This weekend was amazing for college basketball fans. Switching back and forth between CBS and ESPN, a fan had the chance to see plenty of emotion and lots of speculation over which school was in the NCAA Tournament, which school was out, who would sit on the #1 line and which school was going where.
Let’s start the weekend review on Saturday.
11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Conference USA Championship (CBS)/America East Championship (ESPN)
CBS got the opportunity to air the coronation of Louisville in its last year in C-USA before it joins the Big East next year. This was a game that went back and forth. The always competent Verne Lundquist worked with Jim Spanarkel for the first and probably only time. They clicked very well. The pictures in this game were done quite well. Replays were compelling and you caught the emotion of Darius Washington who missed two of three free throws that would have put Memphis into the NCAA Tournament and booted a few teams that were on the bubble. What a way to win or lose with no time left on the clock.
ESPN had a blowout between Vermont and Northeastern, but a great job by the crew to capture of the tears of retiring Catamounts coach Tom Brennan as he realized that he was coaching his last game in front of his home crowd. I just wished Vermont had a better matchup in the first round facing Syracuse. However, the team will be in nearby Worcester, MA this week.
1:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. The Big Ten Semifinals (CBS)/ACC Semifinals (ESPN)
CBShad the storyline of Illinois Coach Bruce Weber deciding to lead his team in the wake of his mother’s passing the day before. Jim Nantz and the old, wrinkled up and forever balding Billy Packer did the first game of Illinois-Minnesota. This was a sloppy game and there were plenty of turnovers. But the Fighting Illini could never put the Golden Gophers away until the end. Lots of emotion for Bruce Weber as he handled the game with class.
Over on ESPN, the more compelling game was Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina. Paul Hewitt’s Yellow Jackets went ahead and had to stave off comeback attempts by the Tar Heels. Mike Patrick and Dick Vitale were all over the trends and a great job by sideline reporter Doris Burke to note that the Tech guards had little impact in their first game and that would have to change in the semifinal. It did and Tech won the game.
CBS had the better game between Iowa and Wisconsin in the nightcap. They even got a buzzer beater that ended the game just in time for the Pac 10 Championship to air.
In the second ACC semi, Duke pulled ahead of NC State late in the second half and there wasn’t much the Wolfpack could do.
Both networks kept the audience updated on other games although I give the edge to Rece Davis and ESPN. They just do a better job on score updates.
While the game between St. Joseph’s and George Washington was close for the most part, it was not a compelling game. Out west, Washington was making a statement for a #1 seed and fought off Arizona. Dick Enberg is a legend, but he’s close to Billy Packer retirement. There are times when Enberg shows flashes of his old self, but there are also times when he seems lost.
I don’t know why ESPN continues to put Mike Jarvis on games, but he did not add much on the A-10 Final. ESPN should have allowed Bob Carpenter to do the game by himself.
8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. Big East Championship (ESPN)/MAC Championship (ESPN2)
The mid-majors get short changed on ESPN, but with new network ESPNU now in existence, I would hope we get to see more of Ohio, Buffalo, Miami and others. A great game between Buffalo and Ohio as it went to overtime. I couldn’t turn back to the Big East as the MAC Championship went to overtime. And it took a last second shot by Ohio to get into the tournament and again, the Selection Committee did a bad job in keeping Buffalo and Miami out while putting Northern Iowa, Iowa and IowaState in. I just don’t understand that.
Syracuse easily defeated West Virginia, but the Mountaineers had already played themselves into the NCAA’s with defeats over BostonCollege and Villanova in the Big East Tournament.
10:00 p.m. – Mountain West Championship (ESPN)
Yes, I stayed up to watch this game. Utah and New Mexico had a great game and the Lobos did the job to get into the tournament by upsetting the Utes. Andrew Bogut is a man to watch in the NCAA’s and will help his NBA draft position. The announcing crew for this game was very pedestrian, however. I don’t even remember their names; that’s how bad they were. – 2:00 a.m. The Big West Championship (ESPN)
I had to go to bed sometime. I missed the upset of Pacific.
Now for Sunday:
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. College Gameday (ESPN)/Road to the Final Four (CBS)
I have to give props to Jay Bilas of ESPN for the lobbying for Washington as a #1 seed. Chris Fowler showed his skill as a host by keeping the show moving. Digger Phelps is ok, not great. This show doesn’t have the same oomph that its College Football brother does, but Bilas and Digger don’t have the same pizzazz that Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso do. ESPN has tried to copy the enthusiasm that comes during the college football season by going to game sites, but so far, it’s a work in progress. Thankfully, both have Fowler at the anchor desk although when Rece Davis filled in earlier in the season, he did a very good job as well.
Over to the Tiffany Network, Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg have a great chemistry. They’ve shown it since they were first teamed in 1998 so they’ve had some time to perfect their team. However, Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis must have pictures on somebody. Why this man is on television is unbeknownst to me. He’s lackluster and he harps on silly issues. He wouldn’t stop talking about why Iowa should be out of the NCAA’s and why Notre Dame should be in. He was eventually wrong on both counts. Clark Kellogg is the Voice of Reason in the CBS studio and I can tell he wanted to punch Davis a few times. Davis is like the little brother who annoys you and gets slapped every once in a while. However, Kellogg can’t slap the gnat on TV otherwise he’ll be arrested. I would volunteer to do it, but I can’t get into the CBS studio in March.
Let’s jump to the Selection Shows. 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 The Selection Show (CBS)
Since CBS enforced its exclusivity for the men’s tournament, ESPN does its show an hour later so there was no need for flip back and forth for three hours. CBS has this down pat having the tournament since 1982. Jim Nantz and Billy Packer had increased roles this year while the interviews with coaches were scrapped. That ended up to be a good move, not the fact the viewer got to see more of Billy Packer, but it allowed for more reaction shots of schools that were selected for the tournament.
For some reason, Nantz and Packer controlled the interview with Selection Committee Chairman Bob Bowlsby. Between Packer and Davis, I would rather see Packer as the lesser of two evils so that wasn’t too much of a bad thing. I know that Nantz and Packer had just completed calling the Big Ten Final and could not leave the UnitedCenter in Chicago, but you would think CBS would have invested in a nicer backdrop instead of being huddled on the opposite end of their press table. It looked rather awkward.
And we saw the unveiling of a new Pontiac ad showing both Gumbel and Vitale.
The show moved well and the coaches’ interviews were not missed. 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. ESPNU Bracketology
When ESPN decides to do something in a big way, it will spend the money and give the viewer excellent production values. The College Gameday crew was joined by Dick Vitale on the NFL Countdown set. This allowed for a nice look. We also had the privilege to see Rece Davis be joined by Rick Majerus and Steve Lavin. The one drawback was having Mike Hall and Doug Gottlieb on the ESPNU set in North Carolina.
The coaches’ interviews were reserved for this show and since there were two hours to fill, they were not a burden.
There was a little conflict when Gottlieb criticized the choice of Washington as a number one seed saying it did not deserve the position. Bilas, Phelps and Vitale all shot down Gottlieb’s assertion as they should have.
Majerus had decent one liners, but who could have thought that the funniest moment of the show would involve Texas Tech coach Bob Knight?
When it came for his interview, Knight had plenty of sponsors on his sweater and he was sitting in front of a DirecTV backdrop. Digger Phelps took the opportunity to give a little “dig” to Knight for the sponsors noting that Knight looked like a NASCAR driver. Knight responded by saying ESPN did a great job for college basketball and then plugged DirecTV’s March Mega Madness NCAA Tournament package (for which he is the spokesman this year). It was a very funny moment and one that had Fowler, Vitale, Digger and Bilas in tears.
It was a tremendous weekend for college basketball, continuing the momentum of the past couple of weeks. As Greg Gumbel said at the end of the Selection Show, it’s time for the Madness to begin.