CBS calls an ugly game what it is
An old adage got turned on its head in Monday night’s NCAA title game: From a TV standpoint, it was a shame somebody had to win.
Announcers normally are taught to make the game they’re calling sound exciting. That went out the window early in the second half. Hype sailed away, and a refreshing gust of honesty came blowing in.
“Unparalleled ineptitude,” CBS analyst Clark Kellogg said of Butler’s dismal shooting.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Steve Kerr echoed.
There was a lot of emphasis on coaches heading into this year’s Final Four. How could there not be? The weekend had the spectacle of two gnarled veterans in one semifinal game and a couple of baby-faced thirtysomething novices whose combined age didn’t match UConn’s 68-year-old Jim Calhoun in the other.
Still, if CBS and TNT’s first-rate coverage of this year’s tournament accomplished anything — other than demonstrating they could successfully orchestrate a team approach to blanket the event — it was re-balancing the player-coach equation in discussing college basketball.
Perhaps more than any other sport, college basketball is built to showcase coaches. With their ability to dictate the tempo of games and the “one-and-done” rule cycling top players in and out faster than ever, head coaches inevitably become the focal point of programs — celebrated for keeping their teams in contention or whacked, “Sopranos”-style, when they don’t.
In truth, coaches get excessive credit and absorb too much blame. You can put a kid in the right place, after all, but can’t hit an open 15-footer for him. This fascination with X’s and O’s is hardly new and owes a lot to the signature pairing of two former coaches, Billy Packer (an assistant before he transitioned to broadcasting) and the late Al McGuire, as analysts on college hoops coverage beginning in the late 1970s.
The nexus in analyzing games, however, has shifted. Play-by-play man Jim Nantz was paired with two former players: Kellogg, who replaced Packer in 2008, and TNT’s Kerr, who proved a savvy addition to the coverage. The halftime crew consisted of three NBA veterans: Greg Anthony, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley.
Faced with an ugly football-score-type game — what Anthony called “the worst half of basketball ever seen in a national championship game” — they called the action for what it was. Players missed shots. The game stank.
However the rims were miked, the sound of balls caroming off them might have been the loudest ever heard in a basketball telecast, which seemed to magnify the “Clang! Clang! Clang!” of errant shots.
The storylines before the game certainly were compelling. A demographic dream matchup, with Calhoun against Butler’s version of Clark Kent, 34-year-old Brad Stevens, leading a team whose chances looked considerably improved with last year’s stunning Cinderella run behind them.
Badmouthing college kids can’t be a lot of fun. But as the game progressed, there was no getting around what was happening on the court, and Stevens and Calhoun weren’t the ones missing all those jumpers.
Part of this might reflect not just players supplanting coaches in the broadcast booth, but also the influence of having a TNT team that normally covers the NBA woven into the festivities. More than once, people like Barkley stated the seemingly obvious: UConn, chosen by virtually everyone to win, would do so because the Huskies have “better players.” Even Calhoun, during his pregame pep talk, said, “I think we’re the better team.”
Of course, the better team doesn’t always win — especially not in college basketball. By contrast, over the course of a seven-game NBA series, talent usually triumphs.
Never bashful about speaking his mind, Barkley said he hated the “one-and-done” rule during the Final Four on Saturday, before picking Kentucky to win because of John Calipari’s coaching. And after VCU was ousted, Barkley quipped that Coach Shaka Smart is “gonna be really rich” thanks to his team’s breakthrough tourney performance.
And that’s no doubt true. Because while coaches can’t always determine the final outcome, unlike all but their few NBA-bound players, they’re the ones who get to directly transform “one shining moment” into gold — even when (Clang!) they win ugly.
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Recommended viewing: Jim Nantz pulls double duty for CBS this week, with coverage of the Masters (can’t you almost hear him say it?) beginning April 7 on CBS and ESPN.