The NCAA Tournament is looming, and on Wednesday morning we made a stride closer, as Turner Sports revealed the announcer pairings for the upcoming extravaganza.
There are, in short, a LOT of changes from 2014.
Last season, the NCAA Tournament crews looked something like this:
|Jim Nantz||Greg Anthony, Steve Kerr (Final Four only)||Tracy Wolfson|
|Marv Albert||Steve Kerr||Craig Sager|
|Verne Lundquist||Bill Raftery||Allie LaForce|
|Kevin Harlan||Len Elmore, Reggie Miller||Rachel Nichols|
|Ian Eagle||Jim Spanarkel||Lewis Johnson|
|Brian Anderson||Dan Bonner||Kristine Leahy|
|Spero Dedes||Doug Gottlieb||Jaime Maggio|
|Andrew Catalon||Mike Gminski||Otis Livingston|
The big news going into last year's event was Greg Anthony joining the mix in the first crew to call the Final Four with Jim Nantz, after Clark Kellogg was thrust into a studio role. Also, rising star and sideline reporter Allie LaForce made the leap up to the No. 3 crew, as she took part in helping call the East Regional from Madison Square Garden in New York City. Andrew Catalon and Kristine Leahy made their respective debuts as well.
This year, there's a LOT of reshuffling. Per the NCAA website, here are the pairings for this year:
|Jim Nantz||Bill Raftery, Grant Hill||Tracy Wolfson|
|Marv Albert||Chris Webber, Len Elmore||Craig Sager|
|Verne Lundquist||Jim Spanarkel||Allie LaForce|
|Kevin Harlan||Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner||Rachel Nichols|
|Ian Eagle||Doug Gottlieb||Evan Washburn|
|Brian Anderson||Steve Smith||Lewis Johnson|
|Spero Dedes||Mike Gminski||Jaime Maggio|
|Andrew Catalon||Steve Lappas||Jamie Erdahl|
Turner wasn't shy, apparently, about reshuffling the deck.
What we have here are EIGHT brand spankin' new announce teams. You can likely expect, within the month of March leading up to March Madness, for these teams to get a bit of a workout on the CBS networks.
The first crew should likely be the best overall crew. While some aren't fans of Nantz's style, he does bring a lot to the table. Raftery, calling his first ever Final Four, should no doubt bring his A-game to the table and Grant Hill is a very solid analyst. Wolfson is a pro and should no doubt perform well as the courtside reporter for the Final Four, as she has done for many years now.
From there, things get absurd. With Steve Kerr becoming the head coach of the NBA's Golden State Warriors, it was obvious to everyone that someone had to level up to join the legendary Marv Albert. Apparently, Turner decided to bring two names up. Len Elmore and Chris Webber will be joining Marv at the broadcast booth with Craig Sager, who battled leukemia for much of 2014, returning to courtside for this event.
The shakeup then continues with the third pairing of the group. With Raftery heading to the Final Four, Turner needed to slot someone with the always entertaining Verne Lundquist. That man happens to be Jim Spanarkel, who for many years has called games alongside the great Ian Eagle. Turner decided to blow that pairing up and bring Spanarkel along for the regional, and Allie LaForce will once again be in the spotlight with them.
Now, here is where things get very interesting. For the past few years, Kevin Harlan has been working with three-man crews, including last year with Reggie Miller and Len Elmore. With two three-man crews already set, you might expect that maybe Turner would shy away from it and give Harlan just one color commentator to join him. Nope. Reggie Miller and Dan Bonner will be alongside Harlan and courtside reporter Rachel Nichols to call the fourth regional.
This is perhaps the most interesting of the groups as having not one, not two, but three three-man commentator groups might seem a bit too heavy for most. We'll see how this pans out for Turner/CBS, but for now from my perspective, I'll rule this as overkill.
The four crews who will not be doing regional semifinals and finals were shaken up as well. After spending many years with Jim Spanarkel, Ian Eagle will now be calling games with Doug Gottlieb. For those who don't think the world of Gottlieb, they will likely hope that the brilliant Eagle will carry him here. Evan Washburn will be making his NCAA Tournament debut, joining this pairing as its reporter.
Brian Anderson worked with the likes of Dan Bonner for the last three years, and will now be calling games with former Michigan State Spartan Steve Smith, who has worked on NBATV and the NBA on TNT in years past, and also will be making his NCAA Tourney debut. This has the potential to be a pretty good crew, as Smith is a good analyst, and BA is, in my opinion, one of the most underlooked all-around commentators in sports television. This pairing will be joined by Lewis Johnson as its reporter.
After working with Doug Gottlieb for a few years, Spero Dedes will be joined along with Mike Gminski who was not around for the 2014 NCAA Tournament. We last saw him in 2013, working with Tim Brando who now has a job with FOX Sports. Dedes is a crisp, fluid and talented young announcer who has done well calling NCAA Tournament games as well as doing work for the New York Knicks. Jaime Maggio, current employee for Time Warner Cable SportsNet in Los Angeles, and Turner's versatile reporter who has spent time working the sidelines in the NFL, in the dugout of MLB Postseason coverage and has worked the NBA postseason coverage for TNT, will be this group's reporter.
Finally, Andrew Catalon is back after making an unfortunate slip-up in last year's event. He will be joined by Steve Lappas, who has worked games for CBS Sports Network and has also been featured on CBSSN's Inside College Basketball show. Jamie Erdahl, who does reporting for CBS college football, basketball and the NFL, as well as hosting on the dot com, will be making her NCAA Tournament debut as the reporter for this group.