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Final Four again features homer telecasts, plus ratings bonanza

Willie Cauley-Stein #15 of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts

Willie Cauley-Stein #15 of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts after a play in the second half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Midwest Regional final of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena on March 28, 2015 in Cleveland. Credit: Getty Images / Andy Lyons

It was March 10, five days before Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament, and someone had just uttered two magic words to Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports: Duke-Kentucky.

"From your mouth to God's ears," he said, visions of a championship game ratings bonanza dancing in his head.

Well, here we are, three weeks later and two games from the potential dream matchup, not only for TV executives but for casual fans and college basketball itself. "If it did happen, I'm sure everybody would be all excited about it," analyst Bill Raftery said Tuesday, adding he imagined seeing endless replays of the role his colleague Grant Hill played in Duke's regional final victory over Kentucky in 1992.

But Raftery also stressed that the national semifinals have much to recommend them first, featuring another No. 1 seed in Wisconsin against undefeated Kentucky and another Big Ten power in Michigan State against Duke.

It's all part of a show that so far has captured viewers' attention, with ratings and viewership totals among the highest in the modern history of the event.

For example: Saturday night's Notre Dame-Kentucky regional final averaged 8.4 percent of homes and 14.7 million viewers -- with a peak of 19.7 million -- making it the most-viewed college basketball ever on cable TV and most-viewed show of any kind in the history of TBS.

Both of those records figure to fall this Saturday when TBS carries the semifinals before handing off to CBS for the final Monday. Next year, TBS will have the entire Final Four for the first time. CBS returns to carry it in 2017.

Turner also is reprising its "Team Cast" concept Saturday, now rebranded "Team Stream Presented by Bleacher Report."

Like last year, the idea is to give passionate fans the chance to watch a separate telecast geared toward their team, produced with locally known announcers and without concern for a down-the-middle account like the one on TBS.

TNT will carry the Duke and Kentucky "Team Streams" and truTV has Michigan State and Wisconsin.

The trick will be to avoid the confusion many viewers experienced last year, when they tuned to TNT and wondered why the telecast seemed so tilted to one team, not knowing that was the whole idea.

Craig Barry, Turner's senior vice president of production, said there will be far more reminders this time of what viewers are watching and where they can turn for the version they are looking for.

That includes notices at the beginning of each half and a graphic in the upper right corner of the screen.

New York Sports