Bill Raftery is a New Jersey guy but he is no stranger to basketball in Buffalo.
Raftery, who will work as the analyst on CBS and TBS telecasts from First Niagara Center this week, was here for the 2004 NCAAs alongside play-by-play man Verne Lundquist, who also returns here, teaming with Raftery and sideline reporter Allie LaForce.
Raftery, of course, was the coach at Seton Hall from 1970 to ‘81, after being a star at La Salle University during his playing days.
“We’ve a lot of friends that were from there,” Raftery said by phone this week, speaking about Buffalo. “Of course, Bob MacKinnon, the old Canisius coach. … When I was at La Salle that was one of our rivals, we used to play Canisius. Later on we played them when I was at Seton Hall. Nick Macarchuk was there. …
Raftery said Western New York fans should appreciate the strong slate of games that will tip off Thursday.
“They’ve always loved their basketball up there, too. The John McCarthy era, MacKinnon and now Jim Baron has done a really nice job, along with his son,” Billy Baron, at Canisius. “Jim is a wonderful guy.”
Raftery talked about the interesting matchups in Thursday’s games.
“Dayton has probably wanted to play Ohio State for a long time, I would guess. They’ll probably have a chip on their shoulder. They’re a deep team, a lot of perimeter kids who are very quick. That’s one that I’m looking forward to.”
Raftery thinks Western Michigan could give Syracuse some trouble.
“I spoke to Jim Boeheim the other night. I look forward to seeing what he’s been able to do with his offense, that’s been his biggest lament. He’ll be tested because they’ve got a front line that’s formidable.
“He was on a radio show with me the other night and he was saying there’s no easy games any more. Now you’ll see a run-out game every once in awhile, obviously, but he’s right. Kids come into this tournament and they raise their level of interest, their play, and they sort of reach back and know it’s their last shot and they give it everything.”
The Orange, as you may have heard, lost four of their five last regular-season games. It didn’t help that forward Jerami Grant missed significant time with a bad back. Still, Raftery doesn’t discount the Orange’s chances to regain their form.
“I think the season is so long,” he said. “In terms of the practices, the games, the travel, the school work, the demands. And this is not meant as an excuse. I think some kids really, whether it’s losing concentration, needing a little respite — I’m looking as these few days off as favorable to them. They can tweak whatever they were doing wrong.
“Not that you’re starting over, but Boeheim has been around too long not to see some things he didn’t like that they can get better at. I think we’ll see some more out of Trevor Cooney, who was struggling a little bit.
“I think it all started when Grant got hurt,” Raftery said. “The missed practices” by Grant are significant, “and that was the big thing, not necessarily the games. You lose Grant and you lose practice days and all of a sudden, not that the magic’s gone but the connection, the chemistry isn’t quite there, and it’s hard to get it back, particularly when your opponents are pretty good.”
Raftery expects to see Saint Joseph’s make a run at Connecticut.
“Verne and I had St. Joe’s over the weekend. They’re a very good half-court team and they know to fast break when it shows.
“And then you have Villanova with a couple of days off,” after the Wildcats lost to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament. “They should be very fresh.”
Raftery is working his 32nd NCAA Tournament, and Lundquist his 30th, and this is their 15th together.
Lundquist says that Thursday’s four games in one day represent his longest broadcast day of the year, “and nothing else even comes close. But it’s such an exciting time of year.”
Lundquist was on the phone from his home in Colorado, where he had one day to repack his luggage before flying to Buffalo for today’s preparation sessions at First Niagara Center.
“I prepare my score book, it’s the basketball equivalent of a spotting chart in football,” he said. “There’s a lot of reading involved. I’ve learned over the years that you’ve got to do most of your homework before you arrive at your location, because once you get there it’s pretty much nonstop.”
Lundquist said the sessions he spends with each team the day before the games are critical for him.
“I get 45 minutes” with each team “to eyeball these guys. It’s a chance to put names and numbers together,” as the players do a shoot-around. “Then the head coach will sit with us, with Bill and me, with the producer and director. I talk to the two radio guys for each team, and the SIDs will sit with us. You take all that in and on Thursday, you’d better be ready to go.”
Accompanying Raftery and Lundquist on the broadcasts will be sideline reporter LaForce, who appears on the late-night show “Lead Off” on CBS Sports Network. LaForce also played basketball for two years at Ohio University.
Thursday’s daytime games here — Ohio State-Dayton and Syracuse-Western Michigan — will air on CBS. The night games — UConn-Saint Joseph’s and Villanova-Milwaukee — will be carried on TBS.
Is the job any different for Raftery when he is looking at a TBS camera instead of one broadcasting to CBS?
“No, I just think it’s the flag on your microphone,” he said. “Everybody’s been very happy with the synergy between the two networks. We’ve really become friendly with a lot of their people. I’m not just talking on air, but the production people, it’s really like hand and glove right now. We feel part of a nice team.”
The big picture
It is that time of year to ask the question: What is truTV again?
TruTV is one of the three Turner networks that carry about two thirds of the NCAA games, in partnership with CBS.
Turner will make cable TV history on Saturday, April 5, when the Final Four games both air on TBS, the first time the national semifinal games will be carried on cable. The championship game, at 9 p.m. on April 7, will be on CBS for the 33rd straight year.
Turner has announced an innovation for that weekend of semifinals. In addition to TBS, TNT and truTV will air what they are calling NCAA Teamcasts, which are live broadcasts of the games tailored to one specific team.
For example, if Florida was playing Syracuse, the traditional game coverage would be on TBS, while TNT and truTV would carry a broadcast that tells the story through the eyes of the Gators or the Orange. Each Teamcast will have its own play-by-play announcer, analyst and sideline reporter, plus a unique halftime show. Those telecasts will begin at 6 p.m. on April 5.
Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony and Steve Kerr will do the play-by-play and analysis of the semifinals on TBS as well as the championship game on CBS.
For the fourth straight year, the Turner-CBS partnership means that all games of the tournament are telecast live in their entirety. No longer are TV viewers forced to sit through games they don’t care about.
For those keeping track, 22 of the tournament games will air on CBS, 20 games will be on TBS, 14 on truTV and 13 on TNT.
If you can’t get to a TV, there is always March Madness Live, the online streaming of the games through CBSSports.com. MML is also available in app form for Android, Apple and Windows devices.
The app is free, but only the 22 games airing on CBS are free to watch without requiring authentication. All of the Turner-televised games, including the Final Four, require online viewers to log in with the credentials from their cable or satellite TV provider.
Radio fans can listen to audio of every tournament game through the TuneIn app, thanks to WestWood One Sports.