SDBB: Point/CounterPoint #21 – Evaluating the CBS Coverage of the Big Dance

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All season long we watch ESPN, who has a large stable of long time Commentators and/or former Coaches, who add a great depth to the season. After a season of being comfortable with the Commentators/Announcers, we reach the Big Dance that will decide the National Championship, and get the offerings of CBS.  In this installment, Ro Shiell and Bermuda Bob rate the performance of the pairings CBS gave us.

Query #1

We will do this in the order of Seniority.  Verne Lundquist, Jim Spinarkle, Allie LaForce team were assigned to East Region in Syracuse.  

How did you think they handled their assignment ???

Bermuda Bob:

Somehow, someway, I think every sports fan in America grew up with Verne Lundquist calling some type of game.  He is an icon I am glad to see active.  Teaming him with Jim Spinarkle is like ham and eggs.  They have no agendas and always make you want to join them right there on Press Row.  They know how to handle both praise-worthy play without overdoing it, and handle unfortunate play the same way.

Allie LaForce is the “better half” of a late night/ over night CBS show called “LEAD OFF” with Doug Gottlieb.  She makes the show in my estimation.

Rowan:

Looking into Verne Lunquist I have learned that he’s quite a character who has no qualms in sharing his thoughts on his fellow broadcasters. You can follow the link here to hear his thoughts on Jim Nantz a “script reader” and Greg Anthony, for obvious reasons, among others.

Jim Spanarkel is a former Duke player who has paved the way into broadcasting for a long line of fellow alums.

Allie LaForce is the type of talent that can blandly read off numerous statistics, and make it sound incredibly interesting, so long as the camera is kept trained on her. She should be given her own Half-Time show.

Query #2

The MidWest Region was covered by Marv Albert, Len Elmore, Chris Webber, and Lewis Johnson, subbing for Craig Sager, whose cancer has returned.  We send Craig our best wishes, and look forward to his colourful ensembles.  

What did you think of the way this team did their job ???

Bermuda Bob:

Turner is a NBA-centric network.  Many college basketball fans, like myself, don’t pay any attention to the NBA, so they pair well-known personalities and believe it will pass.  I remember Marv Albert from the early Knicks days, and before his fascination for silk panties was revealed.  I respect that he was able to come back from that.

Many ACC fans know and severely dislike Lenny Elmore for his pompous declarations during the season.  Suffice to say that I wish he would hasten his retirement.

For some reason, they added Chris Webber to this team.  Chris was a member of the Michigan “Fab Five” that forever besmirched college basketball.  He is best remembered for his famous “Time Out” he called that Michigan didn’t have in the National Championship game against North Carolina.  To hear him speak about “smart play” is not only oxymoronic, it demonstrates that his media career is no better than his NBA career was.  He added nothing to a team where Marv Albert was forced to do a great deal of heavy lifting.

I was sorry to hear of Craig Sager’s unfortunate situation.  The guy they assigned to replace him, Lewis Johnson was a poor replacement and an insult to Craig’s wonderfully colourful ensembles.  Lewis, the Bow Tie, and goofy glasses, was an attempt to make himself the center of attention, and patently wrong when the game and the coaches are the news !!!

Rowan:

I like Marv Albert, he has a wonderful way of staying in the moment, whether it is capturing a hellacious dunk or a simple pick, he keeps the action flowing. Sadly Len Elmore is the complete opposite.  A basketball drone stuck in his own head.

Chris Webber is the guy who embodies the theory “wing it and if anyone calls you on it double down.”  

I can’ think of anything good or bad to say about Lewis Johnson which means he is probably good enough not to be distracting. I can’t say the same about his bow tie though.

Query #3

The West Region was assigned to Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, and Rachel Nichols.  

What were your impressions of this team ???

Bermuda Bob:

If one were bouncing between 4 channels on your TV, you might have mistaken Kevin Harland for Marv Albert, then you’d hear Dan Bonner chime in and know that you were in a much better place.  Both Kevin and Dan did a good job, even if they had to do their best to muzzle Reggie Miller, and his penchant to note how college basketball differs from the NBA.

We get it Reggie, you were a great NBA player, but you were commenting on the Big Dance.  I’m sorry you had a nice college career, but your team was nothing to write home about during your enrollment there.  So, remind me, please, why are you doing the Big Dance when you don’t go anywhere near college basketball the rest of the year ???

I understand that Rachel Nichols was once, and maybe still is, a viable commodity in the niche she is in.  I remember her for camping out at the gates of Brett Farve’s estate, but never having anything to do with college basketball.  As I just noted about Lewis Johnson, her physical demeanour could use some toning down, except maybe at Halloween.

Rowan:

All I know about this bunch is that Reggie Miller completely dominated the broadcast and that was a cardinal sin. Miller is one of the greatest basketball shooters who clearly spent a lot of time on his own in empty gyms perfecting his craft, and as a result is humorless and charm deficient. These could be forgiven as necessary sacrifices if he didn’t hold himself in such high esteem.

I always like sideline reporters because I depend on them for the little things or sadly, updates on injuries etc. Rachel Nichols is a professional who can be seen listening in at hurdles, or chasing injured players back to the locker room for the scoop. She gets the job done and her half time questions are searching but not too probing.

Query #4

The South Region was handled by Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson, Grant Hill, and Jim Nantz.  

How do you think they handled their assignment ???

Bermuda Bob:

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, finally some sanity !!!  I was one of those who was so very deeply happy that Bill Raftery was rewarded with this spot.  He stayed loyal to the Big East, where he coached and was the voice of the conference for years.  Not only was he rewarded with the position, he was paired with one of the best players in Duke history who is both credible and well spoken.  I thanked the CBB Gods when I heard of this pairing.

Of course, they are joined by Jim Nantz, who I call in a complimentary vein as the “Omni-Commentator” for his wide breadth of sports he reports on.  From the Big Dance to the Masters to the Super Bowl, and everything in between, he always does a laudable job.

Tracy Wolfson is by far one of the best Sideline Reporters in memory.  She does not take herself too seriously, and her dress reflects that.  You can see how well she is received by the Head Coaches she interviews, by the questions she asks, and her knowledgeable interviews.

As a final note here, Duke fans certainly must feel blessed that this team was assigned to all of Duke’s games.  I, for one, was thankful and it thankfully carries thru to the Final Four.  CBS might have a terrible array of un-ESPN-like commentators, but that showed some “onions” by giving these guys the Final Four.  They will be rewarded “… with a kiss …” from college basketball fans, especially Duke fans.

Rowan:

Let me turn you over to Mark Titus for a little anecdote I found hilarious…

  • “Because Hill and Raftery share a broadcasting booth with Jim Nantz, Hill has to address Raftery so his partners know which one he’s talking to. But Raftery’s age — he’s 300 years older than Hill — is causing some confusion. No sane person would call someone who’s old enough to be his grandpa by his first name. Bob Knight’s firing set the precedent that calling an elder by just his last name will get you a lecture and your arm grabbed. And “Mr. Raftery” would sound ridiculous. So Hill went all in on “Coach,” even though Raftery hasn’t coached anyone in 34 years. I love this so much that I’m going to steal it. For the next month, I’m going to call anyone at least 20 years older than I am “Coach.” If it feels right, I just might make it my thing. Stay tuned.”

The broadcasting booth needs some new blood and Grant Hill is one of the younger guys coming through but he has a little Reggie Miller in him and at times can sound a little too scripted. Maybe he is intimidated by the talent around him because he works great with Kristen Ledlow on Inside the NBA. That’s OK as no one expects anyone to be perfect their first time.

Nantz and Raftery have been around so long they are the blue print of college basketball broadcasting. However I must point this out. That noise Raftery makes at the start of games can be very annoying when he is self conscious about it. A few times this past fortnight he has missed his beat and it made awkward air time. I get that it is his thing but when it starts getting distracting lose it.

Tracy Wolfson – see my comments regarding Rachel Nichols above. 

Query #5

There were people like Ian Eagle, Doug Gottlieb, Mike Gminski, Steve Smith, Dana Jacobson, and others.  

Did you have any favourites, or people who wish did not return next year ??? 

Bermuda Bob:

Mike Gminski is a cornerstone of the ACC Network, and I wish he got more exposure.   Steve Smith ought to shake Reggie Miller in those advertisements, because he is associated more with college basketball than the NBA.  He ought to pursue a place in the limelight with college basketball.  I enjoy both he and Mike there !!!

Ian Eagle is a voice that will never be mistaken.  He is knowledgeable, appropriate, and never puts himself above the game, unlike Doug Gottlieb.  Gottlieb will never be known as the deepest personality in sport, but you can bet on it that he will do his best to convince you otherwise.

Steve Lappas can alway be counted on for depth, verve, and that special aspect that a former coach adds to the mix.  He might not always be easy to listen to for a long period of time, but what you get is surely your money’s worth !!!

Suffice to say, that if I did not mention someone, then they didn’t impress me in any sense …

Lastly, Dana Jacobson, the hard partying former ESPN “Cold Pizza” co-host, was called on to do sideline coverage early on, and did it well.  Unfortunately, she was not favored by CBS, and replaced by, instead, Lewis Johnson to join the Marv Albert team.  Dana must be living somewhere around the middle of her 9 lives.

Rowan:

Probably Ian Eagle for the way he pronounces his name “Iron Eagle” which I find humourous. If someone told you to go and meet a guy called ‘Iron’ Eagle and he turned up, I would feel let down with such an unassuming man.

I have no time for Doug Gottlieb who probably thinks that he invented basketball. He has eased up on his Duke vitriol since Coach K cut him down, back in 2009.

I always have time for Mike Gminski not just because he went to Duke, and dominated. I like him because he has been calling basketball games for a long time, and without any gimmicks, which can get tired and annoying over time.

The following words will probably erase any credibility I ever had on this subject, but it is a crying shame that Dick Vital is not calling games in the tournament. He sets the standard for anecdotes and language in college basketball. He gets a bad rap for playing up to the leaders in the sport such as the top coaches, but that should not take away from his contribution to the sport. Terms like “Glue Guys,” “Diaper Dandies,” “PTP (Prime time Player),” “Blender,” “High Riser,” “MIA’er,” “Mr Pac Man” and “Trifecta.” Tell me you are not getting “goosebumps” hearing these !!! No ??? How about the following ???

“It’s Brick City USA baby!” 

“He is awesome baby with a Capital A!”

Who wouldn’t want to be described like this:

“He is super, scintillating and sensational, baby !!!” 

Query #6

The main CBS Studio Team is Greg Gumble, Steve Smith, Mateen Cleeves, Wally Szczerbiak and Seth Davis.  

The TBS Studio Team is Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Clark Kellogg.  

How did you think they handled their charges ??? 

Bermuda Bob:

When CBS was trying to keep the Big Dance and was bidding against ESPN, they needed someone who had the wide swath network exposure to match ESPN.  They turned to Turner, who already had a NBA presence.  Well, having 3 other networks in their stable was ideal on paper, but not for college basketball fans.

We listen to ESPN all season long, and because CBS and Turner did not want to bring in the best college basketball people, they spurned all the best and tried to pawn off NBA people on us.  Then, they threw in the bargain of Bleacher Report, who Turner had purchased.  Yes, the vast majority of NBA players-turned-Commentator once graced the campus of a university at one time, but that did not make them capable … Yes, I said capable … college basketball analysts !!!

In a perfect world, ESPN would do the Big Dance.  Imagine that, the quintessential sports network, who does nothing but sports, doing the best annual sporting event of the year.   But, alas Virginia, the world is not perfect, as CBS proves each year with their Big Dance coverage.

So, let’s take each studio individually …

One of the New York studios is moderated by Greg Gumble.  He, like Nantz, is a multi-sport personality.  As a moderator, he simply makes sure his corral of personalities are on time.  The other New York Studio is handled by Ernie Johnson of Turner’s NBA coverage.  Matt Weiner is a breath of fresh air in the Atlanta Studio early on, where they regularly hosted college basketball coaches.

The other studio personalities are led by:

Clark “Rymin’ Simon” Kellogg, whom I was glad got taken off of court-side coverage.  His knowledge and delivery is only surpassed by his voice, that sounds like a fluglehorn out of tune, or his poor imitation of Walt Frazier.  Hence, the nickname.

Seth Davis, who must feel like he’s in a bad dream each time he sits down, is an accomplished Journalist and Writer.  His knowledge of inside information gives him the most gravitas of anyone who imparts understanding in the CBS studio.

When CBS joined with Turner, and it’s NBA Studio Shows, they inherited Kenny Smith, a former North Carolina standout who refuses to say the name “Duke” – as if that’s so very mature – and Charles “The Round Mound of Rebound” Barkley.  To the youngsters amongst our readers, Charles was actually a grand NBA player, not just the ignoramus buffoon he portrays in commercials.  Unfortunately, as I have said before, putting a couple of NBA players in 3 piece suits is nothing more than lipstick on pigs.  At one point we discovered that not only could Charles not pronounce “Gonzaga,” he was clueless as to who their coach was.

On a positive note, CBS has added Mateen Cleeves, of Michigan State fame, and Wally Szczerbiak, of Miami of Ohio, to their Studio.  Both are instant favourites for me.  Mateen was a four-year graduate favourite of Coach Tom Izzo, and Wally graduated of the Richard T Farmer School of Business after being an undergraduate Marketing Major.  They are smart, well-spoken, and have plenty of gravitas for me.

Some day, I hope to grow up and not have to be subjected by the whims of a network merger, and be treated to an exceptional broadcast performance by the people who ought to be doing college basketball with the people we listen to all season long !!!

Rowan:

I spent the Half Time moments watching other games.

Editor’s Note:

For those you don’t know, Ro lives on London, and STILL, even with the time differential, watches as many games live the he can. Those he can’t see, are DVR’d.  

British TV adamantly refuses to televise American advertisements, so Ro sees nothing going on in the Studios, which might, in and of itself, make an interesting statement !!!

********************************

Thanks for Reading !!!

We welcome your comments both here and at our Twitter site at:

@SimplyDukeBB

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