The 2023 NCAA Tournament field has been whittled to four, and the lineup of broadcast teams has also been cut from eight to one.
With much of the tournament, and the work of many of those broadcasters, behind us, it’s time to unveil our annual ranking of the eight teams that called games during this year’s NCAA Tournament (with exception of the trio calling the First Four).
There was a disappointing amount of votes this year (under 1,000), but the overall rankings actually lined up with what we’ve seen in previous years.
Here’s a look at the vote tallies and percentages.
Previous reader-voted rankings: 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2021.
Without further ado, here’s the ranking of the eight teams.
8. Lisa Byington, Avery Johnson, and Steve Smith – 1.93
Most common grade: C (36.13% of votes)
Previous scores: 2.04 (2021, just Byington and Smith)
Previous rankings: 10th of 10 (2021, just Byington and Smith)
Breakdown: “High energy” is a phrase that can accurately describe this team. “Too many cooks” is another. When two analysts complement each other well in a three-person booth, it can work out well, as you’ll see later on. When they don’t, it can be a bit of a mess. At least these three seemed to have had a great time calling their games at their tournament, which I appreciated when watching.
7. Spero Dedes and Deb Antonelli – 2.25
Most common grade: C (39.72% of votes)
Previous rankings: N/A
Breakdown: Dedes is a perfectly cromulent announcer for a network to have in their broadcast lineup, which CBS does with March Madness and the NFL. Antonelli also showed off her broadcasting chops by going from the men’s tournament the first weekend to the women’s tournament the second weekend on ESPN. I don’t really have much more to say about this pairing, which didn’t stand out over their six games together.
6. Brad Nessler and Brendan Haywood – 2.75
Most common grade: B (44.79% of votes)
Previous scores: N/A
Previous rankings: N/A
Breakdown: Nessler is great, but I was way higher on his work with Steve Lavin and Jim Jackson in previous years than I was with his work over the last two years with Haywood. The pair called Princeton’s upset win over Arizona and did a fine job doing it. This is probably the first weekend team that could call games on the second weekend in a pinch and not feel out of place.
5. Andrew Catalon and Steve Lappas – 3.00
Most common grade: B (40.21% of votes)
Previous scores: 2.27 (2015), 2.12 (2016), 2.20 (2018), 2.31 (2019), 2.60 (2021)
Previous rankings: 8 of 8 (2015), 7 of 8 (2016, 2018, 2019), 6 of 10 (2021)
Breakdown: Readers have been warming on this long-paired team over the years, and they scored their highest overall grade and ranking this year. The pair also got more attention on the first weekend than in previous years, calling Fairleigh Dickinson’s upset win over Purdue and the first two games of Florida Atlantic’s Final Four run. Catalon’s star has been rising at CBS, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he got promoted to the second weekend next year following the departure of Jim Nantz.
4. Brian Anderson and Jim Jackson – 3.10
Most common grade: B (48.18% of votes)
Previous scores: 2.84 (2021)
Previous rankings: 5 of 10 (2021)
Breakdown: Anderson and Jackson continue to work very well together, with their chemistry building throughout the years. I still prefer Anderson’s work on baseball, but his basketball work is growing on me. Jackson is an insightful, entertaining analyst, and he works a lot better with Anderson than Chris Webber did for several years.
3. Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, and Bill Raftery – 3.36
Most common grade: A (51.28% of votes)
Previous scores: 3.21 (2015), 3.18 (2016), 3.34 (2018), 3.36 (2019), 3.50 (2021, just Nantz and Raftery)
Previous rankings: 2nd of 8 (2015, 2016, 2019), 3rd of 8 (2018), 3rd of 10 (2021, just Nantz and Raftery)
Breakdown: This is less of a slight on the lead broadcast booth, and more of a compliment to two of the other second weekend teams. Nantz, Hill, and Raftery have great chemistry and are another example of how Nantz’s broadcast partners have revitalized him as a broadcaster. His partnership with Clark Kellogg was fine but unremarkable, and the Greg Anthony pairing never got off the ground. The decision to bring in Hill and Raftery to work with Nantz ended up being an inspired one, leading to eight tournaments of top-flight broadcasting.
2. Kevin Harlan, Dan Bonner, and Stan Van Gundy – 3.64
Most common grade: A (72.53% of votes)
Previous scores: 2.95 (2015, with Reggie Miller), 3.01 (2016, with Miller), 3.41 (2018, with Miller), 3.36 (2019, with Miller), 3.61 (2021, just Harlan and Bonner)
Previous rankings: 3rd of 8 (2015 and 2019, with Miller), 4th of 8 (2016, with Miller), 2nd of 8 (2018, with Miller), 2nd of 10 (2021, just Harlan and Bonner)
Breakdown: I was curious how the readers would react to Miller’s departure and the entrance of Van Gundy. Turns out the swap was a hit, with Harlan’s team earning their highest score and tying their best ranking ever. At first, I didn’t know what to make of Van Gundy’s work, but I was a believer by the end of their first game (Furman’s upset win over Virginia). Harlan’s so damn good at calling both basketball and football, and the national audience is giving him the respect he deserves.
1. Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel – 3.73
Most common grade: A (78.95% of votes)
Previous scores: 3.56 (2018), 3.57 (2019)
Previous rankings: 1st of 8, (2018, 2019) 1st of 10 (2021)
Breakdown: There’s a reason Ian Eagle is taking over as the lead NCAA Tournament play by play voice next year – because he’s really damn good at calling basketball. It’s still unknown whether or not he’ll be teaming with Spanarkel in the top job next season or if he’ll have a new partner, but we’re betting Eagle will once again be near the top of these rankings in a year’s time regardless of who is calling games with him. His work with Spanarkel has been so good, and it’s no surprise the pair ranked first once again.