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Local and national notes and quotes about March Madness

Notes, quotes and ratings from a dial-switcher during March Madness:

At first glance, the NCAA men's basketball tournament is a huge hit, with ratings up 50 percent on the local CBS affiliate, WIVB-TV, compared to a year ago.

But a closer look shows that the huge gain is largely the result of the 2016 tournament tanking here a year ago.

Going into Saturday's national semifinals, the tournament has averaged a 4.5 rating on Channel 4, up from a lowly 3.0 in 2016.

But the 4.5 rating is only 10 percent higher than the 4.1 rating through the regional finals in 2015. And ratings for the regional finals in 2015 were more than 40 percent higher than the ratings for Sunday's wins by South Carolina over Florida and North Carolina over Kentucky.

The highest-rated tournament game in Buffalo remains Kentucky's second-round victory over Wichita State, which had a 7.5 rating. The highest-rated game in week two of the tournament was a 5.9 for North Carolina's last-second win over Kentucky.

Nationally, CBS and the Turner channels report ratings are up 10 percent from a year ago. It is the third most-watched tournament in 24 years, averaging a 6.0, up 9 percent from the 5.5 rating to this point in 2016.

In a conference call Monday, CBS Sports head Sean McManus and Turner president David Levy attributed this year's gains to the decline in upsets in the first two rounds compared to a year ago, the number of close games and the increase in social media interest that drives viewers to the games.

"People are talking about the games more than ever and tuning in," said Levy.

In addition, the success of two West Coast teams, Gonzaga and Oregon, in making it to the Final Four has added interest in that part of the country.

"It can't hurt obviously," said McManus. "People enjoy watching the brand that Oregon and Gonzaga run."

Saturday's semifinals will test the theory that big-name programs drive the ratings.

The first game features Gonzaga and South Carolina, teams making the Final Four for the first time. The second game features perennial powerhouse North Carolina and Oregon, which made the Final Four for the first time in 78 years.

During Monday's conference call, I asked analysts Bill Raftery and Grant Hill how they would have re-seeded the teams based on their performance if that option had been available. Based on the pre-tournament seeding, North Carolina would have played South Carolina and Gonzaga would have played Oregon.

Raftery said North Carolina would be seeded first and after that "I think it is dealer's choice." Hill agreed.

"Any of these teams is capable of winning," said Hill.

In other words, South Carolina is getting more respect now than the seventh seed it originally received.

Jim Nantz is calling play-by-play of the semifinals, which means Verne Lundquist's work is done. I'll miss him. Naturally, he brought up the legendary 1992 Christian Laettner shot after a Grant Hill pass during one game in which a team needed a last-second miracle.

But my favorite Lundquist moment of the tournament came Sunday when he recalled going on a subway ride with Raftery a few years ago when former South Carolina star Kevin Joyce, who played in the 1970s, went up to him and said hello.  "What are the odds?" asked Lundquist before adding: "What are the odds of Raftery riding a subway?"

CBS' Verne Lundquist, 'The Golden Throat,' still very much in the game

Mike Mennenga, right, pictured as an assistant for the University at Buffalo Bulls in 2004, is now an assistant with Oregon. (John Hickey/Buffalo News file photo)

Remember Mike Mennenga? The former University at Buffalo, Canisius College and Nichols School assistant coach was shown on the sidelines of the Oregon Ducks during Saturday's upset of Kansas.

He is an assistant coach there, with Oregon Coach Dana Altman crediting him on "The Jim Rome Show" Monday for being responsible for recruiting in Canada.

If there is a classier coach than Michigan's John Beilein, I haven't seen him or her. The former Canisius coach added to his reputation in an interview following the team's one-point loss to Oregon in the Sweet 16 last week when a last-second shot failed. With Oregon making it to the Final Four, Michigan fans have to be in even more agony.

CBS analyst Dan Bonner owes Michigan's Duncan Robinson an apology. During the Wolverines' one-point loss to Oregon in the Sweet 16, Bonner blamed Robinson for allowing the Ducks' Jordan Bell to get a rebound on a missed free throw and score a key basket.

Replays showed that Bell was on the inside of Robinson and another Wolverine was on the inside lane and was more responsible for boxing him out. It isn’t that often an analyst criticizes a player so he better be right when he does.

After listening to play-by-play man Brian Anderson call some games with analyst Chris Webber, I can see why he is considered the heir apparent to Nantz. But that might not happen for a decade or more.

Sideline reporter Allie LaForce has impressed during the tournament, both in the Buffalo games and as the tournament continues. She gets to the point during her interviews with coaches, who seem to appreciate her sharp questions.

I don't know how much money CBS' Greg Gumbel is getting to be in those silly DirecTV ads, but I hope it is worth the ridicule he is bound to receive from colleagues.

The ads featuring Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee don't age well. How many times can you hear Barkley's "Steaks on a Plane" joke directed at Jackson and still find it funny? But I do like the ad in which Barkley is jealous of the adulation that Nantz receives at an airport.

As disappointing as it was to see Wisconsin, which played the first two rounds in Buffalo, lose to Florida on a last-second shot, the late injury to Bronson Koenig might have hurt the Badgers if they had moved on to play South Carolina.

Speaking of South Carolina, Coach Frank Martin has become a TV star. McManus said his scowls and his many other facial expressions and the way he feels about his players make him "really good TV." What are the odds of Martin getting a post-tournament commercial?



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