Ratings were up for this year's NCAA Tournament. So was the fretting about the state of college basketball.
"In general, the college game is down," said Steve Kerr, analyst for Turner Sports and a rising star in telecast commentary. "The games are lower scoring. They're more physical. You can have games it seems the ball just won't go in the basket."
Yet, the 2013 NCAA Tournament drew plenty of interest. The television ratings reportedly were the highest in 19 years, and 11 percent better than the year before. Live video streams increased by 168 percent from 2012.
That might seem surprising given Kentucky's appearance in the 2012 national championship game. Of course, UK did not make this year's NCAA Tournament, which did not have one of the sports' most recognizable franchises in the Final Four for the first time since 1985. No North Carolina, Duke, Indiana, Kansas, UCLA nor UK.
"I just think the tournament itself is the star these days," Kerr said of the higher ratings.
The pass/fail drama that comes with single elimination. The Cinderella role (filled nicely this year by Florida Gulf Coast).
But another analyst isn't so sure.
"Ratings are not attributable to any one factor, in my judgment," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas wrote in an email. "We had more double-digit margins than at any time in the past 20 years and fewer exciting, close finishes in games, which runs counter to the theory that people watch primarily for the buzzer-beating excitement."
And, Bilas added, there were plenty brand names still playing deep in the tournament: Louisville, Syracuse and Michigan among the Final Four, Florida, Duke and Ohio State in the Elite Eight.
"My guess is that it is just one season's results, and that we'll have similar ups and downs going forward, just as we have had in the past," Bilas said of the higher ratings.
Kerr and Bilas agreed that the Louisville-Michigan championship game providing an appealing finish to this college basketball season.
"We were very fortunate," Kerr said. " ... But it doesn't cover up the fact that the game itself is not played at a really high level right now."
Added Bilas: "After a year that could be difficult to watch, the high quality of play in the final game saved the season, perception wise. If we delivered another UConn-Butler rock fight (the 2011 title game), there would be far less enthusiasm for the game from the average fan. Hopefully, those in charge will still take the necessary steps to improve the game, because it is in need of fixing."
When asked about possible changes, Kerr chuckled.
"Oh boy," he said. "There's a long list of rule changes."
■ Calling more fouls to reduce the physical nature of play.
■ A re-interpretation of the block/charge call to give the benefit of the doubt to the offense rather than the defense. In other words, the referees should first ask themselves if there was a block.
■ Reduce the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds.
■ Reduce the number of timeouts in hopes of creating more flow to games.
Kerr, who also works NBA games, noted the difficulty in installing sweeping change to college basketball. It's easier in the NBA, where there are far fewer teams and one overlord, Commissioner David Stern.
College basketball has almost 350 teams, plus various conferences and officiating crews.
"I still love the college game," Kerr said. "But I think the love is based more on the format of the NCAA Tournament.
"I like watching young players develop, 18-year-old kids, to see them develop over the course of a year is fun. A lot of things I enjoy, but it could get a lot better if they made the right changes."
To G.G. Smith, who was named the coach at Loyola University Maryland on Friday.
Smith is the eldest son of former UK coach Tubby Smith and wife Donna. His two younger brothers are also in coaching, Saul was an assistant for his father at Minnesota (no official word yet if he'll join Tubby at Texas Tech), and Brian at a high school in the Phoenix area.
G.G. Smith, 36, said he knew as a high school player that he wanted to coach. He liked to compete. He liked the idea of helping young people. His parents tried to discourage him.
"They understood the sacrifices, the moving around, Dad gone all the time at games and recruiting," Smith said Friday. "It's always tough on wives, who are the total MVPs of the profession."
Smith and his wife, Lorie, have a young daughter, Jayna.
Smith, who played for Georgia, had been an assistant at Loyola the past six seasons. The program won 62 games and made two post-season appearances in the last three seasons.
Smith is now charged with leading the program as it moves from the Metro Atlantic Conference to the more academically rigorous Patriot League (profiled in the John Feinstein book, The Last Amateurs).
UK basketball got off to a fast start when it launched a twitter account called KentuckyMBB last Thursday. After one day, the UK account had vaulted into the top 15 in Twitter followers of programs nationally.
With a call to move the program further up the standings, UK offered a list of the top 14 programs in terms of followers. As of Saturday evening, the rankings were: 1. North Carolina (124,808); 2. Michigan (65,084); 3. Kansas (45,647); 4. Michigan State (44,140); 5. Duke (31,123); 6. Memphis (27,602); 7. Kentucky (24,484); 8. Ohio State (23,124); 9. Illinois (22,830); 10. Missouri (22,527); 11. Tennessee (22,432); 12. North Carolina State (20,949); 13. Iowa (18,319); 14. Butler (15,487).
Words vs. actions
Columnist Joe Nocera of The New York Times recalled serving on a panel with Tim Pernetti, the former athletics director for Rutgers.
"Pernetti is said to be one of the bright lights of college sports," Nocera wrote. "Around the same time as he was dealing with both the Big Ten and the (Mike) Rice video, he was on a panel at New York University School of Law at which he spoke — passionately, it seemed to me (I was on the same panel) — about the importance of putting the needs of the 'student-athlete' first, and hiring 'the right people.' Yet, faced with a moment of truth, he blinked."
After viewing video of Rice throwing basketballs at players, kicking them and voicing slurs, Pernetti did not fire the coach. He suspended him for three games.
"Just like Joe Paterno, another supposed good guy, blinked," Nocera wrote. "Just like they all blink when their professed ideals bump up against the ever-increasing pressure to generate cold, hard cash.
"The N.C.A.A., it turns out, isn't the only hypocrite in college sports."
Syndicated columnist Norman Chad finds college basketball unappealing. His dislike of the game extends far beyond an emphasis on rough play or the block/charge call.
"It's not as if I ever had a love affair with college basketball," he wrote recently. "The hypocrisy, the lionization of coaches, the folly of the NCAA, the student-athlete sham, the one-and-done transformation all are overwhelming deterrents to making an emotional commitment."
A reader also wrote a topical question to the "Ask The Slouch" feature that concludes each Chad column. Asked David M. Siegler:
"As he spends so much time out of the box and on the court while the game is in progress, will Rick Pitino be required to pay tuition?"
'Got a shot'
The Final Four provided the proverbial 15 minutes of fame for Michigan reserve Spike Albrecht.
Not only did he score 17 points in the first half of Monday's championship game against Louisville, he also spotted supermodel Kate Upton in the crowd and sent her a now famous tweet.
"Hey saw you at the game last night, thanks for coming out!" he tweeted. "Hope to see you again J"
Albrecht's tweet became fodder for the New York newspaper gossip pages.
"I think he's still got a shot there," Michigan Coach John Beilein said on a morning radio show last week. "He's got a shot. The young man has a lot of bravado to tweet the way he did. I think it was inspired by Nik Stauskas a little bit, he egged him on a little bit, his roommate. It's all good. It's fun. When it comes down to we want our kids to have great educations, we want them to win basketball games, we want them to enjoy themselves in the process. I think they've enjoyed themselves."
To the family of Marty Blake, the NBA's longtime Director of Scouting. He died last Sunday at age 86.
Before heading the NBA's scouting department, Blake ran the St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks. Among his astute draft picks were Lenny Wilkens, Zelmo Beaty, Lou Hudson and Lexington native Jeff Mullins.
Blake took pride in discovering NBA talent in unlikely places. For instance, Dennis Rodman at Southeastern Oklahoma State and Scottie Pippen at Central Arkansas.
To ask about a Kentucky player's NBA prospects usually drew a "Duh." UK players were well known and well scouted.
Blake preferred not to project where a player would be drafted. It was difficult to say what any individual team might do beyond, perhaps, the first pick or two.
Even if you couldn't get a projection (we have plenty of mock drafts to serve that meaningless purpose now), a reporter wanted to call Blake to hear him tout a lesser-known player. Plus, you could count on hearing a bit of Blake's Vaudevillian shtick.
"The pillows were great at the hotel in (pick a town)," he once said. "So big and fluffy. I could barely fit them into my suitcase."
To Derrick Jasper. He turned 25 on Saturday. ... To Nerlens Noel. He turned 19 on Wednesday. ... To Kyle Macy. He turned 56 on Tuesday.