Sunday, March 19, 2006

NCAA Tournament thoughts

It finally came around 7:00 Sunday night, in the late stages of the Villanova-Arizona game. Billy Packer admitted he was wrong.

Jim Nantz seemed to have prompted him at least two or three times during the day (and probably a lot more, considering I only saw the games they were broadcasting at halftime and in between other games). Nantz would say, "How about that Bradley team?" and Packer would all of a sudden start talking about Memphis. Or he'd just ignore Nantz when he started praising George Mason. But when CBS put up a graphic listing the conferences represented in the Sweet 16, Packer said, "I'm seldom wrong, but..." and then noted that the Missouri Valley and the Colonial conferences had the same amount of teams left in the tournament as the ACC and Big 12 did, respectively.

And that really was the story of the first weekend of the tournament--that some of those smaller conferences proved they did belong. I'm a big ACC fan, but what makes the NCAA tournament fun in the first couple rounds is watching teams like George Mason pull upsets. And it was great to see a team that just barely got in the tournment like George Mason beat two of the biggest powers in the country. Even more amazing is that while watching the Mason-Michigan State game it was obvious who the better team was: George Mason. Sure, MSU played poorly, but George Mason is good, and might have won that game by 20 if they could have hit their foul shots. That wasn't a fluke. As for UNC, announcer Gus Johnson made some comment comparing George Mason's chance of winning to Dean Smith once saying he could never beat Jack Nicklaus in a round of golf, but maybe on one hole--or something like that. Sure, UNC would likely win a seven-game series from Mason, but I think it might be close. They've got solid inside players and guards who make plays and don't turn the ball over too often. I can't believe anyone who watched both games wouldn't think the same--but I still don't understand why some college players make it in the NBA and others don't even get a chance, so maybe I really don't know anything about basketball.

As for my Duke Blue Devils, I have no idea whether LSU is a tought matchup or not, since I've only seen them play for the five minutes of the LSU-Texas A&M game that they showed Saturday. They have some really big guy built like Shaq who looks tough (I presume his nickname is "Baby" because he's like a baby Shaq?) and that's the extent of my knowledge. I do know that Josh McRoberts played great Saturday, and if he can score, rebound and handle the ball like that for the next four games, Duke's chances increase considerably. I also hope that someone finds DeMarcus Nelson before Thursday, because he obviously got lost on the bus trip to Greensboro. Yeah, I know he played 20 minutes according to the box score, but I didn't see him.

One other thing about the coverage of the NCAA tournament by CBS. When you sit down and watch the Redskins-Chiefs NFL game on CBS during the fall, and there's a Broncos-Patriots game going on at the same time, does CBS come back from a commercial, show you a random second and 6 play by the Patriots, then show Tom Brady calling a timeout and walking to the sideline--while Greg Gumbel and Boomer Esisason talk about how the game's been going? Of course not, they update you on the score by showing you a touchdown or key play setting up a touchdown or turnover. Of course, basketball is different because there's a lot more scoring, but wouldn't showing us 20 or 30 seconds of highlights be a better way of telling us what's going on in the game than random shots of people lining up for free throws or watching one team get called for traveling. (ESPN often does it during its college basketball coverage during the regular season.)

There seems to be an obsession by CBS to show as much live action as possible to emphasize the excitement of the tournament, but showing live action just to be live is pointless. This philosophy reached absurd levels on the first night of the tournament. I came home from work, having not seen any highlights from the afternoon games, and eager to see Tennessee's buzzer beater against Winthrop. Instead, because the San Diego games had been delayed due to a bomb scare, we didn't see any of the exciting plays from the afternoon action--despite the fact that there must have been millions like me. No, we saw about five minutes of the first half of the UCLA-Belmont game, two minutes of which was a timeout. And since I never saw any more of that game once the game in my region started, the whole thing was pretty pointless. I had to tune over to ESPNews to see the Tennesse shot--did they really want me doing that? Then later that night, after the GW-UNCW game ended, CBS switched me to the Gonzaga-Xavier game. I'd been paying attention to that score all night on the top of the screen, and Xavier had been ahead almost all of the second half. And when CBS switched us, the announcers noted that Gonzaga had just recently gone ahead, and it had been due to the great shots and passes of Adam Morrison. I was looking forward to seeing some of those great plays, but no luck. When the Gonzaga game ended, we were quickly switched to the opening moments of the second half of Air Force-Illinois. Yes, I like to see as much live action as possible, but I also want to know what I may have missed because I can't watch four games at once. CBS couldn't switch me to that uneagerly anticipated game a few minutes later and show us a highlight or two detailing why Adam Morrison was so great?

I was encouraged that on Friday night, CBS did show a highlight or two of the Connecticut-Albany game to update viewers watching other games, so maybe they're making progress. We'll see what happens during the Sweet 16.


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