On Tuesday morning, CBS Sports and Turner Sports revealed the commentator pairings for the upcoming 2016 NCAA Tournament, and for the second straight season, the deck has been reshuffled quite a bit.
With the departures of both Marv Albert and Rachel Nichols, two top-tier voices in their respective fields, it was expected that we'd see someone get both promoted and added into the field to fill both vacancies. And upon checking of the commentator pairings, that is exactly what's happened.
|Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill||Tracy Wolfson|
|Brian Anderson, Steve Smith||Dana Jacobson|
|Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel||Allie LaForce|
|Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner||Lewis Johnson|
|Ian Eagle, Chris Webber, Len Elmore||Evan Washburn|
|Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb||Ros Gold-Onwude|
|Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas||Jamie Erdahl|
|Carter Blackburn, Mike Gminski||Jaime Maggio|
Alright, so where do we begin with this?
Let's start at the top. For the second straight year, the great Bill Raftery joins Jim Nantz, Grant Hill and ace sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson as the No. 1 crew. Raftery will be calling his second Final Four and National Championship Game after making the leap last year. This was pretty much expected and is also the right move, as Nantz, love him or not, is the voice of CBS Sports in this current generation, Raftery is all-around excellent on color and is a favorite amongst college hoops fans, and Grant Hill has typically been great on color. Wolfson is still tops on the sidelines and will be there for the eighth consecutive season.
The same goes for crew No. 3, one of the few here that did not have a shakeup, as Verne Lundquist will again be joined by Jim Spanarkel and Allie LaForce. Verne may be close to the finish line when it comes to broadcasting as he'll turn 76 later this year, but he's always good for some great calls and his style is still well liked. Spanarkel is a very underrated color commentator and has gotten burn this year on both FOX Sports and CBS Sports and should be good again next to Lundquist. Allie LaForce remains as one of the best young sideline reporters around, and she'll be calling her third consecutive regional round, this after making her debut back in only 2013.
Here's where things got fun.
Back in February I pondered between two choices to get the call-up to the regional rounds after Marv Albert announced his departure from NCAA Tournament games. Those two were Ian Eagle and Brian Anderson, two excellent play-by-play men who each deserved promotions in their own right. Well, it appears that Turner and CBS have given BA the ball and told him to run with it. Anderson, joined by Steve Smith and Dana Jacobson, are the No. 2 crew in this year's NCAA Tournament. This comes after Anderson and Smith were the No. 6 crew last year, so they got a major bump.
Anderson's spontaneously great work in the Elite Eight matchup between Notre Dame and Kentucky may have likely helped lean him towards this well-deserved promotion. I do wonder aloud, as a friend told me in a discussion I had with him the other day, if perhaps Ian Eagle's radio duties with Westwood One played a factor. Remember, Eagle does do first and second round coverage for Turner/CBS and is on radio duties for Westwood One in the regional rounds.
So perhaps Westwood One wanted to continue having him around for that as he is one of their signature voices for the event on their array of stations. Nonetheless, BA getting the big bump here is tremendous and I have no doubt that he'll shine. Being alongside Steve Smith, a very good analyst, for the second straight year should assist when it comes to chemistry and Dana Jacobson should bring her A-game on the sidelines. Jacobson was a last-minute addition last year in Pittsburgh and did a pretty good job, all told.
As predicted, it's Carter Blackburn who will be joining the field after doing very solid work on the SEC on CBS this past season as well as several college hoops games on CBS Sports Network for the past few years. Blackburn is rising up the charts slowly amongst young play-by-play men in the business and should be a featured voice on March Madness coverage for years to come.
Another mystery was who was replacing Rachel Nichols, who is now with ESPN. The answer to that question is none other than Ros Gold-Onwude. Gold-Onwude has done a few games this year for the NBA on TNT's coverage so this was likely a straight up Turner pick, and that makes a tonnage of sense since they were the ones, after all, to lose Nichols' services. Another departure was Craig Sager, as it appears that Sager will be doing only NBA on TNT duties much like his comrade Albert.
So, Jacobson and Gold-Onwude are the additions on the sidelines, much like Anderson and Blackburn got their respective bump and promotion.
Elsewhere, there were a few changes. Chris Webber and Len Elmore, who were alongside Marv Albert last year, have been swapped out and will now be providing color commentary with Eagle this year as the No. 5 crew. Evan Washburn joins the three-man crew on the sidelines after serving as the No. 5 sideline reporter last year and has emerged as a big hit with CBS Sports in the last few years.
The three-man team of Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Len Elmore is back again for the second straight year. Joining those three are Lewis Johnson, a well-respected sideline reporter who has done all sorts of work with CBS as well as the NBA on TNT. Johnson last year was with Anderson and Spanarkel on the No. 6 crew, so he much like his new colleague has been handed a promotion this year.
Spero Dedes and Doug Gottlieb are back as a unit after a one year hiatus. Last year, Dedes called games with Mike Gminski as his color commentator, while Gottlieb provided color with Eagle as his play-by-play man. Different this year from the last few though is that Dedes and Gottlieb will be working with the aforementioned Gold-Onwude, whom of course has provided sideline reporting for the NBA on TNT this year as well as providing a presence for the Golden State Warriors' telecasts on CSN Bay Area.
Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas and CBS Sports sideline reporter Jamie Erdahl will once again be teaming up this year after spending time in the last year building up their chemistry. They worked together in last year's NCAA Tournament as the No. 8 crew and have been bumped up to the No. 7 spot. Catalon's debut in the field came back in 2014 and he bounced back in a big way in 2015 after having an unfortunate slip-up in 2014. Lappas' energetic style is always a treat and should be once again this year. And Erdahl is still a relatively new face amongst the crowd here as she made her debut with the No. 8 crew last year after spending time reporting for college football/basketball games on CBS Sports Network as well as NFL and CBSSports.com digital content. In the last year, Erdahl has been on the scene for multiple games across the networks of CBS and her stock could be rising after this outing here in 2016. Catalon, Lappas, and Erdahl will call First Four games in Dayton next Tuesday.
And this time around, the No. 8 crew this year will be Carter Blackburn, Mike Gminski and Jaime Maggio. Blackburn, as mentioned, is ascending up the ladder at CBS and it comes as no surprise that he will be getting a chance to call games in The Big Dance this year. Gminski is a solid, veteran color commentator who should no doubt help Blackburn ease into his role and CBS/Turner probably could not have picked a better guy to do that. Maggio has been terrific in the past on sideline duties and although she has not been on the call for any Turner broadcasts in the past year since the NBA Playoffs, she will still have a presence here in 2016. Like Catalon/Lappas/Erdahl, Blackburn, Gminski and Maggio will call First Four action in Dayton, but will be calling games on Wednesday.
Overall, I think Turner and CBS got this right. I thought last year that the three three-men crews was a bit of overkill but there wasn't anything too nefarious or off putting about any of them. That shouldn't change much in 2016. Brian Anderson getting his due and getting the big promotion is perhaps the biggest story coming out of these pairings and it is richly deserved for a play-by-play man who has flown under the radar in recent years. I get the feeling that after this year's NCAA Tournament, that won't be happening anymore. The additions of Gold-Onwude, Jacobson, and Blackburn in their respective places mixed along continuity with the teams of Lundquist/Spanarkel/LaForce, Harlan/Miller/Bonner, Nantz/Raftery/Hill among others should provide for top-notch commentary.
Hang tight folks. March Madness is just a week away!