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My Final Four: Kansas, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Michigan State. It’s the same Final Four as Dick Vitale’s, I’ve since discovered. For the record, I like Dick Vitale.
(My full bracket can be found here. I have Yale upsetting Baylor, FYI.)
For the record, I also know a few people who work in TV and actually like some among them. And I realize that anything a Print Guy of long standing has to say about TV Folks sometimes can come off as petty jealousy, which is why I don’t often speak of TV. I make an exception today.
The Selection Show, a joint production of CBS and Turner Sports, was terrible. (Or, to use the word Turner Sports has given us: “Turrible.”) It did what I thought no bit of programming could do: It took what has always been a riveting hour of television and turned it into a two-hour version of LeBron’s “The Decision,” which is considered the gold standard for Overindulgence.
The expanded Selection Show was — no great shock — too long, too slow, too disjointed. It was also insulting to its viewers. Charles Barkley was making picks before we’d gotten half the bracket. Rule of thumb in journalism (and I assume this applies to electronic journalism as well): News first, then analysis.
While I’m on the subject: I’ve known Charles for 35 years — I wrote the first out-of-town story on him when he was an Auburn freshman and I was working at the Lexington Herald-Leader — and I consider Ernie Johnson Jr. a prince among men. (His dad was, too.) But I’ve never felt the marriage of Turner’s NBA crew with the NCAA tournament was a happy one.
For all my reservations about ESPN, it has a dozen basketball analysts more conversant with the college game than Charles and Kenny Smith. Charles is on the show because he’s Charles. Smith is alongside because he’s Charles’ foil. The multi-platform aspect of having Turner team with CBS — you can watch every game live, and not just on your television — is wonderful. The studio part: Less wonderful.
We watch the NBA largely because of its personalities: LeBron! Steph! Kobe! We watch the NCAA tournament because of the spectacle. We don’t need Charles Barkley to tell us that Georgia State upsetting Baylor because the coach’s son hits a shot that causes the hobbled coach to fall off his rolling chair is a Great Thing. We just saw it ourselves.
Because there are 68 teams in this tournament and none has LeBron or Steph or Kobe — two of whom never spent a day in college, FYI — we need information about people we don’t know, not one-liners about people we know almost too well. And with that, I’ll shut up.
OK, I lied. I’m not shutting up just yet. The NCAA bracket was leaked on Twitter midway through the interminable Selection Show. Such leakage was unprecedented and could only have come from someone with the NCAA or its TV partners. I’d bet heavily on the latter. I wonder if someone in the studio thought, “It’s ridiculous this is taking so long to name 68 names. Let’s see what happens if I tweet this.”
And while I’m griping: As noted last night, the NCAA did a disservice to worthy mid-majors by omitting Monmouth and Saint Mary’s and Valparaiso and St. Bonaventure and San Diego State. It did a disservice to dignity by admitting Syracuse, a bubble puppy whose greatest selling point was that it had gone 4-5 in games missed by its suspended coach. And the inclusion of Tulsa, which is coached by Frank Haith, wasn’t just an affront to bracketologists. It was an affront to humankind.
Frank Haith left Miami for Missouri just as the Hurricanes were about to go on probation. While coaching Mizzou, he served a five-game suspension for his part in what happened at his previous school. Now Missouri is under similar scrutiny — the Tigers removed themselves from postseason play and forfeited all victories from last season — but Haith, who skipped town four days after Mizzou was informed of the NCAA investigation, coaches merrily on. And his 11-loss Golden Hurricane, who lost to Memphis by 22 points in the American tournament, were awarded what committee chairman Joe Castiglione admitted was the final spot in the bracket.
I’m sorry, but this is preposterous on two levels. Tulsa’s RPI is worse than the five teams listed two paragraphs ago. It wouldn’t have belonged in the Big Dance had it been coached by Saint Francis of Assisi. But to reward a team coached by Frank Haith? To borrow a Dickie V. line: Are you SERIOUS?
If we’re lucky, Tulsa won’t be around long. (The great Haith presided over Missouri’s loss to 15th-seeded Norfolk State four years ago.) If we’re lucky, there won’t be another Selection Show like yesterday’s — although TV rarely pares back, does it? If we’re lucky, we’ll have three weeks of riveting basketball that will make us almost forget all the crud that comes with college basketball. Here’s hoping, perhaps against hope.