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Critiquing the CBS Coverage of the NCAA Tournament (Barkley, Gus Johnson, Jim Nantz, Steve Kerr)

With 95% of the NCAA tournament complete, this seems as good a time as any to talk about the new CBS studio team of Greg Gumbel, Greg Anthony, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley. Before we get to them, how about a round of applause for the overall CBS production of the tournament?

On the first day, I had two TVs going and felt like I missed next-to-nothing. When I had to leave the house (the whole baby thing), I watched games easily on the Iphone.

Ratings were tremendous – the best since 1993. That probably has to do with the surfeit of close games and upsets. I mostly enjoyed the announcer pairings (Verne and Raftery, Gus Johnson and Len Elmore; and even Nantz and Kellogg are finding the right chemistry, as evidenced by the Ohio State-Kentucky classic).

I thought Steve Kerr was very good as an analyst. He sounded like someone who had done his work on college basketball (or, he’s really good at faking it). Reggie Miller did a terrific job calling out referees, but otherwise, I thought his first foray into college hoops left something to be desired. He struggled at times getting along with his counterparts in the three man booth (which actually made for funny, if awkward TV).

Gus Johnson made one bad blunder, but hey, these things happen (the haters loved it). Reggie Miller corrected him.

That mistake overshadowed this awesome call earlier in the game.

Onto the new studio team. The guy who was hurt most by the new quartet was Seth Davis. The longtime CBS analyst was marginalized by the wattage of Barkley and Smith. Davis was moved to the “B” set with Ernie Johnson and Steve Smith on either TNT or TBS. Davis usually has good insight and nuggets, since he inhales the season from November-through-March (not to mention talks to coaches who aren’t on the set), and some of that institutional knowledge was definitely lost with the new team.

All the new group did was make picks, which to the die-hard fan is worthless (except in the case of Barkley, which we’ll get to shortly). But the tournament mostly reels in casual basketball fans anyway, so maybe that was the goal?

Star power + picks = ratings/interest
vs
Analysts + analysis

TV!

Greg Gumbel - He’s a solid pro. Won’t impress anyone with style points. Not much into the jibber-jabber. He made one gigantic blunder, but was otherwise competent. I didn’t really like the way he’d predictably go down the line asking each analyst for their thoughts on the game. Too formulaic. Guess that’s what you have to do when there’s zero chemistry.

Greg Anthony – Of the three analysts, he definitely provided the most insight. I enjoyed the time he called out Kenny Smith for flip-flopping. I thought he was more valuable in the past sparring with Seth Davis.

Kenny Smith – I thought his observations were mundane and obvious and he never got the back-and-forth magic going with Barkley that they have on TNT. Maybe he was nervous to go at the players because they’re college kids. Fine. I get that. But why didn’t he get on Coach K at Duke for not using a timeout during the 19-2 run? Or Billy Donovan for his end-game struggles against Butler? Or Bill Self for yet another gag job in March? Well, he probably wasn’t even aware of Self’s Elite 8 struggles.

Charles Barkley – Much was made of his great predictions (he called the Big East struggles, Arizona beating Duke, Kentucky over North Carolina and probably a few other games I’ve forgotten). But like Smith, he wasn’t nearly as effective as he is on TNT. Either Barkley was sternly told by the CBS suits to clean up his act, or he felt bad going after players/coaches, because I thought he was pretty light on the criticism. And that’s a shame, because it’s what he does best.

[Gus Johnson flub via Awful Announcing]

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