March Madness to Turner Sports

by March 09, 2011
Charles Barkley

by Kyle Stack / @KyleStack

The NCAA Tournament is adding an NBA flavor to its coverage this year with the broadcasting partnership formed between CBS Sports and Turner Sports. Sharp opinions from the recognizable names on the NBA on TNT’s staff will be on display throughout the tourney, and the opinions won’t be limited to just basketball. Charles Barkley made that much clear during a CBS Sports and Turner Sports media session at the Le Parker Meridien Hotel in midtown New York City yesterday, where the network’s NCAA Tournament on-air talent was introduced.

The Chuckster had much to say about the topics he’ll focus on in his studio role in New York with host Greg Gumbel and analysts Greg Anthony and Barkley’s TNT co-hort, Kenny Smith. More on Barkley later—it’s vital to establish the basketball-related insight Smith, Reggie Miller and Ernie Johnson said they will share throughout March.

Johnson will share Gumbel’s role as the studio host in New York—NBA TV’s Matt Winer will host studio coverage in Atlanta—and he stated that he’ll rely on others for the plethora of information needed to assess each of the 68 tournament teams.

“Our research guys have been giving us updates every week,” Johnson said. “What teams are doing, key injuries, a guy who’s lighting it up. I got files on each team. So, I’ve got my files and when we came up here for the seminar and CBS hands you a book with each team, tournament history, that kind of thing. While you don’t put everything in between your ears, because there’s too much, you know how to get your hands on it immediately if you have a question about something. The homework is massive.”

The assist from the research staff isn’t new for a studio host, Johnson included. That’s why research staffs have the role they do. Hosts and analysts receive constantly updated information throughout a broadcast, as Barkley reminded a group of reporters while playfully making fun of Johnson for his reputation for arriving to work at least six hours before going on-air. (Barkley said he wasn’t looking forward to the 12-hour in-studio days he’ll work during the NCAA Tournament.)

Much as Turner’s research department will help Johnson wade through the mountain of game information on each school, a deeper amount of team access versus what’s provided in the NBA will aid Miller in his game coverage. Miller will do color commentary with play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan and fellow analyst Dan Bonner before shifting to the New York studio for the tournament’s second week. Miller, who worked the Tennessee-Kentucky game last Sunday, noted how much more he was able to learn about each team.

“On Saturday we went to the Tennessee practice as well as the Kentucky practice—all-access,” Miller said. “You don’t get that in the NBA—you don’t get to go to shootarounds. [Tennessee head coach] Bruce Pearl allowed us to come into the film session with his guys to watch. Could you see [Lakers head coach] Phil Jackson allowing us to come in and do that? Things like that don’t happen. So, I love the all-access and being behind the scenes. That’s what I love about this.”

The extra information will help Miller analyze the 15 teams he thinks have a legitimate shot to make the Final Four. (Anthony claimed earlier there are roughly 20 Final Four squads.) Among those teams, the former UCLA guard likes Wisconsin and Syracuse.

“I like Wisconsin,” Miller said. “They play tough, they’re gritty, they’re well-coached and the game of college basketball has changed. In the late ’80s, early ’90s, everyone was trying to get a center. The game of basketball has changed. If you have good guards who can shoot and control the pace, control the tempo, you have a shot to win.”

Miller’s affection for Syracuse stems from his admiration for coach Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. “Most teams aren’t used to it,” Miller opined. “In conference play, they are. But when you get out of conference play and in a one-and-done situation, a lot of times can’t prepare for that.”

Miller didn’t mention Ohio State, which was understandably acknowledged by Buckeye alum Clark Kellogg earlier in the media session. Kellogg stated he would wear his scarlet and gray sweater if Ohio State wins the national title. Kenny Smith doesn’t think Kellogg will have to worry about that, as he pointed out it’s imperative for teams to have the talent to adjust to different opponents’ styles of play on the fly.

“Carolina has that, obviously Duke has that this year,” Smith said. “That’s the one thing that scares me about Ohio State. I’m not sure if they have that. They play a style, but they have trouble when you go 94 feet with them and open the floor.”

Smith recalled a story from his coach at North Carolina, legendary head man Dean Smith. Coach Smith had told players he could draw up all the schemes in the world and still have not success. What was necessary to have was the talent on the floor to execute those schemes.

Smith’s role on Turner won’t change. He’ll do studio analysis similar to what he does on TNT. “My job is I’m going to analyze the player I didn’t know, whose name I just learned—why he was open,” he said. “There’s no adjustment for me because I’m always after the fact. So, I’ll tell you why this guy was open—because of this, this and this, no matter who it is. I don’t have to know the best three players from Wofford. I just have to know how they get open and why they get open.”

The pace of the game will change how Miller announces a game, although he claimed the longer shot clock will make it easier. “You can set up [points] more,” Miller emphasized. “When you have a 24-second clock, and most teams shoot between 18 and 22 seconds, there’s not a lot of wiggle room to talk. When I think you’re developing stories —I’m working with Dan Bonner and Kevin Harlan, so these guys have done it a long time—you get more time to expand on your thoughts, on match-ups, scenarios on the floor.”

One rule change cited by Miller as possibly creating confusion versus what’s seen in the NBA is the block/charge rule. Unlike in the NBA, there is no circle underneath the basket for defenders to avoid. Charges are easier to take in college and, as Miller noted, flopping is rampant. “I think that’s the only gray area out of the rules that could be tricky,” Miller said.