Danny’s can’t-miss games of the week: Final Fours

Washington Capitals team owner Ted Leonis, right, talks with goaltender Braden Holtby, left, at an NHL hockey team picture session, Wednesday, April 3, 2019, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

What a week. We have both the men’s and women’s Final Four this weekend, the NHL and NBA seasons are in the home stretch and the playoff races are coming down to the wire, and the MLB is back in full swing. I think it is safe to say that the winter dead zone in sports is completely over.

That being said, there are a ton of huge games to watch this week, but since this article can’t be five pages long, I will focus on the four most important games in my opinion.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens vs. Washington Capitals

Thursday, April 4, 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Network

The NHL regular season ends on Saturday, and most of the playoff spots are locked up. One of the only teams that is still fighting for a spot is the Canadiens. If the season ended today, they would be watching the NHL Playoffs from home, because they are tied for the second wild card spot in the East with 94 points, but the Columbus Blue Jackets have the tiebreaker over them with 45 wins to their 43.

Lucky for them though is that the season doesn’t end today. They still play two more games, and the first of those is a huge one Thursday night against the playoff-bound Capitals. This is a must-win for the Canadiens, as they have to win both of their final two games and hope that the Blue Jackets lose one to get into the playoffs, where anything can happen.

In other words, their whole season is dependant on this game. The Canadiens will need their two best skaters, Brendan Gallagher and Max Domi, and their all-star goalie Carey Price to play well in order for them to make that final push for the playoffs.

NBA: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

Friday, April 5, 8 p.m. on ESPN

The NBA regular season also ends in the next week, on Wednesday, and it is looking more that these two teams will play in the first round as the four and five seeds. The only question: Who will have home court advantage in that series?

The teams are tied right now with identical 46-32 records, and that will have to change on Friday. Home court advantage is a huge deal, because both of these teams perform significantly better at home. In fact both teams are sub-.500 on the road. So although both teams have already clinched the playoffs, they still have something to play for.

Even when they lost their star Victor Oladipo to a season-ending knee injury, the Pacers didn’t take a step back. They have been a solid team with guys like Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison stepping up in Oladipo’s absence. They could be dangerous come playoff time.

On the other side, the Celtics have fell way short of their preseason expectations. However, the postseason is a whole new season, the Celtics could make a run if they get hot at the right time. They squeezed out a 114-112 victory the last time they played the Pacers, so it will be interesting to see what happens this time around.

NCAAW: #2 UConn Huskies vs. #1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Friday, April 5, 9 p.m. on ESPN2

Now, NBA playoff previews are great and all, but I know all you Huskies fans will be tuned in elsewhere on Friday night, and for good reason. The UConn women’s basketball team is back in the Final Four for the twelfth year in a row, and they couldn’t have a more fitting opponent.

Almost exactly one year after Arike Ogunbowale’s buzzer beater lifted Notre Dame over the heavily favored Huskies into the National Championship, the two teams will face off on the same stage again. This time though, it is the Fighting Irish who is the favorite, which makes sense given the circumstances. They are the only team to beat UConn more than twice in the NCAA Tournament, and they’ve done it four times.

The Huskies will be looking to repeat the performance they gave in the regular season meeting of these teams, when they won 89-71. Christyn Williams had her best game of the season that day with 28 points. She will need to have another good game along with senior stars Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson if the Huskies are to get vengeance for their heartbreaking loss last year.

This is an absolute must-watch game, as the two bitter rivals with coaches who also don’t like each other will face off on the biggest stage in women’s basketball. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

NCAAM: #3 Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. #2 Michigan State Spartans

Saturday April 6, 8:49 p.m. on CBS

The men’s Final Four is also this weekend, and both matchups are so good that it was hard to pick which one to focus on. I went with Texas Tech vs. Michigan State though because I think it will be the best game.

You have two teams from opposite backgrounds and with opposite strengths. The Spartans, led by Tom Izzo in his 24th year, are in their 10th Final Four and their eighth in the Izzo era. They are looking for their third National Championship and first since 2000.

The Red Raiders are led by third-year head coach Chris Beard and have never been in the Final Four before. In fact, they had never been to the Elite Eight either until last season. While Michigan State is among the most recognized programs in the country, Texas Tech is a bit unknown and on the rise.

But they have both made it to the Final Four, where their strengths will definitely clash. Michigan State is an offensive powerhouse, fueled by one of the best players in the country, Cassius Winston. He averages almost 19 points and over seven assists per game, one of the best true point guards in the country.

Texas Tech doesn’t have a Cassius Winston on their team, but what they do have is the third best scoring defense in the country. They also block a bunch of shots and cause a ton of turnovers, which is the Spartan’s biggest weakness. The Red Raiders don’t score as much as Michigan State, but they also don’t let teams score much at all.

I foresee this being a lower scoring battle in which defense leads to a lot of transition points. Michigan State’s offense vs. Texas Tech’s defense will be one of the best matchups that we’ve seen in this tournament.


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