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NANTZ SCORES ON REBOUND WITH NCAA WORK, WHILE MCGUIRE'S STILL GOT IT

Nobody asked me, but:

He was much-maligned as host of the Nagano Olympics, but CBS' Jim Nantz was on top of his game last weekend covering the South Regional of the NCAA Tournament.

He beautifully captured the excitement of Kentucky's comeback victory over Duke and made relevant references to the legendary game six years ago that Duke won on a last-second Christian Laettner shot.

His partner, Billy Packer, smartly credited Kentucky coach Tubby Smith for refusing to call a timeout in the late going that would enable Duke -- which was without timeouts -- to plan its strategy.

Packer also questioned Smith's decision to call a timeout with 5 seconds left to set up his defense. It turned out to be a wise move because Kentucky defended against the final shot perfectly. Besides, you could see Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski patiently telling his players what to run during a foul-shot delay, so Smith wasn't giving him any advantage by calling a timeout.

Now that it is Final Four weekend, I feel a little nostalgic. Based on Al McGuire's work on the Midwest Regional last weekend, I would have teamed him with his former NBC teammate, Packer, and Nantz. McGuire still has a terrific feel for the college game, as evidenced last Sunday by his criticism of Rhode Island for going into a delay game several minutes too early in its last-minute loss to Stanford. McGuire's underrated play-by-play partner, Tim Brando, also had a strong tournament.

On radio last Sunday night, Brando predicted that either Stanford would upset Kentucky or Utah would upset North Carolina in today's semifinals.

Dean Smith just is too nice to be a basketball analyst. After Rhode Island coach Jim Harrick went ballistic on a non-call in the final seconds that turned the Stanford game against the Rams, Smith was asked by CBS studio host Greg Gumbel if the referee made a good call.

Smith didn't give a definitive response. But his studio teammate, Clark Kellogg, quickly said it was a good no-call. That was a view shared by Brando and Dick Vitale, who appeared on ESPN Radio Sunday night.

And boy, were CBS' cameras quick to cut away from Harrick after the game when it appeared he was about to abuse some officials. It seemed like a move to protect Harrick, whose anger was as understandable as it was misdirected.

At first thought, it is easy to endorse the proposal to carry all first- and second-round tournament games on pay-per-view in a few years. On the other hand, if the NCAA would just share the tournament with two networks, then fans could see all the games without paying anything.

The Empire Sports Report: The regional cable sports channel may be holding its breath to hear if the NFL is going to ban the showing of game highlights on local programs until the conclusion of Monday Night Football. That certainly would hurt Empire, which has one program, FAN TV, that makes good use of highlights. . . . According to Empire, it will carry a minimum of six games played by Buffalo's Arena Football League in the years 1999 and 2000. . . . Finally, Empire is carrying a Division I hockey quarterfinal, at 2 p.m. Sunday from Albany between Boston College and the winner of a first-round game today between Colorado College and Clarkson. Jeff Farkas, a former Nichols School star, is a sophomore forward for Boston College.

In a conference call, CBS Sports President Sean McManus said former Bills Steve Tasker and James Lofton "are still very much in the mix" for jobs either in the "NFL Today" studio or on game day in the booth.

Tasker, incidentally, may also be considered for a job with ESPN, which reportedly is talking with Jim Kelly, too. Presumably, ESPN's Chris Berman -- a Bills booster -- is supporting them.

The first two Buffalo Sabres games on WB 49 had decent results for a relatively new station. The Toronto game Feb. 25 had a 4 rating and 6 share, the Rangers' game March 2 had a 3 rating and 5 share.

Good news for fans of CBC's coverage of the Nagano Olympics. CBC announced last week that it has the rights to the next five Olympics, through the year 2008. According to CBC, the first week of its coverage had a 28.2 share in Canada and the second week it averaged 22.2 share. That's at least double the normal 10 share it receives.

"As unhappy as CBS is about the showing on its network, we are exactly the opposite," said CBC's Ruth-Ellen Soles.

Unfortunately, Nielsen isn't releasing any figures about how well CBC's coverage did in the States. Channel 4's sweeps ratings for the Olympics were 15 percent higher than the national average, which suggests one of two things: 1) CBC didn't have as much an impact as might have been thought; 2) Nielsen's measuring system is extremely suspect.

Buffalo Sabres captain Michael Peca appears on MTV's "Road Rules" in an episode with a hockey story line at 10 p.m. Monday.

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