Sunday, March 30, 2014

Halfway to Final Four, analysts leave us wanting

We're halfway to the Final Four, with Florida and Wisconsin having scored their spots, and we can only hope the analysts on the top broadcast teams -- who will team together for the season's final games next weekend -- can perform together better together than individually.

That's because in big moments in their most recent games Greg Anthony and Steve Kerr have come across an unaware, uninformed and, even worse, indecisive.

Late in his regional semifinal assignment (Michigan-Tennessee), Anthony was unsure the player making an inbound pass after a made basket could run the baseline. Sorry, but that's Analyst 101.

Maybe he meant to be more specific, that the player could run farther than he did to get a better angle on the pass, which he said a few seconds later, but just as a single action by a player can change a game or a perception, an analyst's misstep can ring true -- and for a long time -- as well. Anthony can do better.

Kerr should be able to do better as well. He struggled mightily in the final minutes of the Arizona-Wisconsin regional final. His problems with a too-supportive attitude for the game officials -- which might be the biggest, most common problem for broadcast partners in any sport, and especially the NCAA Tournament. Yes, they have a tough job (at least that's the cliché we hear repeated endlessly), but when they make a mistake criticism is fair.

Kerr missed on a block-charge call to start his problem. He then took too long to offer an opinion on an out-of-bounds possession play that a happened seconds later. He said the call looked correct, without enough evidence to change it via replay. He then changed his mind, and lost focus on the game itself.

The ensuing lull in the action left nearly five minutes for Arizona coach Sean Miller to come up with a possible offensive plan. What resulted was feeble, at best. While the call was correct, giving Arizona a chance it lost when it lost possession on the block-charge call, the offensive play call was weak.

It was the kind of thing an analyst should point out, and quickly. Instead, it was basically overlooked -- and it's not like the on-air team was fawning over the winning team from Wisconsin, either.

Either way, both Anthony and Kerr were just OK, not Final Four caliber. Maybe together they can be better. And let's hope so, because viewers deserve better.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

It's Madness: A mob mentality to analysis

Minutes after the 68-team NCAA Tournament field was set -- even before it was complete, actually -- the impossible, silly generalizations started. And, moments after that, the mindless contradictions followed.

It was an epidemic of cliches and contractions.

No matter the network or the outlet, everyone seemed to agree the Midwest Region was: "loaded," "stacked," or pick some powerful adjective. The message was clear and unanimous from almost every analyst and network: the region provided the most challenging path for its No. 1 seed, Wichita State, to reach the Final Four.

Clearly, there a many top teams in the region. That includes Michigan, Duke and Louisville as top four seeds behind the unbeaten Shockers. That's a group of national championship caliber teams, so there's no doubt about the quality in the region.

What college basketball fans heard most after that was just illogical and wrong, though.

Yes, it's an apparently strong region, but continually overstating the difficulty of Wichita State's potential path was silly. Sure, surging Louisville might have been under seeded at No. 4, but implying that the top seed would have to defeat every other team in the region was dishonest. It's not a round-robin tournament. No team needs to beat every other.

In fact, Wichita State could only face, at most, two of those other three top seeds if advances to the Final Four … and that's only if all the seeds hold.

Who knows, Kentucky (another strong team that does indeed make the region seem imposing) could upend the Shockers in the third round. Or maybe the top seed could lose its first game. Maybe one of those other top teams will falter.

No matter who advances, or how they advance, they will not do so by playing every other team in the region or tournament -- and the analysts know that. By overlooking the obvious, they do a disservice to listeners and viewers, and they do it constantly. Despite all the compelling and interesting information they do share, that bit of overstatement hampers their message.

Worst of all, in almost the next breath, those same analysts and same networks (and, really, pick any one of them), stress the urgency of the tournament and it's one-and-done format. They'll point to that as the attraction of the tournament -- any team could lose at any time. It's not survival of the fittest. It's simply survive and advance  -- one game at a time, one team at a time.

Simply standing that, focusing on teams and trends and offering opinions about who could win and why would be spot-on analysis. Generalizing more than that, though, is not good analysis.