Shooting from the lip/March 21st edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
NBC golf's Johnny Miller showed again Sunday why there might not be a better sports analyst on television. Anyone can tell viewers what just happened. The best in the business, however, can tell us why it happened and, better yet, what is about to happen. During Sunday's broadcast of the Transitions Championship, Webb Simpson and Gary Woodland were tied for the lead on the 18th hole. While Woodland was putting for par, Simpson pulled out a driver and Miller immediately questioned the decision.
"A 3-iron would do just fine,'' Miller said. "Just get it out there in play.'' Reporter Dottie Pepper smartly jumped in to add that Simpson didn't esitate pulling out the driver. Sure enough, Simpson drove his tee shot into the bunker and ended up with bogey to give Woodland the championship. Miller called it before he had seen it. It just doesn't get any better than that, folks.
Meantime, Miller had the funniest line of the weekend. During Saturday's broadcast, Paul Casey missed a makeable 10-footer because he didn't hit it strong enough. As the ball rolled toward the hole, Miller cracked: "Did he hit it? Paul, you're rich enough to go for it!''
Smart and funny. What else could viewers want?
The television question coming into March Madness was how the NBA analysts from TNT would adjust to their new roles as college analysts, especially studio analyst Charles Barkley. So far, so good. Barkley got off to a rough start last weekend during the selection show because he seemed unprepared. But he rebounded with a good weekend, doing what he does best -- offering up strong opinions. There's no waffling, no on-the-fence comments. It's all straightforward and blunt. For example, after Bruce Pearl's Tennessee Vols were beaten badly by Michigan, Barkley said: "I'm a big Bruce Pearl fan. I think he's done a fantastic job. But he's made some mistakes. They've got to fire him.''
Nothing wishy-washy about that.
Best Smith moment
TNT NBA analyst Kenny Smith brings a fresh perspective to his March Madness analysis and offers up tidbits that are intelligent, thought-provoking and interesting, like the point he made about why low-seeded teams often hang around for at least a half against high seeds. Smith pointed out that even little schools you've never heard of from little conferences have really good players.
"They have players who are 6-feet-2 who can play,'' Smith said. "The problem is, they are playing against 6-5 guys who can play. But the little guys are good enough to hang around for a while. They just can't stay with the 6-5 guys for a whole game.''
That's the best explanation I've heard so far for why lower seed teams can put a scare into heavyweights.
CBS already had a strong studio team for the NCAA Tournament, with Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith joining host Greg Gumbel and Greg Anthony, who is the real star in the studio. So why add Louisville coach Rick Pitino the moment his Cardinals were eliminated from the tournament? You could see CBS's thinking: Pitino is well-known and a current coach who can speak with authority about current teams. But his presence only takes away time from the others who are willing to be stronger with their opinions because they, unlike Pitino, are not directly involved in college basketball anymore.
Pitino still has to watch what he says, and that's understandable. But that's no excuse to pull what he did Sunday when, in the wake of a couple of controversial endings over the weekend, Pitino told John Adams, coordinator of officiating for the NCAA Tournament: "John, whatever you're paying the officials, multiply it by 10. … (They) are doing a fabulous job.''
Ugh. His team isn't even playing, and Pitino is working the officials.
Worst use of hyperbole
The NBC hockey crew of Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Pierre McGuire are so consistently good that you can't help but wince when one of them gets a little too carried away. On Sunday, it was McGuire. He praised the Rangers comeback victory over the Penguins and called the Rangers' character "phenomenal.''
Hold on a second. The Penguins are without their two best players (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) and had lost nine of their past 15 games. The Rangers won Sunday because of a five-on-three power play that essentially led to two goals. And, even with the victory, the Rangers are the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. It was a nice victory, a solid win, but there was nothing phenomenal about it.
This might seem like nit-picking, but it's the one thing that drives viewers crazy -- making something a bigger deal than it really is. Not everything is "the best.'' Not every player is "great.'' Not every victory is "special'' or "extraordinary'' or, in this case, "phenomenal.'' And McGuire is too good to do that.
Like all of us, CBS was waiting for the first big moment of the NCAA Tournament, and when it happened CBS was fully prepared. The bizarre ending to the Butler-Pitt game on Saturday featured two controversial foul calls in the final seconds. Butler won on a free throw with less than a second after Pitt was called for a foul underneath its own basket. CBS was all over it: timely reports, replays and analysis, including an interview with John Adams, the tournament's coordinator of officiating. It was CBS's finest moment of March Madness so far.
But the one thing that stood out -- aside from how the officials were overwhelmingly defended for their calls -- was how classy everyone was in the wake of Butler's victory. Butler coach Brad Stevens' initial comments were about how badly he felt for Pitt. Jamie Dixon, the Pitt coach, said the call was not why his Panthers lost. But Pitt's Nasir Robinson showed the most grace. Instead of blaming the referee for making a call nearly 90 feet from Butler's basket, Robinson took full responsibility, saying: "It wasn't the ref's fault. It was my fault.''
Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty recently suffered a severe concussion and a cracked vertebra when he was slammed into an extension that separates the team benches by Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. At their meetings last week, the NHL general managers didn't take any steps to have those extensions removed, and now outspoken analyst Mike Milbury, who can be seen on NBC and Hockey Night in Canada, has put NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and players’ union head Don Fehr on notice. On Saturday night's Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, Milbury looked straight at the camera and said: "One guy breaks his neck and it's on you, Gary Bettman, and it's on you, Don Fehr. Somebody should've stepped in, and they didn't. Shame on you!''
Three things that popped into my head
1. Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban is a good player, but he is an embarrassment to the NHL for his consistent lack of respect for the game. Faking an injury to get the Lightning’s Vinny Lecavalier kicked out of a game last week was disgraceful. And don't think the league and the referees will forget that Subban showed up both up with his little acting job.
2. How cool was it to think that people up north might have tuned into the Transitions Championship over the weekend and thought, "Man, the St. Petersburg-Clearwater area looks like a beautiful place to live.''
3. It seems flat-out wrong that Dick Vitale has never called an NCAA Tournament game.