If CBS decides it needs a new slogan for its coverage of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament instead of "The Road to the Final Four" or "March Madness," how about this one: "The Many Faces of Basketball"?
More and more, that is what CBS' tournament telecasts have become, and last night's NCAA title game was no exception.
There are very few replays, but lots of tight shots of players and coaches registering glee, doom or just plain fatigue.
The tone was set early last night. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was seen getting good-luck kisses from his family, with one of his daughters being sure to wipe the lipstick off Dad's cheek after his post-bus-ride buss.
And you thought "face" served only as a playground exclamation point to a sweet move.
In general, replays are overdone on sports telecasts, but it seems CBS could have used a few more and saved face.
The network did provide illuminating shots of the action, especially the overhead, half-court view that took in practically all 10 players. In the past, such views have been more dizzying than edifying.
Always edifying is analyst Billy Packer. His best comment came late in the game, when Kansas appeared ready to make a run at Duke.
Packer said the Jayhawks had "turned their defense up a notch," but didn't let it go at that. He explained that Kansas was getting more physical with the Blue Devils -- pushing, holding, hand-checking -- banking on the officials' reluctance to turn the game into a series of free throws.
Packer was in good form throughout. He recalled, after a few shots rattled around and off one of the rims early on, that it was the same hoop that seemed especially tight during Saturday's semifinals. He pointed out that Kansas played tremendous defense basically without blocking shots. And he reminded those who would pigeonhole Krzyzewski as a Bob Knight clone that Duke was out there playing zone, a defense that's anathema to Krzyzewski's mentor.
Packer even gave us a sign he knows about sports that don't involve hardwood. As the second half began sloppily last night, he said, "[Kansas coach] Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski are like two jockeys on horses that are collapsing down the stretch."
The nature of the play-by-play announcer's job leaves him less room for those kinds of comments, but I don't have anything memorable from Jim Nantz written on my note pad. That's not to say Nantz was bad -- he's a capable, versatile sportscaster -- but some of that old drama was missing. Hey, Brent Musburger, hope you're happy with the World League of American Football.
Maybe drama was supposed to be added by the sideline reports from Lesley Visser and James Brown. The trouble is, they don't always have something to report. Just because they listen in on the huddles doesn't mean they find out compelling information. Coach told his players to run the offense and box out on the boards. Back to you, Jim. Gee, thanks.
There were a couple of things to quibble about before the tip-off. Pre-game host Pat O'Brien seemed really to like his Dorothy-and-Kansas metaphor. He used it Saturday and again last night. (I never metaphor I didn't like, but twice in two broadcasts is too much.)
CBS opened the game telecast with John Cougar Mellencamp's "Small Town," played over images of Mellencamp singing, small-town scenes and rural basketball. That's very nice -- it's a good song, for one thing -- but what did it have to do with game? Neither school nor team is particularly small-town.
On Saturday's broadcast of the semifinals, Packer had offered several instances of his prescience.
Early in Duke's upset of Nevada-Las Vegas, Packer had asked when the Runnin' Rebels were going to get the ball to forward Larry Johnson. It was a question Packer still was asking late in the game.
Packer also mentioned Johnson's hesitation-style free-throw shooting just before that style resulted in a lane violation by Duke.
In his pre-game analysis, Packer had questioned how UNLV would react in a game that stayed tight until the end. Sure enough, it was Duke that seemed to be more composed in the final minutes.
Unfortunately, Packer displayed one of his blind spots, too. A short discussion of Kansas recruiting restrictions failed to mention that Kansas was under those restrictions because of violations committed under the Larry Brown regime.
After all, if you're going to show college basketball's many faces, you have to include the ugly ones.