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All blended well for CBS

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2000


Michigan State never struggled against Florida's press, but CBS' combination press of facts, graphics and commentary was nearly relentless during Monday's telecast of the national championship.

photo
[AP photo]
Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves, right, and athletic trainer Tom Mackowiak share a moment as they ride on a cart following a post-game news conference.

Most important, the pictures smoothly illustrated the Spartans' triumph on the court and the drama off of it. The network showed how star Michigan State point guard Mateen Cleaves sprained his ankle in the second half then tried to crawl off the floor.

The visuals were better than Hollywood when Cleaves limped through the tunnel as his mother looked on with grave concern.

In an effort Vanessa Williams would have been proud of, CBS clearly saved its best for last. Throughout the tournament, the network had its share of ups and downs. Down the stretch in the Duke-Florida game, CBS was kind enough to point out Duke was wearing white and Florida was wearing blue. Duh.

But there was no waste of technology Monday. The commentary of Billy Packer was smoothly blended with an array of graphics to illustrate why Michigan State was pulling away.

Packer, who can polarize viewers with his direct commentary, did little to create disfavor during this telecast. He noted early that "Florida likes to run, but doesn't like to be run against."

He also pointed out that for the first time in the tournament, backup Gator point guard Brett Nelson entered on his own instead of coming onto the floor with the rest of the bench players. It was a departure from Billy Donovan's normal substituting pattern and a sign Michigan State was forcing Florida out of its routine.

It was a point Packer harped on, but it was significant.

Donovan probably went to Nelson because Justin Hamilton was being beaten on the press by Cleaves. Early on, Armen Keteyian explained Michigan State had spent two days "religiously working on the press" by going against seven defenders.

The graphics were equally important in illustrating the Spartans' success. Key statistics were sprinkled into the telecast like toppings on a sweet dessert. In the first half, CBS told us Florida's early 11-point deficit was its biggest of the tourney, and when Cleaves committed a turnover, play-by-play man Jim Nantz was on the spot, noting it was the Spartans' first of the game, 12 minutes into the half.

The graphics continued in the second half. The Spartans' starting backcourt was outscored by Florida's 23-0 midway through the final half, and at one point Gators forward Udonis Haslem was 9-of-11 from the field while his teammates were just 12-of-36.

The flaws were few but notable. First, CBS continued its annoying trend of showing celebrities. This time it was Craig Kilborn getting the shameless plug, and while the former college player is probably a more legitimate fan than some other CBS stars, it's still unnecessary.

The other bump in the road was the stiff commentary of former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, who added little Monday continuing his performance during the tourney.

If network officials had heard South Florida's Seth Greenberg break down a game, they would have had him in Cremins' seat. All they had to do was listen to one of many radio shows Greenberg appeared on in the past five days.

Still, the pictures provided the who and what and the graphics and Packer's commentary provided the why. Michigan State's domination was evident, but CBS made sure you understood how the Gators were dismantled.

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