If there is one word that could never be used to describe an ESPN college basketball broadcast, that word would have to be “understated.”
Especially when Dick Vitale is involved.
Vitale was in the Orleans Arena on Monday night, playing ringmaster as Gonzaga put on a show in the West Coast Conference semifinals, running rings around the University of San Francisco and winning, 88-60.
But when Vitale is in the house, hyperbole and exaggeration are the stars. The game? It’s the sideshow.
What they saw …
Vitale saw the sixth-ranked Zags (29-4) at their best on the offensive end of the court, led by Mr. Near-Perfect, Killian Tillie, who quickly became Vitale’s newest favorite, non-ACC division.
The trademark sayings were utilized – “Are you kidding me?” or “Are you serious?” the most common – as Tillie scored 26 points on his 20th birthday.
But it wasn’t just the total, it was the 10-of-11 shooting – Tillie’s only miss came with 11 minutes, 10 seconds left on a hook inside – and his perfection from beyond the arc – for the second consecutive WCC Tournament contest, Tillie was 5-of-5 on 3-pointers – that fueled Vitale’s well-worn shtick.
Of course, Tillie wasn’t the only Zag who earned praise from the most positive man in America this side of Pete Carroll. Oh no.
There was Mark Few, a future Hall of Fame coach, which is true. And Johnathan Williams, whose throwback hook shot led to mentions of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And, early on, Rui Hachimura, who Vitale couldn’t stop mentioning doesn’t start (true), was first team all conference (true) and leads Gonzaga in scoring (not true).
The last incorrect stat was repeated twice in the first 10 minutes before Hachimura, who finished with 17 points, announced his presence with one of the more impressive left-handed dunks a right-handed Zag has ever thrown down.
That came with 8:37 remaining in the first half, off a run-out pass from Zach Norvell Jr.
Bob Wischusen, who interjected play-by-play whenever Vitale came up for air, wasn’t denied on this one, raising his voice to 11 with his emphatic “Throws it down with the left hand!” call.
Of course, Vitale began talking immediately, with an “Are you serious?” and an “Uh, oh!” and a “That will excite some people” before returning to his staple, the “Are you serious, Mr. Hachimura?”
The dunk gave Gonzaga a 34-17 lead at a point where the Bulldogs were making three out of every four of their shots.
No wonder Vitale said “That’s a big-time team, Gonzaga, a big-time team.”
What we saw …
The answer to that question is not as much as we would have liked at times.
Not only was Vitale dominating the oxygen in Las Vegas, leaving only snippets for his partner Wischusen to breathe, there was a third person on the crew.
Veteran reporter Gene Wojciechowski was sitting behind the Gonzaga bench and needed at least some time to share his insights.
That was good at times, including in the second half when he shared his conversation with Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth about the Zags’ discussions with the Mountain West Conference.
But it also took away from the game presentation, most notably just before the half when Norvell was called for a foul as the shot clock expired on USF (18-15). A replay was in order, but instead we were treated with a view of Hachimura as Wojciechowski talked about the sophomore, sharing nothing a Gonzaga fan hasn’t heard many times before.
Which was the case for the first few minutes of the game.
The ESPN broadcast almost seemed like an introductory one for a national audience, with the obligatory Tillie/volleyball talk, Few’s impressive résumé, a Gonzaga offensive primer, things that most schools who participated in the NCAA championship game the year before don’t seem to be subjected to.
But as the game wore on, and GU dominated as it usually does in Las Vegas, Vitale and company shared thoughts on a wide range of subjects, some of which even touched on the action in front of them.
The best off-court discussion concerned possible defection to the Mountain West.
Wojciechowski covered the nuts and bolts and emphasized the discussions were preliminary. And Wischusen shared a conversation he had with Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett from yesterday’s practice.
“(Bennett) wasn’t sure (losing Gonzaga was) a blow the WCC could come back from,” Wischusen said, letting the statement hang there as a commercial break interrupted.
It was actually understated. And appreciated.
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