Reviews

The NCAA Finals on CBS: Grant Hill was assertive, taking a lead role at times; Nantz and Raftery solid

Gonzaga – Baylor Championship game:

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Halberstam

Comments and notes watching Monday night’s men’s championship on CBS. The voices were Jim Nantz, his 30th on play-by-play. Nantz followed the irrepressible Brent Musburger in 1991. Bill Raftery and Grant Hill worked their sixth straight national title game as co-analysts. They teamed together first in 2015. Steady Tracy Wolfson worked the sideline and the trenches.

  • The last pre-game show that abutted the play-by-play was hosted by Greg Gumbel and featured analysts, Kenny Smith, Clark Kellogg and Charles Barkley. I was hoping to see Andy Katz assigned to the studio but despite his praiseworthy work in earlier rounds, the solid reporter didn’t get the call for the Final Four. And where was Ernie Johnson? He deserved to be there too. Politics!
  • The mob invaded The Final Four. On Saturday, it had to kill Jim Nantz, hardly to the left of center politically, to have to read a script verbatim: “For those willing and able, please rise for the national anthem.”  It wouldn’t shock me if many shut their sets right then. Goodness! I got “able” but “willing,” please! What kind of nonsense is that?
  • By the way, Nantz started his career as a public address man at his alma-mater, the University of Houston. It was there that legendary coach Guy Lewis asked Jim to undertake the role when he was still a student.
  • Then there was President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. The president looked like he’s aged five years since Election Day. They read a script off a teleprompter, urging Americans to take their Covid shots. “Every shot counts,” they reminded fans. The first couple should have added rebounds count too. Baylor outrebounded Gonzaga off the offensive boards, 16-5.
  • Although he will become the Managing Director of Basketball USA, word is that Grant Hill will remain in  broadcasting. He will assume his new executive role after the Tokyo Olympics this summer. If that’s the case, viewers hope that his solid effort last night carries into next season.
  • NCAA Tournament Announcing Power RankingsRight from the outset, Hill was more forceful. He stuck in his instinctive commentary when Nantz caught his breath. Good for him. From my perspective, it was Hill’s best and strongest performance on a national title game telecast. In the past, he would often wait for Raftery to chime in and then take whatever runway is left. He’s no longer reticent. Hill’s attempt to coalesce with Nantz and Raftery into a comfortable trio has taken time. Last night, he struck me as more confident and comfortable. Grant often sounded like the lead commentator, jumping in eagerly and quickly to share his views.
  • When Jalen Suggs picked up his second foul, CBS cameras had a telling shot of the freshman star throwing a towel over his head.
  • At an early break, I noted that the NBA broke with tradition. The league generally defers to the college game on the night of the championship. I don’t remember the league ever scheduling games on championship night. Because the NBA is squeezing in a 72 game schedule that started in December, not October, it had no choice. Seven games were played and none further west than the central time zone. And all games started early, so not to overlap much with Gonzaga-Baylor.
  • When Gonzaga trailed 33-14 with 6:47 to go, Raftery with a touch of solemnity, pointed out that the Zags average 90 points a game. Raf also intimated that Suggs can’t rest on his laurels. Saturday night was long over.
  • The longtime analyst and former Seton Hall coach also made it clear that big man Drew Timme had to score more off pick ‘n rolls.
  • During the incipience of the blowout, Hill tells the audience, that Gonzaga was stunned and that Mark Few’s team appeared fatigued.
  • Meanwhile, as the title game turned one-sided, CBS execs and media buyers had to worry about second half ratings. The championship couldn’t have gotten a better lead-in after Saturday’s heart-pumping finish of Gonzaga’s overtime win over UCLA. Who would have imagined then that the title game would turn into a soporific!
  • At halftime, Chuck, as Charles Barkley is called by his buddies, said that Baylor should be up by more than 10, pointing out how poorly Gonzaga played in the first half.
  • Kenny Smith, should have diagramed a couple plays at HT, something he does well on NBA telecasts. He didn’t. Clark Kellogg, Mr. Nice Guy, used numbers to make some points.
  • Before the second half, dependable Tracy Wolfson says that the Zags rarely play zone but did late in the first half and might continue to do so in the second half. Raf later points out that Gonzaga went from a 2-3 zone to a 1-3-1.
  • As the game progresses and Baylor’s Jared Butler continues to excel, Nantz quips that he’s turning Lucas Oil Stadium into Butler Fieldhouse. Indiana based Butler plays at Hinkle Fieldhouse, occasionally referred to as Butler Fieldhouse. Could it be that once the lead was insurmountable, Nantz was already thinking Masters and Butler Cabin?
  • Raf consistently brings a mix of cogent analysis and humor, but his never-ending throaty shtick is getting old.
  • In the second half, I caught Gus Johnson on a Rocket Mortgage commercial and I immediately cupped my ears and shut the sound. Maybe Mark Few should have invited Gus into the Gonzaga locker room at halftime to shout at his team. Gus can wake up the dead.
  • Talking of the ads, all those funny Capital One ads were well made. But weeks of that stuff is too much. How much of camera-eager Spike Lee can anyone take? And all those insurance companies trying to out-entertain their competition through their creative commercials? But where was Shaq for The General? The insurance category is among the top spending categories for network TV sports.
  • Unless I missed it, where was John Stockton, Gonzaga’s all-time best player?
  • As Baylor responds to every weak Gonzaga run, Grant Hill extols the Bears’ speed and athleticism.
  • Late in the second half, Nantz aptly says Gonzaga’s perfect season is on life-support.
  • When Baylor goes to a zone, Bill Raftery says that the Bears’ Scott Drew coached zone early in his career.
  • After Nantz pointed out that Baylor made 11 straight free throws, Baylor’s Butler missed one. He then says, “You knew that would happen after I gave that stat.” Raf: “Hope you don’t do that on some of those putts, this weekend.”
  • Leave historical references to Nantz who pointed out that Baylor’s title was only the second for a Texas based school. The other was the 1966 Texas Western team made up of five Black stars that shocked Kentucky’s Wildcats who started five white players.
  • With 3:50 to go and the game all but over, Raf: “Get the lingerie out on the deck and get the janitor.” I was waiting for Bill to break out in song the way Don Meredith did, “Turn out the lights, the party is over.”
  • Good insertion by CBS production, dusting off video of Scott Drew’s introduction in 2003 when he took over a Baylor program that was in shambles , “I’m here to chase a national championship,” he tells the media then.
  • Unlike Saturday night after Suggs’ thrilling game winner, the broadcast trio let the celebration scene breathe and didn’t say anything for about a minute.
  • When the post-game ceremony was about to begin, Greg Gumbel: “Now here’s Jim Nantz to present the trophy.” And I’m thinking, I know Jim has lots of roles, but is he also the commissioner? In truth, Nantz introduced the basketball chair Mitch Barnhart who did the honors. Nantz’ interview with Coach Drew suffered an awkward Covid moment. Maintaining his social distance, Nantz had to shout out his questions to Drew, who couldn’t hear him a few times.
  • Then the annual One Shining Moment. And the rascal in me keeps thinking that the owners of the copyrighted song, clips coupons every year, collecting big checks from CBS/Turner. Running after midnight, how many viewers actually see it? Who stays up to watch it? Time for a new song.
  • Can the world survive now with no more Lilly?

 

 

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David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Michael Green
5 months ago

How many championships is this now for Bob Fishman, the great CBS director? 39?

If Raf had said the jello was jiggling, Chick Hearn would have appeared and whacked him on the head for not giving him credit.