Last year, the Final Four featured not one but two Cinderella teams. This year, there are none.
But don’t tell Jim Nantz that the lack of underdogs will mean a less exciting weekend of basketball.
“I could build an argument that when you have a mid-major make it, that’s really part of the charm of the tournament,” said the CBS sportscaster, who will be calling his 27th Final Four on Saturday and championship game on Monday. “And I loved the configuration we had last year.”
(Butler and Virginia Commonwealth joined Connecticut and Kentucky in Houston.)
But he’s downright adamant about how good he thinks this year’s games will be.
“You have a Louisville-Kentucky matchup,” he said. “So much intensity with that. And now you put it on a Final Four stage? It’s spectacular. I am thrilled with what we have waiting for us in New Orleans.
“The other side of the bracket, by the way, ain’t too shabby. I mean, Ohio State and Kansas? All the history that’s there? It’s just a good one.”
Nantz, who’s as good an interview as he is on TV, was clearly enthusiastic. You could hear it in his voice. Loudly.
“I would hope you’d get a little more pumped up before the Final Four this weekend,” deadpanned CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus.
“I’ve had 27 of ’em. This is one of the better all-time quartets we’ve ever had,” said Nantz, who compared 2012 to 1993 — also in New Orleans — when the Final Four featured Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan and North Carolina “and it was similar to the same kind of vibe that I’m feeling right now.”
And whatever you do, don’t tell the former KSL sportscaster that there’s no suspense this year.
“Everybody wants to say this is just going to be a coronation for Kentucky,” Nantz said. “And the odds are it will be.
“But we were saying the same thing before N.C. State and Houston [in ’83]. We were saying the same thing before Villanova and Georgetown [in ’85]. We were saying the exact same thing before Arizona and Kentucky in ’97. UConn and Duke in ’99.”
In all four cases, the underdogs won.
“There have been too many times where we all want to make it a foregone conclusion,” Nantz said. “And there is no foregone conclusion until they tip on Monday night.”
CBS is thrilled with the “marquee matchups” this year, according to McManus, who issued a standard caveat.
“What really is going to determine the rating this weekend is how close the games are,” he said.
Nantz raised the possibility that lightning will strike again in New Orleans. This is CBS’ fifth time telecasting a Final Four from that city, and the previous four have all been nail-biters:
• North Carolina’s 1982 win over Georgetown on Michael Jordan’s basket with 17 seconds to play (and Fred Brown’s mistaken pass to UNC’s James Worthy).
• Indiana’s 1987 win over Syracuse on a shot in the final seconds.
• UNC’s 1993 win over Michigan, which featured the last-minute timeout call by Chris Webber when Michigan had none left.
• Syracuse’s 2003 win over Kansas in which the Orange blocked a last-second shot that could have sent the game to OT.
“New Orleans has been very special to this network and this tournament,” Nantz said.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce; read his blog at sltrib.com/blogs/tv.
P At the Superdome, New Orleans
• Kentucky (36-2) vs. Louisville (30-9), 4:09 p.m.
• Ohio State (31-7) vs. Kansas (31-6), 6:49 p.m.
• National championship, semifinal winners, 7 p.m.
TV • All games Ch. 2