Even after winning the National Championship in dramatic fashion last year, it seems like Villanova can’t get any respect headed into this season’s NCAA Tournament.
“I think that Villanova is probably the most underrated national champion I can remember in a long time,” said former Sixers great and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley. “Nobody’s talking about them, and I think it’s a mistake.”
The way Barkley sees it, Villanova reminds him of the University of Florida squad that won the National Championship in 2006, but didn’t get much respect from experts ahead of the 2007 NCAA tournament. To keep up with the field, Barkley has been watching three to five college basketball games a day, and has been hard at work studying notebooks provided by Turner Sports filled with stats on every conference.
“It’s a little different having to do your own homework,” joked Barkley. “It’s not like the good old days of college when I had someone doing it for me.”
“You know it’s basketball, right?” Barkley said of critics who claim he doesn’t follow the college game close enough as an analyst. “I’m not trying to do heart surgery.”
Barkley is heading into his sixth NCAA tournament as an analyst for Turner Sports, which is once again partnering with CBS Sports as part of a blockbuster NCAA deal that gives them broadcast rights through 2032 at an average cost of $1.1 billion per season.
Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis will anchor CBS’s coverage in New York, while Barkley will be joined at Turner Sports’ headquarters in Atlanta by Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith, who both think Villanova comes into the tournament underrated and dangerous.
“The one thing about college basketball is you don’t have to have the best player to win,” said Smith. “Villanova doesn’t have the McDonald’s All-America blue-chip player, but they do have a bunch of Draymond Greens at every position, guys who like the physicality and who can physically impose their will.”
Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery and reporter Tracy Wolfson are back to call the Final Four. They will be joined by a robust group of announcers and analysts that includes Kevin Harlan, former NBA players Chris Webber and Reggie Miller, and legendary broadcaster Verne Lundquist, who gave up his longtime role covering the SEC for CBS earlier this year but hasn’t made any decisions about his role covering NCAA games.
“I think I’m probably going to do it for a couple of years, but that’s my decision,” said Lundquist. “We’ll see how this goes.”
In addition to an aggressive television schedule across CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV, fans will be able to watch the NCAA tournament on just about any platform available, including Xbox, Snapchat and Alexa devices, which will let listeners ask for specific game scores and feature play-by-play of games provided by Westwood One.
There’s also social media, where highlights, behind-the-scenes content and news updates will be blasted from the official March Madness Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat accounts throughout the tournament. But don’t expect Barkley to be paying much attention to those.
“I think social media is one of the worst things that’s ever happened to the world,” said Barkley. “I do no social media whatsoever – never have, never will. But you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, I suppose.”