Power Ranking the March Madness Announcers
As we briefly look back on the 2012 NCAA Tournament, many things can be said: namely that Kentucky was far and away the best team in the country, the west coast was pitiful, and the power conferences were much better in this tournament than normal.
Even more definitively than that, we can say there wasn’t one moment from this tournament we’ll look back on and remember the announcer’s call or analysis. Even the two 15-seed-over-the-2-seed upsets didn’t produce amazing broadcasting moments.
For those like myself who care deeply about who is behind the microphone and those particular people’s performances, this was a very difficult tournament to dissect. No announcer stood out for a particular call (as already mentioned) and none were even able to steal the momentum of the tournament to use it as an opportunity to build their pedigree and become famous within the blogosphere.
It’s sad because announcer rankings are the epitome of irrelevance in sports and the very thing 25-year-olds living in their mother’s basements depend on to keep them interested. There is no consensus on this topic for this tournament. Hopefully that means a fierce debate will be enraged upon the release of these rankings.
For the sake of order I will make two separate rankings—one for the play-by-play guys and another for the color analysts, in that order.
Play-by-Play No. 8: Brian Anderson
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Brian Anderson served his first season as an NCAA Tournament announcer for the collaboration between CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV.
Anderson did a fine job in his six games at the Portland site. The only real complaint is that when I listened to Anderson, I kept imagining I was watching a baseball game—he’s TBS’s 1b on their Sunday baseball coverage.
That said he did a wonderful job of picking up the speed of the game and making the listener feel like he/ she was in the arena. With a year or two of experience, Anderson could easily jump into the top four of the collaboration’s rankings.
For now though Anderson shouldn’t plan on skipping the MLB Opening Weekend.
PBP No. 7: Tim Brando
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To be honest, Tim Brando only gets the seventh ranking over Brian Anderson because of his experience and proven track record.
Brando does well with historical accounts and in terms of his statistical memory he is among the finest. His knowledge of the game is good enough for a play-by-play announcer.
But Brando struggles to engage his audience. I always feel Brando knows he's smarter than I am and speaks down to me. And the most annoying thing a play-by-play announcer could ever do is assume he knows as much or more than his color analyst. At times it seems as if Brando believes that is true when working with Mike Gminski.
I don't feel these things are true with Anderson, but Brando again gets this spot due to his track record and past performance.
PBP No. 6: Spero Dedes
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The current Los Angeles Lakers radio PBP announcer clearly knows the game of basketball and has a knack for calling it the right way. He mixes excitement with intelligent detailed descriptions, rarely making a mistake in terms of the situation. He sets the stage beautifully and creates a narrative in a fashion similar to Jim Nantz.
And Dedes is versatile enough to also call NFL games for CBS and works for NFL Network when not busy with his other duties.
Dedes is building quite a resume and could soon become more than just the Lakers' Radio Announcer. He could take the lead for an up-and-coming network if he continues to prove this proficient.
PBP No. 5: Jim Nantz
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This is less an indictment on Jim Nantz and more of an acknowledgment of the amazing announcing talent CBS had at its' disposal in this past NCAA Tournament.
Everyone knows Nantz paints a picture and storyline as well if not better than anyone in broadcasting. And he never supposes he is smarter than his partner. He feeds them and sets them up well as if he is a pass-first point guard.
The main issue I have with Nantz is that he's clearly a front-runner. I suppose that comes from his always being assigned to the top names and high seeds. That he always does the Final Four he's naturally predisposed to paint a picture of the teams he's going to see at the end of the tournament.
But even Sunday at The Masters Nantz's partiality came out as he was obviously rooting for Phil Mickelson (which is fine but unprofessional when that comes out and becomes obvious).
In the tournament you always sense he wants the big-name teams to win—i.e. Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, etc.
And when upsets take place, Nantz always has a great line, but the listener often doesn’t care because it doesn’t feel as if there’s any passion in the call. That’s what most of us want—passion, not a perfectly illustrated painting. Please Jim, make it seem like you care.
PBP No. 4: Marv Albert
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Much like with Nantz this is less an indictment on Albert and more a proclamation that there are some really good announcers above him. One member on this list formally took Marv's spot as TNT's Lead Announcer in 2008, though Albert and Harlan are truly 1a and 1b.
But Marv is a veteran in the business and a noted broadcaster with great versatility and an ability to make just about anything sound epic. His call "from way downtown" may be the most famous basketball idiom since Chick Hearn's refrigerator description.
The complaint against Albert would simply be his lack of experience calling the college game. The 2011 tournament was the first time in my lifetime at least that Albert braced the microphone for a college basketball game.
Unlike the three ranked above him, Albert does not spend a great portion of the season learning the players participating in the tournament. He does make up for that with great researching and always seems on point with the situation and the teams involved.
He is a living legend in the broadcasting industry and will continue to call tournament games under the current network collaboration as long as he chooses.
PBP No. 3: Verne Lundquist
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During the regular season, Verne Lundquist is the defacto No. 1 announcer for CBS's college basketball coverage, when their tournament No. 1 Jim Nantz is busy handling NFL and PGA Tour responsibilities.
With Verne, you know you're going to get a tremendous sense of self-deprecating humor and great passion for the game going on. Because of his age and experience, Lundquist is also able to hearken back to decades prior to find an analogy or similarity to what is taking place in that moment.
And with Lundquist, the listener feels a personable touch to go along with a conversational tone that sucks the listener in. Sure 'ole Vern may mess a few things up during the broadcast, but he'll do so in such a way the listener can't get upset with him.
And his ability to work with multiple different play-by-play announcers and always come out peachy makes him one of the best. Unlike some of his compatriots, Verne never comes across as a know-it-all or better than his partner even though he often does know more and is much better at his craft.
PBP No. 2: Ian Eagle
Ian Eagle does it all, literally. He announces for the New Jersey Nets regularly while also appearing on some college football broadcasts for CBS, even on the same weekend of an NFL appearance.
Of course, the NCAA Tournament is where Eagle has made his name, though. In a similar vein of Kevin Harlan and Gus Johnson, Ian Eagle commonly can be heard yelling at the top of his lungs on a play that doesn't even decide the game.
Eagle, as seen in the video here, is able to produce nuggets from all walks of life and incorporate them into the broadcast for the betterment of the viewer's experience.
He combines great knowledge, excitement and passion, with a conversational tone and great sense of humor to make for a truly intriguing broadcast.
Between Eagle and our No. 1 play-by-play guy CBS found their replacements for Gus Johnson.
PBP No.1: Kevin Harlan
Kevin Harlan is another Mr. Versatile, regularly calling NCAA basketball games just a day or two after calling an NBA game on TNT.
During football season he is one of CBS' best play-by-play announcers as well.
What makes Harlan so great? His wit, ability to ask his analysts intelligent questions and let them sound smart and trustworthy, and his genuine passion. Any call Harlan makes, he does so with excitement that is untempered and seeps through the television into your living room.
His silliness at times may not be appreciated by the older generation but endears Harlan to the younger audience who appreciates some slapstick humor and odd antics.
But what would a discussion of Harlan be without naming some of his famous lines?
"Right between the eyes!"
"He's an assassin!"
Those lines and others make Harlan epic and a blogosphere favorite. Too bad we only get Harlan for a couple more weeks then nothing until September and the beginning of the NFL season. Treasure the last few weeks of the NBA season on TNT.
Color Analyst No. 9: Reggie Miller
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It's not that Reggie Miller is a horrible color analyst. It's just that he's not very good. His sister would probably be a better option in that chair, but TNT appears afraid to make the switch.
Put it this way, Reggie was a much better player than he has proven to be a broadcaster. Even working alongside Kevin Harlan and Marv Albert for years on TNT hasn't caused Reggie to improve.
One would have thought his comfort level with Harlan would have helped the process as the team made the adjustment to the college game.
Reggie proved to be ignorant and ridiculous, especially in the eyes of longtime analyst Len Elmore who constantly had to correct Miller and argued Reggie's poor points on the team's nine NCAA broadcasts.
Here's guessing Elmore will not be paired with Miller next year, if for no other reason than he'd probably go psycho and punch Miller out while on the air.
Color Analyst No. 8: Bob Wenzel
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I did my best earlier to give props to Spero Dedes. The guy had to work with Bob Wenzel in the NCAA Tournament at Albuquerque, New Mexico. That couldn't have been too much fun for him.
While Wenzel may bring the most energy of any color commentator not named Bill Raftery, he does almost to the detriment of the broadcast. First, that's supposed to be the play-by-play guy's job.
Wenzel sometimes forgets what job he is doing, and often comes across as a dumb baffoon. That said, I would take Wenzel over Reggie Miller as an announcer any day.
Color Analyst No. 7: Mike Gminski
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At least Mike Gminski can say he played the game of basketball. He was a wonderful player at Duke for Coach K, and had an NBA career.
As a broadcaster he's not awful. Fox has found use for him as have the other ACC broadcasting networks. Gminski brings great knowledge of the game.
But similar to his partner, Tim Brando, you feel like you're in a classroom being lectured by a professor rather than having a conversation with a friend. In that sense, Wenzel is a more enjoyable listen than the G-Man, but Gminski makes up for the deficiency with superior knowledge and truly teaches the game and proposes solid Xs and Os ideas throughout the game.
Color Analyst No. 6: Clark Kellogg
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I assume my preeminent disdain for Clark Kellogg is his insistence on bringing Barack Obama along for the ride of the NCAA Tournament. His multiple interviews of a man who really has no impact on sports bothers me immensely.
I understand it is a great honor for Kellogg and if I were him I'd probably take the opportunity as well. But the very fact it has come to define Kellogg's career probably isn't a good thing.
Additionally, Kellogg has become a man who is known for backing the big dogs and rarely sticking up for the mid-majors. He probably gets that from his partner Nantz.
For a man whose primary job is to know NCAA basketball, he fails to know or describe the game as well as any of the five above him.
Color Analyst No. 5: Dan Bonner
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Working alongside Brian Anderson in Portland, Dan Bonner provided solid analysis and did what any announcer should do—he made the game about the players. He didn’t get in the way, but found a way to make the game better than it was with subtle commentary meant primarily to build up the players and only point their deficiencies when it’s truly appropriate.
Sometimes Bonner can sound like he’s whining, which is generally when he is breaking down a player or coach for a mistake. But when he sticks to building people up he’s an enjoyable listen. He’s fun to argue with in the invisible realm of communication from the TV and living room.
That conversational tone makes any announcer an indelible figure and desirable to listen to.
Color Analyst No. 4: Jim Spanarkel
With a fairly strong New York accent, Jim Spanarkel combines with Ian Eagle to provide great analysis which is to the point yet entertaining.
Spanarkel doesn't try to match Eagle's personality or pop culture status. Instead, he knows his place and is content in that.
The two make for an easy-to-listen-to broadcast focused primarily on the game at hand. Spanarkel knows the players who are playing, their history along with their strengths and weaknesses making him more than able to provide complementary analysis.
Color Analyst No. 3: Len Elmore
Len Elmore is smarter than you, and he knows it. He certainly knew in this tournament that he was smarter than partner Reggie Miller. If he could have worked exclusively with Kevin Harlan, he may have earned the No. 2 spot in this list, though the two above him would be hard to pass under any circumstances.
When he works on ESPN, there are a couple things you can be certain of: superior basketball knowledge and a great sense of the historical evolution of the game of basketball.
Elmore doesn't necessarily work great with any partner but when he is allowed to grow a bond with someone such as Mike Patrick, the two work well together.
He and Gus Johnson made for a great team for many years of the NCAA Tournament and Johnson's leaving CBS hurt Elmore's stock. I'm still giving him the benefit of the doubt and assume that if he's allowed to be paired with a competent PBP guy again, he will provide wonderful analysis in the tournament for as long as he so chooses.
Color Analyst No. 2: Bill Raftery
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Bill Raftery has done something few are able to do, transition from coaching to broadcasting and have equal or greater success at the latter position.
Raftery combines great passion and even a bit of silliness with an integral understanding of the game. The NIT Final on ESPN when he was paired with Fran Fraschilla brought listeners the two best coaches-turned-analysts around in 2012.
Both know the game as well as one can possibly know it, yet continue to study the modern player and Xs and Os of the game. Raftery is great because of his conversational tone, easy-going nature and ability to relate to any partner (he seems to have about 10 different partners throughout the season).
He is great in two and three-man booths and seems to have no ego at all. Watching a game with Raftery, you'd swear you're having a beer with him at the same time. His fun-loving Irish background always comes to light and makes for a ball of a time watching that particular game.
Much like Harlan, you can't leave a discussion on Raftery without the requisite cliches:
[Team X] will go MAN-to-Man!"
Color Analyst No. 1: Steve Kerr
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Striking a balance between fun and serious, Steve Kerr is everything you'd want in a basketball color commentator. He manages to be entertaining while staying on point about the game or topic being discussed.
I'm most impressed with Kerr and his ability to make a seamless transition between the NBA and college game. He can work a college game for CBS Sports Network on Wednesday evening in a three-man booth then work an NBA game the next night on TNT and another college game on Saturday and each night provides the best analysis possible.
One never worries with Kerr that he'll be unprepared. In fact, he always is the most prepared—having studied hours of tape of both teams. He can break the game down from an Xs and Os perspective or a position-by-position matchup or simply give a scouting breakdown of a particular player.
No color guy is as flexible as Kerr. And he excels at all levels with a level head and entertaining tone of speaking. He too is conversational with a personality that is slightly more moderate.
In my opinion, there is no better commentator in basketball. Let’s hope he eschews his own desires to coach one day and stays in the booth. His abilities as a commentator are too good for us all to lose.