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yoco :: College Basketball
(a sports weblog) news and commentary on men's college basketball and the ncaa tournament

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Monday, November 22, 2004

Crying wolf?

In November of 2003, Sports Illustrated's Alexander Wolff made a very persuasive case that Steve Lavin would be a tremendous television analyst. Here's why:

He's an outsider. Ex-coaches are loath to knock guys with whom they once shared the lodge; you could go into a diabetic coma from all the corn syrup that ESPN's usual analysts pour on the coaches they cover. With Lavin, there's little danger of pulled punches.

That turned out...to be true. Unlike Dick Vitale, Lavin criticizes the game's coaches as often as he compliments their work. I never sense he holds back on camera in the hope a little tact will help him land a second head coaching gig.

He has a visual mind. It's not just that, with slicked-back hair and a Rileyesque wardrobe, Lav looked ready for prime time from his first day on the Bruins' bench. He has always been most comfortable processing and imparting information via visual means. Steve made his visual aptitude a signature part of his coaching style, and it's perfectly adapted to his new gig.

That turned out...to be true. But I haven't seen ESPN cater to his strengths. The network hasn't created a special segment in which Lavin zeroes in on key offensive or defensive setups. More importantly, they've too often kept him in the studio. He'd be more effective courtside, where his experience and court-vision would enable him to pick-up on details other play-by-play folks might miss.

He sees a world beyond the gym. Basketball people used to bellyache that Lavin didn't work hard. Word that he had gone to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game one summer coursed through the sport like a serpent. July, of course, is when college coaches are supposed to be off scouting and procuring the next raft of talent; who could possibly afford to take time off -- least of all that imposter wearing John Wooden's whistle? Well, think of the broadcasters best able to strike a rapport with their audience. Don Meredith, Joe Garagiola, Al McGuire -- none ever let you suspect that he thought it was more than just a game.

That turned out...not to be true. As an analyst, Lavin takes his job much too seriously. Remember last week's broadcast with Chris Fowler and Rick Majerus? Lavin cited so many facts and figures that even Fowler told him he had to get out more.

He has a real feel for hoops. More, Lavin has a direct and unequivocal way of expressing what his gut tells him. Before the NCAA title game in 1997, most of us were busy fitting Kentucky for its second straight crown. Yet there was Lavin, alone on a limb, making the call for Arizona. He explained how he thought the desert 'Cats would beat the ones from the bluegrass -- with a three-guard set that would bamboozle Kentucky by controlling play. And that, you'll recall, is exactly what happened.

That turned out...to be true. Last year, Lavin not only called Gonzaga's early exit, but he also predicted the ACC would send (at least) two teams to the Final Four. Once in San Antonio, he then went with the Huskies. Of course, Lavin was also wrong -- dead wrong -- on countless occasions. Speaking of Ben Howland's UCLA club, he noted "They have the potential to have three NBA first-round draft picks and five players who could eventually play at the next level." Probably right on Trevor Ariza, had he stayed another year. But wrong on Cedrick Bozeman and Dijon Thompson. That being said, last season I always took note of Lavin's prognostications. The same of which cannot be said about Digger Phelps' expectations.

Yet all in all, Lavin has been only a slightly above-average television analyst. He doesn't have good rapport with his co-workers and while he is comfortable in front of the camera, he isn't likeable.

In short, Steve Lavin is no Mike Jarvis. But he's also no Jon Sundvold.