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Shooting from the lip: ESPN's coverage of Marcus Smart top-notch

Best coverage

Oklahoma State basketball star Marcus Smart pushing a Texas Tech fan Saturday night was a big deal, and ESPN did a nice job breaking it all down. It called in a bunch of analysts to talk, including lead analyst Jay Bilas and former USF coach Seth Greenberg, who now works for ESPN.

Eventually, however, there was nothing new to report or say, but ESPN just kept riding the story. To be fair, this is how ESPN must work. New viewers are constantly joining in and ESPN must act as if it is telling the story for first time. Viewers don't typically watch a program such as SportsCenter for more than a few minutes at a time.

But if you did watch for more than a few minutes, the coverage felt forced at times.

As far as the incident itself, obviously you can't have players touching fans, no matter what was said. Having said that, let's not blow this out of proportion. It was a shove, not even hard enough to knock over an out-of-shape goober who was seen smirking immediately after the incident. Smart needed to be suspended to deter future incidents, but this wasn't anything like the time Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) went into the stands after a Pistons fan in 2004 .

I also find it absolutely pathetic that a middle-aged fan would taunt a college kid to the point where Smart would react the way he did.

This isn't the first time this particular fan, Jeff Orr, has given opposing players a hard time. Kudos to ESPN for digging up a clip from 2010 that showed Orr making an obscene gesture and then grossly wagging his tongue at a Texas A&M player.

Grow up, jerk.

Best idea, so-so execution

ABC tried to spruce up its NBA coverage Sunday by having former referee Steve Javie (above) sit in with regular announcers Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy for the Bulls-Lakers game.

Javie, who officiated in the NBA from 1986 to 2011, gave fans an official's perspective. It sounded like a great idea, and there were a few interesting moments. For the most part, however, there were no real surprises. Javie debunked the three common beliefs that fans have about officials — that they give superstars all the calls, that they favor the home team, and that they make make-up calls after a bad call.

Breen did a nice job drawing Javie in, and Javie gave a peek behind the curtain on how officials sometimes have difficulties calling games with aggressive big men, when they hand out technical fouls and when they put their whistles away. Overall, however, Javie said what you would expect him to say, which is officials try to call games as they see them with no agendas or grudges.

I'm not sure I can always buy that, especially when I watch Joey Crawford call a game.

Biggest coup

CBS landing this coming season's Thursday night NFL package is a huge deal for the network. It doesn't matter what other programming you have, if you can add more NFL, you're in better shape.

"There is truly nothing like the NFL,'' CBS Sports Group chair Sean McManus told the New York Times. "You want as much as you can get. It's the most powerful programming on the air."

He's absolutely right. The NFL typically draws in the largest television audiences each week.

How powerful is it? Consider this: Two of CBS's biggest shows, The Big Bang Theory and Elementary, could be shifted from Thursday to other nights, at least during the fall, to make room for the NFL.

Biggest blow

Losing out on the Thursday night NFL package was a major blow to NBC, which is struggling in prime time. Getting the NFL for Thursday nights would have given the network at least one night to build upon. The good news for NBC is the NFL's deal with CBS is good for just one year, so NBC can bid again next year.

Biggest change

CBS getting the NFL's Thursday night package means announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will become prime time stars. But, CBS is smartly not going to burn out its A-team. CBS already has announced that Nantz and Simms will concentrate on Thursday nights, meaning they might not be in the booth every Sunday during the NFL season.

It's likely they will only be used when CBS has a big Sunday national game. Otherwise, you're not going to see them on Sundays.

Oh, the new deal also means Mike Mayock doesn't have an NFL game job. He had been the NFL Network's Thursday night analyst.

Third-best game

The Duke-Syracuse game on ESPN last week (above) was the third-most watched regular-season college basketball game in the network's history, averaging 4.7 million viewers. The top two games were both in 2007-08: Duke-North Carolina (5.6 million) and Tennessee-Memphis (5.3 million). Analyst Dick Vitale said Syracuse's OT victory was one of the five best games he ever called on ESPN.

Best debut

NBC has found a new television star in former figure skater Tara Lipinski. The 1998 gold medal winner has been outstanding calling figure skating in Sochi, Russia.

Meantime, I must say I'm a little disappointed in her on-air partner, Johnny Weir. The former three-time U.S. champion has an outrageous personality with a flamboyant wardrobe and an I-don't-care-what-anybody-thinks attitude, but his commentary has been too safe. He has been a cheerleader, not an analyst. But if he let his personality shine through, he would be someone worth listening to.

I just want him to have one of those moments when you say, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe he just said that!"

Best observation

Another example of what makes Sun Sports Lightning analyst Bobby "The Chief'' Taylor so good:

During Saturday night's game between the Lightning and Red Wings, a Red Wings player took a shot from a horrible angle, and it wasn't the first time that happened during the game.

"There must be something in the scouting report about (Lightning goalie Ben) Bishop,'' Taylor said. "We're seeing a lot of bad-angle shots.''

Check it out

Here's a great cause and a chance to talk some college hoops with the great Dickie V. Dick Vitale will appear today from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Crown Euro Cars, 6001 34th St. N, St. Petersburg. Tickets for the event are $100 and will benefit the V Foundation for cancer research. Call (941) 350-0580.

Three things that popped into my head

1. Great to see Marty St. Louis going to the Olympics, but I'm still not sure everything is rosy between him and Lightning GM Steve Yzerman.

2. There are allegations of vote fixing in Olympic figure skating. In other news, the sun came up this morning.

3. The Pistons fired coach Maurice Cheeks after only 50 games with Detroit. Maybe instead of firing coaches every year or two, the Pistons should get some, uh, players.

tom jones' two cents

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

Shooting from the lip: ESPN's coverage of Marcus Smart top-notch 02/09/14 [Last modified: Sunday, February 9, 2014 9:51pm]

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