UMBC got the full national telecast treatment Sunday night in its matchup with Kansas State, and the only complaint anyone in Maryland should have is about the final score, 50 to 43 in K-State’s favor.
The game was telecast on cable channel truTV, but the broadcast crew was the best CBS Sports has to offer: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson. And they brought their “A” games.
Wolfson, the reporter, set the we-love-UMBC narrative that dominated much of the coverage when just bfore the tip-off she told viewers what a “crazy 48 hours its been for the UMBC” after its historic upset of the University of Virginia on Friday night.
With even parents and players thinking they were likely to be one and done, parents spent Saturday trying to change flights, she said, while the players did laundry, “because they only brought one change of clothes.”
That storyline reminding viewers of the improbability of a No. 16 seed like UMBC knocking off the No. 1 seed in the tournament colored the early commentary with Nantz, Raftery and Hill seeming to be in a competition to see who could express more admiration for the Retrievers.
Maybe it didn’t feel that way in Kansas. But in Maryland, I say, why not? They deserved the praise. And it did not affect the quality of Nantz’s game call or the analyses of Grant and Raftery one bit.
The trio was in sync with every rise and fall of the contest.
As they went to the first commercial break, Nantz addressed the issue a lot of Maryland fans had to be wondering all weekend: Could this team match Friday’s intensity?
“Well, they had little sleep and they had to do laundry, and they’re still playing like it’s Friday night,” he said.
With 11:06 left in the half, Hill picked up the same theme.
“There was concern about the Retrievers that they could bounce back,” he said, referencing all the emotion and attention following their historic win. “They look better tonight than they did at the start against Virginia.”
And he was right.
Hill was especially on his game explaining the differences between the success enjoyed by UMBC Friday versus what was happening on the court Sunday.
With 2:45 left in the half, he explained that UMBC guard K.J. Maura was “unable to get into the paint to make things happen” with the same kind of consistency he had doing that against Virginia. As a result, UMBC was not getting the kind of open shots by other players that it got Friday.
It wasn’t Maura’s fault, Hill explained 20 seconds later, because “Kansas State is so good at making you do things you don’t want to do.”
Wolfson’s halftime interview with Kansas State coach Bruce Weber was another winning courtside conversation for viewers paying attention.
“We got into the paint,” Weber said of the secret to his team’s success in the first half. He was referencing the way K-State’s big man, Makol Mawien, was able to post up and get some easy shots, something Hill had been urging Virginia to try Friday.
“We got to continue getting into the paint,” Weber said of his second-half strategy.
Meanwhile, Wolfson, quoted UMBC coach Ryan Odom as saying that, because his guards weren’t getting into the paint and then kicking it out to open men, the “offense was too stagnant.”
Those interviews alone took viewers further inside the game than some analysts do in full game of commentaries.
The game was on truTV because it is a Turner Sports channel and CBS co-produces the tournament games with Turner Sports.
But make no mistake about it, this is as good a call of a college basketball game as anyone could want.
The CBS crew took viewers deep into the strategy and rhythm of the game. But they never lost the larger perspective.
“These guys earned the respect not just of Kansas State but the entire country,” Hill, who is employed by Turner Sports, said as the Retrievers left the court in defeat.
Become a subscriber today to support sports commentary like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.