With the Kentucky-North Carolina game, CBS celebrates the beginning of its 30th year of televising regular-season college basketball. No coincidence that UK got invited to the party.
CBS has begun 14 of the past 22 seasons of college basketball telecasts with a Kentucky game, and that's been the case every year since 2003.
"They play marquee opponents," said Mike Aresco, the Executive Vice President of Programming at CBS. "And they're marquee themselves. Maybe not No. 1, but they'll be in the top 10. So you know you have a proven item."
It doesn't hurt that CBS has a contract to televise Southeastern Conference games. The network has a willing partner in place.
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With Kentucky-North Carolina serving as a "lead-in" to the SEC football championship game later in the afternoon, Aresco saw the makings of a big audience.
"We're going to have a lot of anticipatory fans tuning in early," he said.
CBS also hopes the first game whets the viewers' appetite for more college basketball throughout late fall and winter.
"You want to start off with a good game and get off on the right foot," Aresco said. "If you have basketball royalty like Kentucky and North Carolina, then it really sets the tone for the rest of the season. ... You want people to get excited about the arrival of college basketball on CBS."
From a television point of view, UK-UNC followed by the SEC football championship game represents a study in contrasts.
Star power drives ratings, and with Auburn playing South Carolina, Aresco saw "all the tumblers in place" for a big rating. Auburn is ranked No. 1 and can play for the national championship by beating South Carolina. Quarterback Cam Newton has been, uh, in the news. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier is one of the most recognized figures in the sport.
With a lot of freshmen, Kentucky and North Carolina do not have the same star quality.
"For the most part, in college basketball with players leaving earlier, it's programs," Aresco said. "The quality of the programs and the coaches."
Righty or lefty?
UK freshman Terrence Jones eats with his right hand. He writes with his right hand. But he shoots a basketball with his left hand.
Jones explained this unusual circumstance by citing the influence of two of his cousins, Damon and Salim Stoudamire.
"Pretty much growing up watching Damon and Salim shoot," he said. "I just wanted to shoot like them. I saw what they were doing and I just started doing that."
Damon and Salim are both left-handed.
His aunt Ava, who introduced Jones to various sports, tried to force Jones to shoot right-handed. She finally gave up.
"I watched them," he said of his cousins, "and I wanted to be like them."
Words of wisdom
When CBS analyst Clark Kellogg noted that Darius Miller seemed capable of more production than he's produced so far, the mind drifted to a UK game at South Carolina on Feb. 18, 2006. UK fans felt much the same about Randolph Morris.
Kellogg spoke to the UK big man before the game, then watched Morris come off the bench and post a double-double: 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Might Kellogg similarly inspire Miller?
Although Morris credited Kellogg for the breakout game, the CBS analyst laughed this week and said, "I don't know that I had anything to do with it. I think the young man decided to go after it. It was coincidental."
UNC leads the series 21-11. This game marks the 11th straight season the teams have met. In that span, each team has won five games. ... Gus Johnson and Kellogg will call the game for CBS.