The sideline reporter wrapped up her segment during the Final Four game with a hearty: "We bleed blue, and in Ollie we trust!"
"We" is not a word heard in nationally televised sports coverage in reference to one side, but the "TeamCasts" that made their debut Saturday wanted fans to feel that the announcers were in their corner.
So the UConn-centric version featured Huskies women’s great Swin Cash interviewing ex-men’s players Caron Butler and Jeremy Lamb in a conversation full of "us" and "our." The new concept that debuted for the two NCAA semifinals celebrated "homer" commentary for each team, as former Kentucky star Rex Chapman later dubbed himself during the Wildcats TeamCast of their 74-73 victory over Wisconsin.
The production values on TNT and truTV matched the standard of the main broadcast on TBS, and the timing was generally sharp even though the local announcers were just paired together and with their directors and producers a few days ago. Still to be seen is whether the TV ratings prove there’s an appetite for this approach pioneered by Turner Sports and CBS this year.
Fans love to complain that announcers are biased against their team. Of course, supporters of both squads tend to gripe in equal numbers, with the commentators accused of favoring either side at various times.
By necessity, national announcers are in a way bandwagon fans, swinging their coverage from the perspective of one team to the other and back depending on the momentum, the story lines.
As promised, the camera angles, replays and graphics emphasized the relevant squad Saturday. Donny Marshall, the former Huskies star serving as an analyst on the truTV telecast of his alma mater’s 63-53 upset win over Florida, repeatedly lamented that referees seemed to be allowing the Gators’ big men to get away with physical play while their UConn counterparts picked up fouls for similar contact.
Then again, it’s not unusual for national announcers to disagree with a call. On the main broadcast on TBS of the late game, analyst Greg Anthony opined "that looked about as clean as it could possibly be" after the Badgers were whistled for a foul in the second half. The difference was viewers watching the Wisconsin TeamCast on truTV didn’t have to hear about it when a questionable call went against Kentucky.
The announcers turned up the volume on big plays by their team, something network executives hoped would pump up viewers. "Big fella, get on your trampoline!" bellowed Mark Wise, a longtime analyst for the Gator Basketball Network, when Patric Young swatted away Ryan Boatright’s shot. Not that the national commentators didn’t get plenty revved up in major moments.
On the early truTV telecast, the fact that Marshall played alongside Huskies coach Kevin Ollie was frequently referenced, though it’s not unusual throughout sports for analysts to call games involving their alma maters and former coaches and teammates.
The focus on one team does simply allow for more time devoted to discussing the intricacies of that program’s strategy and history. When Florida missed a second free throw in the first half, Wise noted that it prevented the Gators from setting up their press.
The telecasts featured touches such as Twitter posts by famous alums of that particular school. What they lacked was the familiar voices of the teams’ radio announcers, who were busy with their regular gigs.
And some viewers, unaware of the format, were irked when they turned on TNT and heard commentators so heavily tilted toward one school. Word of their unhappy tweets clearly reached the never-shy Charles Barkley, who called those folks "idiots" during halftime of the second game.