Highlighters & Headsets: Reviewing the Marathon

Posted by rtmsf on November 19th, 2010

Highlighters & Headsets is an occasional look at the coverage of college basketball – from television to print (they still make paper?), blogs to bracket busters, and Gus Johnson to Gameday – written by RTC contributor Steve Moore. He welcomes your comments, column ideas and Dickie (V) jokes at smoore71@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @smoore1117.

Hoops Marathon Tests ESPN’s Bench Depth

ESPN catches a lot of flak from a lot of people – much of it deserved. But as almost any college basketball fan will tell you, the College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon is one of the best things on the ESPN calendar. It’s unique and quirky, without being overly gimmicky. We get to see teams and players we won’t see again all season, and have an excuse to stay up until all hours of the night.  For me (and I hope at least a few others, or else no one will be reading this), part of the allure is also keeping an eye (and ear) on how ESPN performs during its annual test of endurance and depth.

The WWL Nailed This Event

Personally, I think this is the kind of thing that proves why ESPN is the gold standard. Its resources (read: dollar bills, y’all) are endless, and, for the most part, its announcing crews are professional and entertaining. Unlike some people here at RTC, I couldn’t make it through the entire 24 hours without the help of Red Bull, Four Loko or some other delicious energy beverage. But I did catch enough to put together a quick rundown of the ups and downs of ESPN’s effort on what was, overall, an incredible day for hoops fans everywhere.


Nearly all of ESPN’s announcing teams on Tuesday – and the general attitude of the network’s promotion – seemed to understand the event. By that, I mean the network seemed to understand that the whole concept of playing basketball at 2, 4 and 6 a.m. is a little strange, and it’s OK to increase the off-beat goofiness and drop the life-or-death mindset that is more appropriate during Championship Week or UNC-Duke.

As the hours got later, the announcers seemed to adapt with the late-night viewers watching at home. Sean McDonough and Bill Raftery (Memphis-Miami, midnight) always sound like they’re sitting at the bar talking about the game, but Carter Blackburn/Mark Gottfried (St. Mary’s-St. John’s, 2 a.m.) and Todd Harris/Mark Adams (Hawaii/Central Michigan, 4 a.m.) lightened the mood and didn’t take themselves too seriously. We got much less in the way of X’s and O’s, and more basic information about teams and players we may not know too well.

The prize, however, goes to the duo of Rob Stone and Jay Williams, who called two games in two different states, 12 hours apart (Monmouth-Stony Brook, 6 a.m., and Villanova/Marist, 5:30 p.m.). Stone’s lighthearted style, and the fact that he’s not a college hoops specialist, just seemed to work well with a ridiculous 6 a.m. tip in a high school-sized gym at Monmouth. Part of the allure of the 6 a.m. game is wondering what the atmosphere is like and whether the players and coaches are into it. The duo kept me interested, and also seemed completely on board with their early wakeup call. It would have been easy to tell if the pair felt like it was forced into the ridiculous assignment. Stone and Williams seemed to embrace the absurdity of it all, and even filmed their trek from Monmouth to Villanova. The clip of Stone rocking out to Journey was one of the day’s highlights.

Jason Williams Has Really Improved Over the Years

In fact, I would even suggest a few more of these quirky announcing journeys during the marathon. Maybe let McDonough and Raftery start and finish the event, or send Dickie V to Monmouth or one of the smaller schools. God knows he sees the ACC enough.


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ATB: Karl Hess Isn’t Invited to Our Thanksgiving Dinner Either

Posted by rtmsf on November 26th, 2009


Sean McDonough Rips Karl Hess.  Rarely will you hear an announcer publically call out an NCAA basketball official by name for a terrible call, but during the second half of the Vanderbilt-Arizona game tonight in the Maui Invitational, ESPN play-by-play man Sean McDonough ripped Karl Hess a new one for calling a bizarre quick-trigger technical foul on Arizona coach Sean Miller for protesting a cheapie on one of his players.  Another blog gives a much more detailed take than we will here, and we’re not really buying the gambling angle they suggest, but McDonough’s comments were without question incendiary and had us thinking that he might even face some sort of internal administrative censure for going after Hess so vigorously.  McDonough’s specific comments were that:

Karl Hess, he was involved in the 54-foul game the other night, and he’s one of these officials, unfortunately, who always finds a way, it seems, to be at the center of the action.  You don’t come here to watch him officiate, but more often than not, he finds himself at the center of attention.  And here he goes again over the scorer’s table to try to sort something out…

We found a video of the situation and posted it below — the relevant parts begin after the 2:00 mark, but there are comments throughout leading up to it.

OT Exotica.  We head into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with a couple of nice overtime battles in exotic locations for tournament titles.  Both were unexpected for completely different reasons.

  • #5 Kentucky 73, Stanford 65 (OT).  Even with Kentucky’s apparent growing pains in terms of defense and turnovers, nobody could have predicted that a team picked tenth in the Pac-10 that already has losses to San Diego and Oral Roberts would be able to hang with John Calipari’s stable of Wildcat stars  in the finals of the Cancun Challenge — even for a half.  Yet there was Johnny Dawkins’ Cardinal with a chance to seal the game away at the line as Jarrett Mann stepped to shoot two with under fifteen seconds remaining.  Problem is… and we see this with struggling teams all the time, Mann missed both.  That gave Kentucky wunderkind John Wall (23/4/5 assts) just enough of an opportunity to slice through the Stanford pressure to get into the lane for a foul and two free throws (which he nailed) with 2.4 seconds left.  This clutch performance came on the heels of another Kobe-style icewater jumper from the right side with thirty seconds left that had tied the game at 61-all.  In the overtime period, Stanford predictably fell apart and Kentucky’s other star freshman guard Eric Bledsoe hit a dagger three to salt the game away with 33 seconds to go.  The Cardinal should be proud of its performance, especially Landry Fields (23/13/3 assts/4 stls), who often appeared to be the best player on the court in this game (yes, just a mirage), but it’s now exceptionally clear that all the squawking Calipari has been doing about how far his team has to go is truth-speak.  The talent for this team to become something special is there, but it’s also painfully obvious that his Cats often rely on God-given abilities (especially on offense) rather than an actual understanding of strategy or the sets.  Decisionmaking by some players, especially DeMarcus Cousins, is also troubling in their naivete and youthful indiscretion.  For example, back to back horrendous decisions by Cousins late in the game to shoot a three (not his shot) and later to purposefully miss a FT attempt in a misguided attempt to get his own rebound only to foul Stanford in the process, exhibits these characteristics.  Kentucky has a chance to be very, very good, and when you have a release valve player like John Wall to cover up mistakes, that can go a long way, but there’s no doubt that UK has a lot of work ahead of it to reach its goals this season.
  • Gonzaga 61, Cincinnati 59 (OT).  The other really good game tonight was in the Maui Invitational finals, where those plucky little Zags from Spokane once again proved to the world that we should never take them lightly regardless of who they lose from year to year.  Mark Few’s team won its first Maui Invitational title behind a balanced scoring effort among its starters — Robert Sacre (14/5), Elias Harris (13/7), Steven Gray (13/7/4 assts), and Demetri Goodson (12/2).  The Zags’ supposed best player, Matt Bouldin, contributed the least offensively (6/11 on 1-7 FGs), yet the others stepped up and held off a very athletic and gritty Cincinnati team that looks nothing like the disaster that Mick Cronin inherited there a few years ago.  The Bearcats’ starting five is extremely athletic and talented, and nobody is going to want to face this team as it continues to develop together (remember, Lance Stephenson is brand new and Cashmere Wright is essentially so).  We were already high on Cincy but now we’re even moreso.  One tiny complaint, though.  When Cashmere Wright decides to take the game into his own hands as he did on the final drive in regulation, Born Ready needs to be ready to get to the rim for the putback and not stand around at the three-point line pouting that he didn’t get the ball.  Just sayin’…

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