Rating the Sweet Sixteen AnnouncersPosted 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.
SOUTH — Jim Nantz (pbp) and Clark Kellogg (color)
Games: North Carolina v. Gonzaga and Syracuse v. Oklahoma (Friday)
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.
EAST — Verne Lundquist (pbp) and Bill Raftery (color)
Games: Pittsburgh v. Xavier and Villanova v. Duke (Thursday)
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.
MIDWEST — Gus Johnson (pbp) and Len Elmore (color)
Games: Louisville v. Arizona and Kansas v. Michigan State (Friday)
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.
WEST — Dick Enberg (pbp) and Jay Bilas (color)
Games: Connecticut v. Purdue and Missouri v. Memphis (Thursday)
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.