Jim Nantz, who has been doing play-by-play for the NCAA men's basketball tournament for 20 years on CBS, is usually savvy about public relations.
So it wasn't that surprising that during a conference call with reporters Nantz made a statement that walked a fine line -- it was honest about the quality of play without threatening the drama of the tournament.
"If you've been a long-time observer of this tournament -- this is my 25th year [counting his studio work] -- the talent is not there," Nantz said Sunday night. "This is not to knock college basketball. That is not to make it any less entertaining or exciting. It doesn't water down the madness, but the talent is not there. It doesn't pass the eye test."
To illustrate his thesis, Nantz noted that Ohio State needed a miracle shot at the buzzer to beat a sub-.500 Michigan team and it needed two overtimes to defeat Illinois, which lost 14 games.
"And we're talking about one of the top six teams in college basketball," Nantz said. "They got pushed to the limit twice. That's what I expect this tournament to be about. This is not college basketball as we used to know it. The talent isn't there. That should make for more compelling games."
There has been heated debate on talk shows as to whether the talent drain will mean the tournament is more or less likely to lead to upsets.
"I really don't think this will be a year that holds true to form," Nantz said. "The trend this year in college basketball is pretty much equalized."
The analyst who sits next to Nantz, Clark Kellogg, was asked on the same conference call whether Syracuse could be the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed, Vermont, in Friday night's game in HSBC Arena. Some Syracuse fans already are anxious because UVM holds a highlight reel tournament upset of SU five years ago, 60-57, in overtime. Initially, Kellogg didn't seem to think the situations are comparable.
"That [Vermont] team was pretty good," said Kellogg, who tried in vain to remember the names of the "big kid and the guard" (Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine) who led the Catamounts to an upset of Gerry McNamara and Hakeem Warrick after SU had won the Big East Tournament. "I've not seen Vermont enough to know if they have that kind of personnel.
"Syracuse, obviously being a No. 1 seed and being one of the best teams in the country, is clearly a strong favorite and I would expect them to win that game."
He didn't expect Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim would need to bring up the 2005 tournament loss to Vermont.
"If they watch a little TV or Twitter or Facebook and all the other media platforms that are out there, it will be talked about enough," Kellogg said. "And these guys know what they are capable of so I don't think it will be a real factor for them."
Kellogg called a possible second-round matchup between Syracuse and eighth-seeded Gonzaga "interesting" because Gonzaga has "shown flashes of being really good and yet were seeded probably where they deserve to be."
Kellogg added that the effectiveness of injured Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku could be a concern. "When that team is healthy and playing its best basketball, they are clearly one of the teams that have a chance to win it all," Kellogg said.
Overall, Kellogg likes the teams and the matchups that the NCAA has sent to Buffalo. Gus Johnson will do the play-by-play and Len Elmore will be the analyst here.
Kellogg agrees with the consensus that Kansas is "a clear-cut favorite" but doesn't think the Jayhawks are invincible. "Whether they are the giant caliber of a North Carolina or the Florida team that was looking to repeat in 2007, I certainly don't know if they are of that ilk," Kellogg said.
If the games are as surprising as Nantz expects, CBS will undoubtedly switch at key moments as often as possible. As usual, switches won't happen here when Syracuse is playing because Buffalo is considered an area of local interest for the Orange.
The games that WIVB-TV, the local CBS affiliate, has been assigned today have a Big East flavor. At 12:30 p.m., Robert Morris plays Villanova of the Big East, followed by North Texas and Kansas State. At 7:25 p.m. Mid-American Tournament champ Ohio University plays Georgetown of the Big East, followed by a 9:30 game between Kansas and Lehigh.
On Friday, the only game from Buffalo that is scheduled to be on Channel 4 is the Syracuse-Vermont game. Channel 4 opens at 12:30 p.m. with Cornell versus Temple, with MAAC champ Siena's game with Purdue at 2:30 p.m. The Duke game at 7:30 p.m. with Arkansas-Pine Bluff precedes the Vermont-Syracuse game.
Many hoop fans should find CBS' College Sports Network if they haven't already. The channel, which airs on Time Warner on pay digital and HD channels, carries 4:45 p.m. games today and Friday in a free preview (Ch. 130) that runs until April 5. College Sports also airs live look-ins of games and has highlights shows after CBS' coverage ends.
CBS has extra reason to impress during the tournament because the NCAA has until July 31 to opt out of an 11-year, $6 billion contract that is scheduled to end in 2014. All the discussion about expanding the field to 96 teams is related to the TV contract issue. The more teams in, the more money.
Finally, there is a lineup change in the singing of "One Shining Moment." Jennifer Hudson, the "American Idol" and "Dreamgirls" star, will be the first woman to sing it after the champion is crowned in Indianapolis. "Moment" had previously been sung by its songwriter, David Barrett, as well as Teddy Pendergrass and Luther Vandross.