Friday, February 20, 2009

Game of the Knight

AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta

Thursday night’s ESPN college basketball doubleheader started off with a matchup between the Duke Blue Devils and the St. John’s Red Storm. Covering the game for ESPN was play-by-play man Brent Musburger, color commentator Bob Knight, and sideline reporter Holly Rowe. Musburger and Knight are two highly respected individuals in the world of college basketball so it made sense to have them cover a game with such a high profile program like Duke.

Before the tip-off Musburger and Knight explained why the game was important for both teams. This was a great way to start because it told the viewer what was at stake and why they should want to watch this game. They described that Duke was on a two-game losing streak and needed this game to snap out of their funk, and for St. John’s it was an opportunity for their young squad—all five starters were sophomores—to play in a primetime matchup for a national audience against one of the premier schools in the nation.

Knight was a great “X’s and O’s” guy as a coach and that has carried over into his career as an analyst. During the game he does a great job of identifying what the team is doing and why it works or doesn’t work, as well as what they need to do to get a better result. The viewer can come out of Knight’s broadcast with a better understanding of the intricacies of basketball, just like they were being coached by him at the University of Indiana.

Musburger does a good job of “driving the bus” and bringing up good discussion points for Knight to analyze. However, on this night, he seemed too low-key. It almost sounds like he was working through a cold. His voice was really low, soft, and delivered in monotone. You really had to pay close attention to understand what he was saying.

Knight, as informative as he was, was also a bit dull covering the game. Neither Knight nor Musburger had any excitement in their voice. As a sport fan, the viewer gets excited by a great play, and I think it’s OK if the announcer gets excited too. Part of the allure of sports is the entertainment value and watching someone do something incredible that the average person can’t do. Yet neither seems to be affected by any singular moment. Maybe it’s because they have both been around for so long and have seen so much that they are, in a way, desensitized. At one point in the game Duke forward Lance Thomas lunges for a defensive rebound, collects the ball, and as he is falling to the ground he throws a full court pass to teammate Elliot Williams, who scores a lay-up. Knight claims this play is at least one of the top five passes from the season, but there is no excitement in his voice. His tone describing the play is the same as when he was describing the type of offense Duke was running. As the game goes on, this becomes a much bigger problem.

Duke took control of the second half, dominating a young St. John’s team. The announcers aren’t exciting, and now the game isn’t exciting either. Without that excitement, the viewer starts to drift away from the game. I was no longer fully interested knowing that Duke was on their way to an easy victory, and the announcers didn’t do much to keep me interested. However, St. John’s didn’t quit, and with about three minutes left they made a comeback, closing a double-digit deficit to only eight points. The announcers were still delivering in their monotone voices though, without any inflection of excitement or amazement, and I didn’t even realize how close it was getting. What could have been an exciting comeback just passed me by because the announcers couldn’t draw me back in.

By excitement, I don’t mean that they had to be like Dick Vitale. Vitale seems to be excited about everything and as the game goes on it gets to be a little over the top and irritating. However, Knight and Musburger were too dull and in a game that wasn’t very close for most of the time, it really made me less interested in watching it, undoing all the good work they did earlier in the game.

That would be the one area that needs to be improved. Otherwise, the knowledge that Musburger and Knight brought to the telecast was excellent.

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