Back before CBS let a few cable networks play in their sandbox and cover the NCAA Basketball Tournament, you had to wait until the actual basketball started to nitpick about the broadcasting of the thing. Oh, CBS flipped to this game too early and this game too late! I didn't want to watch all of the Duke game, I wanted to see Michigan or Florida! Gus Johnson won't stop yelling even though it's a double-digit lead!
Now that there are games on a cable network nobody watches during the other 50 weeks of the year March Madness is not happening, and four games that we can all watch at any given time, we can play armchair network executive right away. Cheers to CBS and Turner, who have graciously gifted me with that opportunity. Straight away, some rights and wrongs about the opening rounds.
Wrong: the continued push of the "First Four" on TruTV. Look, it's great that -- while offering a plethora of games on CBS and TBS and TNT, networks we already know well -- Turner is giving little-watched cable sibling TruTV some of the action. You need four networks to show all of the games live, and it was either that or the even-less distributed CBS Sports Network, I suppose.
But when it comes to a set of games that already draw the derision of the casual fan, and games that are going to air nationally and exclusively... let's just say you really need to go out of your way to get me to flip to TruTV in the first place, and James Madison vs. LIU-Brooklyn isn't how you're going to do it. Move these games to TBS or TNT, and let TruTV continue to air second- and third-round games, and continue to air things like this.
Right: Almost all of the CBS games. CBS is always in the most precarious position, because they're a broadcast network, and let's just say teams like South Dakota State aren't necessarily capable of drawing the broadest audience. They can show highlights of other games, but the whip-around factor no longer exists, so they have to pick what they see as the best four games each day to try and draw the biggest audience possible.
They mostly achieve this in days one and two of the traditional tournament. Duke, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan and Michigan State are all teams with national brands who will likely carry an audience no matter who they face. Interesting, though, is that CBS is given a couple of intriguing, if not necessarily big market games at mid-day on Thursday and Friday. Cincinnati and Creighton are fairly well known teams who could play a good game, and Memphis' power as a national draw will certainly be tested against a "First Four" winner. Overall, I think CBS did the best they could.
Wrong: Villanova/North Carolina on cable. The one CBS choice (or non-choice) I have to question. At least it's on TNT and not TruTV, but man, these are two huge basketball powers. Even if neither is necessarily at the height of their basketball mastery... well, let's just say I live in the New York-area, and half the people I know has a rooting interest in one of these schools despite never attending. People I know who actually went to D-I college basketball schools root for these teams. It's especially questionable given that the follow-up game CBS would've "had" to take features Kansas, another national power. CBS won't cry with Notre Dame and Ohio State, but this could've drawn them a sweet audience.
Right: Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel. Whether they're together on Nets games or college hoops, they are consistently my favorite basketball broadcasting duo, right behind Bill Walton and whatever poor soul Bill probably imagines is a spiritual cactus in his mind. Eagle, who should be getting bigger assignments, is knowledgable and enjoyable on football, basketball and tennis throughout the year for CBS Sports. Never sounds out of place in any of them. Spanarkel is my favorite of the many partners he works with, though Dan Fouts is a close second.
Wrong: Spero Dedes and Doug Gottlieb. Well, actually, Spero Dedes I have no beef with. He also does fine juggling multiple sports (football and basketball) for CBS. My problem is with Gottlieb, who CBS seems to be trying to cut loose on the nation, with his own nightly sports talk show on CBS Sports Network and now big-time NCAA Tournament assignment. Gottlieb is fine with his over-the-top schtick when confined to a few minutes per game in the studio, but I can't imagine I would enjoy it over the course of the game. I'll give him a shot, of course, but I don't like what I've heard, at least when I've heard him do studio work.
Right: Marv Albert and Craig Sager at the NCAA Tournament. Let's end on one of the best things about the NCAA Tournament getting Turner involved, and that's getting more Marv Albert on a national stage for a few extra weeks a year, and more crazy suits and occasional actual insight from Craig Sager. Working with Steve Kerr, this should be a must-listen team every time I flip to whatever channel they're on during the tourney.