Notebook: Tournament TV ratings up 13 percent from last year
The first time that every NCAA tournament game has been available live on television has certainly worked out well for everyone involved.
The average rating through the regional semifinals, including the "First Four games," was 5.8 -- representing the percentage of homes with televisions tuned to a program. That equated to about 9.0 million viewers overall, an increase of 13 percent from a year ago.
This is the first year of a 14-year, $10.8 billion contract with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting that guarantees every game will be televised live on CBS, TBS, TNT or truTV. In the past, broadcasts on CBS were regionalized, and the network would switch among games.
Games are also available online, though that doesn't appear to have hurt ratings much.
More than 11 million tuned into the regional semifinals on CBS and TBS on Friday night, in part because marquee programs like Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas were playing. That figure represents an increase of 13 percent from 2010.
Ratings represent the percentage of all homes with televisions tuned into a program.
TO STAY OR NOT TO STAY: Several star players will soon have to make decisions on whether to return for another season or head to the NBA. Already, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger has announced that he plans to return for his sophomore year.
Underclassmen have until April 24 to declare for the draft, and they can withdraw by May 8 to retain their eligibility as long as they do not hire an agent. But compounding the difficulty in that decision this year is the threat of an NBA lockout.
The league and the players' association have been working on a new collective bargaining agreement for one that expires June 30, though it's unclear how much progress has been made.
While the NBA draft will go on regardless of whether there's a lockout, teams wouldn't be able to sign or pay players until a new CBA is struck. That means a lot of uncertainty for the players, especially if negotiations were to drag into next season.
"Everybody tells me there is going to be a lockout, but I will also do one thing that I have always done: Here is the information, what do you want to do?" North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Saturday. "And then I'm going to support whatever that individual wants to do."
The Tar Heels' Harrison Barnes is one player who could test the NBA market, while Kentucky - the team they play Sunday in the regional finals - has a trio of talented freshmen in Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, all of whom could consider turning pro.
"Right now, you know, I know all of us are student-athletes," Knight said. "We are focused on being student-athletes first, so we are just - I'm enjoying the time that I'm having here, and you know, loving the college experience."
Lamb was a bit more succinct in his plans for next year.
"I'm just having fun playing with these teammates, and playing with Coach. I just want to have fun," he said. "I'll be back next year, so I can't be worried about leaving."
THE SECRET WEAPON: Butler's Chrishawn Hopkins was in the postgame locker room, celebrating with teammates and texting back and forth with friends and family sending congratulations.
The Bulldogs are going back to the Final Four. And Hopkins is an unlikely reason why.
The little-used freshman entered the game midway through the second half, making two huge plays to help Butler rally from an 11-point deficit. First, he threw a no-look pass to Matt Howard for an easy layup and then drilled a 3-pointer as the Bulldogs' bench exploded in excitement.
How little-used was Hopkins this season? He had scored only nine total points since Christmas before Saturday's game, appearing in just 4 of 18 games.
"When coach called my name I felt this incredible energy surge go through my body," Hopkins said. "When I shot that 3-pointer, it felt like I was all alone in the gym. There were no nerves. It was incredible."
Butler senior Zach Hahn said Hopkins' performance was remarkable.
"He's been preparing for that moment since the first day he stepped on campus," Hahn said.
FASHION STATEMENT: Josh Harrellson's nickname is "Jorts," which the Kentucky senior earned after a picture of him wearing a lengthy pair of jean shorts popped up on a popular web site while he was being recruited by former coach Billy Gillispie.
It's a moniker Harrellson has embraced. He has about a dozen pairs of jean shorts stuffed inside a drawer in his bedroom in a wide array of colors and lengths.
"It's a fashion statement, they're easy to put on," he said. "I can wear my basketball shorts underneath them and wear them out to the courts, they're easy to slip off."
Students declared Harrellson's final game at Rupp Arena "Jorts Day," and dozens turned out to honor the much-improved former junior college player by donning a pair of their own.
He's even managed to snag a picture alongside teammate Darius Miller, student assistant Enes Kanter and graduate assistant Wayne Turner. Kanter and Turner borrowed shorts from Harrellson for the shot, but not Miller.
"He's got his own," Harrellson said.
GETTING PHYSICAL: Every coach takes pride in the toughness of their team, that dogged desire to grab every rebound, track down every loose ball, make every possession miserable.
When that's not happening, they go to great lengths to get their message across.
Kentucky coach John Calipari was so disgusted earlier this season that he found some boxing gloves and punching bags and put his guys to task. He figured those kinds of intense workouts might spark something in a team trying to mix several star freshmen with a handful of veterans.
"We had to go to toughness drills," Calipari explained Saturday, on the eve of his team's game against North Carolina in the regional finals. "We put on boxing gloves, heavy bag, and we had guys hurt their wrist hitting a heavy bag with a glove on."
The drills must have worked, though. Kentucky got tougher physically and mentally, which allowed the Wildcats to start winning close games. That's carried into the NCAA tournament, where Brandon Knight delivered last-second shots to beat Princeton and Ohio State.
"Like coach said, we weren't tough in the season, we let a lot of games slip away from us in the late-game situation," senior Josh Harrellson said. "We kind of turned that around."
GET OUT OF THE BUILDING: North Carolina coach Roy Williams and his five starters had their news conference on Saturday interrupted for about 10 minutes when a fire alarm sounded at the Prudential Center.
An announcement ordered an evacuation of the building, but no one was certain whether it was legitimate.
Williams and his players eventually left the dais when tournament officials could not verify the alarm and ordered everyone to evacuate.
A couple of minutes later, officials discovered the alarm was false.
"We were sitting there and I didn't know what was going on," Tar Heels forward Tyler Zeller said. "I thought it was something like a forklift backing up or something. Then the guy started talking. I was lost, then Coach told us to go sit on the bus and I was sitting on the bus."
Guard Dexter Strickland was ready to run as soon as the alarm sounded.
"I am pretty sure Coach was, too," Strickland said. "We were walking to the bus and some guy said you have to go back and everybody was huffed and puffed. It was kind of funny."
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