You never know when the next great March Madness call is going to hit the airwaves.
Something like: “Sorrentine! He hit that one from the parking lot.”
Or: “By George, the dream is alive!”
Although the men who offered up those lines won’t be on the call for this year’s tournament, there are a handful of really good announcing crews set to invade our living rooms throughout the NCAA Tournament. And then there are some other crews that, well ... we’ll get to them in a bit. Here is a ranking of the eight crews that will be on the TV call for this year’s tourney.
8. Brad Nessler, Brendan Haywood, Evan Washburn
No offense to anyone here, but this is just a weird trio. Nessler is a broadcasting fixture and although he’s done a lot of college basketball, his voice just reminds me of the SEC on CBS. That stuff can wait, guys. Haywood, on the other end, is extremely green. He’s making only his second tournament appearance as an analyst, his first with Nessler. No one has any idea how they will mesh on-air. Washburn is a tremendous sideline reporter. He should be on a better crew, frankly.
7. Lisa Byington / Steve Smith / Avery Johnson / Lauren Shehadi
Byington is the TV voice of the Milwaukee Bucks, but is only in her second tournament as a play-by-play announcer so it’s hard to get a good gauge on her. Johnson’s voice and Louisiana drawl are unmistakable, but his analyst game isn’t quite as strong as Smith’s. Shehadi has tournament experience and does a good job, but baseball is much more her forte.
6. Spero Dedes, Deb Antonelli, AJ Ross
Antonelli is the star of this broadcast; she is underrated as a basketball analyst. Dedes doesn’t command your attention and doesn’t always seem to give a game’s big moments their due. There is nothing terribly remarkable about his calls other than the fact that he’s been on the call for high-level basketball for nearly 20 years and is only in his early 40s. Ross is still making her way in the business; this is just her second tournament as a sideline reporter.
5. Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, Andy Katz
Make sure you know which games Catalon is calling this year; it seems like every Big East game he called this season came down to the wire, and he absolutely excelled. Close games have a tendency to follow him. Katz is just OK as a sideline reporter, which isn’t his strength. This group would honestly be ranked higher if not for Lappas’ heavy, grating New York accent. His analysis is usually on-point. It’s just not always an easy listen aesthetically.
4. Brian Anderson, Jim Jackson, Allie LaForce
Anderson is slightly better in calling baseball than college basketball, but he’s stellar regardless. Likewise, LaForce seems a little better when working college football sidelines than college basketball. But again, no complaints. This crew is a perfect middle-of-the-road choice; no overwhelming strengths, but no real weaknesses either.
3. Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel, Jamie Erdahl
Besides Jim Nantz, Eagle is the current play-by-play announcer who is most synonymous with March; he’s been doing college basketball for CBS since the ‘80s. He and Spanarkel have tremendous chemistry together as they have been longtime announcing partners. Erdahl is a force either on the sidelines or in the studio.
2. Kevin Harlan, Dan Bonner, Reggie Miller, Dana Jacobson
Harlan is perhaps the most must-listen play-by-play announcer in this tournament. His voice rises with the moment and often he growls out completely over-the-top calls that become social media treasures. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea because he can be a little much, but shouldn’t we want to hear some wild announcing during March Madness? Harlan will give you that. Bonner knows when to get out of the way for Harlan and when to take over the analysis. He’s very solid.
Miller is much better suited for the NBA, but he’s fine here. As a sideline reporter, Jacobson is just as good as Tracy Wolfson, and maybe people don’t realize that enough. But this crew would be much closer to the middle of the pack if not for its leading man.
1. Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, Tracy Wolfson
There is no debate about the tournament’s top TV team. Nantz remains in his prime at age 62. His track record is legendary, highlighted by his great call of Villanova’s title-winning shot in 2016. Despite Raftery howling over Nantz, it’s perfect. But hey, that’s what you get with Raft. The tournament wouldn’t be the same without his screams and sudden exclamations (“Onions!”).
Plus there’s all of the tongue-in-cheek references about how Raftery is still the best person to sit with at a bar. Hill is a perfect complement to the energetic Raftery; he is is stable and smooth. He breaks down plays really well. And Wolfson is college basketball’s best sideline reporter.