Road to Final Four smooth with O'Brien


The TV Repairman:

The show was under way -- the Big Show, of course -- and there was our man, "California Cool" himself, Pat O'Brien, bidding us welcome. And in the very next chair, yippee, why it's the pudgy kid with the glasses and the Big Apple accent. What is that, Queens, Staten Island, Essex County or a combination thereof?

No matter. A warm feeling enveloped all noon visitors to the initial CBS telecast of the Road to the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four Big Dance, which will total 63 games from 13 venues over about a thousand hours, including the title game April 5 in the New Orleans Superdome.

With his usual calm and after just moments of chit-chat, O'Brien looked us viewers dead in the eye, pointed and suggested, "Enjoy it, everyone." Your wish is our command, Pat.

This is the third year at the helm for O'Brien and, well, it's nice to have him back. He's a pleasant contrast to the broadcasters out at the arenas who come on as if they've just witnessed the destruction of the Hindenburg out in Lakehurst, N.J.

Today's schedule of games is pretty much a replica of yesterday's nine-hour stint (noon-5, 8-midnight) with Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery once again in the studio during the evening making the switches and introducing the commercial breaks. The one difference is four different sites are involved. But to paraphrase Spiro Agnew, "you've seen one basketball arena, you've seen them all."

* A couple of years ago, when ESPN lost the NCAA first-round marathons on Thursday and Friday, the thinking was that it might slip back into a passive mood covering the tourney. Hardly.

It's "Championship Week" lead-in has proved to be better than those 1 a.m. contests from Busted Beak, Utah, and its review shows scattered throughout the evening for the next two weeks provide all the necessary information, insight and game highlights. Their live action (the NIT tournament) ain't bad either, as evidenced by Wednesday night's tripleheader that saw Minnesota beat Florida and Oklahoma squeeze by Michigan State in fine games.

Better yet, March 28, the cable will run last year's Duke-Kentucky game, the 104-103 overtime thriller won by eventual champ Duke, dubbed "The Greatest Game Ever," in its entirety at 6 p.m. Also, ESPN is doing a collegiate version of the slam dunk and three-point shooting competitions at the Final Four April 4.

* Looking for a break amidst all the hoopla of hoops? The USA Network has the CFA Friskies Houston Cat Show tomorrow from the Summit in Houston at 1 p.m. This is the feline answer to the Westminster Dog Show with the sound effects turned down a couple of notches.

If that doesn't get it, Channels 2 and 20 have the Orioles and Pirates in a diamond delight from St. Pete at 1 p.m.

* "ABC's Wide World of Sports" tomorrow (4:30 p.m.) has one of the first preps for the Kentucky Derby, the Florida Derby, the conclusion of the Iditarod sled dog race and a figure skating exhibition taped so long ago Sonja Henie is the featured performer.

* The Lipton Tennis Championships are down to the semifinals and today's 1-3 p.m. show has the men's action. Then the network (ABC) moves in tomorrow with the women's final (1 p.m.) and the men's final Sunday at 4 p.m.

* The NBA game on NBC Sunday (noon) is the Spurs vs. the Knicks. Protect yourself at all times, David Robinson.

* Good line from golfer Chris Perry, checking out the fairways during the rain delay at the recent Monterrey Open: "It looks like ++ a sequel to 'A River Runs Through It.' "

* With all due respect to what Mike Flanagan might have left as a 41-year-old pitcher, the feeling is he would have been one of the best baseball analysts around today had he heeded the call from ESPN when he first thought about calling it a career in 1990.

* The "Sports Unlimited" Show on Channel 45 Sunday nights (10:30) is as good and as balanaced a presentation of sports as you're going to see in this region. These shows generally lean far too heavily upon the pros, something Max Morgan and Bruce Cunningham have corrected.

* If the Washington Redskins are "quietly" courting Reggie White, how come the negotiations with the free-agent defensive end have been in the headlines and the lead item on countless sportscasts during the last week and a half?

* Bobby Czyz, despite being WBA cruiserweight champ, says: "I think I'm usually viewed as an underdog because people don't expect a white, middle-class, well-spoken guy to be a fighter, but I've grown up in the gym since I was 10 years old." Czyz (40-5) puts his belt on the line April 23 on Showtime against Orrin Norris (35-3), middleweight champ Terry's older brother.

* A total of 16 players are on the ballot for the 17th John Wooden Award going to the supposed top collegeiate basketball player, and the winner will be announced March 30 on Roy Firestone's "Up Close" program on ESPN.

* The Loyola lacrosse team gets TV treatment tomorrow (1:30 p.m.) when HTS trains its cameras on the 1-1 Hounds, rated sixth, taking on 1-1 Syracuse, rated No. 3. . . . ESPN's coverage of the Stanley Cup playoffs, 37 games strong, including the entire best-of-seven final, will get under way April 20 . . . Former Channel 13 sportscaster Lou Tilley, now a weekend guy in Philadelphia, got married last week and spent the first half of his honeymoon trying to get a plane going to Tahiti.

* For old time's sake and the fact he owns the golf course, Arnold Palmer is taking part in the Nestle Invitational on the PGA Tour this weekend (NBC, Saturday and Sunday, 4 p.m.). Jack Nicklaus, too.

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