Maybe they’re trying to be nice.

Maybe they need a bigger vocabulary.

But have you noticed how the broadcasters for these NCAA tournament games seem hesitant to call things as they really are — especially if they are the slightest bit …negative?

Example: A player dribbles the ball off his foot, then bounces it off his head, then runs the wrong way and shoots at the opposite basket.

Announcer: “He’s struggling today.”

Example: Team A falls behind by 30 points. Team A hasn’t made a basket since last week. There are four minutes left.

Announcer: “It’s an uphill battle.”

Now, don’t misunderstand. I am all for keeping things positive. But I am also for the truth.

Sometimes a bonehead play is just that, a bonehead play. Sometimes a stupid shot is just that, a stupid shot. You know it. I know it.

More importantly, the college players know it. They say to one another, “That was a stupid shot.” Or “My fault, I took a stupid shot.” On the sidelines, the coach screams, “What kind of stupid shot was that?”

He doesn’t say, “What difficulties are you struggling with?”

The truth is, bad is bad. But college basketball today is big business, and the broadcasters are part of that business, and it is in everyone’s best business interests to make sure the players always seem like stars, the coaches always seem like General Patton, and the audience always thinks the game is close, even if the score is 98-11.

Viewers deserve better. And since most of us are addicted to the TV during this tournament — and certainly will be tonight when Michigan State tries to advance beyond Gonzaga — it seems only fair to provide a translation guide, so you can match what you see to what you hear.

Here we go …

The highs and the lows

…A team comes out, misses its first 20 shots, falls behind, 42-3.

ANNOUNCER: “If they keep this up, it could be a long night.”

…A player comes out, misses his first 13 shots.

ANNOUNCER: “He’s looking for his rhythm.”

…A player ignores his open teammates, drives the lane, draws three defenders, all of whom are taller than he is. He throws up a terrible one-hander that hits the top of the backboard.

ANNOUNCER: “Tough shot.”

…A player comes off the bench, heaves a 40-footer that misses everything and lands in the crowd.

ANNOUNCER: “Tough shot.”

…A player tries to bounce the ball between a defender’s legs. The defender easily grabs it and dunks.

ANNOUNCER: “Tough pass.”

…A 7-foot center named Jones misses 27 straight free throws. He goes to the line, aims, fires — and hits the ref in the face.

ANNOUNCER: “Free throws are the only suspect part of his game.”

…Coach Johnson yanks a player and growls in his ear, “If you EVER take a shot like that again, you will NEVER see another minute of playing time, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”

ANNOUNCER: “Coach Johnson giving a little encouragement to his troops.”

…Coach Johnson screams at the ref, spraying him in saliva, exclaiming, “You are the %#$%! blindest idiot in the whole #$%@! conference!”

ANNOUNCER: “Coach Johnson is working the refs.”

Television’s rhythm method

…A player gets three quick fouls. On the next play, he takes his frustration out by whacking his opponent across the head. The ref blows his whistle.

ANNOUNCER: “Tough call.”

…Player A gets stuck guarding Player B, who is nine inches taller. In the first five minutes, Player B gets 20 points and 10 rebounds. Player A begins to weep.

ANNOUNCER: “He’s got his hands full.”

…With four minutes left in the game, Team A trails, 80-35. A player for Team A throws up a lucky three-pointer that amazingly goes in.

ANNOUNCER: “That could be the spark they were looking for!”

…With less than a minute left, Team A has just played one of its worst games ever, it’s getting blown out by 30 points, it hasn’t hit an open shot all day, it’s playing no defense, the coach has his face buried in a towel, the fans are booing, the players are calling their girlfriends to pick them up at the airport.

ANNOUNCER: “These guys have nothing to hang their heads about.”

Well, that pretty much covers everything. Just remember, “tough” is another word for “air ball,” “struggling” is another word for “getting blown out,” and
“they don’t quit” is another say of saying “they’re down by 25.”

Oh, and remember. If your favorite team should be eliminated this weekend?

They didn’t lose. They just never found their rhythm.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760) and simulcast on MSNBC 3-5 p.m.

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