CBS, the new kid on the college basketball block, went to the final four for the first time Saturday and found itself playing slightly over its head. Although the replay men were hitting their shots, some other CBS players were putting up air balls.
If I had a bagful of Emmies I'd start handing them out right now for the network's striking replay performance. Director Bob Fishman's handheld cameras on the base line were so close to the action that we almost saw the fillings in Patrick Ewing's teeth.
At one point, the CBS slow motion showed us the spin of the ball on a shot by Houston's Rob Williams. Fishman proved a director can have his innovation and eat it, too: He used those low base-line shots only on replay, keeping the live action on the high cameras, where it should be.
The main problem with the North Carolina and Georgetown games was in the booth.
I can't shake the feeling that play-by-play man Gary Bender, a veteran of professional and now college basketball announcing, still doesn't know the game as well as he should. He seems more glib than insightful, particularly when he tells us that every 6-foot-9 player on the court is a "great leaper" while everybody 6 feet 4 is a "great penetrator."
Billy Packer, the normally trenchant colorman, also seemed adrift. Because of his Atlantic Coast Conference and CBS basketball duties this winter, Packer may have seen little of Georgetown. Certainly he and Bender did not convey a sense of the Hoyas' teamwork. It was as though everyone but Ewing caught the boys in the booth by surprise.
Another mortal sin was committed in the truck when producer Rick Sharp failed to show isolated replays of the pushing and shoving that obviously surrounded Ewing in the pivot. Granted, the game's pace was awfully fast. But there's usually time to show isolates coming back from commercial.
Other thoughts on the NCAA's golden afternoon:
Pluses: Impartial coverage of two stories: Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps' charges that some schools recruit players with cash, and the season-long trend toward "stallball." The questioning of Phelps could've been tougher, though. Would Mike Wallace have let Secretary of State Haig off the hook without Haig coming up with evidence?. . . The "NCAA Yearbook," a nostalgic glance at tournaments of the past featuring grainy film footage and voiceovers by Curt Gowdy . . . A halftime look at the announcers' shot chart, showing the location of shots from the field. Whoever thought of putting the chart on camera gets a free pass to next year's tournament.
Minuses: High "end-zone" camera shots showing the entire court. They have a foreshortening effect that distorts passes, and the backboard sometimes blocks our view of the action . . .Redundancies such as "young freshman Michael Jordan" and "Georgetown with a slim two-point lead" (both Benderisms).
CBS's coverage of the women's championship yesterday amounted to a tedious two hours of forced labor for the network, which had to carry the women and pay $48 million over three years in order to get the men. It wasn't Georgetown, it wasn't North Carolina and it wasn't even Catholic U. (recently having dropped to Division III), although CBS did cover the event with an adequate number of cameras and 1 1/2 announcers (the half being the imperceptive former Immaculata coach, Cathy Rush).
CBS will begin its coverage of the NCAA men's final at 8 tonight (WDVM-9 and WBAL-11), which means it has one more chance to tell us why the Hoyas tick.
Maybe Georgetown fan Dan Rather can ring up Al McGuire and ask him to work the game. If NBC lets Johnny Carson off to work the Academy Awards for ABC, there's always hope for li'l' old college hoops.