I’ve joked before that CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz sounds like he’s having an orgasm when he talks about the Masters golf tournament. But Nantz might have a rare personal pre-Masters party with the story that has emerged surrounding the finals of the NCAA basketball tournament.
Butler, a small college from Indiana straight out of “Hoosiers,” goes up against Duke, perhaps the most successful program of the post-John Wooden era. It’s Cinderella at the dance, David vs. Goliath, etc., ad nauseum.
For CBS, the scenario could hardly have played out better. The network still gets a marquee team taking on a local favorite (Butler is mere miles from the site of the game in Indianapolis), with Butler’s improbable run being one of those feel-good stories that sportswriters rightfully eat up.
Of course, part of the reason Butler made it to the Finals, I’d argue, is the general mediocrity in the quality of college basketball thanks to so many one-and-done defections to the NBA. The “upsets” that made this year’s tournament so exciting were less surprising in that context: It’s not that Butler’s so much better than mid-majors of the past, but that the top-tier teams are a shadow of what they were even a few years ago, when Florida or North Carolina had starting fives filled with NBA lottery picks.
Need proof? Butler shot only 30% … and won. That’s what becomes possible when teams walk the ball up the court and keep the score in the 50s.
Even so, such nuance will surely be lost in the build-up to the game, which ought to be a major ratings attraction — not just because of the storybook scenario, but the general appetite for such events. (Competing with “Dancing With the Stars” will create a sharp male-female divide in Monday night’s ratings.)
The NCAA, meanwhile, owes Butler a debt of gratitude — providing a boost for the tournament in the public’s imagination just as the organization prepares to negotiate a new TV deal.
All told, it’s going to make for one heck of a night for hoops, hype and hyperbole. Let’s just hope that Nantz can, er, contain himself.