have the most talented team in the league by a large margin, but we have seen this year that they are beatable.

In fact, the Nuggets beat them in their first meeting back in October. The Warriors won the second matchup in January in blowout fashion though, 142-111. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top this Friday.

NCAAM: #4 Duke Blue Devils vs. #3 North Carolina Tar Heels

Saturday March 9, 6 p.m. on ESPN

In a highly anticipated rematch of the infamous shoe game a couple of weeks ago, Duke will look for revenge against their in-state rival. This is the first time that these teams will play each other while both ranked in the top five since February of 2009. It is not clear whether Zion Williamson will play in this game, and that may be the difference maker.

If Williamson is able to play, it will be his first appearance since he hurt his knee when breaking through his shoe the last time these two teams faced off. Duke has still played pretty well in his absence, winning two of the three full games that he missed. If Williamson is unable to play, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish will have to step up and play better than they did in the last game against UNC.

If UNC has any hopes of sweeping the Blue Devils in the regular season series for the first time since 2009, Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye will have to have monster performances like they did in the first game against Duke. Johnson and Maye went off for 26 and 30 points respectively back on Feb. 20.

This will be the final regular season game for both teams, and it is likely that the winner will have the second seed for the ACC Tournament. There is also a chance that the winner of this game could move up to the No. 1 spot in the polls.


Danny Barletta is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.barletta@uconn.edu .

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