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Two like Spartans' chances


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2003

Rev up the Michigan State bandwagon. Oh, and save a seat for Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel.

If there was one theme from Day 1 of the subregion at the St. Pete Times Forum, it was this: The Spartans looked good.

Really, really, really good.

"Both of us were really impressed with the way they went after it (Friday)," said Eagle, CBS's play-by-play man for the local games. "They went 40 minutes. It was something to see."

Spanarkel, the color analyst for the broadcast, said Michigan State was one of the unknowns in this year's tournament. He had wondered just how good the Spartans were.

"Michigan State really impressed me with their defensive presence," Spanarkel said. "They play tough, hard-nosed basketball, and their intensity level was really good for 40 minutes. One, they are relentless on the boards. Two, their perimeter defense is very, very good."

The Michigan State-Colorado game was supposed to be the best of the region. The Buffaloes were a trendy upset pick. The Spartans, a bubble team a few weeks ago, did not have the size to stop them. With those factors at play, Michigan State's rout was even more impressive.

Impressive enough, in fact, that Spanarkel and Eagle think they will get past Florida today.

"Did Florida regain its confidence? Is one game enough to say they can go on a roll? That's still a very young team," Eagle said. "Michigan State, because of their defensive pressure, can definitely match up with them."

PIECE OF CAKE: Today should feel like a day off for the CBS crew.

Sure, there are two games to call, but what are two games compared with Friday's four-game marathon, which began before noon and ended after midnight.

It's the only time of year that Eagle, who also covers the NBA's Nets and the NFL for CBS, and Spanarkel, who does Pacers basketball along with college duties, do more than one game a day.

"(Today), we'll call two games; usually you tell someone they're doing two games and they'll say, 'Get out of here, I'm not doing two games. I'll do one game,"' Eagle said. "But after Friday, two games? Now, it's like getting a break."

Eagle says the production crew constantly reminds them to keep up their energy, and Spanarkel and Eagle try to motivate each other. A nudge from his partner or a pep talk usually is enough.

Sometimes, visual aids are employed.

"I'll actually write it down on a pad of paper: energy," Spanarkel said. "I'll write it down and keep it in front of us."

YOUTH IS SERVED: The play of youngsters in this region has been impressive, but none more so than Wake Forest freshman Eric Williams, who scored 20, 17 in the first half.

Expect CBS to keep a close eye on him today. At production meetings before Friday's game to go through players to focus on, Williams was not on the list. Even before CBS's Tampa crew met Saturday afternoon to map out today's coverage, talk centered on giving Williams a higher profile.

NAME GAME: Eagle wanted to fit East Tennessee State's Brad Nuckles into his broadcast, and he got a chance late in the game against Wake Forest when Nuckles committed a hard foul.

"I was looking for a way to mention him, even when he wasn't in the game," Eagle said. "When he had that foul, I got a charge out of the (production) truck when I said, 'He laid out a Nuckles sandwich.' That was probably more to entertain the truck than America."

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