I didn't plan to write about ESPN's telecast of the Maryland-Duke game. After a day of wrestling with a controversial post on Fox News anointing Dr. Benjamin Carson the new darling of the right on Sean Hannity's smarmy show, I just wanted some sports viewing pleasure and TV rescue.
But Dave O'Brien (play by play), Doris Burke (analysis) and Jeannine Edwards (reporting) did such a fine job that by the middle of the first half I had my notebook out trying to keep up with all the things they were doing right.
The overall production was solid to very good, especially the efforts to give viewers at home a strong visual sense of the joyful madness of college basketball in special places like College Park at extraordinary moments like Saturday night's upset of second-ranked Duke. But while the direction and the camera work were sure-handed, it was the announcing that carried the telecast.
Of the three broadcasters, Burke was the star. After a full NFL season of listening to CBS announcers and analysts who sounded like they never made it to a Ravens practice, what a delight it was to hear Burke repeatedly peppering her analysis with what she saw at Maryland practice on Friday.
Maybe she was lucky to see so much in one practice, but she seemed to perfectly understand the frustration of having such a young team -- especially with freshman Seth Allen at point guard most of Saturday night.
"Slow it down, slow it down," she kept quoting Maryland coach Mark Turgeon as saying at practice.
"You have to slow it down for young players," she added, explaining that based on what she saw, Turgeon could have kept saying "slow it down" practically non-stop throughout the entire practice.
But the Terps kept turning it over.
As the half ended, Edwards, whose hustle was outstanding all night, was in position and on point to ask Turgeon about the turnovers.
"It's what we do," he said in one of the more candid halftime quotes of the season.
Edwards never stopped working courtside. She reported out of one second-half Maryland huddle that Turgeon told his team he wanted them "to keep running." She came out of another huddle, telling viewers that Maryland planned to focus on getting the ball into Alex Len.
Memo to Sean McManus at CBS: Take a look, Sean. this is what first-rate sideline reporting looks like. It injects energy, information and a sense of urgency to the telecast. Wouldn't it have been nice to have some of that when the lights went out in New Orleans?
Sorry, I couldn't resist.
More on what Burke did right:
Expertise. She nailed Allen, Nick Faust and Dez Wells for doing 'crossover dribbles' in front of Duke's hardnosed defenders -- and regularly losing the ball in doing so. Again, it's just the kind of hotdog move a more experienced or disciplined player wouldn't make, and it was as irritating to her as I am sure it was to many Terps fans.
Context. She knew Turgeon had suspended backup point guard Pe'Shon Howard and, as a result, had few options beyond moving Nick Faust to the point when Allen went through a spurt where he was involved in three turnovers on four plays. She also explained why that wasn't such a great option.
And, as an analyst, she did not hesitate to give her point of view on the disciplinary action against Howard: "The program comes first."
But she was also willing to alter the story line in reaction to what was happening as the game unfolded -- rather than sticking to one script like Phil Simms did in the Super Bowl when it came to rating the two quarterbacks.
After articulating the frustration for coaches and fans of having young players like Allen in key roles making mistakes through much of the game, Burke, near the end, started to praise and even celebrate Allen for playing through his mistakes and not hanging his head.
She made this pivot in her analysis just ahead of the point in the game where Allen started making key drives down the lane, either scoring on layups or getting fouled and making the free throws.
I even liked the one point in the game where she shifted her form of address out of frustration.
It came with 6:36 left in the game, when viewers knew the Terps were trying to pound the ball into Len thanks to Edwards' reporting.
"Give him the ball, Seth Allen," she yelled as the guard came across midcourt and ignored a wide open Len.
"He just missed Alex Len wide open," explained of her outburst.
I almost missed her explanation, because I was still yelling at Allen to "Look for Len."
Burke appreciated the fine game Len played, and I liked that, too. She and the cameras consistently brought viewers the drama of the battle between Len and Duke's Mason Plumlee.
Her description of Len "going chest to chest" with Plumlee to block a shot was pitch perfect.
"This is a really good bounce-back game for Len," she said with 7:42 left in the game. "And there's a line of NBA scouts watching."
Kudos to the producer, director and camera persons for giving viewers a feel for what it felt like on the court after the fans rushed the floor. I especially liked the hand-held, in-the-middle-of-the-madness shots.
And a final way-to-go to Edwards for the post-game Turgeon interview.
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