Sloppy game shakes up CBS

April 02, 2002|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Even when the game was close, it wasn't the kind of tight matchup that CBS had hoped for. Both Maryland and Indiana played stilted, awkward ball throughout the NCAA men's championship game. Elements that announcers Jim Nantz and Billy Packer deemed key factors turned out to be irrelevant, as indifferent passes and wayward shooting sapped much of the energy from what was supposed to be college basketball's finest showcase.

"This game is one of the poorest played championship games by either team that I've seen in a long time," Packer said, early in the second half, saving much of his derisive comments for Terrapins guard Steve Blake. "This is the number one point guard in the United States, just turning one pass over after another. ... Gary Williams is soon going to have to abandon him.

"This Maryland team is the only one in the country that's beaten No. 1 Kansas and Duke," Packer added. "But tonight [it is] looking like a team that's totally confused."

Even when the Terrapins prevailed - a profoundly satisfying result for any Maryland fan - the emotion seemed flat. Television likes clearly defined story lines; last night was supposed to be the Cinderella team - Indiana was the hero of "Hoosiers II," according to some of the graphics - against the squad that had overcome adversity, as deaths had wrenched the families of Maryland starters Juan Dixon and Byron Mouton.

Before the opening tip-off, Bonnie Bernstein announced that Maryland coach Gary Williams, a notoriously uptight presence on the sideline, was looser than ever before. But sloppy playmaking, missed free throws and constant turnovers relegated those notions to the sideline for most of the game.

As time elapsed to the final few minutes, however, and Maryland pulled away, Nantz and Packer pinpointed a Dixon three-pointer as pivotal. Although his prediction that Blake would be benched proved wrong, Packer offered sharp analysis throughout, aided by consistently impressive camera work and lively editing by producers.

His love of Duke seemed to be submerged until halftime, when he awarded a "Fan of the Year" on behalf of a wireless company that shall not be yet again promoted here. Needless to say, that fan was painted in Duke blue and said he was headed to Krzyzewskiville. It was harder to discern whether Packer's involvement was more closely linked to his affinity for Duke or CBS's shilling for its corporate sponsors.

The tournament has been good to CBS and to WJZ, the network-owned station in Baltimore. Nationally, ratings estimates show a 10 percent rise over the comparable games last year; the Maryland-Kansas game on Saturday even managed a slight increase over last year's Duke-Maryland semifinal matchup.

On Saturday, 40 percent of television sets in the greater Baltimore area that were turned on were tuned to WJZ's broadcast of the Jayhawks-Terrapins semifinal. The station honored those viewers in the final minute of play Saturday by airing the drawing of numbers for the state lottery, making it very difficult to see the action and obscuring the clock altogether.

At halftime, Dick Enberg narrated a video essay about the coaches of the 64-team tournament to explain "why they are a special breed and why they engender a special and lasting impact." With strings stirring, Enberg's cloying ode to the glories of coaches never scratched very deep, offering quick-cut footage from the tournament.

Better still was seeing Williams, who had been stalking the sideline in his normal madman manner, smiling slightly afterward as he was interviewed about his team, finally victorious. "An unusual game," Packer said at game's end, "but a very outstanding champion."

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