There are a few things you can count on when you sit down to watch a college basketball game on your big screen.
There will be three officials. Each team will put five players on the court. Duke will get every close call. And the broadcast team will include one person doing the play-by-play.
Scratch one of those. And we don’t mean the Blue Devils.
In Thursday night’s broadcast of second-ranked Gonzaga’s 71-54 hard-fought win over visiting San Francisco, ESPN2 broadcast the game with two analysts, Fran Fraschilla and Jimmy Dykes.
“As you can tell, this ain’t gonna to be a normal night,” Dykes said before the opening tip. “There’s no play-by-play guy here to keep us under control. Just two guys talking ball.”
Guess what? It wasn’t bad.
What they saw …
• Maybe it was because the unique format featured two former coaches. Or maybe it was because neither consider themselves the show – except when they were dancing to Zombie Nation with the Kennel Club before the game.
One out-of-the-box attempt – actually two in the first half – featured Dykes and Fraschilla going 45 seconds or so not talking, spending the time playing the role of each coach.
It injected some quiet into the broadcast and allowed the duo to speak to what they felt the coaches were thinking. And then there was a timeout in the second half in which Dykes spent time at the fringe of USF’s huddle. All of which added a different feel to the game.
• The Zags trailed 31-22 at the half. It was the fewest points Gonzaga (27-1, 13-0 in West Coast Conference) has scored in the first 20 minutes this season.
“We got something brewing here,” Fraschilla said at the time. “I wasn’t expecting this.”
What, you weren’t expecting the nation’s most-efficient offense – something Dykes mentioned often – to have eight turnovers, shoot 38.5 percent from the field and take 12 fewer shots than its opponent? Who would have?
At least there was some explanation.
Dykes pointed out how the Dons (17-11, 6-7) were spreading out the Zags, attacking the rim with their quickness and forcing help. The penetration led to a 12-0 run midway through the first period – passes off drives to the weakside led to back-to-back open 3-pointers to kick off the streak – and Gonzaga couldn’t catch up before intermission.
On the other end, Fraschilla rightfully pointed out the Bulldogs were anxious, rushing shots that seemed out of the flow of their usual offense. Though he thought the Zags were “tense,” he also noted how the Dons’ scheme was causing problems. USF wasn’t allowing GU’s usually effective high-low attack any space.
“They are giving those big guys a shot at the top of the key,” he said after Timme missed an unguarded free-throw line jumper. “They are not letting them get the ball in the paint. They are daring (Drew) Timme and Petrusev to shoot the ball.”
• The game changed in the first 4 minutes of the second half.
Fraschilla warned the Dons about the possibility coming out of the locker room, but they must not have listened. In its nine possessions before the first media timeout at 15:17, USF had six turnovers, two bad shots and one good drive that didn’t drop.
After grabbing nine offensive rebounds, USF had none in what turned out to be a 12-0 GU run to start the half. The Dons’ first bucket came on a putback.
By the way, Gonzaga’s second-half run reached 24-2 at one point.
What we saw …
• The two-analyst broadcast worked. But it may not have without the right people at the table.
Dykes and Fraschilla focused on the basketball, not complaining about the NCAA or the migratory patterns of the Monarch butterfly. That’s why it worked.
They talked about offensive and defensive performances. They broke down individual players, like Killian Tillie, who played and led GU with 22 points. They praised players like Ryan Woolridge, noting his speed and his importance to GU. They critiqued when necessary.
Sure, there were a few baskets scored without attribution. Other plays were not noted. The misses grated. But still, it was the most interesting national broadcast of the season.
The key matchup …
• Charles Minlend is a tough guard for anyone, including the Zags. He not only leads the Dons in scoring (14.4 points a game) but also is second in assists (46) and third in rebounds (119). Against Corey Kispert and Admon Gilder, Minlend continued his scoring – a team-high 22 points – but didn’t get an assist and only had four rebounds.
He did, however, have one self-admitted voice in his corner. Fraschilla coached Minlend’s father, also Charles, at St. John’s. The veteran analyst called the elder Minlend the toughest player he coached.
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