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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

The good and bad of this year’s new-look NCAA tournament

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Even though the NCAA tournament will still begin with a customary debate over the most likely upset victims and end with the familiar scene of a champion cutting down the nets, there will also be some subtle differences this year.

March Madness has undergone a makeover, from expansion from 65 to 68 teams, to staggered start times for all the games, to a new TV partnership between CBS and Turner Sports.

Some of the tweaks to the format will improve college basketball's showcase event. Others will likely inspire fans to flip the channel or hit the mute button on their remotes. Here's a look at some of the major changes and what their impact will be:

GOOD: Unlike previous years when viewers had to hunch over their laptops to watch opening-weekend games not airing in their markets, every game will air in its entirety this season on one of four channels: CBS, TNT, TBS and Tru-TV. Furthermore, start times staggered by 30 minutes apiece will help to ensure that savvy viewers don't have to miss a single thrilling finish.

BAD: Just because all 67 NCAA tournament games will air in their entirety doesn't mean that viewers will be able to find them. Anyone know what channel Tru-TV is? You have until Tuesday night's first game to find out. Perhaps this is why some viewers have already said they'll miss CBS automatically switching them to whichever game was most exciting.

GOOD: As a result of the partnership between CBS and Turner Sports, Steve Kerr will team with Marv Albert during regional action and then join Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg in a three-man booth for the Final Four. Kerr is insightful, knowledgeable and charismatic. He'll be a welcome addition to a Nantz-Kellogg pairing that sometimes feels stodgy and forgettable. {YSP:MORE}

BAD: The partnership with Turner Sports also means CBS will no longer borrow Jay Bilas from ESPN to call regional action as it has in previous years. That's a shame because Bilas is candid and knowledgeable, rare attributes among college basketball analysts who are often hesitant to criticize coaches or referees. Bilas will be missed.

GOOD: The addition of TNT's "Inside the NBA" analysts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith will inject energy and charisma into a CBS studio show that has been stale in previous years. Expect Barkley to take a few cracks at the NCAA for its various hypocrisies, which should make for quality TV. Case in point: A recent rant in which Barkley described players, agents, the NBA and NCAA as money-hungry "pigs."

BAD: What makes Barkley and Smith must-see during TNT's NBA show is they're both entertaining and knowledgeable. The problem is that credibility may not translate to college basketball when the viewer can assume they're seeing Old Dominion, Kansas State and Purdue for the first time. Smith made the mistake of pronouncing Xavier as "Eggs-Avier" during the selection show on Sunday. And Barkley was far more comfortable riffing off something he just witnessed rather than providing analysis of teams in the field.

GOOD: Even though 68 teams is an unwieldy number, it's a welcome compromise compared to expanding to 96 teams as was originally proposed last year. You think Clemson and Alabama-Birmingham are some mediocre at-large squads? Well, anything's better than a 96-team field that would have turned marginal teams like Northwestern, Arkansas and Providence into NCAA tournament locks.

BAD: Sure, 68 teams beats having 96, but what's wrong with going back to an easily divisible number … like, say, 64?

GOOD: While the two play-in games pitting potential No. 16 seeds won't generate much buzz, the matchups between the four final at-large teams should be intriguing enough to build interest. A defensive-minded USC team with an imposing frontcourt pitted against up-tempo mid-major Virginia Commonwealth? Yes, please.

BAD: One of the problems with First Four games pitting at-large teams is the impact it will have on office pools from coast-to-coast. Either fans will have to become accustomed to turning in their brackets by Tuesday afternoon, or they'll have to fill it out after Wednesday night's games but before the tournament starts in earnest at noon EST on Thursday. Plus, we're never going to get used to TV announcers referring to the round of 64 as the "second round."

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