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2017 NCAA Tournament commentator pairings revealed

You know it’s March when we can start talking about this.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Villanova vs North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday brought the awaited revealing of the 2017 NCAA Tournament commentator pairings. With only two weeks to go until the first day of the tourney - a celebrated day across the sports spectrum - CBS and Turner Sports published the pairings in a press release handed out in the morning.

Let’s have a look shall we?

Play-By-Play Analysts Reporter
Play-By-Play Analysts Reporter
Jim Nantz Bill Raftery, Grant Hill Tracy Wolfson
Brian Anderson Chris Webber Lewis Johnson
Verne Lundquist Jim Spanarkel Allie LaForce
Kevin Harlan Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner Dana Jacobson
Ian Eagle Steve Lavin Evan Washburn
Spero Dedes Steve Smith, Len Elmore Ros Gold-Onwude
Andrew Catalon Steve Lappas Jamie Erdahl
Carter Blackburn Mike Gminski, Debbie Antonelli Lisa Byington

So, there are quite a few cosmetic changes here from last year. Let’s start with the consistencies. Once again, Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson get the coveted top crew in this year’s NCAA Tournament again, meaning we will hear their voices in Glendale. Elsewhere, the trio of Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel and Allie LaForce remains the same for the third consecutive year. The only other crew not to change over from 2016 is the pairing of Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas and Jamie Erdahl, who are also working their third straight tournament as a group.

That of course isn’t to say that some of the pairings here aren’t consistent. Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Dan Bonner are again working together as are Carter Blackburn and Mike Gminski. But from there, things have gotten jumbled quite a bit.

For starters, Lewis Johnson has been bumped up to the No. 2 crew. Since the CBS/Turner merging, Johnson has worked each year as a sideline reporter. 2017 will mark his fourth time working a regional and his first time up in the No. 2 spot. He had been previously working with the trio of Harlan, Miller and Bonner but will now be with the new pairing of Brian Anderson and Chris Webber. Anderson of course was notably promoted last year after a great showing during the 2015 Elite Eight game between Kentucky and Notre Dame, subbing in for a sick Marv Albert. Anderson’s partner will now be Webber as opposed to Steve Smith, who was bumped up with him last year. Interestingly, after working with the fifth crew and away from a regional, C-Webb is back with the No. 2 crew after being there in 2015.

Dana Jacobson, who was promoted up to the regional crew last year will again be working a regional this year. CBS and Turner have decided to shy away from the usual and put her with the Turner commentators of Harlan, Miller and Bonner. They, of course, did this last year with Anderson and Smith too despite Jacobson primarily being a focus on CBS.

Things get a touch different after that. Ian Eagle won’t be working a regional on TV (likely due to his affiliation with Westwood One radio) and will have a new dance partner this year: Steve Lavin. Big East fans know Lavin of course from not only his time with the St. John’s Red Storm but on Fox Sports telecasts as well. This is intriguing to say the least as we aren’t sure whether this is a sign of things to come for Lavin or a one-time thing. But, nevertheless, Lavin will be a new voice on tournament broadcasts in 2017. They, along with Evan Washburn, should be a pretty good tandem. Eagle is a respected national voice who is one of the top commentators in sports while Lavin is a pretty exceptional analyst himself.

Then, we go down and find Spero Dedes who has worked with Doug Gottlieb for a number of years now. Evidently, that is no longer the case. Dedes will be tagged with the aforementioned Steve Smith and longtime broadcaster Len Elmore with the No. 6 group this year. They will be joined by Ros Gold-Onwude, a sideline reporter who made her first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2016 after gaining recognition and prowess on Golden State Warriors broadcasts on CSN Bay Area. She has since been affiliated with Turner Sports since last year. This, too, should be a pretty solid pairing.

Finally we go down to the final pairing which proves to be eye-popping in its own right. Carter Blackburn will again be working the NCAA Tournament after doing so last year, and will be joined by Mike Gminksi for the second straight year. But, that’s not all. Debbie Antonelli, who has been featured on a wide variety of telecasts around several networks (CBS, Fox, ESPN, BTN, Westwood One, etc.) will be joining Blackburn and Gminski on color. She will become the first woman since Ann Meyers Drysdale in 1995 to be featured in an NCAA Tournament commentator booth when her first game tips off. Lisa Byington, who has been featured on Chicago Sky telecasts as well as Big Ten Network and FS1 will be joining them on reporter duties.

So if you’ve followed through here you will notice that a couple of familiar faces are absent this year. After being on sideline duties since the Turner/CBS merger, Jaime Maggio will not a fixture this year. Maggio, of course, is occupied with Dodgers, Lakers and Galaxy telecasts in studio over on Spectrum SportsNet in LA but evidently will be staying out in SoCal. Another primary fixture absent from the NCAA Tournament this year will be Doug Gottlieb. Since moving to CBS, Gottlieb has worked each of the last four tournaments. But, he is rumored to be heading to Fox, so this could explain his absence not only from games but from the studio also.

Brad Nessler is another name whose absence may surprise some. In fairness, in the press release that welcomed him back to CBS Sports, it was never mentioned that he would be doing NCAA Tournament games but instead just “select college basketball games.”

As far as the First Four telecasts go, these crews will be calling the games:

Tuesday: Brian Anderson, Clark Kellogg, Lewis Johnson

Wednesday: Spero Dedes, Steve Smith, Len Elmore, Ros Gold-Onwude

Studio coverage will remain largely the same, although there are some new additions to the cast. Ernie Johnson, Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith will be partaking yet again along with Seth Davis and Wally Szczerbiak. Brendan Haywood joins the crew after spending time on CBS Sports Network while the great Adam Zucker will be brought into the fold too, as he will provide updates from New York. Casey Stern, a fixture on MLB on TBS broadcasts, will be leading coverage from the Atlanta studio this time around for the first weekend of action before EJ replaces him in the second weekend.