Let’s call March Madness what it really is, a CBS orgy.
We all know the networks that televise sports pretty well. But only the NCAA Tournament forces us to spend so much time watching games through the same camera lenses, with the same announcers, theme music, and show promos for the better part of three weeks.
And CBS is perfect for this, because their sports coverage isn’t overly flashy. No dancing robots or high-profile additions that rotate in and out each year. During March Madness, the music comes on, we see Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg, and then we’re sent live to Omaha to watch UNLV/Kent State.
Yeah, there’s Billy Packer to deal with, but when the Nantz-a-Tron is on full blast (we’ll get to that later), Billy isn’t that hard to deal with. It’s not like listening to Tim McCarver for seven games in a row, that’s for sure.
CBS has decent studio analysts, and Gus Johnson is obviously one of the best (and most excitable) TV play-by-play announcers working right now. But the old guys are what make CBS basketball fun (sort of like 60 Minutes). Here are my top four favorite things about CBS’s coverage, in reverse order:
4. Bill Raftery: Probably the only announcer whose catchphrases are still appealing. “With the kiss,” never gets old, nor does the term “onions” to refer to a man’s, um, fortitude. But while it’s always a bonus when Raftery’s the color guy, it’s just not the same unless he’s paired with No. 3 on this list…
3. Verne Lundquist: Kind of like the grandpa we all wish we had. Verne seems like perhaps the nicest guy in announcing history, he forgets things, and his voice is as soothing as the documentary series “The Planets” that my astronomy teacher used to play for us in college, the only time I legitimately fell asleep for an entire class period during my academic career.
And who can forget Lundquist’s tour de force performance in “Happy Gilmore?” I wonder if Bob Costas and/or Al Michaels turned down the role in Adam Sandler’s last truly funny film, only to accept pretty much the same parts in “Baseketball.”
2. Dick Enberg: Hearing him try to find the correct time and place to say “Oh my” is one of my favorite running subplots in sports.
1. The Nantz-a-Tron: I’ve had a theory for years that Jim Nantz is not actually a human, but a finely tuned robot announcer, hooked up to a device called the Nantz-a-Tron. No offense to Nantz, part of the reason I’ve made the joke is that it seems like he never makes mistakes.
Not only that, but once Nantz gets excited, he does the same thing every time. He talks a little louder, and starts coming up with almost clever, always corny lines to sum up a great performance. The bigger the situation, it’s as if a CBS employee turns the dial on the Nantz-a-Tron up, causing more excitement and even more ridiculous ending phrases. For example, he might say something like: “A Tiger has already earned his stripes, and today he earns another green jacket” at the Masters, or “LOVE is in the air for the Bruins” if UCLA wins the National Championship this season.
Speaking of the Bruins, here’s my attempt at making sense of the NCAA Tournament.
The Sweet 16 (In order of each team’s chances of win the Championship; teams beaten to get to the Sweet 16 in parentheses)
16. Siena (Vanderbilt, Clemson): Siena beat Stanford, why can’t they win a couple of games against overrated teams from big conferences? No way they make it past Kansas, though.
15. Washington St. (Winthrop, George Mason): Maybe at the beginning of the season I’d give them a snowball’s chance to get past this round, but not now, not against North Carolina.
14. Michigan State (Temple, Pittsburgh): Tom to the Izzo, Michigan Stizzate. I almost never pick against the Spartans, unless the team they’re playing has far more talent. I don’t know if it’s because Izzo has such a close relationship with Steve Marriuci, They won’t beat Memphis, but most people don’t even give them a chance of beating Pitt.
13. Xavier (Georgia, Purdue): Now that they’re actually getting national recognition, I just don’t see Xavier making a huge run. There probably aren’t many people outside the Pacific Time Zone who will agree with me, but I see them losing to Arizona.
12. Connecticut (San Diego, Western Kentucky): As good as San Diego played in the WCC Tournament, they’ll be playing UConn in Tampa, not at home. It won’t matter where they play when they face UCLA however, as the Bruins will easily advance.
11. USC (Kansas St., Wisconsin): This is a good finish for USC, a young team that had to grow up quickly in the monstrous Pac-10. Although this might be O.J. Mayo’s best showing yet, the Trojans got stuck in a monstrous region, and they’ll fall to Georgetown.
10. Tennessee (American, South Alabama): Bruce Pearl vs. Rick Pitino? Pretty easy decision. It won’t take much for the Volunteers to get to the Sweet 16, but Louisville will make sure they get no further.
9. Stanford (Cornell, Marquette): This will be it for the Cardinal, who don’t have nearly the guard play to go further than this. This is more an appreciation of the talents of Texas’s D.J. Augustin, not an indictment of Stanford, who hasn’t played defense this well since Mad Dog used to dunk all the time with two hands.
8. Louisville (Boise St., St. Joseph’s): Even though they’ll beat Tennessee, these Cardinals aren’t as good as some of Pitino’s prior squads. They’ll lose to North Carolina, by a lot.
7. Arizona (West Virginia, Duke): As you can see, I love the Pac-10. Always overrated in football, underrated in basketball. And no, Duke does not impress me. Here’s an idea on how to beat the Blue Devils: guard the three-point line. They won’t beat conference rival UCLA, but the Wildcats are going to be a lot better next year.
6. Memphis (Texas-Arlington, Mississippi St.): Only one loss all year, maybe the most athletic team in college ball, and John Calipari (18-9 all time in the NCAA Tournament) coaching. I think they can at least win their first three games, but they aren’t as tough as Texas.
5. Georgetown (UMBC, Gonzaga): This was probably the hardest choice, whether or not the Hoyas or Kansas would get the chance to go and beat North Carolina in the semifinals. While Georgetown was great last year and may be the best defensive team in the country, Kansas is just too talented.
4. North Carolina (Mt. St. Mary’s, Arkansas): I’m not even sure they’re one of the top four teams in the country, but they are in a pretty weak bracket. They’ll lose to Kansas, a much better team than anybody in the ACC.
3. Texas (Austin Peay, Saint Mary’s): It’s almost a clichÃƒÂ©, but guard play wins tournament games. Point guard play, specifically. If there’s a better PG than Augustin this year, I haven’t seen him. When they play UCLA it might be the best game of the tournament. However, the Bruins have a pretty good point guard in Darren Collison, and just a little bit more depth.
2. Kansas (Portland St., Kent. St.): Just a ridiculously talented team, Kansas made it through the second-toughest conference in the country, but they won’t be able to beat UNC and UCLA in consecutive games. They’ll come close, though.
1. UCLA (Mississippi Valley St., Texas A&M): After watching years of Steve Lavin-coached Bruin squads, it’s still kind of weird to watch UCLA games with actual plays and defense. Although the fact that seemingly half the nation is also picking the team I choose every year to go all the way worries me, I can’t pick any other team. They’ll make it to the Final Four for the third straight year, and this time they’ll win the whole thing.