After over 10,000 votes and 52 games over the last week, our readers have spoken and graded the broadcast crews for this year’s NCAA Tournament. The results aren’t a complete surprise: The top three crews will all be calling the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games this weekend, and they’ll be joined by the broadcast team that finished fifth.
But in somewhat of a surprise, our readers were overwhelmingly positive. A whopping four crews came in with a grade above 3.00 (on the four-point scale), and only one came in below 2.00. For context, when we had readers vote on MLB broadcasters last summer, nine crews finished under 2.00, and just two finished above 3.00 (in 2016, seven teams finished under 2.00, and four finished above 3.00.
What these results tell us is that for all the complaints about announcers during the NCAA Tournament, CBS and Turner are largely making the correct decisions, and there isn’t a whole lot they can do to improve the quality of the broadcasters calling the games. And compared to two years ago, the rankings have shifted quite a bit.
Without further ado, here are the rankings from #8 to #1, and if you’re interested, you can click here for a look at the vote totals for each crew.
#8: Carter Blackburn, Debbie Antonelli, and John Schriffen 1.84
Most popular grade: C (46.49%)
Games called: Marshall vs Wichita State, Murray State vs West Virginia, Charleston vs Auburn, New Mexico State vs Clemson, Marshall vs West Virginia, Auburn vs Clemson
Carter Blackburn and Debbie Antonelli worked together a year ago with Mike Gminski in a three-person booth, but worked as a duo this year. And while I think they did show some promise this season, there were some stumbles and dead air at times, crying out for a third person.
#7: Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, and Jamie Erdahl – 2.20
Most popular grade: C (41.41%)
Games called: Georgia State vs Cincinnati, Texas vs Nevada, Texas Southern vs Xavier, Florida State vs Missouri, Cincinnati vs Nevada, Xavier vs Florida State
This trio has been together for a while, debuting in the 2015 tournament and calling games on the first weekend since. Steve Lappas is a polarizing broadcaster, and Andrew Catalon is fine, but really lacks that special something that makes him stand out. The result is a crew that is fine — just fine — and that doesn’t seem to be working its way up the pecking order any time soon.
#6: Spero Dedes, Steve Smith, Len Elmore, and Ros Gold-Onwude – 2.54
Most popular grade: B (42.35%)
Games called: LIU-Brooklyn vs Radford, St Bonaventure vs UCLA, Wright State vs Tennessee, Loyola vs Miami, Stephen F Austin vs Texas Tech, St Bonaventure vs Florida, Tennessee vs Loyola, Texas Tech vs Florida
This crew really lucked into some incredible finishes over this weekend, didn’t they? Spero Dedes continues to improve as a broadcaster, and this three-man booth took another step forward in their second NCAA Tournament together. But given how strong CBS’s lineup of play-by-play broadcasters is, it seems unlikely Dedes will ever break into the second weekend of the tournament (barring a shock departure), which is unfortunate.
#5: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber, and Lisa Byington – 2.66
Most popular grade: B (40.28%)
Games called: UNC-Greensboro vs Gonzaga, South Dakota State vs Ohio State, Davidson vs Kentucky, Buffalo vs Arizona, Gonzaga vs Ohio State, Kentucky vs Buffalo
This is the second year of Anderson and Webber together, and they definitely improved from a year ago. The addition of Lisa Byington as sideline reporter is also an underrated move. These three will get a pair of Sweet 16 games and an Elite 8 game this weekend, and you can’t say it’s undeserved.
#4: Brad Nessler, Steve Lavin, and Evan Washburn – 3.08
Most popular grade: B (44.17%)
Games called: Penn vs Kansas, NC State vs Seton Hall, San Diego State vs Houston, Montana vs Michigan, Kansas vs Seton Hall, Houston vs Michigan
It didn’t sound like Brad Nessler hadn’t called an NCAA Tournament game since 1992 this weekend, did it? Nessler, working with Steve Lavin (Ian Eagle’s partner a year ago), didn’t miss a beat working this year’s tournament after getting some reps for CBS during the regular season. It didn’t hurt that Nessler got a pair of incredible finishes (Houston-Michigan and Houston-San Diego State) in the first round, and a couple of Kansas games that were uncomfortably tight at times for the Jayhawks. He deserved a spot calling games on the tournament’s second weekend, but you can’t argue with CBS and Turner promoting Eagle and not demoting Brian Anderson’s crew.
#3: Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, and Tracy Wolfson – 3.34
Most popular grade: A (59.59%)
Games called: Providence vs Texas A&M, Lipscomb vs North Carolina, Kansas State vs Creighton, UMBC vs Virginia, Texas A&M vs North Carolina, Kansas State vs UMBC
I think it’s fitting that Nantz, the voice of the NCAA Tournament for so many years, called the first-ever #16 over #1 upset during the men’s tournament. The game itself was so historic and memorable, but really lacked that one moment we’ll remember, which was maybe the one disappointment for Nantz, Hill, and Raftery’s call of the game. Hill is also turning into a strong analyst in his own right, and Raftery is, of course, one of college basketball’s most beloved analysts. Something about this trio just works so well together, despite the three having such different personalities.
#2: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, and Dana Jacobson – 3.41
Most popular grade: A (60.87%)
Games called: Oklahoma vs Rhode Island, Iona vs Duke, Radford vs Villanova, Alabama vs Virginia Tech, Rhode Island vs Duke, Villanova vs Alabama
Kevin Harlan and company called six games that lacked drama, aside from Rhode Island’s overtime win over Oklahoma (kinda, sorta). This trio has been together since the 2015 tournament (the same year Nantz, Hill, and Raftery got together), and they’re running like a well-oiled machine at this point. There isn’t much else to say about these three — we all know what we’re getting, and it’s pretty damn polished and good.
#1: Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel, and Allie LaForce – 3.56
Most popular grade: A (67.58%)
Games called: NC Central vs Texas Southern, Arizona State vs Syracuse, Cal State Fullerton vs Purdue, Butler vs Arkansas, Bucknell vs Michigan State, Syracuse vs TCU, Purdue vs Butler, Michigan State vs Syracuse
Now this is a shocker. With Verne Lundquist bowing out of the NCAA Tournament this year, Eagle was promoted to his role on the #2 team alongside Jim Spanarkel and Allie LaForce. The result? A crew that is somehow better than Verne’s old unit. The remarkable thing to me is that Eagle and Spanarkel didn’t have the most exciting, most important games this weekend (unless, of course, you love the color orange), and they still did a fantastic job.
Eagle has been paired with an number of different partners in recent seasons (including Doug Gottlieb, Chris Webber, and Steve Lavin) since he and Spanarkel were split heading into the 2015 tournament, but the partnership with Spanarkel appears to be a winner that CBS should keep together for the foreseeable future.