IndyCar racing isn't the most popular televised sport in the country. In fact, it's not even the most popular form of auto racing on television. NASCAR is bigger. Yet, if you're just a fan of sports on television — or, if you're like a me, a geek for how networks cover sports — then you must watch NBC Sports Network's IndyCar coverage.
This was not exactly a great weekend to kick off the IndyCar season, what with the NCAA Tournament and Tiger Woods in contention at Bay Hill. The only reason most paid attention Sunday was because the IndyCar race was in St. Petersburg.
But the coverage Sunday was so good and it wouldn't have mattered if the race was in St. Petersburg, Florida or St. Petersburg, Russia.
Everything about NBC Sports Network's coverage — the camera work, the analysis, the replays, the graphics, the features and the interviews, especially in the post race — is superb.
The finest moments Sunday were a quick chat with team owner David Letterman, as well as great insight on JR Hildebrand running over Will Power's car and how Simona de Silvestro was trying to hang on with little gas and tires that were pretty much shot.
Now that IndyCar has left town, perhaps you won't watch another race on that network this season (ABC carries the Indianapolis 500). But that wouldn't be NBCSN's loss. It would be yours.
I love Charles Barkley as an analyst. I like Kenny Smith as an analyst. But I don't like either one of them on CBS's NCAA Tournament studio show. It's not that they are bad. In fact, Smith seems to know his stuff. It's just that both take time away from Greg Anthony, who is CBS's best studio analyst. For what CBS gains from Barkley and Smith in name recognition and entertainment value, it loses in top-notch analysis. It seems like it would be best for CBS to have host Greg Gumbel with Anthony and analyst/reporter Seth Davis handling the studio duties.
Best announcing team
Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg are considered CBS's No. 1 announcing team for the NCAA Tournament, but the best team is the veteran duo of Verne Lundquist, top left, and Bill Raftery, below left. These two have combined to call more than 500 tournament games and sound as fresh as ever. Raftery, 69, with signature calls like "onions'' and "send it in'' still is among the best in the business.
During Saturday's Michigan State-Memphis game, Michigan State teammates Keith Appling and Derrick Nix got into a towel-throwing scrap during a timeout.
"That just can't happen,'' Raftery said with conviction during a replay of the fight. Nice work, by the way, by the CBS cameras and production team to have a shot of what otherwise would have been a meaningless timeout during a typical commercial break.
Worst lack of graphic
I was watching about 10 minutes of NBC's coverage of Sunday's Arnold Palmer Invitational before I realized I was watching a replay of Saturday's third-round coverage. Sunday's round was in a rain delay. NBC must do a better job of constantly letting viewers know what they are watching. Put a graphic up and leave it up.
Could you pick a worse time for technical difficulties? The USF women were tied with Texas Tech with only a couple of minutes left in Saturday night's NCAA Tournament game when a blown fuse caused a complete power loss in the ESPN production truck. By the time power was restored, the game was over. ESPN did provide play-by-play over the telephone, though it wasn't exactly the best play-by-play of all time.
Three things that popped into my head
1. I think it's terrific that the defending champion Ravens had to adjust their schedule and will open the 2013 season on the road because of a scheduling conflict with the Orioles. Or, as ESPN Sports Reporters host John Saunders put it, "The National Football League is the most powerful sports organization in the world but it can't mess with a pitching rotation.''
2. The Brian Urlacher departure from the Bears looks a lot like when the Bucs cut ties with Derrick Brooks, and it only proves one thing: unless the player decides to retire on his own, saying goodbye to a great is impossible to do amicably.
3. Enough griping about whether or not Ohio State should have been called for a blocking foul near the end of its buzzer-beating victory over Iowa State on Sunday. At the very least, don't say that call cost Iowa State the game. There's a hundred call/non-calls in a game. One doesn't decide the outcome.
tom jones' two cents
Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.