It’s always a bit of a strange time of year on the sports calendar, isn’t it?
Football is over. There’s certainly a jarring finality to that.
Baseball isn’t here yet. Can it hurry up, please? Well, maybe not. Equipment buses are pulling into spring-training sites in Arizona and Florida and Opening Day is scheduled for April 1 — typical stuff — though there’s still a whiff of doubt in the air about an on-time start.
Until then, we’ve got what we’ve got: in a nutshell, a whole lot of basketball and hockey. That’s good enough for a lot of us, but not for everybody. For some, it’s more like torrential rain on their sports-viewing parade.
Sports fans — and there are lots of them — who hate this time of year are fascinating creatures. For the next several days, they will walk around dazed and confused. After that, bitterness will set in; they will lash out at family, friends, pets and Amazon delivery drivers. Finally, left with no other choice, they will attempt the almost unthinkable: interacting with fellow humans about matters unrelated to football. No, it won’t go well.
But the rest of us can roll up our sleeves and reach into the delightful muck of the college basketball season. Illinois has Final Four potential. Loyola is potential-Cinderella good again. The best team in the country, Gonzaga, has its biggest remaining regular-season test Monday.
And the Bulls? The Blackhawks? They’re, you know, playing, too. They’re even kind of watchable.
Here’s what’s happening:
Wizards at Bulls (7 p.m., NBCSCH)
Don’t forget, the Bulls went on the road and beat Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal and the Wizards twice in three nights in late December. Ah, yes, otherwise known as the salad days of the season.
Gonzaga at BYU (9 p.m., ESPN)
Don’t sleep on BYU, the second-place team in the Gonzaga Conference. Sorry, the West Coast Conference. Just last season, the Cougars welcomed the then-No. 2-ranked Zags to Provo, Utah, and stomped them by 13. Time for No. 1 to go down?
FA Cup: Manchester United vs. West Ham (1:30 p.m., ESPN+)
It’s a fifth-round game between a pair of teams that happen to be in the top five of the Premier League standings. You’ll notice we avoided using the terms “match,” “sides” and “table.” U-S-A! U-S-A!
Blackhawks at Stars (7:30 p.m., NBCSCH)
Joe Pavelski always had a little something for the Hawks in his 800 or so years with San Jose. Now he’s in Year 2 in Dallas and off to an absolutely torrid start to the season. Have we mentioned he’s never hoisted the Stanley Cup? Sorry, that wasn’t nice.
Celtics at Jazz (9 p.m., TNT)
All right, so Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are a long way from John Stockton and Karl Malone. But you’ve got to give props to the team with the best record in the NBA, and that was the Jazz heading into the week.
Pelicans at Bulls (8 p.m., NBCSCH)
Sometimes the Bulls’ lack of physicality makes you want to punch a wall. Speaking of walls, somebody has to guard Zion Williamson or at least try to get in his way. Yes, Patrick Williams, we mean you. Godspeed, son.
Blue Jackets at Blackhawks (7 p.m., NBCSCH)
Hawks goalie Kevin Lankinen really started to establish himself in a pair of games against Columbus late last month, stopping 57 of 60 shots. Our advice to Lankinen: Just, you know, do that for the rest of your career.
Clippers at Bulls (7 p.m., NBCSCH)
In the teams’ first meeting this season, Zach LaVine went off with 10 threes and 45 points as the Bulls shot an eye-popping 61% from the floor and 55% from beyond the arc. How did they lose that game again?
Grizzlies at Lakers (9 p.m., ESPN)
Young Memphis guard Ja Morant just plain isn’t on national TV often enough. A guarantee as he takes on LeBron James and Anthony Davis: Morant will believe in his bones he’s the best player on the court.
Loyola at Drake (11 a.m., ESPN2)
Unbeaten Drake is the Missouri Valley’s best scoring and rebounding team, just a dominant crew. But the Ramblers have been locked in for weeks at the offensive end and play the stingiest defense in the league. First place? It’s on the line, baby.
UFC 258: Kamaru Usman vs. Gilbert Burns (9 p.m., ESPN+ pay-per-view)
These former teammates were supposed to meet for the welterweight title last July, but Burns tested positive for COVID-19. Five months later, Usman, the champ, withdrew due to injury. It’s finally on. Ready, set, beat the hell out of each other.
Michigan at Wisconsin (noon, Ch. 2)
Once upon a time, the Wolverines were the best team in the Big Ten. They make their return — hopefully — after postponing five straight games for COVID-19 reasons.
Capitals at Penguins (2 p.m., Ch. 5)
Are Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby still at the center of the best-in-the-NHL debate? It doesn’t even matter. These old-timers have been locked together so long, they could meet on NBC for a spirited game of shuffleboard and we’d have to tune in.
Loyola at Drake (5 p.m., ESPNU)
Indeed, both games in Des Moines, Iowa, are worth your time. The MVC hasn’t had a race at the top this good in years. If both these teams don’t end up in the NCAA Tournament, it’ll be a sham.
— to chicago.suntimes.com