ESPN does overkill as well as any television network (Hello, Tim Tebow) but when it comes to its college basketball coverage, we salute its tonnage. The network will air 1,450 college basketball games this season, a never-ending inventory of drive-and-dish guards, dribble-drives and Dick Vitale. In one of the more fantastic broadcasting notes, ESPN says it will provide college basketball fans with live coverage of at least one game every day starting this Friday through March 10, 2013, with the exception of just five dates (Dec. 7, 13, 14, 24 and 26).
The folks in Bristol are the clear leaders of college basketball broadcasting during the regular season and they'll be the dominant players before CBS and Turner combine to bring you March Madness. While SI.com's college basketball posse will preview the action on the court, we're here to help guide you through the television coverage:
•The network tips-off its coverage Friday with 12 games including a marquee matchup at 5:30 p.m ET on ESPN: Michigan State vs. Connecticut from the Ramstein Air Base in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (That game marks the first regular-season men's college basketball game from Europe.) Later that night (8:30 p.m. ET), ESPN will air Maryland vs. Kentucky from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
On Tuesday ESPN will broadcast the State Farm Champions Classic doubleheader in Atlanta featuring Michigan State-Kansas at 7 p.m. ET followed by a mega-matchup between Duke and Kentucky at 9 p.m. ET. It's part of a 24-hour hoops marathon on Nov. 13 across ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU.
•The network says 125 games will air on ESPN3, a record for the platform. Later in the season, ESPN3 will offer more than 100 exclusive conference games as well as simulcasts of syndicated matchups. That equals nearly 750 live games on the network.
•With an eye toward analytics, Jay Levy, ESPN's senior coordinating producer for college basketball, says viewers should expect more next-level stats this season as well as a continued use of the virtual technology ESPN used for the Big East, ACC and SEC tournaments last year. "Our biggest goal is to take people inside the game to a place they cannot get themselves," said Levy.
•ESPN has an army of commentators and analysts including some new voices. Levy said he was particularly excited about the additions of Seth Greenberg and Bruce Pearl as studio analysts and Bill Walton returning as a game analyst. Former staffer Hubert Davis left for a coaching job at North Carolina so Jalen Rose will join Rece Davis, Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps for the network's popular College GameDay program. Levy said GameDay will be onsite this season at Butler University on Jan. 19 for Butler-Gonzaga and will also broadcast from Pauley Pavilion in early March for Arizona-UCLA. Trips are also scheduled for Kentucky, Kansas, Indiana and Ohio State.
•The network's top broadcasting team remains Dan Shulman and Vitale. They'll work the Saturday primetime game and select ACC Wednesday night telecasts, including North Carolina at Duke on Feb. 13.
•The excellent trio of Sean McDonough, Bilas, and Bill Raftery will team again on the weekly Big Monday Big East package and also work games from other conferences.
•Walton rejoins ESPN as a college basketball analyst. He'll work Wednesday and Thursday Pac-12 telecasts with Dave Pasch.
•Brent Musburger has a new partner -- Fran Fraschilla -- on the Big Monday Big 12 series. Fraschilla previously worked Big 12 games from 2004 through 2009 and with Fraschilla moving to the Big 12, Bob Knight switches to the Thursday night showcase SEC matchups. He'll work with play-by-play announcer Rece Davis.
•Brad Nessler and Jimmy Dykes team for SEC telecasts on ESPN's Super Tuesday series. Mark Jones will call play-by-play with Dykes on Saturday SEC games.
•Mike Tirico and ESPN analyst Dan Dakich return for their second season together on the weekly Big Ten Super Tuesday game.
• Joe Tessitore and Sean Farnham form a new team for Thursday Night Showcase Big Ten telecasts. Dave O'Brien, who previously worked Big Ten games, will call Thursday and Saturday ACC games. Doris Burke will serve as the analyst with O'Brien on Saturday telecasts.
•If you are looking for which current coaches might one day appear on camera, Levy mentioned Louisville coach Rick Pitino and Villanova's Jay Wright. "I think Rick Pitino would be a terrific analyst," Levy said. "Jay Wright at Villanova also has the ability to be really good. Those are the two that jump out to me. They both have personality and the ability to be entertaining while being informative and that's something we look at. You want to find people who are good X/O but who are also personalities."
•The network will co-own late March when it broadcasts the NCAA tournament along with Turner, but CBS has an impressive 16-week, regular-season schedule featuring 42 games from 10 conferences. The network will air championship games on March 16 and March 17 from the Big Ten, Conference USA, Mountain West and Atlantic 10. They'll also air the Missouri Valley Conference Championship game on March 10.
• CBS tips off its coverage on Dec. 1 with Baylor at Kentucky at 12:30 p.m. ET. Other regular season games of note include:
Kansas at Ohio State (Dec. 22, 4:00 p.m. ET) Kentucky at Louisville (Dec. 29, 4:00 p.m. ET) Temple at Kansas (Jan. 6, 2013, 4:30 p.m. ET) Michigan State at Indiana (Jan. 27, 1:00 p.m. ET) Indiana at Ohio State (Feb. 10, 1:00 p.m. ET) Ohio State at Wisconsin (Feb. 17, 1:00 p.m. ET) Georgetown at Syracuse (Feb. 23, 4:00 p.m. ET) Florida at Kentucky (March 9, 12:00 p.m. ET).
•The network's cable channel, CBS Sports Network, has 172 games scheduled from 16 conferences.
• Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg remain the network's lead broadcasting team. The network's other teams will be determined later in the season but CBS' play-by-play announcers include Tim Brando, Spero Dedes, Ian Eagle, Kevin Harlan and Verne Lundquist. In addition to Kellogg, the network's game analysts are Greg Anthony, Bonner, Doug Gottleib, the longtime ESPN Radio host and college basketball analyst, Raftery and Spanarkel. Brando, Greg Gumbel and Tracy Wolfson will anchor studio coverage with Anthony, Seth Davis and Gottleib serving as studio analysts.
•The CBS Sports Network -- the cable network of CBS Sports -- broadcast teams include Tom McCarthy (play-by-play) and Steve Wolf (analyst) and Dave Ryan (play-by-play) and Pete Gillen (analyst). Andrew Catalon and Ted Robinson will also split play-by-play duties, with Steve Lappas working games as an analyst. Debbie Antonelli and Brent Stover will call women's games.
•The studio talent for the CBS Sports Network includes Adam Zucker and Stover as hosts and studio analysts Alaa Abdelnaby, Mateen Cleaves, Davis, Gary Parrish, Jon Rothstein, and Wally Szczerbiak.
•FSN and the FOX Sports regional networks will broadcast 450 total games including 320 men's games and 130 women's games. The marquee conferences airing on Fox include the ACC, Big 12, Big West, Conference USA, Pac-12, SEC and Missouri Valley. The network tips off Sunday with the Carrier Classic featuring Syracuse-San Diego State. Dick Enberg will call play-by-play with Steve Kerr (analyst) and Erin Andrews (game reporter). Later that night, Fox will broadcast from the renovated Pauley Pavilion when UCLA hosts Indiana State.
•Games of note airing on Fox during the regular season include:
Louisville at Memphis (Dec. 15, 2:30 p.m. ET) Cal at UCLA (Jan. 3, 11:00 PM ET) Marshall at Memphis (Jan 26, 2:00 p.m.) Arizona State at Arizona (Mar. 9, 4:30 PM ET).
•Fox's top two announcing team are Justin Kutcher (play-by-play), Steve Kerr (analyst) and Laura McKeeman (court reporter). Steve Physioc (play-by-play) and Marques Johnson (analyst) will also call games.
•The schedule isn't as sexy as some other networks but the NBC Sports Network has 50 college basketball games this season -- the most in its history -- featuring schools from the Atlantic 10, Mountain West, Colonial Athletic Association and Ivy League conferences. Coverage tips off on Friday with a live tripleheader, starting with a women's game between Notre Dame-Ohio State (4:00 p.m. ET) from the deck of the USS Yorktown in Charleston. That's followed by Ohio State vs. Marquette in men's hoops (7:00 p.m.) and Georgetown-Florida in the Navy-Marine Corps Classic from the deck of the USS Bataan in Jacksonville, Fla. The Hoyas-Gators game marks the national basketball television debut of former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. (You can read SI.com's interview with Van Gundy here. He'll be an analyst alongside play-by-play announcer Tom Hammond).
•The network will air an eight-team, preseason tournament on Nov. 22 and 13 Ivy League games, beginning with Penn hosting Villanova on Dec. 8 (8 p.m. ET). NBC Sports Network's schedule concludes with the CAA championship game on March 11 (7:00 p.m. ET).
•As far as the broadcasters, Dave Strader (play-by-play) and Dave Kaplan (analyst) will call Atlantic 10 games. Todd Harris and Paul Burmeister will split play-by-play assignments for Mountain West with Blaine Fowler serving as the analyst. Mike Corey and Harris will call CAA games, with former Georgetown point guard Ronnie Thompson serving as the analyst. Randy Moss, who appears on NBC's horse racing coverage, will call the play-by-play for all Ivy League games alongside former Columbia point guard Dalen Cuff. Liam McHugh will host the network's studio show along with former NBA player Stacey King. They'll also handle the pre-game, halftime and post-game coverage during the season.
•BTN will air more than 175 men's and women's conference and non-conference games, including four Big Ten men's basketball tournament games (quarterfinal rounds), 40 regular-season women's games and 10 Big Ten women's basketball tournament games. The network will air men's doubleheaders on 10 consecutive Wednesdays during conference play as part of a "Super Wednesday" lineup. The network will also have games on most Tuesdays and Thursdays and frequent doubleheaders on Saturdays and Sundays.
•BTM has plenty of former Big Ten basketball players on its roster but its most notable name is Gus Johnson, who returns for his fifth season as a men's basketball play-by-play announcer. The network's other play by play announcers for men's basketball include Brian Anderson, Eric Collins, Tom Hamilton, Kevin Kugler, Justin Kutcher, Wayne Larrivee and Dave Revsine. The analysts for men's basketball are Dan Bonner, Sean Harrington, Jim Jackson, Eddie Johnson, Mike Kelly, Greg Kelser, Shon Morris, Scoonie Penn, Steve Smith and Sam Vincent. The women's play-by-play voices include Lisa Byington, Brenda VanLengen, Collins and Kugler. Antontelli, Mary Murphy, LaChina Robinson, and Stephanie White will serve as analysts on women's games.
The Pac-12 network -- which is in its first season -- will air 150 games (beginning on Nov. 9) and features home openers for 11 Pac-12 teams. The network will also air the first eight games of the 2013 Pac-12 men's basketball tournament.
•There's solid broadcasting talent here including game callers Roxy Bernstein, Kevin Calabro and Robinson, who this column considers the best tennis game caller in broadcasting. Walton will also do games for the Pac-12 network. Ernie Kent, Don MacLean, Lenny Wilkens and Detlef Schrempf are also analysts.
SI.com: Give me the storylines that interest you most this season and why you chose them?
Bilas: I'll start with Kentucky because they are the defending champ, and the most interesting and thought-provoking team in basketball. No team is more polarizing than Kentucky, and it's not just among fans. I believe that Kentucky's success really rankles some of the "moralizers" in college sports that believe they alone know what college sports is all about. John Calipari has done something, frankly, I didn't think was possible. He has taken super talented but incredibly young teams and turned them into close knit, unselfish, hard playing, winning teams. In three years at Kentucky, he has dominated the NBA Green Room, and has also won over 100 games and reached two Final Fours and won a National Championship. It is incredible, and one of the great accomplishments in the history of the game. This year, he has another stellar crop of freshmen, and should be right there to go to Atlanta (site of the 2013 Final Four).
I will be nostalgic about the Big East this year. This is the last year of the Big East at full strength, with all of its power. After Syracuse leaves, it will never be the same. This year, the Big East will be really good. Louisville and Syracuse are the best teams, and both have the personnel to reach Atlanta.
I will be interested to see if the Big Ten is as good as I think it will be this year. The Big East, Big 12 and ACC will be really good, but I think the Big Ten has a real chance to be the best league before all is said and done. Indiana is the favorite, Cody Zeller is the best big man in the country, and Tom Crean has a really fine offensive team that is ready to take the next step and challenge for it all.
The Pac-12 will be really interesting to me, also. Last year was not a good one for the West, but this year should be much, much better. UCLA, if the NCAA clears Shabazz Muhammad, should be the best team. With him, they are a national contender. Without him, Arizona is probably the better team.
Next will be how the "mid-major" teams fare, the ones that traditionally have lost out to the majors when we get to the NCAA tournament. This year feels more like 2010 to me than last year, and we could see some volatility because of it. There may be a few teams like Creighton, Davidson, Murray State, Illinois State, VCU, Long Beach State, Drexel, or Gonzaga that could find their way to the Elite Eight. If you get there, you can make something crazy happen.
SI.com: The college basketball fan, given all the television entities that will broadcast games this year, probably has more options than ever before. But this year, at least for me, it feels like a tough sell for broadcasters with a lack of known stars. This has always been an issue in college hoops but it seems acute this year outside of a couple of teams and players (Zeller, obviously). Am I speaking more as a generalist, or will it be a harder sell this year to get casual college hoops fans involved during the regular season?
Bilas: That's a great question. Because players don't stay in college as long as in the past, I think it is harder than ever for the average fan to follow the college game, and it has really hurt the game. I don't believe that the NCAA does the best job administering the game, marketing the game, and working toward practical solutions to encourage players to remain in school. We spend far too much time moralizing, and telling the NBA what it should do rather than simply dealing with what is best for the college game, and taking the necessary steps to adapt to a changing landscape.
On the marketing side, just as one of many examples, we have no recognized start to the season. The NCAA owns the NIT, which is nearly invisible at the end of the season. Why not move the NIT to the beginning of the year, invite the top sixteen teams (which could include at least the top four mid-majors), and have a national championship event to start the season? In our game, everyone knows when practice starts. It starts on Oct. 15, but nobody knows when the season starts. We can fix that, and we can place greater emphasis on the regular season and make it more meaningful to fans. That is where the success of the NCAA tournament has negatively impacted the overall game.
We have a great game here. I happen to believe it is the best game. It is just fine the way it is, but I think it can be better than fine. I know we can do better, and we should do better. But those that are currently "in charge" need to do a better job of listening and acting in the best interests of the game. How's that for moralizing!
SI.com: We always invite moralizing in this space and the NIT idea would do wonders for the sport, including adding revenue. Let me stick with another television topic. I find it frustrating how often college coaches are mythologized by broadcasters. It's endemic in my opinion, and I'd argue dangerous. You've worked on both sides of this, in coaching and broadcasting. How do you assess my thesis?
Bilas: Generally, I guess as broadcasters we can all go over the top in trying to convey how good we think a coach is, or how much respect we may have for the system or teaching ability of a certain coach. It may be seem prevalent, but I'm not sure there's a lot of danger associated with it. I tend to believe the public can sift through those that throw too many bouquets and those that throw too many grenades. Like anything else, there needs to be a balance.
There are some coaches out there that are worthy of the praise, as long as we keep it in the basketball context, and we don't make it seem as if they could cure cancer or split the atom with a butter knife if they turned their attention to it.
SI.com: Tell me what a good studio analyst should provide me as a viewer?
Bilas: Wow, I'll have to ask one, the next time I run into one of those.
When I'm in the studio, I try to tell the viewer something I find important, or that I have noticed that interested me. I always hear, "Tell me something I don't know," but we have a pretty big audience, and more than a few of them played and coached at the highest levels. It would be presumptuous of me to assume I know a bunch of things our sophisticated viewers don't know. Over the years, I have tried to keep it simpler, which can be one of the toughest things to do. I try my best to provide my perspective on things and do it in a clear and concise manner. I have really tried to simply talk to the people with whom I am on set. Sometimes, it seems like each of us take turns giving short speeches instead of just talking and interacting with each other about the game. On GameDay and other studio appearances, I have really tried to get away from looking into the camera and making a short speech. Rather, I try simply to talk to my colleagues, and have a give and take. It works well for us on GameDay, and has been really fun.