The Top 64 NCAA College Basketball Announcers of All Time
Every March, this nation becomes crazy—dare I say mad—for brackets. It’s not just the NCAA tournament bracket that gets people nuts. People just love to see things in brackets. Heck, for two years, I did a bracket of all the best brackets, and people seemed to love debating which bracket would win that make-believe bracket.
This bracket, however, is probably my favorite (other than the actual basketball bracket) I have ever filled out. The top 64 NCAA college basketball announcers of all time, here, in one bracket-style ranking.
We have done single-sport announcer lists before, usually running a top 25 or top 50 to include as many announcers as possible. With this being the college basketball list, we couldn’t resist giving each announcer his or her own seeding.
(Before you get too far along in each matchup, know that our bracket is just for seeding—the results would be straight chalk.)
Oh, and there are no play-ins in this bracket, just 64 of the best, most memorable and most dependable announcers in the game.
Remember, please, this is all for fun, so while you may disagree on who got a No. 4 or No. 5 seed, please voice your disagreements with a modicum of respect for the lighthearted nature of (most of) these selections.
Also, before we get on to the list, it’s important to remember that all of these announcers have some national profile and experience. There are more than 300 top-flight basketball programs in America, which means that on any given night, there is a potential for well over 100 different games. Someone—often someone very talented—is calling each of those games on radio or regional television.
Many of those announcers deserve to be included on an all-time list. But for every Johnny Holliday I might select, there are a dozen more memorable announcers I’d be omitting. Please feel free to add your favorite local announcers in the comments.
With that, it’s time to look at the most in-depth NCAA college basketball announcers bracket of all time. Who do you have cutting down the broadcasting nets?
The No. 16 Seeds
Yes, we are starting this list off with a few dandies, that’s for sure.
Knight is not a terrible studio analyst. He certainly knows the game of basketball better than almost anyone on the planet. I just never felt like he cared much about doing television. And while being a professional curmudgeon can work in a studio setting, his personality and style of announcing, for lack of a better term, fail to serve the traditional live-game audience.
I really never understood the reason to ship Knight off to various parts of the country to call games. ESPN often does some peculiar things with talent just to get attention. I think the attention this decision received was never all that positive.
The third guy in the booth gets to be the comic relief, and that’s a role Miller seems to relish, but there’s just not much space for that in an NCAA tournament game. Even the blowouts have underlying stories the announcers can advance for the following rounds.
When Miller has been placed with the likes of Kevin Harlan and Len Elmore, as he will be this year, it just seems unnecessary. Miller isn’t a bad in-game announcer, and he is certainly qualified for the job, but a third person isn't needed.
Quick story. I worked at Rutgers for a long time, starting just after Wenzel left Piscataway but before he worked up the ranks of CBS to start calling tournament games. He came to campus to call a game one time—I believe it was his first time back at The RAC—and was telling old friends he was on the short track to big assignments for CBS.
Wenzel thought he was going to be the guy. Final Fours. Championship games. Someone must have been in his head, because he suddenly stopped being an analyst and started trying to mimic Bill Raftery.
Wenzel ruined himself. He was at one point a competent announcer, but he got it in his head that he was going to be a star and lost track of what he was good at.
Wenzel no longer calls NCAA tournament games for CBS. Who didn’t see that coming? Well, other than him.
The worst. The. Worst.
Packer worked every Final Four from 1975 through 2008, and every year he got meaner, angrier and more disenfranchised with the sport he was handsomely paid to cover all those years.
It was this kind of nonsense that made people so angry. Packer once called a Kansas-UNC game “over” with 7:32 to go in the first half. Sure, Kansas won, but its hefty lead was cut to four points in the second half, making it far from over at any time before that.
Why did he make the list of the best announcers if he was so bad? The guy worked 34 straight Final Fours with four different play-by-play announcers for two different networks. Someone had to think he was good.
The No. 15 Seeds
Please note that any of these announcers could be anywhere from a No. 15 to a No. 9. Or not on the list at all. That’s part of the fun of this.
Anderson is more known as a solid baseball announcer, but he has done a good job in his time working college basketball on a national level, calling tournament games for CBS and now working for Fox. This spot could easily go to any number of young, fresh announcers, but we went with Anderson because his trajectory with CBS seems very high.
Kugler (heard in the video above) is one of the lead radio announcers for Westwood One, calling the NCAA tournament and Final Four, as well as Sunday Night Football for one of the largest sports radio outfits on the planet. He also works in television, calling games for Fox and the Big Ten Network.
Boog Sciambi is one of those guys at ESPN you probably wouldn’t recognize if he sat next to you at a diner counter, but once he ordered his plate of flapjacks—I assume Sciambi is a red-blooded American flapjack lover like many of us—his voice would be unmistakable. Like Anderson, Sciambi is known as more of a baseball guy, but he has earned his stripes as one of ESPN’s more dependable college basketball announcers.
I had trouble picking the last announcer in the field, but it went to Criqui for his long, solid tenure in the industry. To me, Criqui was always more of a football announcer, or Notre Dame mouthpiece, so I waffled on his inclusion.
Ken Fang of Fang’s Bites broke the tie for me, saying: “I go with Criqui because of his history with the tournament, especially calling the St. Joe's upset over DePaul in NBC's last year of airing the games.”
Criqui narrowly edged out Scott Graham, who is currently calling games for Fox. You may know him more for his work at NFL Films. Or, perhaps, the Puppy Bowl. Here is a good write-up on Graham. Worth noting: I found out recently he lives three blocks from me, so if there was a tiebreaker on this one, it certainly wasn’t proximity.
The No. 14 Seeds
Without question one of the best announcers in the history of American sports, Jackson was known far more for his work as a football announcer than a basketball broadcaster.
Still, in football, there is an offseason to be had, and Jackson filled some of that time calling college basketball games in the winter. Jackson was actually on the call in 1964 for the second nationally televised NCAA Final Four, working with Bill Flemming. I’m sure he should be higher on this list, so he seems like a perfect Cinderella selection.
Buckner may be known as more of an NBA guy, both for calling games and working in the professional ranks, but he did work as a college analyst for CBS for nearly a decade in the late 1980s through most of the 1990s. Much like his work on the NBA, Buckner always seemed to be well informed and professional, which seems to be a very important theme with CBS analysts. More on that in a bit.
Waters, like many other announcers on this list, was a relatively ordinary college coach—he went to one NCAA tournament and three NITs in his eight years at West Virginia and Duke—before going into broadcasting, covering more than just college basketball across the decades of his media career. Waters covered the Big East, ECAC and NCAA tournament for NBC before moving on to a myriad of other broadcasting assignments over several national platforms, including ESPN.
He was as anonymous as they come, and in Ryan’s case, that wasn’t a bad thing. He was just a solid veteran announcer who never seemed to get in the way of his more demonstrative partners. Throughout his long career working at NBC, ESPN, CBS and Fox, Ryan worked every event imaginable, including some big NCAA basketball games.
The No. 13 Seeds
Jones has been an ESPN mainstay for nearly 25 years. Seriously, he started at ESPN in 1990, calling a wide variety of programming, including NBA, WNBA and college football and basketball games, in addition to hosting several studio shows.
Jones has carved out a decent niche for himself at the Worldwide Leader, never breaking through as one of the top announcers but maintaining a long career nonetheless.
Brando has become one of the more polarizing figures on this list, and in sports media, over the last few years. He recently ended his relationship with CBS this January, thus ending his near 20-year run calling NCAA games.
A basketball jack-of-all-trades, so to speak, Brown—alongside lead host Greg Gumbel—has been a studio host for CBS’s coverage of the NCAA games for years. Brown did play-by-play for the network from 1989 to 1993, then again upon his return from Fox before moving back to the studio. He also served as a color commentator for one season in the 1980s, making him one of the very few announcers to hold three major roles at some point in his storied career.
CBS lured the NCAA tournament away from NBC in 1982, and before Brent Musburger and Jim Nantz became the top announcers for the tourney, it was Bender who got the assignment of lead basketball announcer, calling the first three Final Fours for CBS.
The No. 12 Seeds
I’m not sure I ever quite understood Walton as an analyst. He’s either the absolute best in the business or certifiably unlistenable, and sometimes I’ve felt both ways during the same game.
The one undeniable fact is that Walton loves the game of basketball. His joy of working with the game—while less outwardly exuberant than, say, Dick Vitale—is every bit as obvious. Walton may be a better NBA analyst in terms of breaking down the game and critiquing players, but the college assignments have given him more opportunities to relive history, and any time he can tell a good story about the John Wooden years, it's a better time for everyone.
For years, listening to Spanarkel call NCAA games with Ian Eagle—and even his work covering the Brooklyn Nets on local telecasts—I just assumed he was one of those coaches-turned-analysts who never made it big as a coach and found a comfortable niche in television to stay in the game without the pressures of having to win. (This list, as you can see, is riddled with those guys.)
It turns out, Spanarkel has never been a coach, at least not at any high level. He played at Duke in college, making one All-America list before playing just over four years in the NBA. He joined broadcasting shortly after that. The fact that I thought for all this time he was a failed coach actually makes me appreciate the way he calls a game a little bit more.
Dedes is another young broadcaster on this list, but his career path makes him feel like a 20-year veteran. He is an announcer for the New York Knicks on radio and TV, having returned to New York after working for six seasons as the radio voice of the Los Angeles Lakers.
A few years back, CBS hired Dedes to ostensibly replace Dick Enberg in its stable of NCAA tournament announcers, and Dedes has been a staple in March ever since. He was saddled with Bob Wenzel as a partner his first few years, and now works games with Doug Gottlieb, making a CBS tandem we might expect to see move up the company ranks together as some of the older announcers continue to move along.
Speaking of older announcers moving along, Stockton has been in broadcasting since 1965, working every sport imaginable at the network level. He called the NCAA tournament during his long tenure at CBS, often pegged as one of the four regional-site announcers. Stockton may be thought of differently now than, say, 20 years ago, as Father Time has not necessarily been his greatest partner in the booth. But in his prime, there weren’t many basketball announcers better.
The No. 11 Seeds
I remember Wischusen calling regional games as he worked up the ladder of national prominence, grabbing any assignment he could to gain experience and get his name out there.
The hard work paid off.
Wischusen went from a guy whose voice you’d hear call your favorite team when you knew the network didn’t care about it—oh, this must not be a big game if Wischusen got the call—to one of the most reliable and dependable big-game announcers ESPN employs. When you hear his voice now, he finds a way to make that event feel a little big bigger, which is a credit to how hard he worked to get there.
Bonner’s bio at CBS tells you everything you need to know about him. Here are my two favorite lines out of a three-paragraph write-up:
He served as an analyst for CBS Sports' coverage of the 2000 and 2001 Final Four and Championship games in HDTV.
From 2004-07 he served as the assistant athletic director and assistant girls' soccer coach for Robert E. Lee High School, having previously coached the girls' basketball team from 1999 to 2003.
Doesn’t that just about say everything you need to know about Bonner? He’s called the Division II Championship nearly 10 times for CBS, the network put him on the “HDTV” Final Four before anyone had or knew what HDTV was and he was a high school soccer coach. Sorry, he was an assistant soccer coach, which was important enough for him to put in his bio.
I love this. Truly.
Pasch has worked at ESPN since 2003, and in those 10 years, he has become an integral piece in its play-by-play puzzle. He is another guy you probably wouldn’t recognize if you shared a cab with him, but the second you heard his voice, you’d realize how familiar he sounds.
That might be as big a compliment as I can give a play-by-play announcer: He sounds familiar. Pasch has definitely worked himself into that category, and his efforts working college basketball are perhaps his best of any sport.
Valvano may be more known for his last name than his work as a college basketball analyst, but he has proven over the years to be extremely knowledgeable and fun-loving without making a telecast too much about him.
His years as a sports talk radio host serve him well in the booth, as he never seems to be without a great story. Not to mention, his work with The V Foundation over the years should have him on every list ever, just so we can mention that as much as possible.
The No. 10 Seeds
Gottlieb may be the most difficult person on this entire list to rank, in part because the different facets of his career have been so divergent and in part because I know, of everyone on this list, he is Internet and social media savvy enough to see whatever I write.
Gottlieb is a smart and incredibly informed basketball announcer. He is at his best when he is calling basketball games; it just seems that calling basketball has become such a small part of what CBS wants him to do that he feels a bit overexposed. Maybe more than a bit.
Gottlieb has a career trajectory anyone in the industry would want, yet I get the sense that if he focused just on being a basketball analyst, he’d be one of the best in the game. All the other stuff—the radio work, the Web interviews and the studio hosting, which has always felt forced and unnecessarily aggressive—really do him no favors as a top basketball analyst.
Even going back to his ESPN Radio days, Gottlieb’s shtick is that he tries to sound like the smartest guy in the room. That is fine when you are an expert at one sport, but it's impossible when you try to be an expert at everything.
Meyers was one of the first women to challenge the establishment that traditional men’s sports needed to be called (and played) by men.
She is one of the most important figures in the history of basketball, and her work as an analyst for both the men’s and women’s games has helped pave the way for more women to get the opportunities to call men’s events.
Winner of countless national awards for her athletics career and work in media, Meyers will soon be honored with the 2014 Dick Enberg Award by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
Franklin was one of the more recognizable college sports announcers at ESPN for a long time, working mostly Big 12 football and basketball games. He had an inauspicious departure from ESPN a few years ago, but that doesn’t change the fact that in his prime, he was one of the top college announcers in the country. Or, for situations like where to seed him in these rankings, maybe it does.
Dykes played college ball at Arkansas before bouncing around the country as an assistant coach for half a decade. In 1995, he joined ESPN and has been a college basketball studio and in-game analyst ever since.
There are times when it feels like Dykes, like any commentator in the shadow of the likes of Dick Vitale, tries too hard to be memorable. But when he’s focused on analyzing the game at hand, he is one of the better options at ESPN.
The No. 9 Seeds
I said this when I made the college football list and I’ll say it here: If this were a list of studio hosts, Davis would be near the very top. He is a talented television announcer and thrives at any role he is given. I do think he’s better as a host than a play-by-play man, but that may be because he’s given far more opportunities to be the former at the expense of the latter.
If Davis had more time as an in-game announcer, there is little doubt he would charge up these rankings. On overall talent as a broadcaster, he would crack the Sweet 16.
Like Davis, Steve Kerr just suffers from a lack of reps. He is so good as a basketball analyst for Turner that he was put into the Final Four rotation with Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg the last few years after the two media companies combined to televise the NCAA tournament.
This year, Kerr is teaming up with Nantz and Greg Anthony for what could be one of the greatest Final Four announcing teams in tournament history. Kerr will work with Marv Albert and Craig Sager up through the regional finals.
It seems criminal to consider Kerr this low of a seed, but given he is more of an NBA voice and has only called a few seasons of college ball, I didn’t want to be accused of corporate favoritism.
Remember the issue with Doug Gottlieb, in that it’s not him as much as the assignments he is given? This has always been an issue with O’Brien as well, as his favor with viewing audiences plummeted after a disastrous run as a soccer broadcaster for ESPN in 2006.
When he stays with what he’s best at calling, O’Brien is really, really good. While baseball is certainly his strongest sport, he has proven to be one of the best in college basketball as well.
Hey, there’s a coach on the court during timeouts!
I couldn’t have been the only one who thought that when Dakich (heard in the above video) originally started leaving the scorer’s table in media timeouts to give on-court demonstrations during college basketball games for ESPN. For me, the gimmick never really worked, but it got me to pay closer attention to Dakich, and he has proven to be a very adept in-game analyst.
And while I didn’t care for the nontraditional in-game antics, I do wholeheartedly appreciate the effort to try something different to enhance the telecast.
The No. 8 Seeds
Mowins doesn’t get as many headlines as Doris Burke does, but she has proven she is every bit as capable at calling both men’s and women’s events at the top level.
She is always prepared no matter what event she calls, and while her work on college football has been solid, her work as a basketball broadcaster is what makes her worthy of inclusion on this list.
It’s a shame, in some ways, that Lavin recently has been in talks to renew his contract with St. John’s. He has proven to be a good basketball coach, sure, but he was a better TV guy than he is a coach. That seems hard to dispute.
At worst, Lavin was every bit as good in the booth as he has proven to be on the sidelines. He may have been a little too slick for some viewers, but he always seemed prepared and used his coaching successes, and failures, to enhance every telecast.
Gowdy is a name that pops up on every one of these announcer lists, and while he’s near the top on most of them, he’s rightly placed somewhere in the middle of this college basketball list.
Heck, he could be one of the top four seeds without question, but Gowdy was undoubtedly known more for NFL and MLB coverage than anything related to college. Still, he amazingly managed to work 24 Final Fours on either radio or television in his Hall of Fame career.
This is probably one of those preference picks, and maybe it has something to do with him playing for my hometown Philadelphia 76ers when I was a kid, but I really enjoy Gminski calling a college basketball game. I could never understand why CBS ranked him so low on its stable of commentators.
This season, Gminski will be paired with CBS newcomer Andrew Catalon—you may recognize him from his work as an Olympic curling announcer—creating an incredibly solid "last crew in" for CBS.
The No. 7 Seeds
It’s nearly impossible to believe that Tessitore just started doing play-by-play for college basketball games as a member of ESPN at the beginning of the 2012 season. Surely he is more well known for his work calling college football, but his coverage of basketball has been every bit as fantastic.
Tessitore is moving full-time to SEC country in the fall, working with the new SEC Network, so it will be interesting to see how that will impact his national exposure the rest of the year. Let’s hope the Southeastern Conference’s gain isn’t a loss to the rest of the nation.
Perhaps the best studio host at ESPN in any sport (not named Chris Fowler), Saunders started calling college games for ABC in 1990 and still dabbles in the occasional game as a play-by-play announcer at a wonderfully high level.
Saunders is so cool with whatever assignment he is given, and he does a wonderful job of including his analysts in the discussion, not just alternating between play-by-play and analysis. There is always a greater conversation to have within a game, and Saunders is one of the best at consistently finding those that work best.
Squeeze the orange. Pound the pumpkin. Grab the gourd. There is no one in the country better at fruit references to a basketball than Kellogg. (To be fair, I may have made up the last one.)
A few years ago, Kellogg was pegged as the replacement for Billy Packer at CBS, moving him out of his role as a studio analyst and into the Final Four booth with Jim Nantz. While Kellogg is a great spokesman for the game, he was never the best option as lead in-game commentator for CBS. Because of that, I think he has always been judged a bit unfairly.
Kellogg is very good. He’s just not as good as Greg Anthony or Bill Raftery or Steve Kerr. It took CBS a few years to realize that, but that should be no knock on Kellogg’s announcing game, vegetation be damned.
Flemming is one of the announcers many of us never heard of but all of us should know. From a 2007 obit:
For more than 60 years, Mr. Flemming was one of the principal voices in the rise of electronic journalism in sports. He announced 11 Olympics and more than 600 events for "Wide World of Sports," once shuttling from hurling in Ireland to car racing in Santa Monica, Calif., to a parachuting contest in Bavaria, all in a single month.
Flemming makes this list for one simple reason: He was first. He was the first national television announcer of the Final Four, broadcasting the college basketball championship from 1963 through 1968 before the tournament moved to NBC.
The No. 6 Seeds
Fraschilla was a head coach in college basketball from 1992 to 2002, when he made the familiar move many coaches make when the marquee college jobs begin to dry up—he went to TV.
The thing about Fraschilla that has separated him from many other coaches who’ve made similar moves is that he really seems to do the work it takes to be a fantastic in-game and studio analyst. Even if you searched all around the world, there can’t be another former coach-turned-pundit with the same depth of knowledge about players at every level of the game.
I first met Doris Burke more than a decade ago when she was calling women’s basketball games for ESPN, and she immediately became one of my favorite announcers in the game. She was incredibly down to earth with everyone she met, from the players and coaches to the sports information directors and stat geeks sitting in press row behind her.
As Burke has moved up the ranks with ESPN, working as a sideline reporter, play-by-play announcer and game analyst for men’s and women’s college basketball and the NBA, she’s never lost that down-to-earth quality. She can talk to LeBron James the same way she talks to a college player, and truly, it’s the same way she’d talk to an SID in the media center.
She is great, and it’s a testament to her hard work that ESPN continues to give her such plum assignments.
If there is just one knock on her work, it’s that she falls into the same trap many announcers calling college basketball do today: overuse of the “Mister” tag.
If Jabari Parker has a big dunk, it’s “Mister Parker,” which is a call popularized by Dick Vitale that hasn’t really worked for anyone else. Burke is best when she’s her own voice, not when she’s trying to fit in with ESPN’s other top voices.
Over the years, CBS has employed an arsenal of talented and virtually nondescript play-by-play men to call NCAA games. Even Jim Nantz, who is as well known as anyone in the business, calls a very nondescript game. Frankly, it’s by design—and a big part of the reason why CBS never elevated Gus Johnson the way many fans felt they should have—and the prototype for their ideal play-by-play man has to be Eagle.
You wouldn’t know it, but the guy is pretty hilarious. He could make the game more about him or his style, but he’s chosen a career that lets his analyst, and the game itself, be the star.
Eagle is as solid and dependable as they come. A few years back, he called a huge early-season college hoops game for CBS on a Saturday, an NFL game Sunday and then flew halfway across the country for Monday Night Football on radio before heading back home to do a handful of NBA games the rest of that week. And every single game was called with the same level of professionalism and preparation as the one before it.
The former Georgetown coaching legend doesn’t do as much television as some of the other names on this list, but he has long been a giant—literally and figuratively—calling college basketball on radio.
He has a wealth of knowledge about both the history of the game and the current issues that still plague the sport today. He has been a mainstay in the NCAAs calling games, including the Final Four, for Westwood One.
The No. 5 Seeds
Of the final five seeds (the final 20 names) on this list, 13 are play-by-play announcers, with just seven serving the role of analyst. Of the 13 men who call games, any could be ranked as the best. Truly, can you say that any one of the remaining names is a more enjoyable listen than Nessler? We are officially splitting hairs.
But split we shall, as a ranking of "everyone is awesome" never really works. Nessler is awesome, and he knows exactly the right time to gin up the excitement for a big moment in a game. He is more known for other sports than college basketball, however, so it’s hard to rank him above others who perhaps have a more recognizable connection to hoops.
For 10 years I worked in an SID office, and for most of them I would take the train up to Madison Square Garden for the first day of the Big East tournament. After Rutgers got knocked out of the event, I would stay for the remainder of the first day—the years they made the second day were the best—and sit on press row to watch the other teams play.
Whenever St. John’s was on the court, I would try to get a seat as close to their radio box as possible, just so I had a chance to hear Cohen call the game I was watching live.
I hated St. John’s, almost as much as I hated the New York Mets, but I would listen to whatever games I could on the radio just to hear Cohen call them. (He’s called Seton Hall for about a decade now. Don’t get me started on how much I hate it.)
Cohen does work national radio for Westwood One in addition to calling Mets games on SNY, but he remains, to me, the best play-by-play announcer who has never made a huge splash nationally. That has to be by choice, because he’s as good as anyone out there.
Elmore is one of the few announcers still serving a dual role of analyst for ESPN and CBS. A few years ago, Jay Bilas proved too important to ESPN’s brand to let loose for NCAA tournament coverage. Bill Raftery departed ESPN for Fox this year to continue his work calling the Big East. Elmore is the last one left.
With all that, calling college basketball games should be nothing more than a hobby for Elmore. If it is, it’s a hobby he’s pretty darn great at doing.
On someone else’s list, Enberg might be a top seed and nobody could balk at that decision. Enberg called NCAA tournament games for CBS up until a few years ago, but his notoriety with the college basketball brackets goes back a generation.
Enberg first called the NCAA Final Four televised by NBC in 1976 alongside Curt Gowdy. Two years later, he formally replaced Gowdy as the lead college basketball announcer for NBC, a post he held until the Peacock network lost the tournament to CBS.
He is an absolute legend in the sports media world, and while he understandably lost a step as he finished out his time calling games for CBS, the tournament coverage has missed his signature call and iconic voice the last few seasons.
No. 4 Seed: Mike Patrick
There was a time not too long ago when Mike Patrick was clearly ESPN’s top basketball voice, working every big game for the network’s ACC coverage back when ACC basketball felt like the SEC does in football today.
Patrick has been with ESPN since 1982 and has called college basketball for the network—both men’s and women’s games—ever since. He moved off the ACC to cover the Big East and American conferences recently, but he still remains one of the most dependable game-callers in the business.
As a student one season, I worked as a sports information assistant during the NCAA women’s tournament and had the good fortune to work a game in Nashville that Patrick was calling. He made me feel as important as anyone else in the building—one of those experiences a young kid starting out in the business would never forget.
No. 4 Seed: Marv Albert
Corporate synergy be damned, I had to be the happiest person on the planet when it was announced a few years ago that Marv Albert would be calling NCAA tournament games again.
Without question, Albert is one of the best basketball announcers in the history of our industry, and while his career has been built on the broadcasting of NBA games, basketball is, at its core, the same at every level.
Albert is back in the tournament again in 2014, calling games up through the regional finals with Steve Kerr. There was talk that with the national semifinals airing on TBS, Albert, not Jim Nantz, might be in line to call part of the Final Four.
It’s not happening, but if it does in the future, would basketball fans consider that a spectacular move? “Yes!” (Sorry, I had to.)
No. 4 Seed: Brent Musburger
You are looking live...at one of the best college football announcers of all time.
Wait...football? Yes, Brent Musburger is one of the best football announcers of all time, which doesn’t make him a slouch on the hardwood by any means. Still, as the lead college football voice for ESPN—until next year, when he'll be moving on to the SEC Network, per an ESPN press release—college hoops has understandably taken a second line on his resume.
We wouldn’t have said that 20 years ago. Musburger was the lead college basketball announcer at CBS for years, calling the Final Four with Billy Packer from 1985 through the 1990 season before he was fired when a new regime took over.
What’s perhaps most interesting about this list is that while Musburger is certainly one of the top voices in the game, there are at least four names at his current company listed ahead of him. That probably speaks to the depth of talent calling games at ESPN more than anything.
No. 4 Seed: Jim Nantz
You might think Jim Nantz would be higher on this list, and if it were a list of announcers for golf, he would be. Nantz has been the lead voice for CBS for decades, moving from studio work earlier in his career into the booth for, well, everything the network seems to televise.
Nantz is the lead NFL announcer. He’s the lead golf announcer. He’s the lead college basketball announcer. He was even on an episode of How I Met Your Mother one time as the lead announcer in Barney Stinson’s brain.
That’s a lot of Nantz, and of all the sports he covers for the network—ostensibly everything but college football and tennis—college basketball has always been his weakest.
That’s not to suggest Nantz doesn’t call a game with extraordinary professionalism. In fact, that may be his biggest problem.
Nantz is a professional announcer, a throwback to the days of Curt Gowdy, Lindsey Nelson and Dick Enberg, when the top guy called everything. His style doesn’t capture the passion and craziness of college basketball that some of the other announcers are able to convey. It’s March Madness, after all.
It would be amazing to see how great he could be if he allowed himself to loosen up a bit when calling college games. Though in some respects, Nantz’s buttoned-up approach makes him perfect for today’s Final Four.
No. 3 Seed: Greg Anthony
Greg Anthony is one of the best analysts working today, and it was a brilliant move for CBS to pull him from the studio during the NCAA tournament to let him work as the top in-game analyst on its roster.
Anthony calls a straight game, not relying on catchphrases or gimmicks to get his point across. He’s not as demonstrative as some of the other analysts on this list, which works in his favor. Being paired with a straight-laced Jim Nantz will also afford Anthony the chance to stay within his comfort zone. He’s doesn’t have to be a rah-rah type of announcer just to keep up with his partner.
No. 3 Seed: Kevin Harlan
I would love to have Kevin Harlan around to commentate mundane parts of my life. “He is mowing this lawn with no regard for human life!”
The best part about Harlan’s enthusiasm is that it isn’t all he has to offer to a basketball telecast. He is great from tipoff to buzzer, with a fantastic combination of experience, timing and pitch-perfect bombast.
Harlan is probably most well known for his work with the NFL—both on TV and radio—or his work as a TNT announcer for the NBA, but his style has proven to be a perfect match for the madness of March.
No. 3 Seed: Jay Bilas
Jay Bilas is great, don’t get me wrong. He’s a fantastic analyst for ESPN in both the studio and an in-game setting. There may not be a better analyst of his generation in any sport working today.
It’s just, well, it’s hard to talk about Bilas as an analyst without talking about Bilas as an advocate for players’ rights. He has become the loudest critic of the NCAA and a supporter for a college athletics free market where schools should be allowed (read: encouraged) to share the immense wealth that comes from college athletics with those who play the game.
It’s a noble effort. And Bilas, who was once a standout basketball player at Duke, is in a perfect position as one of ESPN’s top voices to call attention to the problem. It’s just difficult to take the whole anti-NCAA stance as seriously as he wants when Bilas is handsomely profiting off those same athletes the NCAA is purportedly swindling.
Not only is he making a healthy living off the college game, but he works for a media company that profits off college athletes more than any other. ESPN spends hundreds of millions of dollars per year in rights fees for college football, basketball, baseball and other amateur sports. It takes in many more millions from advertisers and cable rights fees.
So, while Bilas is right that college players should be more fairly compensated based on the growth and success of the industry, it feels a bit like a clerk at Foot Locker complaining about the working conditions in an Indonesian sneaker factory.
Aside from that, when it comes down to breaking down two teams and analyzing a game, there’s really nobody better.
No. 3 Seed: Mike Tirico
I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing and chatting with Mike Tirico on several occasions, and he remains one of my favorite people in the industry on or off the air.
He is incredibly prepared for his assignments and continues to call college basketball games despite being one of ESPN’s top NFL, PGA and NBA announcers.
Tirico doesn’t need to call college basketball. He just loves it, and it comes through in his call of whatever game he does.
No. 2 Seed: Gus Johnson
I have my issues with Gus Johnson as an announcer, and they have been well documented, but I’ll give credit where credit is due and say that Johnson is one of the top college basketball announcers working today, which makes him one of the top voices in the history of the game.
There are few, if any, better than Johnson when a game is close in the waning moments. If you want a big moment chronicled for history, having him on the call is a great way to make it more memorable.
Now, Johnson isn’t as great when a game isn’t close, and his exuberance can often get in the way of explaining what’s actually happening on the court—granted, television allows viewers to see what’s going on instead of relying on the announcer, but yelling “wow” isn’t a necessarily effective way of describing the action either.
For a one-and-done setting at the end of the season, though, there aren’t many better than him.
No. 2 Seed: Sean McDonough
As I compiled this, Sean McDonough's name kept creeping up and up the list to the point where I actually considered moving him to the top line before settling him in as one of the three or four best play-by-play announcers in the game.
He has such a booming voice that it instantly adds gravitas to whatever he’s calling, and while he’s great at both football and baseball, his work on college basketball is his best.
McDonough is also no stranger to the NCAAs, having called tournament games during his decade-long stretch at CBS before returning to ESPN and ABC, but his work over the last few years during conference tournament week is what separates him from the pack.
McDonough doesn’t get the notoriety of some of his contemporaries, but he is every bit as deserving of attention.
No. 2 Seed: Dan Shulman
Of all the play-by-play announcers at ESPN—and there are a lot of them—Dan Shulman calling college basketball is my favorite announcer-to-sport combination across all platforms.
The best thing about Shulman is his ability to make his partners stronger during a telecast. He is great at leading his analysts throughout the game, asking poignant questions that not only enhance the in-game coverage but speak to the larger storylines involving the teams and the sport’s landscape as a whole.
He has even been great at handling a three-man booth when saddled with multiple analysts in the past, a difficult task for any play-by-play announcer but especially tough for basketball. He’s able to handle Dick Vitale every week, so he deserves all of the credit in the world for that, too! (I kid...sort of.)
Whether it’s close and late or the four-minute timeout in the first half of a blowout, Shulman always finds a way to make a game more interesting.
No. 2 Seed: Verne Lundquist
We’ve been on a parade of “this guy is very good” pages because, well, all of these guys are very good. Say what you want about Verne Lundquist as he’s aged, but he still seems to be at the top of his, or anyone’s, game.
So I’ll use this space to say something else. I know Lundquist is the top college football announcer for CBS and gets to call a ton of huge SEC games, including the SEC title game, which has been the de facto national championship semifinal (or sometimes final) for years. But it seems ridiculous that Lundquist has never called a Final Four for CBS.
CBS took over the NCAA tournament in 1982 with Gary Bender as the Final Four announcer for the first three years. Brent Musburger took over for the next six before making way for Jim Nantz, who has called every Final Four since 1991.
Can you give Uncle Verne one season? Hell, just give him and Bill Raftery one game. The semifinals are going to be aired on three networks this season, with truTV and TNT showing team-centric telecasts for those who want a Nantz-less experience at the Final Four. We can’t get Lundquist on one of those? Please.
No. 1 Seed: Jim Valvano
College basketball has always, on some level, been about the personalities. There may not be another man in the history of the game with a more vivacious and likable personality than Jim Valvano.
Valvano’s final season at NC State came in 1989-90. He was subsequently hired at ESPN and ABC, where he became an instant hit in the booth. He was a natural calling games on TV, winning a Cable Ace Award in his first year on the job.
When he was paired with Dick Vitale calling a game, it became appointment viewing...and probably a nightmare for the play-by-play announcer trying to get a word in.
From his 1993 obit in the Los Angeles Times, per Gene Wojciechowski:
At every opportunity, Valvano spoke passionately of his fight against the disease and urged others to join in.
"I look at where I am now," Valvano said in his March 4 acceptance of the Arthur Ashe Award for courage on ESPN, "and I know what I want to do. What I would like to be able to do is spend whatever time I have left, and to give maybe some hope to others.
"I want to bring (cancer research) back on the front table. We need your help. I need your help. We need money for research. It may not save my life, but it may save my children's lives. It may save someone you love."
Three days later, Valvano was back at work as a member of ABC's broadcast team for the Duke-North Carolina game at Chapel Hill, N.C. As always, he was greeted with an ovation.
Valvano passed away in late April 1993, and he was still trying to call games for as long as he could. To this day, his speech at the ESPYs remains one of the most replayed moments every year, and his foundation’s work to fight cancer is unlike any other cause connected to sports.
Valvano isn’t on this list because of that, however. He is on this list because he was fantastic on television, regardless of how short his career had to be.
No. 1 Seed: Al McGuire
McGuire won 404 games in his coaching career, the last of which came in the 1977 national title game as he led Marquette to its first and only championship.
He certainly went out on top.
McGuire soon went into broadcasting, working for both NBC and CBS in his long, illustrious career. From 1978 through the 1981 season that ended NBC’s run of hosting the NCAA tournament, he was paired with Billy Packer and Dick Enberg calling the Final Four.
McGuire’s on-air battles with Packer were legendary, and his effervescent style was a great contrast to Packer’s general stodginess.
McGuire, who passed away in 2001, was so revered as both a coach and a broadcaster that Enberg wrote a play about him, titled Coach: The Untold Story of College Basketball Legend Al McGuire (seriously, click that link) that debuted in 2005 and ran for more than five years.
No. 1 Seed: Dick Vitale
"He’s an acquired taste."
That’s what Verne Lundquist recently told SportsBusiness Journal about Dick Vitale. It seems Lundquist has yet to acquire that taste, which I assume is a cross between Hooters wings and DiGiorno frozen pizza.
As a kid, Vitale was a revelation. His unbridled joy of the game of basketball was amazing to see, and he managed to make every game he called into the biggest event of the day.
His catchphrases, like “diaper dandy” and “PTPer,” became part of the fabric of the game, as commonly used as being named all-conference or All-American.
As I got older, Vitale’s schtick never really changed, but my attitude toward it probably did. It became easy to knock Vitale for making the game more about him than the teams, but even with his incredible notoriety as a television commentator, his passion never came off as phony. Annoying, yes, but never phony.
In recent years, I’ve come back around on Vitale—you might say I’ve reacquired the taste—thanks in large part to his presence on Twitter. Yes, he is huge into social media, commenting on not just college basketball, but anything in sports or anything on his mind.
He hides from nobody and takes all the criticism, including that from Lundquist, with the same lighthearted nature he calls a game. Vitale is in on the act, for sure. He knows how rich and famous his gimmick has made him, and he understands it’s not for everyone. There is no denying, however, what he has meant to the game of college basketball. (Here is a good look at Vitale’s entrance into broadcasting over at The Sherman Report.)
Make no mistake, Vitale is as important to the game as any coach today. He is, in every way, a PTPer.
No. 1 Seed: Bill Raftery
Simply the best.
Bill Raftery has everything Vitale brings in terms of energy and passion and knowledge of the game. His catchphrases and signature sayings are as memorable as anyone in sports.
“Man-a-man,” “a little kiss,” “a little lingerie lingering" (which is my personal favorite) and, of course, “Onions!” which longtime NBA partner Ian Eagle explained here.
From a 2013 piece on Raftery and Lundquist by Dan Steinberg at The Washington Post:
Both men wish ardently to avoid becoming a broadcasting caricature – “you get to feel like a schmuck after a while,” Raftery said when asked about his “man-to-man!!” call that leads off the broadcast. But Lundquist, who has resisted trademark calls, said that Raftery shouldn’t worry about extra onions.
“We don’t use it that often,” Lundquist said. “It’s not like every great play. This sounds ridiculous, but Bill’s very judicious in his use of onions. He really is. He uses the phrase when it’s called for.
It’s not just the one-liners that make Raftery so good. He has such a depth of knowledge of the sport that he makes calling a game seem as if he didn’t even need to prepare. He just seems to know everything, and everyone, in the game.
And his affection for the sport comes through in every telecast. It doesn’t matter if he’s calling the Final Four, which he does on radio with Kevin Kugler and John Thompson, or a midseason mid-major, Raftery finds a way to accentuate the positives in absolutely everything.
That’s not to say he can’t be critical. Raftery is a fair analyst, but he does it in a way that doesn’t show anybody up, especially the players. He roots for everyone, but not in an over-the-top way that seems insincere. He genuinely wants every shot to go in, every call to be right and every team to play its best in every game.
Raf loves the game, and everyone who loves the game loves Raf. Truth be told, I don’t want to know you if you don’t love him. Simply, he is the best announcer in college basketball.
College Basketball Announcers Bracket
Again, the idea of a bracket was just a fun way to rank these announcers. Our bracket is chalk, and you can take the order in which they were placed in this story as each seeding's overall ranking.
But...just for fun, if we were to have an official college basketball announcers bracket, it would look something like this.