Random review and capricious notes:
First, congrats to CBS and Turner. The tale is often in the numbers and the preliminary ratings were released earlier today. Last night’s national championship game between Virginia and Texas Tech on CBS delivered a 12.4/22 overnight rating, up 20%.
The network bosses, CBS’ Sean McManus and Turner’s Lenny Daniels have to be especially pleased. It was the first for Turner without the omnipresent and energetic David Levy who helped build Turner’s large portfolio of sports rights. Levy left Turner recently after its takeover by AT&T.
- The more I watch Jim Nantz do college basketball, the more I enjoy him. He’s a wonderful storyteller, seamlessly weaves in rich notes and anecdotes and never disrupts the flow of the game; all while still giving his two analysts sufficient runway. Most importantly, Jim lets the game come to the viewers.
- Jim’s helped, and he’s the first to say so, by producer Mark Wolff and director Bob Fishman. These guys have worked symbiotically so long that they can get up blindly in middle of the night and shed great light on an NCAA telecast.
- There have been some wonderfully talented announcers through the fifty years that the tournament has been carried by a major network. NBC picked up the games in 1969 and CBS in 1982. It started with the pleasantly and reverentially voiced, Curt Gowdy, the poetically stamped Dick Enberg, the edgy and stimulating Brent Musburger and Nantz who’s presided since 1991. These four have graced the Final Four play-by-play microphone with aplomb.
- If March Madness started a broadcast Hall of Fame, these eight fellows would be enshrined in the first class: Billy Packer, Al McGuire, Bill Raftery, Cawood Ledford (for his years on national radio), Nantz, Gowdy, Enberg and Musburger.
- A fellow on Facebook this morning noted that Bill Raftery goes to his ‘silly voice’ too often. Raf’s very quick-witted, knows the game, is sensitive not to be harshly critical, works Hill in nicely and generally expresses himself well. The talented scribe Norman Chad once wrote that Raf finishes sentences ‘with an avalanche of hysteria.’ My only rare issue with Raf is that when he talks strategy it sounds like he’s having a private conversation with Grant Hill, one that only the two understand. It’s generally in elliptic if not cryptic fashion; basketball jargon that goes over many’s heads.
- Raf is 75 and apparently in good health, albeit he was under the weather during this Final Four. When he hangs up his colorful cleats or Hill is to leave, Steve Lappas and Chris Webber should be at the top of the list of those considered for the lead analyst team. In some ways, Lappas is a cross between Al McGuire and Hubie Brown. He wears his emotions on his sleeves and articulates his strategic points like a gifted teacher.
- I thought that Grant Hill might have had his best game yet. He opened up a bit. Listening to Grant is often like sitting next to a buddy in the stands who knows the game. Grant, like the buddy, points out one thing or another that crosses his mind.
- When Nantz raised the name Tony Dungy, telling viewers that the former NFL coach called Tony Bennett to encourage him after last year’s dispiriting loss to #16 seed UMBC, Hill jumped in immediately and assertively, drawing parallels between the two Tonys. He pointed out that #1 seeded ‘05 Colts, coached by Dungy, suffered a deflating playoff defeat to the Steelers. The Colts resilience was overpowering the very following season, beating the Bears in the Super Bowl.
- When it was pointed out that Kansas City quarterback and former Red Raider, Patrick Mahomes played pick up basketball games with members of the Texas Tech team, Raf asked Hill if he ever considered playing other sports, Grant unflinchingly said no. Calvin, Grant’s dad, is a former Cowboy standout running back.
- Loved the quick pick up by Nantz when Texas Tech had scored 66 points and the graphic was saliently on the screen. Jim dug into his stream of consciousness, referencing a piece of history. The only Texas based team to ever win the title was the ’66 Texas Western team (now Texas El Paso) which started five black players and knocked off Kentucky which started a quintet of five white players. Houston with Akeen (later Hakeem) Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler advanced to the title game in ’84 but lost to Georgetown.
- Leave it to Jim to weave in another quick story that added meat to the broadcast. He did so as usual, without disrupting the game flow. He brought up Tom Penders, the longtime Texas coach. Bobby Knight, looking for an assistant, called Penders for a character reference on Chris Beard, the Texas A&M coach. Penders sang Beard’s praises and added that Chris was unfailingly loyal. Knight was sold and hired Beard. Knight, now 78, was a mentor of sorts to Beard.
- The pictures of Tony Bennett’s dad sitting next to his wife were precious. Dick Bennett coached Wisconsin to a Final Four in 2000. Nantz shared the story that Bennett couldn’t bear watching Saturday’s game live so he stayed in his Minneapolis hotel room to watch it on TV.
- Fishman was right on the late game replays a couple times when there were questionable issues regarding possessions. Gene Steratore chimed in immediately, once saying that the video was inconclusive and the second time that two of the three officials who were studying the replay were unsure so they would bring in the third ref to come to a conclusion.
- Nice shots of Texas Tech’s Tariq Owens who fouled out, stretching helplessly on the floor in front of the bench. Nantz said that Owens was a grad student who joined Texas Tech after graduating St. John’s. Human interest! President Franklin Roosevelt said that if you asked an audience about a speech they had just heard, they’ll remember a story more than anything else. It’s why the country’s best ever sports announcer, Vin Scully, was loved. Stories! Vin would say that there’s a human being inside that uniform.
- Officials’ names seem to be withheld more so than in the past. Is it a security issue? Is it an edict from the NCAA? Will we see face-masks next season on the men in striped shirts or maybe helmets? How about in the next generation? AI (Artificial Intelligence)? Goodness!
- The post game ceremony was well done. Unlike during the Super Bowl presentation, Nantz’ head of hair wasn’t festooned with glitter. It was good to see Virginia restrained amid its celebration and not demeaning of its opponent.
- The awkward moment was when Nantz asked coach Bennett about his father Dick. Tony Bennett said he’d like to celebrate with his dad by playing a round of golf at Augusta. Tony proceeded to ask Nantz for help to get them on the course. Nantz answered hurriedly and cautiously, “We’ll have to work on that.”
- Is One Shining Moment overrated? The owners of the song clip expensive coupons from Turner and CBS every year. The networks pay handsomely for it. I wonder whether viewers would lose sleep if it was dropped for another fresher song. It plays after midnight when most people have tuned out. Just don’t know.Tradition, I guess. CBS started running One Shining Moment in 1987. Other theme songs ran before it without any ratings hiccup.
- Clark Kellogg does a decent job on the set. When Ernie Johnson opened the show at the end of the game, Clark’s chair was visibly empty. Ernie pointed out that Clark was making his way up from the radio position. Why is he needed on radio? Three on radio are a turn-off. Two on radio are too. John Thompson is very good on his own and he does the Final Four broadcast on the NCAA Radio Network. Missing even a minute on TV for radio? TV probably has a thousand times the audience than radio.
- The only thing I might have wanted to hear (and if I missed it, my apologies) was a reference to the great Ralph Sampson, arguably the greatest player in Cavs’ history and Terry Holland, the 17 year Virginia coach. Sampson’s teams made it as far as one NCAA Final Four (1981). That’s it.