The Eye Has Had Enough Of Billy Packer’s Act

After years of frustrating plenty of college basketball fans with his crotchety, no-fun act on CBS’ March Madness coverage, the Eye has thought better of Billy Packer, saying it will not bring him back for another season with Jim Nantz, preferring to promote Clark Kellogg instead to be its main color commentator for college basketball.

Again, I have no quarrel with the ditching of Packer (although the split seems very mutual, as Packer told the Miami Herald he’s tired of commentating). Somewhere during the last decade, the crabby act got really old and tired, plus his admission of not being a fan of sports along with his “fagging out” joke on Charlie Rose didn’t endear him any further (this isn’t even getting into the mess he started with St. Joseph’s Phil Martelli over its #1 seed in 2004 or calling Allen Iverson a monkey). Nantz is hard enough on me as play-by-play; while Packer can be considered about as college basketball as Dick Vitale, I’m not gonna miss him all that much.

But I’ve got to side with Lozo on this: why Clark Kellogg?  He may be next in line at CBS (and it’s probably because he works solely for CBS), but they have a more talented analyst in their midst during March who ought to be working Final Fours for them: Bill Raftery. I mean, having Raf give us an “ONIONS!” or a “Send it in, ____!” during the game is damn near a highlight in and of itself. He mixes great analysis with fun, and it’s clear he loves the game.

However, Kellogg is as good as we’ll get, because CBS won’t have its lead color guy for college basketball come from the ranks of guys they hire as contractors from ESPN — which is what really might have killed off any chance of getting the best analyst in this sport from getting its most plush job.

Photo: AP/Michael Conroy

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Kansas Chalks Memphis’ Outline On Court

Yes, Memphis did blow this game. You can’t be up by 7 with two minutes left, have the opportunity to put the game out of reach by hitting free throws and missing four of the last five attempts, and you certainly can’t fuck up an obvious chance to foul and force Kansas to intentionally miss a free throw. That said, it means nothing if Kansas isn’t good enough to take advantage of the errata, the wear and tear on a six-man Memphis rotation, and the absence of Joey Dorsey late due to fouling out. And let’s not forget: Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose are two of the team’s better charity stripe guys, hitting at 70 percent or better.

Mario Chalmers’ shot was absolutely incredible. He had a hand in his face and was on the move, and then helped contribute to a dismantling of the Tigers, who appeared as if Chalmers’ 3-point bucket to send it to overtime had inspired spontaneous bowel movements on the entire team (and given Derrick Rose’s diet, that image would have been an utter mess.) The Tigers looked like a dominant, championship team for 38 minutes — but you have to play 40. When you go against a team as deep as Kansas on the bench, it’s hard to compete and follow through, never mind finish, when you’re so dependent upon the starting five.

Chris Douglas-Roberts joined Darius Washington and Dorsey as the latest Tiger whose free throw woes cost his team the game, and while it’s fun to mock coach John Calipari about free throws not mattering, anyone can crack in that situation — especially when exhausted. The final two minutes with the turnovers caused by Chalmers, Rush, and Sherron Collins, along with Kansas’ depth, has Bill Self not only getting the Final Four monkey off his back, but the national championship to add to his resume (whether he uses it to pry more money out of Lawrence for an extension or takes T. Boone Pickens’ oil cash back to his alma mater in Stillwater.)

Let’s not make the errors of, say, Bill Plaschke or Stewart Mandel, and say Memphis chose flash over basic basketball, because outside of the free throws, that’s kind of inaccurate. This whole ideal of purist versus modern reeks of hoops Luddite-ism at its worst, as both the running style and half-court have merit — and, as SI’s recent article on Dribble-Drive Motion proved, there is a method behind the Memphis O’s madness. 38 minutes of basketball will show you that’s not true. Teams will break down when pushed, and it’s proof of how deep Kansas was with blue-chip athletes like Rush and Chalmers, as well as Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun, that they broke down the tough defense and incredible offensive work that Memphis had performed throughout the tournament.

Kansas had its trial by fire when it had to match up with Davidson and keep Stephen Curry from lighting them up. The Jayhawks got out to a massive lead against North Carolina only to fend off a comeback that cut a 20+ point lead to four. This team rolls nine deep and had to use everyone who could get double digits to do so. Kansas beat Memphis because they were able to wear their athletes down, and the Tigers didn’t have the bodies to compensate — thus, Memphis got tired when it mattered most.

Photo: AP/Eric Gay

Like A Tiger, Defying The Laws Of Gravity

I’m burnin’ through the sky yeah
Two hundred degrees
That’s why they call me Mister Fahrenheit
I’m trav’ling at the speed of light
I wanna make a supersonic woman of you

– Queen, “Don’t Stop Me Now”

I’m more than conscious of the mantra that defense wins championships and KU’s dismantling of UNC early in the late Saturday game was a thing to behold. I was watching that game in a sports bar, and our jaws were dropping as the Jayhawks built margins of 20+ points, only to let the Tar Heels back in — but they eventually exposed the biggest weakness in Tyler Hasnbrough’s game: an inability to pass out of double teams effectively rather than try to bully his way in. Plus, the Jayhawks have enough depth to bear offensive struggles by some of their stronger players. I think Bill Self has exorcised his Final Four demon whether his team wins on Monday night or not — at least Kansas has dealt with the specter of Roy Williams’ departure by getting back at its old coach.

But the real impressive assault from Saturday night was the one Memphis performed on UCLA. Darren Collison gave up five inches and major wingspan to Derrick Rose as Russell Westbrook was assigned mostly to handle Chris Douglas-Roberts — this was a situation where basic man-to-man match-ups would be completely useless, as the two guards turned into absolute dynamos of fluid movement on the court — Rose’s gyrations, off-balance shots, and other ephemera to put the full arsenal of NBA-ready moves on display for anyone watching, along with CDR’s acrobatics, including the pictured facial of UCLA center Kevin Love, defined the game. As for Love: being frustrated by Robert Dozier and Joey Dorsey should make this perfectly clear for NBA scouts: his game is good, but he needs to spend another full season in Westwood hitting weights and pounding that post game into higher focus.

That said, what’s coming during tonight’s championship game, with another variety of offense vs. defense match-up? If Calipari and his recruits can break down UCLA’s vaunted defensive game, they can certainly do it to Kansas as well, particularly if both guards and Joey Dorsey can avoid early foul trouble. Kansas is a touch deeper than Memphis, and the interesting thing to see will be how much Self goes to Sasha Kaun off the bench to battle in the paint wiht Dorsey. Rose is this team’s own Mr. Farenheit. Memphis might as well be singing “Don’t Stop Me Now” at this juncture, but they’ll be trading it for another Queen standard in the sports world: “We Are the Champions.” This, despite Science Daily providing us with knowledge of a computer system that has predicted 30 of the last 36 Final Four teams — and it’s picking Kansas.

Hey, I always said these picks were ill-advised.

Photo: AP/Matt York

Ill-Advised 1st Round Tourney Predictions

We’ll just be going round by round here; expect a fresh post with 2nd round stuff on Saturday.

EAST REGIONAL

  • UNC beats Mount St. Mary’s — duh
  • Arkansas over Indiana — I don’t like the way the Hoosiers have basically limped in and expect them to be done quickly unless the refs want to see a UNC-IU matchup as much as CBS does.
  • Notre Dame whacks George Mason — No answer for Luke Harangody, it appears.
  • Winthrop over Wazzu – one Pac-10 team is going to bite it in the first round. This is as good as nay.
  • St. Joseph’s over Oklahoma — The Hawks are not exactly what they were a few years ago, but I don’t think OU is ready yet to do a second round.
  • Louisville tops Boise State — not really close at all.
  • Butler over South Alabama — in a squeaker, because the Bulldogs got screwed on the draw and have to play in Birmingham.
  • Tennessee beats American — 15 over 2 won’t happen here either.

MIDWEST REGIONAL

  • Kansas vs. Portland State – easy KU victory.
  • UNLV over Kent State – I rode hard on the Rebels last year and was proven right. I’ll do it again.
  • Clemson vs. Villanova – I think Oliver Purnell can get his squad to keep it together for a decent stretch unless they get in foul trouble. Nova needs all their shots to fall. Tigers.
  • Vanderbilt vs. Siena – Siena steals like crazy and Vandy has a turnover problem, so i’ve read. This is the trendy upset and I’ll be a lemming too.
  • USC vs. K-State – Mayo takes on Beasley, but it’s really about whether USC can keep Bill Walker and the rest of the Wildcats off the scoreboard. I say the odds of this are very good, and the Trojans move on.
  • Wisconsin vs. CSU-Fullerton – Sorry, Titans, it’s one and done for you in the most boring of fashions.
  • Gonzaga vs. Davidson – Davidson is a nice 10 over 7 here, and any team with Stephen Curry draining shots is a good upset pick. Watching Gonzaga lose to San Diego in the WCC final only makes this easier.
  • Georgetown vs. UMBC – Just a question of how much G’Town wins by.

SOUTH REGIONAL

  • Memphis vs. Texas-Arlington – Yawn. Memphis will lose by the Sweet 16, but not this early.
  • Mississippi State vs. Oregon – Ernie Kent ekes out one more tourney win with Malik Hairston and keeps the rabid Duck base off his back for maybe one more year.
  • Michigan State vs. Temple – Drew Neitzel’s career gets one more game after this.
  • Pitt vs. Oral Roberts – A question of how badly the Panthers beat the televangelist’s university.
  • Marquette vs. Kentucky – I don’t even think Kentucky should be in the tournament. It’ll be close, but I think the Golden Eagles will be able to send the Wildcats home.
  • Stanford vs. Cornell – If they matched up SAT scores, Cornell has a chance — but not dealing with the 7-foot Lopez twins.
  • Miami vs. Saint Mary’s – Another 10-7 upset right here. The Gaels will bust the Canes.
  • Texas vs. Austin Peay – double yawn. Horns hook ’em easy.

WEST REGIONAL

  • UCLA vs. Mississippi Valley State — this is just mean. Bruins win.
  • BYU vs. Texas A&M — the half-decent Aggie team will show up for this one.
  • Drake vs. Western Kentucky — the secretly awesome game of the first round. Rooting fro Drake to pull it out.
  • UConn vs. San Diego — every time I think the Toreros can’t win a game, they pull a win out of their asses. I know it’s been against WCC competition, but that’s still something to take into account, and fluke wins happen a lot (I don’t have the winner of this game going to the 16 anyway.)
  • Purdue vs. Baylor — Baylor shouldn’t be here either, and Purdue will prove it.
  • Xavier vs. Georgia — it’s been a nice run and Dennis Fulton has saved his job, but Xavier will make it stop here.
  • West Virginia vs. Arizona — I must be one of the few people that thinks WVU is going to do well in this tourney and sneak up on teams. When they shoot well, they are not easy to stop. Arizona has Bayless and Budinger, but there have been plenty of games where they’ve looked awfully listless — and don’t think it doesn’t make a difference to have Kevin O’Neill instead of Lute Olson behind the bench.
  • Duke vs. Belmont – The Blue Devils aren’t going to meet up with UCLA later on, but they’ll survive one round.

Ill-Advised Early NCAA Tournament Prediction

I think you can tell by the photo who I’ve picked to win it all in my brackets. I don’t do a lot of variation in them in order to win different ones; I just pick one system and ride it in every one I enter.

My Final Four at this point is essentially UCLA, Tennessee, Kansas, and Stanford, with UCLA and Tennessee meeting in the title game.  Memphis doesn’t shoot free throws well enough to make it out of the South, and Rick Barnes has coached enough Texas teams and choked with them at every opportunity. This leaves an opening for the Cardinal — who are very, very good when their guards hit their shots.  UCLA has the easiest path to the Final Four (especially with a serious Pacific Time Zone advantage). Tennessee will get there by knocking off UNC, and if UCLA has an easy path, so does Kansas until the Jayhawks face the Georgetown Hoyas in my regional final in the Midwest.

I may make some shifts in the early rounds, particularly if I can figure out more about schools like Siena (I really don’t like either Clemson, Vanderbilt, or Villanova out of that grouping in the Midwest), but some of the basic stuff is pretty clear. There may be some round-by-round predictions coming before Thursday gets started.

Oh, and I’ll take Mount St. Mary’s in the play-in game today.

The Madness Doesn’t Draw As Many Eyes These Days

So sayeth CBS’ media folk, according to the Hollywood Reporter. You and I, being sports-addicted and particularly so come midway through March, on tall dudes playing two 20-minute halves in single-elimination tournaments, might think otherwise. The ratings have dropped 12% in the past three years, with last year holding a 6.1 rating, which is the second-to-lowest in the 25 years the Eye has broadcast the tournament.

Generally, I believe ratings tell you much more about the casual fan than the die hards, and are responsible for most of the abominations dressed up as concepts that we are subject to in many live broadcasts (example: Monday Night Football’s guests.) But when networks pay hundreds of millions of dollars to broadcast sports, this ish concerns them. What do the networks hope for when the tourney comes around?

When the Big Ten and ACC have strong tournaments, the numbers go through the roof. In 2005, when the tournament had its highest ratings of the past 10 years, four teams from those conferences made the Elite Eight, and both of the finals teams came from those conferences. Last year’s record-low numbers? Only two teams from those conferences made the Elite Eight.

This year, CBS executives could be biting their nails nervously when the brackets are announced Sunday. The number of potential ACC teams could double — or stay at a relatively paltry number. Three teams (Duke, Clemson and North Carolina) are expected to get in. But Miami, Virginia Tech and Maryland are perceived to be on the bubble; whether they get in could have a significant impact on viewership.

And while the majority of us get a kick out of Cinderella teams, there’s apparently such a thing as too many upsets:

Last year’s low ratings were for a tournament marked by just four upsets, the fewest in a long time. But in 2006, when average ratings were at a 6.3 and almost as low, the tournament saw the other extreme: 14 upsets.

It turns out there’s a golden mean of upsets; if they’re too low or too high, ratings drop. Fans want Cinderellas, but only a few. “You want enough upsets that it doesn’t get predictable, but not so many that it becomes a jumble,” one TV executive said. Indeed, three years ago, when upsets were at a middle-of-the-curve 10, ratings were strong. Ditto for six years ago, when there were 11 upsets.

My attitude as a viewer is usually “fuck that” because I don’t have enough invested in a team personally, I just want to see really good games on. But casual viewers who watch not a lick of college basketball will tune out when the teams they know about and hear shoved in their ears by the press all the time aren’t in it — and sadly, they’re the majority (well, maybe not sadly; not everyone can be a junkie), and that majority determines a lot of how the telecasts go.

Of course, I’d like to theorize that having a smarmy bum like Billy Packer handling the big games in the tournament could bore a hell of a lot of people — but CBS sees fit to keep the clod, anyway….oh well, if only we could link bad ratings to crap announcing or analysts. However, considering the proliferation of the Internets, I’d say ratings for actual cathode ray and digital set viewing could go down even further, because CBS is expanding its March Madness on Demand package. That’s more folks online watching rather than viewing on TV sets.

Follow the bouncing ball [Hollywood Reporter]