I'm having a problem with the ESPN college basketball announcers this year. I actually enjoy Bob Knight, but not as the color commentator. He has an extremely dry sense of humor, but he's not outrageous. He actually usually sticks with X's and O's, and that's ok with me. Dry as a sober grandfather. Sometimes outrageously hypocritical (as grandparents are prone to be sometimes), but ultimately tolerable.
The entire program has taken on a silly atmosphere that is uncharacteristic for the talent, and it does not play to their talents. This is the clip that really ruined it for me this year.
Jay Bilas' talent comes from being cerebral and smart and 95% without BS. His strength as a commentator has always been his strait-to-the-point, relatively-unbiased presentation of a basketball game. Someone got in his ear and told him to be more like a clown. "Be more like Dick Vitale." But that is the opposite of who Jay Bilas should be. He should be the guy that deconstructs the Dick Vitales and the Digger Phelpses of ESPN, because when he does it is a thing of beauty. When he tries to be funny, its like watching a tone deaf ugly girl try to impress people. You kind of feel bad, but at the same time a little pissed off.
Digger is garbage. He's a color commentator that is way too liberal with the color, and none of his colors are coordinated (unlike his tie and highlighter...oh what an outrageous, fun tradition!)(sarcasm).
And College Gameday is trying something I've not seen before for basketball, and I think its a change for the worse. In the past, Jay Bilas has been really entertaining at researching scouting reports and being the brains of the show and usually whatever game he's calling. He's been a great strait man. Occasionally, when paired with a veteran announcer, he took the color commentary roll, and it was great, because it wasn't that colorful. If you paired Bilas with a veteran announcer it was perfect. A mix that worked well without being biased, like Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit (the ABC Saturday night College game of the night).
Hubert Davis has been a decent host of College Gameday, half-color commentator, half-strait man.
And Rece Davis used to be the Chris Fowler of the show. A strait man with a resonating voice that anchored everything back to reality. But the Davis boys are starting to let the show get away from them. Digger is the idiotic color commentator. Rece and Hubert should be more anchored. Don't join his ranks. Don't go down that path, please.
But something is changing within the show. It seems like a producer asked them to emulate the success of College Gameday for football. Now all four of the guys are always cutting up. I can entertain some Lee Corso - Digger Phelps comparisons, but its a stretch. On College Gameday for football, the other four hosts look at Lee like he's crazy 30% of the time, but the other 70% they're paying attention to what he has to say. There's a sense of reverence for Lee Corso. Yes, he has goofy habits like "NOT SO FAST!" and putting on a mascot's head, but at least he's not talking with a huge bias like Lou Holtz (is it a coincidence that ESPN recruits aged Notre Dame coaches to be color commentators?). On Gameday for Basketball, nobody really takes Digger seriously.
The poor guy just can't wrap his head around modernity. Everything in his basketball IQ is at least two decades old. When Louisville was down by 3 to Georgetown, he couldn't understand why more coaches don't have their players heave the ball past half-court for a catch-and-shoot like Christian Laettner in 1992 (19 years ago) in the infamous Duke/UK game NCAA tournament regional game. "Why more coaches don't call that play is beyond me!" Its beyond you because it is not a wildly successful play. First, before you ask why no coach has called one of your favorite plays, take a moment to consider why they wouldn't call that play. Could it be because that was a miracle shot that wasn't successful before or after Laettner pulled it off? That would be the logical conclusion: it is not a high-percentage scoring opportunity. You would think that as an ex-coach, you would know what plays are safe, and which plays are wildly retarded (or....not). Also, as a supposed "expert" commentator, you should never admit that anything is "beyond you." EVERYTHING should be within your grasp. You're an expert. You can say you disagree with a play. That's cool.
Hubert Davis in the past has been a very comparable performer to Desmond Howard. They both cut up more than they should. They can both pull off the knowledgeable athlete that hasn't been away from the game for too long. But a couple weekends ago, when talking about Roy Williams popping off at callers on his radio show, Hubert Davis actually refused to talk about the subject. When posed with the question, he asked "Why are we even talking about this?" and stomped his feet and wouldn't comment further. Look, the producers and writers of the show come up with topics that they want their performers to comment on. He tried to flip the game on what was an otherwise interesting question. And when Rece, Jay, or Digger started to comment, he would butt in asking why they felt the need to comment. He was acting like a spoiled little kid. Desmond Howard at least recognizes a) where his paycheck comes from and b) how to engage in conversation even if he doesn't enjoy wheresomeone's opinion comes from.
Jay Bilas is being changed, and that's a bad thing. Rece Davis is being changed, and that's a bad thing, too. Rece Davis now encourages the rest of the crew to say batshit nutty things. He tries to bring out the goofy in Jay Bilas, and goofy Jay Bilas is not entertaining. Where Chris Fowler anchors the show with occasional, subtle goading, Rece Davis brings up Digger's dance way too often. He tries to get Jay Bilas to fake barf into a trashcan. He wants to bring out the nasty, ultra-red-state out of Bobby Knight. And I have to assume someone behind the scenes is asking him to make this stretch. Rece Davis shouldn't be an active member of the color commentary. He should be the host. He should be a non-objective participant, like the narrator of a play. It doesn't suit him to act like a teenaged kid trying to start shit. He's "the voice," both the voice of reason and the golden voice. He shouldn't be the voice of your obnoxious step brother that's 3 months younger than you, but 6 inches taller, and always starting crap.
The environment on College Gameday for football obviously is the model that ESPN is going after for College Gameday for basketball. But things need to be tweaked. The performers can do it, but its like they're being pushed way too hard. Part of me feels bad for them, and the other part of me wishes the crew on the Big Ten Network could take over national basketball operations, because they balance their color and their strait very well.
If ESPN had any sense, they'd get Gus Johnson as their premier color commentator. That's a guy that can get excited for any team without losing himself in bias. The guy is both smart and exciting. And the strait commentators they pair him with always compliment him well. Gus Johnson is the Worcestershire sauce of commentators. And Gus Johnson with Bill Raftery? That's classy, exciting, and satisfying for any television audience.