A fan's notes: Gus, Kevin, more
Mar. 20, 2007 | feedback
The Gus Johnson Question has turned into one of the defining sports questions in life. Where you stand says more about you than you'd think, just like it's telling if you hated "Field of Dreams" or started rooting for Duke during the early '90s because you liked watching Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley. If somebody tells me they don't like Gus, I'm not even sure how to react. They might as well tell me, "Yeah, sometimes I like to save dogs from the pound, then murder them with my bare hands."
I look at it this way: If March Madness was a cheeseburger, and everyone's office pools were the fries, then Gus would be like ranch dressing -- not a complete necessity, but a luxury that pushes everything else over the top. Does he go a little overboard? Absolutely. Does he veer into the high 90s on the Unintentional Comedy Scale at times? No question. Would he have been the greatest WWE announcer of all time? Undoubtedly. Does he make every event he covers more exciting? You betcha.
Other than Marv Albert, Gus is the only play-by-play guy who sucks me into watching games I wouldn't normally care about. Sometimes he's assigned to Knicks home games on MSG and I immediately go on Gus Patrol, monitoring the game for the next two hours and making sure it doesn't come down to the wire, just in case there's a chance that Gus could lose his mind for a few seconds. For instance, I happened to be watching the memorable Bobcats-Knicks overtime game earlier this season when David Lee tipped in the alley-oop at the buzzer and Gus' voice reached a frequency that only dogs could hear. You know why I stuck with a meaningless game between two crappy teams? Because of Gus. Just in case.
Now, it would be one thing if this was an act -- if he were doing this as a shtick, like Tony Schiavone flipping out during every dreadful WCW pay-per-view in the mid-'90s or something. But that's the great thing about Gus: He's one of those rare announcers who can't just help himself during exciting sporting events.
And when you think about it, isn't that why an announcer is there? To tell us what's happening and to get us more fired up than we already were? I've written this before, but ABC should throw a gigantic offer at Gus and hand over their "Wide World of Sports" series to him -- the man should be calling motorcycle jumps, cliff dives, stock car races and everything else of that ilk, then dabbling in some of ABC's other big events (the Triple Crown, the Indy 500, etc.). HBO should be wooing him for every major boxing event; he's the only play-by-play guy who could get a rise out of Larry Merchant at this point. The UFC should be overpaying him to announce its pay-per-views. CBS should stick him on the 16th hole of the Masters every year. TNT should borrow him for the slam dunk contest. MTV should hand over the "Real World/Road Rules Inferno" franchise to him. Hell, he might be the one guy who could save the WNBA. We need more Gus Johnson in our lives, not less.
Which brings me to the bigger issue: Over the past week or so, there's been an outpouring of affection for Gus in my reader mailbox. It started last week when I mentioned how CBS was bumping Gus from the tournament after Round 2, then continued when my buddies and I joked in Day One of the Madness Diary about the desperation in Gus' voice as it became more and more apparent that he might not call a close game. As you know by now, Gus finally got a close game (Xavier-OSU) on Saturday and banged it out of the park (scroll down to the second OSU-Xavier link for the real-time CBS highlights and Gus getting progressively crazier and crazier). Not only did that turn out to be the best game of the first two rounds, you wouldn't have wanted anyone else announcing it. Just watch the YouTube clip of Ron Lewis' game-tying 3-pointerand tell me if ...
A. You didn't get goose bumps.
B. You didn't love his throw to commercial with the Vince McMahon cackle and the one-word sentences.
C. You would have wanted anyone other than Gus at that game.
Here's what shocked me: I wouldn't call my readers impartial by any means, but when we're getting a large sample of reaction on any major topic, we always get e-mails from readers going against the grain on any topic except Barry Bonds. With Gus? Everybody loves him. Coincidentally, when I poked fun at Billy Packer after the UNC-Duke game two weeks ago, I received 1,200-1,300 Packer e-mails over the next 72 hours and was shocked that nobody took the time to defend him. Maybe people love Gus for the same reasons they're tired of Packer; we want somebody announcing these NCAA games who sounds just as excited as we are. Maybe you wouldn't want Gus announcing slower sports like baseball or golf, but he's the perfect March Madness announcer. That's why he's featured in more YouTube clips right now than every other sports announcer combined.
These four e-mails summed it up:
Daniel in Lawrence: "In deciding which game to watch during tournament days, I think all games should be evaluated by their Gus Johnson Explosion Potential (GJEP), which is the likelihood that Gus Johnson would literally explode at some point if he were calling the game. If a game promises to be really good, there'd be a high GJEP. If the game is actually going to be called by Gus, the GJEP is automatically doubled. With seven minutes left in this OSU/Xavier game, the GJEP for the remainder of the half is off the charts."
CKJ in Lexington: "I was at the OSU-XU game yesterday and I have to admit, as exciting as it was in person, I couldn't wait to get home to hear Gus Johnson's call of the last three minutes in regulation. As good as Gus is on air, you should see this man in action calling a game. After Ron Lewis' shot, I looked up and Dan Bonner was picking him up off the floor."
Mike in Chicago (writing during the OSU-Xavier game): "This is the first time I have ever rooted for a team to come back so I can hear how excited the announcer would get. Gus did not disappoint but I thought he would have enough energy this year to turn into The Incredible Hulk."
Zack from Austin (we ran this last week but I'm running it again): "I'm sitting here wondering why CBS has Gus Johnson calling this Louisville blowout when an idea hit me. You know how CBS switches mercifully throughout the first four days of March Madness to the most exciting games, especially possible last-second upsets? Why can't they use Gus Johnson as the closer? Whenever there is a tight, one-point game with two minutes left (or a similar nail-biting situation), just switch the coverage to that game, kill the audio feed of whoever is announcing and let Gus Johnson call it solo until the end. And, in keeping with the closer theme, he could use Mariano Rivera's entrance music. Who wouldn't drop everything and run in from the kitchen or whip their head up from the computer when they heard that music?"
Look, I'm not saying Gus is perfect. During that OSU-Xavier game, he clammed up during Oden's intentional-but-we're-not-calling-it-intentional foul near the end of regulation, which could end up being the biggest non-call of the tournament when everything's said and done. (My take: Gus was too busy feeling relieved because the door remained open for him to call a potential game-tying 3.) And I can see how some of the traditional media critics (translation: uptight stiffs) prefer a more professional approach. At the same time, there isn't a better match than Gus Johnson and the NCAA Tournament. The man was created to announce college basketball in the last two weeks of March.
Now here's the frustrating thing: As detailed in this New York Daily News article, CBS callously bumped Gus from the Sweet 16 for James Brown, who agreed to jump from Fox's NFL studio show to CBS's NFL studio show if they gave him one of the top four March Madness spots as well. This turned out to be a double murder for fans because (A) Gus ended up getting the shaft, and (B) Brown hadn't done play-by-play since the late 1980s and was hopelessly rusty in the first two rounds. There's a certain rhythm to calling a basketball game (learned over time) that networks keep discounting, which is why NBA fans suffered through the Bob Costas/Al Michaels eras and NCAA fans are suffering through the James Brown era right now.
If I wanted someone to host my studio show, I'd pick JB over Gus in a heartbeat. If I wanted someone for a basketball game? No contest. In my opinion, the best pure basketball play-by-play guys alive are Marv Albert, Mike Breen, Sean McDonough, Dan Shulman, Gus Johnson, Mike Tirico and Kevin Harlan. You could give those guys a women's NIT game and they'd make it passable. All of them intrinsically understand how to announce a basketball game and make it more exciting.
Well, here's how many of those guys are calling the next two rounds of March Madness: Zero.
You figure it out.
In the meantime, it's time to bid a premature farewell to the great Gus Johnson. The tournament won't be the same without him. College basketball. CBS Sports. This ... is March Madness. But not totally.
Whether they wanted to admit it or not, everyone who followed the 2007 Texas Longhorns knew the Rick Barnes-D.J. Augustin duo would submarine their chances this month ... but in Round 2? Barnes basically had his pants pulled down by USC coach Tim Floyd, whose defensive plan hinged on Durant's teammates taking terrible shots, Augustin falling apart and Durant's coach refusing to figure out simple ways to get Durant the ball. (Like, here's an idea -- they could have just given him the ball at midcourt and spread everyone else out. Nope. Floyd smartly defended Durant with smaller, quicker players who played him tight and took away his dribble-penetration moves, banking that Barnes wouldn't be smart enough to start posting Durant up in the block to take advantage of the size mismatch. And he wasn't.) Check out the play-by-play transcript in the second half from "USC 34-30" to "USC 51-33" -- USC goes on a 17-3 run over a four-minute span as the game slips away, Durant shoots the ball twice and Barnes waits until it's 50-33 to call his first timeout of the half. Seriously, it's all right there. They blew the game in less than four minutes and you could see it slip away as it happened. The USC kids wanted it more and they had a better coach.
Still, it needs to be mentioned that Augustin played so poorly that he even spawned a few comparisons to Tony in "Blue Chips" from my readers. He missed seven of eight shots, turned the ball over six times, couldn't get Durant the ball in a reasonable scoring position, mangled every high screen and fouled out with four minutes to play. You couldn't have played the point guard position any worse than this. On the other end, USC's freshman point guard, Daniel Hackett, quadrupled his scoring average with 20 points, including the first 15 with Augustin in the game. (Check out Hackett's game log and explain to me where that 20-point game came from.) That's why I feel like this game was a little more random than it seemed -- because Augustin laid an egg for Texas and Hackett played the game of his life for USC. At the same time, Floyd is one of the best in-the-game coaches in college and Barnes is one of the worst. Over anything else, that's why we don't get to see Kevin Durant play UNC this week.
(One more note: You can keep sending me those "admit you were wrong about the Pac-10!" e-mails, but I'm not admitting anything until we see how many Pac-10 teams make the final eight. I believed last week and continue to believe that Kansas and Texas A&M are better than anyone in the Pac-10. We will see.)
Six things I loved from the weekend other than Gus Johnson and the grittiness of the USC kids:
1. Texas A&M: Prevailed in a ferocious battle over Louisville (70 free throws combined!) in what amounted to a road game since it was played in Lexington. I'm more convinced than ever that A&M is beating Ohio State and making the Final Four. What about Acie Law IV going 13-of-15 from the line? And what about Acie Law III looking like a dead ringer for Snoop Dogg?
2. Tyler Hansbrough: I'm reconsidering my prediction that he'll end up being a more polished version of Mark Madsen in the pros ... although I still can't see him guarding the likes of Al Jefferson and Jermaine O'Neal at the next level. But let's say he goes to a team like the Rockets. Could you give him Juwan Howard's minutes, flank him with a shotblocker and good help defenders and not lose anything, then post him up on the other end? Yeah, probably. So it will probably depend on the team. But he's a competitive, hard-nosed dude (no pun intended) who always seems to be around the ball. You'd certainly rather go into battle with him over Josh McRoberts, that's for sure.
3. Jeff Green: Some inspired play in the BC game moved him up to No. 9 on Chad Ford's top 100 list this week! Although he's still trailing Spencer Hawes. Come on, Chad. I refuse to live in a world where Spencer Hawes is considered a better bet to succeed in the NBA than Jeff Green. I don't care how stupid NBA teams are. Move him up one spot so I can sleep tonight.
4. Mike Conley and Ty Lawson: Leapfrogged Augustin and Darren Collison as the leading contenders to play point for my Under-22 Olympic Team (still a work in progress). Conley has shown a knack for getting better in big moments (including his underrated handoff/pick that set up Lewis' game-tying three against Xavier), and Lawson improved over the last two months more than any other big-time player. We could potentially see them battling in one of the Final Four games, by the way.
5. Kevin Kruger: Shed the Saul Smith/nepotism jokes by carrying UNLV down the stretch of the Wisconsin pseudo-upset that wasn't really an upset because the Badgers shouldn't have been a No. 2 seed. Was there a cooler clip all weekend than the one of little Kevin sitting on Florida's bench during the 1994 Final Four? I can't wait to get burned out on that angle over the next two weeks if UNLV somehow makes this year's Final Four.
6. The Big Ten: Did I tell you or did I tell you? If that foul was called on Oden, there would have been ZERO Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16. I love being right. It happens so rarely. Anyway, don't fret, Big Ten fans -- you can still get your fix of defense and fundamentals by watching the women's tournament.
Six things I didn't love from the weekend, other than D.J. Augustin and Rick Barnes:
1. Thad Matta: I mean, you have the best anchor for a 2-3 college zone since Mutombo ... and you switch to man-to-man? And then it's not working, and you stick with it? I'm continually stunned by the terrible coaching at the college level -- for every Tim Floyd, Billy Gillispie or Tom Izzo, there seem to be 25 Thad Mattas and Rick Barneses. No wonder these guys keep jumping to the NBA and bombing miserably. How much of the success of these college coaches depends on recruiting? Ninety percent? Ninety-five percent?
2. Alando Tucker: On second thought, let's cancel that Hummer order.
3. Rick Pitino: Calls timeout at the end of the Cards-Aggies game to set up a game-winning shot ... and it turns out to be a 30-foot heave by Edgar Sosa. Now that's the Pitino I knew and loved in Boston!
4. The Hanes commercial featuring MJ and Kevin Bacon: Somehow I did a running diary for all of Thursday and half of Friday without stumbling across this ad once. Then Friday night rolled around and it was on constantly. Um ... what the hell is going on in this commercial? Why these two guys? What do they have in common? Why does the ad kinda make it seem like they're dating? More importantly, when did Jordan reach the point of his career where he had to slum it in underwear ads with the dude from "Footloose"? Doesn't he have enough money? I'll be honest: This commercial freaks me out.
5. Holy Cross hoops: Honestly? I'm embarrassed. That was a disgrace. The Cross is now going on 30 years without an NCAA win. And you know what? I've had enough. Somebody needs to save our basketball program and it's going to have to be me. Details to come this spring.
6. The NCAA refs: Between the crippling D.J. Strawberry "charge" in the Maryland-Butler game and Oden's "non-intentional" foul against Xavier, it was refreshing to know that the officiating can be just as catastrophic in college hoops as it is in the NBA. I don't think Butler was better than Maryland, and I don't think OSU was better than Xavier. Although Xavier STILL gave that game away by not making free throws and not fouling in the final six seconds.
Which reminds me ...
I'm convinced that the NBA and NCAA passed a secret rule that no team leading by three with less than 10 seconds to play can intentionally foul. Why? Because it would kill the excitement of those last 10 seconds. After all, you have a 1-in-3 chance of making a game-tying 3, but you have a 1-in-50 chance of making one free throw, then intentionally missing the second one and having it ricochet right to a teammate for the game-tying putback. (Note: I can remember most of the times in my life that I've ever seen this happen. The last time was with Kobe and the Lakers a few years ago.) So you're telling me that every team with a three-point lead willingly opts to give their opponent a one-in-three probability of tying the game over a one-in-50 probability? Yeah, right. They passed a secret rule and nobody can tell me differently.