SINCE THEY tag-teamed four years ago to pay $10.8 billion for the broadcast rights to March Madness—the deal runs through 2024—the suits at CBS Sports and Turner Sports have always presented the network-cable relationship as mutually beneficial.
This year's NCAA men's tournament will really bring that home.
For starters, TBS will televise both national semifinals, marking them as the first Final Four games to be aired on cable. TBS's broadcast on April 5 will aim for neutrality, mixing Turner analyst Steve Kerr with play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz and analyst Greg Anthony, both of CBS. But here's where it gets interesting: The games will also be shown on TNT and truTV, and those telecasts will be team-specific, each with a play-by-play announcer, analyst and sideline reporter who will be encouraged to work the game with as much homerism as they can muster. The Teamcast productions will have separate crews, custom halftime shows, and graphics (in team colors) geared toward each of the four fan bases. Four additional cameras will be deployed to get teamcentric angles. The title game will air two nights later on CBS only.
"We've often heard, 'What would my hometown announcers say?' and that's what we are going to project," says Turner Broadcasting president David Levy. Turner Sports senior vice president Craig Barry has a spreadsheet in his Atlanta office with a list of 120 potential announcers that will be winnowed down as the tournament progresses. (Turner and CBS will start negotiating with potential talent after the Sweet 16.) The goal is to get broadcasters who have experience calling games for the Final Four schools. Barry says they would consider famous alumni in a pinch.
The planning for the Teamcast has been under way for several months, and the three-channel semifinal experiment comes at a healthy time for the broadcast partnership. Last year's NCAA tournament viewership attracted close to 11 million viewers per game, the most since 1994. "This is really the crescendo of what Sean [CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus] and I talked about from the start," said Levy. "Not a broadcast-versus-cable partnership, but an equal partnership."
WITH A 72--63 victory over Duke on Sunday, Virginia continued a once-a-generation season that includes its first ACC tournament title since 1976 and its first outright conference championship since '81. Credit coach Tony Bennett for designing a motion offense that's proved nearly as exhausting as his vaunted Pack-Line defense (which ranks third nationally in adjusted efficiency). Bennett's relentless use of fade and down screens open looks for wing Malcolm Brogdon and for 6'6" senior guard Joe Harris (above), who has sacrificed scoring (11.7 ppg, down from 16.3) to better involve his teammates. The Cavs' possessions last an average of 19.7 seconds and grind down opponents. "The mental wear and tear it can have on your defense," says Notre Dame assistant Martin Ingelsby, "is in direct relationship to how you play on offense." After earning the top seed in the East region, UVa is striving for yet another milestone: first Final Four since 1984.
Building the Best Bracket
Need help forecasting a national champion? The most consistent attributes of NCAA title winners are high rankings in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. In the 11 seasons that kenpom.com has tracked those stats, the average national ranking in both categories is 5.2/9.7 for champions, and 18.1/18.2 for Final Four teams. These four teams have the most title-worthy efficiency profiles.
No player takes more than 24.0% of the team's shots in the Gators' superbly balanced offense, and four score in double figures, including forward Patric Young (below). Florida's D excels in two key areas: protecting the paint (23rd in two-point FG% allowed) and forcing turnovers (14th in TO%).
These Shockers are more efficient—on both ends—than the 2013 Final Four team. New starting point guard Fred VanVleet has cut down on their turnovers, while forwards Cleanthony Early (below), Darius Carter and Chadrack Lufile have locked down the defensive backboard (fifth in DReb%).
Last year's champs were in the top five on offense and D; these Cardinals have taken a step back, but they're still the most dangerous No. 4 seed. Montrezl Harrell (below) and the Ville rank second in percentage of turnovers forced (25.2), and their offense is better than you think.
The Wildcats made immense gains in offensive efficiency, ranking 11th after finishing 117th in '12--13. But their over-reliance on the three is a red flag. James Bell (below) & Co. rank seventh in percentage of field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc—a tough way to win in the NCAAs.
SI's choices for the nation's best
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
BY SETH DAVIS
6'8" Senior SF
26.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 52.5 FG%
If you don't vote McBuckets for POY, you don't deserve a vote. Despite facing double teams and junk defenses all season, he still won the national scoring title and became the eighth player in NCAA history to join the 3,000-point club.
6'1" Senior PG
17.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.9 apg
Napier excelled at both ends of the floor, ranking in the top three in the American Athletic Conference in points, assists, steals and three-point shooting.
6'4" Senior SG
20.7 ppg, 2.6 apg, 1.4 spg
The Bearcats would not be dancing without Kilpatrick, who led the AAC in scoring while raising his 3FG% to 34.5 (from 30.7 as a junior).
6'0" Senior PG
18.3 ppg, 4.7 apg, 47.5 FG%
Russdiculous was replaced by Russ-tastic. Smith's maturity, leadership and improved shot selection have the Cardinals surging into the tournament.
6'8" Freshman SF
19.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 48.4 FG%
One of the most versatile players in the nation, Parker scored in double digits for his final 17 games, and 32 overall to set a freshman record.
COACH OF THE YEAR
GREGG MARSHALLWichita State
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
BY RICHARD DEITSCH
5'8" Senior PG
28.4 ppg, 4.6 apg, 4.5 rpg
The 5'8" Sims ranked second in the nation in scoring while shooting 44.5% from the floor and 40.5% from beyond the arc. She willed a young Bears team to a 29--4 regular season and the Big 12 title, and has scored in double digits in 43 consecutive games.
6'4" Senior PF
26.8 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 61.0 FG%
The likely No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft ranks in the NCAA's top 10 in scoring, shooting, rebounding and double doubles. She had 30 or more points 14 times this year.
5'11" Senior SG
17.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.8 apg
In six games against top 10 teams, the 5'11" McBride averaged 22.3 points, 6.3 boards and 3.8 assists while shooting 49.5% from the floor.
6'4" Sophomore PF
19.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.8 bpg
The American Athletic Conference player of the year ranked in the league's top 10 in six categories, including scoring, rebounding and blocks.
6'2" Senior SF
18.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 4.3 apg
The three-time ACC player of the year (and the Terrapins' alltime leading scorer) led the nation with four triple doubles and had an ACC-best 24 double doubles.
COACH OF THE YEAR
MUFFET MCGRAW,Notre Dame
"We've often heard, 'What would my hometown announcers say?' and that's what we are going to project," says Levy.
THE BRACKETS 32
BREAKOUT PLAYERS 36
5-MINUTE GUIDE 52
BREANNA STEWART 56
ZONE DEFENSE 62
Teams from Indiana in the field of 68, only the second time that has happened in the last 42 years.
Minutes per game by Providence senior point guard Bryce Cotton against Big East opponents. (The Friars had six overtime games.)
Teams making their first NCAA tournament appearances, Cal Poly (out of the Big West) and North Carolina Central (Mid-Eastern).
Years since Nebraska appeared in the Big Dance. If the 11th-seeded Huskers beat No. 6 Baylor for their first-ever NCAA tournament win, they are likely to face in-state rival Creighton, the No. 3 seed.
THEY SAID IT
"I got engaged in less time than the media timeouts. THEY'RE TOO LONG. I don't have anything left to tell them."
—Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli
Illustration by GARY LOCKE
CHUCK LIDDY/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.COM (HARRIS)
ERIC FRANCIS/GETTY IMAGES (NEBRASKA MASCOT)
ANTHONY GRUPPUSO/USA TODAY SPORTS (MARTELLI)
TODD KIRKLAND/ICON SMI (YOUNG)
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (EARLY)
ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES (HARRELL)
NICK LISI/AP (BELL)
AL TIELEMANS/SI (MCDERMOTT)
JARED WICKERHAM/GETTY IMAGES (NAPIER)
BILL FRAKES/SI (SMITH)
JOE MURPHY/GETTY IMAGES (KILPATRICK)
FRED VUICH FOR SI (PARKER)
GREG NELSON FOR SI (SIMS)
WINSLOW TOWNSON/AP (OGWUMIKE)
DAMIAN STROHMEYER FOR SI (STEWART)
GERRY BROOME/AP (MCBRIDE)
RICHARD LEWIS/ICON SMI (THOMAS)