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CBS hits jackpot with day and night of first-round excitement

At 1 a.m. Friday, CBS wrapped up the first day of March Madness without allowing studio analysts Seth Davis and Greg Anthony to say a word.

It was a good idea. Nothing they could have said about a day in which five double-digit seeds scored upsets could have done it justice.

CBS smartly just let highlights of buzzer beaters by underdogs Murray State, Washington and Wake Forest tell the story of Thursday, before host Greg Gumbel said a quick goodbye.

Jim Nantz, the lead CBS play-by-play man, was right to predict before the tournament that the talent drain in college basketball would make "for more compelling games." The heated pretournament debate over whether the talent drain would result in more or fewer upsets ended Thursday.

The debate changed to whether -- as an ESPN anchor suggested -- Thursday was "the greatest opening day in the history of the tournament."

The only unhappy people Thursday probably were Channel 4 anchors Don Postles and Jacquie Walker, who had to stay around until 1 a.m. to start their newscast after the end of Tennessee's narrow win over San Diego State, Washington's win over Marquette, Wake's overtime win over Texas and New Mexico's escape of Montana.

Channel 4 viewers were able to catch the end of all four games. CBS switched back and forth to the Tennessee and Wake games at appropriate times with the help of timeouts called by coaches. The timeouts were so well timed for CBS you almost wondered if they had the coaches call them.

The one questionable call that CBS made Thursday was switching away from Northern Iowa's tight game with UNLV to go back to Georgetown's surprising double-digit loss to Ohio. And even that switch can be forgiven. CBS probably thought the Hoyas had a rally in them and the network got back to the Northern Iowa win in time for the end.

On Thursday afternoon, Channel 4 viewers also caught the end of Notre Dame's upset loss to Old Dominion, BYU's double overtime win over Florida and Murray State's upset of Vanderbilt while getting to see a good portion of Villanova's overtime struggle to beat Robert Morris with officiating help.

CBS announcers Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery could have been stronger in their criticism of the officiating. Robert Morris coach Mike Rice Jr., a former Niagara assistant, had the right to be extremely angry. The rest of us just enjoyed the day's absolute Madness.

The magic didn't extend to the early games Friday, with Cornell, Xavier and West Virginia all winning by double digits. Cornell's upset of Temple was so one-sided that lamentably CBS took Channel 4 away from the last few minutes, which meant local viewers missed the Big Red celebration.

As good as Thursday's games were, the ratings were down locally from a year ago. The four "windows" in which the games were played Thursday had a 3.6 rating on WIVB-TV, down 16 percent from a 4.3 rating.

*The increasing popularity of NCAA March Madness on Demand (mmod.ncaa.com) could be a minor factor for the local ratings decline. For instance, Notre Dame fans could have watched the Irish game on their computers rather than Channel 4's games. CBSSports.com has added several upgrades to the video player. Viewers upgrading to a high-quality video player can watch picture-in-picture highlights of ongoing action inside of a live video stream.

Then there's the "Boss Button," which was clicked more than 2.77 million times during the 2009 tournament. It hides the live video action on the screen and silences the audio, replacing it with a "business-like" image.

"MMOD" made its debut in 2003 and began showing all 63 tournament games in 2008. It is the only major sports event that is broadcast live and in its entirety for free on the Internet.

In 2009, NCAA March Madness on Demand had a 58 percent increase from 2008, recording 7.52 million unique visitors. I bet it beats that easily this year.

*If you're keeping score, President Obama's picks for the Final Four survived Thursday. He has two top seeds, Kansas and Kentucky, headed to Indianapolis. He also selected Kansas State and Villanova.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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