Rating the Sweet Sixteen Announcers

Posted by jstevrtc on March 26th, 2009

John Stevens is a featured writer for Rush The Court.

It looks like CBS has made its selections and placements for the Sweet 16 announcing crews.  I think this is important for a couple of reasons; first, because we got us some heavyweights going at it this weekend and these matchups deserve top-drawer announcers; and second, because when you consider some of the tournament’s great moments, the announcing calls are just as much a part of the history as the actual visual images.  It’s good to have the big boys behind the mics in case a legendary event happens.  That said, let’s take a look at, and rate, the pairings.

The New #1 Crew
The New #1 Crew (image credit: daylife.com)

SOUTHJim Nantz (pbp) and Clark Kellogg (color)
Games:  North Carolina v. Gonzaga and Syracuse v. Oklahoma (Friday)
Grade:  C+

This is the premiere crew, as CBS would have you believe.  I give this pairing a C+ because I think these two gentlemen are still working on their rhythm with Kellogg having taken over the seat previously occupied by Billy Packer.  Jim Nantz, despite being one of the consensus nice guys in television and a man who has more than put in his time as far as being a basketball announcer, has just never done it for me as a play-by-play man.  He’s always struck me as a big-picture, in-the-studio guy, the captain of the whole ship.  I have nothing against Kellogg or Nantz as individuals, but because they’re still feeling each other out this late in the year, I don’t think it’s the “premiere,” automatic, Final Four crew any more.  Plus, Syracuse v. Oklahoma is going to be an absolute war, and I think it’s a game that’s just tailor-made for Gus Johnson at the play-by-play mic, or Raftery doing color, or — God help us all — both.

Lundquist and Raf. (image credit: ning.com)

EAST Verne Lundquist (pbp) and Bill Raftery (color)
Games:  Pittsburgh v. Xavier and Villanova v. Duke (Thursday)
Grade:  B

I’ll admit, there’s really no reason to give this pairing anything other than an ‘A’ except for my own sour grapes.  I always loved the pairing of Lundquist with Len Elmore.  Plus, if CBS reunited them, it could slide Raftery over to the seat next to Gus Johnson and blow the speakers out of your television.  Both Lundquist and Raftery still give me the impression that they’re still amazed to be getting paid for doing this for a living, and when that comes through, it always enhances my enjoyment of a game they’re calling.  Especially Raf.  Those tag-lines that we all know — “The Kiss!” or “A little lingerie, Mr. Lundquist!” or “Onions!!” — just never get old to me.  Also, if a legendary moment presents itself, you know neither of these guys is going to drop the ball.

Len and Gus  (inage credit: Awful Announcing)
Len and Gus (image credit: sportsbusinessdaily.com)

MIDWEST Gus Johnson (pbp) and Len Elmore (color)
Games:  Louisville v. Arizona and Kansas v. Michigan State (Friday)
Grade:  A

My personal favorite pairing.  I think Len Elmore (and his Harvard Law degree) is one of the most underrated color commentators in the business.  He’s so steady, but when the guy gets fired up over a nice pass or a deep three, it’s just great.  He’s informative without being paternalistic and he brings more actual on-court basketball experience to the mic than anyone else listed here.  Gus Johnson, of course, we all know about.  He has the touch.  Seriously, the man could do the play-by-play for a funeral and make it exciting.  He could do a call of me doing my taxes and you’d end up wishing you’d been there live.  I think he’d have been better suited for the West region (esp. doing the Memphis/Mizzou game), but these four teams will give him many opportunities to shine.

Fun With Dick and Jay  (photo credit: hoopwriters.com)
Fun With Dick and Jay (photo credit: hoopwriters.com)

WESTDick Enberg (pbp) and Jay Bilas (color)
Games:  Connecticut v. Purdue and Missouri v. Memphis (Thursday)
Grade:  B-

Make no mistake, Enberg is the living legend, here.  Even at age 74 he can still convey excitement as well as anyone out there and he knows how to fill when there’s a blowout and/or things get a little slow (maybe even a few bars of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” Dick?  No?  OK…).  Jay Bilas seems to inspire a lot of anger in some folks who think he favors Duke a little since he played for them, but I disagree; I’ve found him to be completely objective; I think he “tells it like it is” as well as anyone else, I think he correctly chooses his spots for humor, and I think he just continues to get better.  Still, I like him better as a studio guy, and he and Enberg still aren’t totally in sync in my opinion.  I also think these guys should have been switched with the duo from the Midwest.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad pairing — but I tack on the minus because as a duo, it’s not quite Lundquist/Raftery.

CBS has actually put itself in a nice position, here, because there aren’t any truly grievous errors in my view.  I’ve read where a few people think that Kevin Harlan should be subbed for Enberg, but I disagree; Enberg is one of the all-timers and he’s earned his seat.  With any of these guys behind the mic at any game, you won’t be wanting for anything.  This tournament hasn’t had its signature moment, yet, which means it’s still to come.  Wherever it happens I have no doubt that it won’t be lost on any of these gentlemen — and that’s what’s important.

jstevrtc (547 Posts)

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6 responses to “Rating the Sweet Sixteen Announcers”

  1. hoopinion says:

    Len Elmore failed to identify the triangle-and-two that Kansas used for about a dozen defensive possessions in the Dayton game. He called it at various times man-to-man, a 2-3 zone, and a diamond-and-one. It’s not like this is the first time all year Bill Self used that defense, either. It was a shocking display by a professional analyst.

  2. I think Lundquist/Raftery should have gotten an “A”! I would have ranked them this way:

    1. Lundquist/Raftery
    2. Engberg/Bilas
    3. Johnson/Elmore
    4. Nance/Kellogg

    Raftery is the best of the bunch by far! He gets me excited just to be watching the games! It’s ridiculous and I think you are spot on about those two having the air of “I CAN’T BELIEVE I GET PAID TO DO THIS!” about them which is infectious even for those at home. It makes you feel like “I can’t believe I’m actually watching this game!” One thing Lundquist does too is point out that Raftery was a former coach and plays up the color guy. The best I ever heard was when Lundquist said something about Wade liking cajun food or something and Raftery yelling: “JUMBALAYA” or something like that!

    I really like Bilas and Enberg is a classic. I think Bilas has a wealth of knowledge and I always feel like I’ve learned something about the game when he does the color. It’s nowhere near what I learn if I’m listening to Steve Stone do a baseball game, but it’s still the sort of rare thing really good color guys can pull off.

    I’m with you on Gus Johnson and the Gus Johnson/Bill Raftery pairing would INCREDIBLE! I’m not a huge fan of Elmore really. I just can’t get into him but I think that’s relatively speaking. You are right about Johnson making anything exciting and he’s got a lot of that persona that Raftery and Lundquist have about not believing that get paid to watch basketball for a living. Johnson is just like that and because of that I think it makes Elmore more appealing.

    Nance and Kellogg just don’t work for me. I mean I’d rather listen to somebody scratch their nails on a chalkboard instead of listening to Billy Packer so it’s a step in the right direction. Still not as good as the other 3.

    I’ll catch hell for this but I wish ESPN would have let Dick Vitale call NCAA Tournament games. It needs him in areas like this. I personally love Vitale and will watch ANY game he does simply because he bring so much excitement to the game. He just has that same quality that Lundquist, Raftery, and Johnson have about showing they are doing something that is incredibly fun and can’t believe they are there. It’s fun to hear that. Good topic this. I love talking about the announcers.

  3. Giggity says:

    If Raftery and Gus were together, I splooge all over the screen.

  4. tallguy says:

    Elmore is fine as long as he’s not calling a game involving Duke or Maryland, or like this year, Duke vs Maryland (“f Maryland got a few calls, this game would be close” when maryland went to the locker run down 40-15).

  5. Rob says:


    @ Giggity – enjoy that. One of the all-time greatest calls IMO. I love the fact that there is just non-sensical babble for about 30 seconds after he hits the shot. I think I even heard a Larry Bird in there.

  6. jstevrtc says:

    Rob — yeah, that’s a great call. I love that one. It’s great when you have a perfect storm of announcers and a great game and big-time players making big plays. I was actually going to do a column on my top 5 or 10 favorite Gus Johnson or Bill Raftery moments and include the YouTube or Google Video files, and let people vote on which was their favorite as well. I might save it for the off-season when we’re all jonesing for college basketball. I’ll ask rtmsf about it and if he approves it, I’ll do it.

    In my “research” (ha) for that article, I found a great YouTube montage of great Gus Johnson calls. If I can find it again I’ll post it here. Probably pretty easily located.

    I think the big question is which announcing crew will be there for this tournament’s signature moment? That moment has not happened yet, and it intrigues me who will happen in front of, and how they’ll make history with it.

    Baseball Savant — I agree, it’s tough for me to give Raf anything else but an A. That guy has given me more college basketball enjoyment than I could ever recall. But with four crews I only wanted there to be one ‘A’ given out. Like I said in the piece, they could just as easily have gotten an ‘A’ but I’m really hooked on Johnson and Elmore recently.

    Great comments by all, and keep ’em coming. Thanks for reading. Love the discussion.

    John Stevens

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