INDIANAPOLIS – Chalk one up for the ESPN Programming department once again.
Back in early December – in a game that also tipped off in the 9 p.m. ET hour – Duke and Wisconsin squared off in the marquee match-up of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Duke won that contest, 80-70, and the men that called that game were well aware it might not be the only meeting in 2014-15 for the Blue Devils and the Badgers. (That night’s 11 p.m. SportsCenter originated from the game site with Kevin Connors and John Buccigross.)
“When I think back on the Duke-Wisconsin game we did in December, there’s no doubt we thought these two teams were national contenders,” said that night’s play-by-play man, Dan Shulman (who will work ESPN’s international telecast with Dick Vitale tonight). “You just wondered if anyone would be able to beat Kentucky at any point, but there was no question that Duke’s best, and Wisconsin’s best, were about as good as anyone in the country.”
– ESPN commentator
Dan Shulman, recalling the December Duke-Wisconsin game
“I thought both teams were Final Four teams before the season,” said Shulman’s partner that night, Jay Bilas. “It’s great to see such a compelling rematch decide the whole thing. How Wisconsin can create matchup advantages on offense while dealing with Duke’s pressure, and whether the Badgers can guard Duke off the bounce, will be fascinating to watch. To have the top two Wooden Award candidates facing off is amazing.”
Equally amazing for Shulman – who shuttled from Indy to Chicago for last night’s MLB Opening Night and back to Indy today – is how beneficial his yearlong workload has been for tonight’s assignment.
“In addition to getting a chance to do a game between two great coaches and programs, what’s nice is how often I’ve been lucky enough to call games involving these two teams this year,” Shulman said. “Tonight will be my seventh Wisconsin game this season, and my 12th Duke game – makes the prep easier since I was doing the Sunday Night Baseball opener last night!”
THE REPORTER’S DILEMMA
He’s one of the most respected reporters in all of college basketball and as such, ESPN’s Andy Katz always remains impartial in his coverage and reporting.
But tonight, there is a Stephen A. Smith-sized HOWEVER: Katz is a 1990 History & Political Science graduate of Wisconsin.
“I went to Wisconsin in the late 1980s when the basketball program was mired in mediocrity and teams like Indiana and Michigan pounded the Badgers on a regular basis,” said Katz, who has been all over ESPN’s Final Four coverage from Indianapolis, including this sit down with the title game coaches.
“Getting to the NIT was an accomplishment and a CBA player was the norm. This era — notably the past two years — is foreign to those of us who went to school there 20-30 years ago. Wisconsin alumni are not used to being a favorite in hoops.”
• SportsCenter’s 6 p.m. anchor Lindsay Czarniak arrived in Indianapolis and will anchor tonight’s show from Pan Am Plaza, up the street from Lucas Oil Stadium. Even with an early evening on-air time, Czarniak was already working hard in the SportsCenter temporary office space at 10:30 a.m.
• As big as the SportsCenter “On the Road” set is – it includes a canopied main desk for anchors and half-court size demonstration area with basketball hoop – the prep work is done on the sixth floor of a nearby office building. Both the SportsCenter and GameDay staffs work out of the rented space during the week of coverage. On Saturday night, with a late finish to the post-semifinals show, a few of the dedicated staff wound up sleeping on the couches in the makeshift space so they could be on-set for the early crew call to tape Sunday’s Sports Reporters.
• Outgoing United States Basketball Writers Association President, ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil received the group’s Ray Marquette Award at today’s annual luncheon. The event had record attendance and featured an emotional tribute to former Sports Reporters panelist Bryan Burwell, who was posthumously inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame.
Michigan’s Austin Hatch was honored with the USBWA’s Most Courageous Award. O’Neil told the story of how she required her children to read the 7,000-word piece she wrote on Hatch. “I don’t ever make them read my things, but this one I did. Austin is the type of person I want my kids to be,” she said before Wolverines head coach John Beilein introduced Hatch, praising the young man for his incredible spirit and perseverance.
Mike Humes contributed to this post