College Hoops Preview: National, Regional Networks Get the Season Going

Believe it or not, college basketball season is already under way, and networks from the biggest national providers to the smallest of RSNs will be bringing the action to fans all winter long. ESPN’s programming slate is already under way, and CBS Sports Network kicks off its coverage tonight, with other local networks to follow. Early-season coverage builds up to conference play in the new year, setting the stage for the fun that is Championship Week and March Madness. With the future of the NBA in flux, college hoops is the true hoops fan’s haven in 2011.

ESPN
Although today’s Carrier Classic (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) serves as an unofficial opening to the season, ESPN is already a full week into its coverage. ESPN tipped off its record-breaking slate of 1,450 regular-season and Championship Week games on Nov. 7 with a 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer doubleheader. For the seventh consecutive year, ESPNU broadcast the first nationally televised game of the season.

With more than 200 more matchups scheduled this season than last, ESPN will roll out its coverage of the 2011-12 season across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, ABC, ESPN Regional Television (ERT), ESPN Mobile TV, and ESPN FULL COURT.  Viewers can also watch live game action online at WatchESPN.com and on smartphones and tablets through the WatchESPN app.

This season marks the first of a 12-year multisport agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference. ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN3 will combine to showcase ACC basketball, highlighted by all 11 games of the ACC Tournament and a new ACC Sunday Night Basketball weekly on ESPNU.

ESPN’s Buzzer Beater network returns this season with live cut-ins and highlights from numerous top college basketball games on Saturdays from noon to 11 p.m. ET and Wednesdays from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. beginning Jan. 7. ESPN Buzzer Beater is currently available to Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, and Verizon FiOS TV customers.

Hall of Famers Dick Vitale and Bob Knight will continue to serve as men’s basketball commentators, while Mike Tirico, Mike Breen, and Jeff Van Gundy join the collegiate ranks this season.

CBS Sports Network
CBS Sports Network begins its ninth season of live basketball coverage tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET with the All Military Classic at Clune Arena in Colorado Springs, CO, when Army takes on Air Force with Citadel-VMI to follow.

Setting a new season high for number of broadcasts, the network will air 113 games this season, with every men’s game available in HD. According to VP of Remote Production Ross Molloy, early-season games will be a standard five- to six-camera shoot, and the crews will continue to work with truck companies it has worked with during football season: NEP, NCP, Mobile Mansion, YES Productions, and others.

The network again serves as the home of Atlantic 10 basketball, airing 24 games, as well as the Atlantic 10 Championship men’s and women’s semifinal games. Also included in the conference lineup are the Mountain West, Conference USA, and the Patriot League.

The schedule features a Wednesday-night primetime doubleheader and also returns its Big East women’s Tuesday-night package.

“Wednesday and Saturdays are our premier nights with doubleheaders,” says Molloy. “We want people to come to us for their college basketball on Wednesday, and we will offer comprehensive coverage in studios and at the games on Saturdays.”

For the fourth consecutive year, CBS Sports Network will air the Cancun Challenge (Nov. 22-23), which features — among others —  Rutgers, Illinois State, Illinois, and Richmond.

Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic
Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic will carry a 186-game schedule that features 141 men’s and 45 women’s games from the nation’s top conferences, including the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), Atlantic 10, and Pac-12.

The network’s men’s schedule — starting Tuesday when Virginia hosts Winthrop at 7 p.m. ET on Comcast SportsNet Plus — includes more than 50 appearances by 14 of the region’s top men’s programs. Area men’s teams set to make multiple appearances on the network this season are Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion, James Madison, George Mason, American, George Washington, VCU, William & Mary, and Towson.

Comcast SportsNet, the region’s official network of the ACC, will air 31 men’s games featuring conference teams this season. The Hokies are scheduled for three games on the network, all against ACC opponents, with the Cavaliers set to make four appearances. The Terrapins will be featured when they host Samford on Dec. 31 and Wake Forest on Jan. 11. During the season, all 12 ACC teams will appear on Comcast SportsNet, including top-ranked North Carolina.

As the official network of the CAA, Comcast SportsNet will present 18 men’s games featuring conference programs during the 2011-12 season. Old Dominion is set to make eight appearances on the network, with James Madison scheduled for seven, George Mason for six, VCU and William & Mary for four each, and Towson with two. The network will also air six American University (Patriot League) and five George Washington (Atlantic 10) games this season.

MASN
Washington, DC- and Baltimore-area sports network MASN will broadcast up to 200 college baseball games this season, offering viewers a lineup ranging from local college games to contests featuring top-25 teams. The RSN’s hoops schedule covers 12 conferences and major tournaments, including the BB&T Classic and the Great Alaska Shootout. For the sixth season, MASN will be the official network of Georgetown, televising 10 Hoyas games, beginning with a Nov. 14 home game against UNC-Greensboro at 7 p.m.

The network also enters its sixth season as the official cable-television network of the George Mason Patriots and will televise four games for the Colonial Athletic Association contender, beginning with a Nov. 30 home game versus Bucknell.

Other regional basketball favorites that will appear on MASN include Mt. St. Mary’s, Loyola, UMBC, Coppin State, Howard, American, Liberty, West Virginia, Radford, VMI, Virginia State, Navy, Hampton, Longwood, and Bowie State.

MSG
New York City’s MSG Networks will carry 148 games on MSG Network and MSG Plus.

Games from power conferences Pac-12 (65 games), SEC (19), and Big East (18) highlight the programming slate and include Syracuse, Florida, Louisville, and Pittsburgh on the men’s side and Baylor, Tennessee, and Stanford for the women.

The Paradise Jam Semifinals tips off the season on MSG Plus on Sunday November 20 live from the U.S. Virgin Islands at 6:00 p.m. ET. The annual Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival presented by Foot Locker, featuring local schools, will be telecast live on MSG Network on Saturday December 17 with St. John’s, Fordham, Rutgers, and Stony Brook playing for the title in the longest-running in-season college tournament in the country.

Kentucky makes the first of its four appearances on MSG Networks at 4:00 p.m. on Jan. 7 versus South Carolina. Marquee men’s matchups on the schedule include Florida vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 17, 2:30 p.m., MSG Plus); Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (Jan. 1, 7:00 p.m., MSG Network); and Arizona at UCLA (Jan. 5, 11:00 p.m., MSG Plus).

In addition to the Holiday Festival, MSG Network and MSG Plus will showcase a number of regional schools, including Hofstra, Long Island, Fairleigh Dickinson, Seton Hall, and St. Francis College.

Managing Editor Jason Dachman and Assistant Editor Karen Hogan contributed to this report.