Last weekend we witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly that came with TNT exporting its announcers for coverage of March Madness. Read on to see how we graded each new broadcaster.
Marv Albert: A
Yus! Albert’s job as a play-by-play man is easier than a color guy and a studio analyst because he mostly just gets to describe what’s happening in front of him, but it was clear last weekend why Albert has won five Emmy Awards for his work. The man is a chameleon and you wouldn’t have known he’s spent over 40 years calling mostly NBA games from listening to his broadcasts from Tulsa, OK.
It might not have been a Gus Johnson call, but Albert provided a great play-by-play of Derrick Williams’ Superman act at the end of the Texas game on Sunday.
Craig Sager: A
Sager has become nothing more than a court jester at TNT and the only thing we can really grade him on is the absurdity of his suits. Well, Sager brought his “A” game to Friday’s NCAA tournament games, showing up in the same pink plaid blazer that Kevin Garnett once told him he should burn.
Pace yourself, Craig.
Steve Kerr: A-
Talk about pressure: Not only did Kerr have to prove himself worthy of calling the Final Four broadcast with Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg, he also had to stay unbiased while calling games of his alma mater, Arizona. He passed both tests with flying colors.
It probably didn’t hurt that Kerr had a built-in advantage since he got to call the games of a team he already follows, but he was very knowledgeable and frequently referenced games earlier in the season – always a plus. He gets docked only slightly for calling the Big 12 the Big 10 during the Kansas-Illinois game and admitting at the end of the Texas-Arizona game he wasn’t sure about a rule on the college level.
Ernie Johnson: B+
It’s hard to be too hard on Ernie because CBS made the absurd decision to put him and Greg Gumbel on the set at the same time, which led to several awkward moments and Gumbel losing his bearings when he accidentally called CBS “ESPN.”
Like Albert, Johnson is a consummate pro who has done it all during his broadcasting career and handled March Madness in stride. But it’s hard to give him a higher mark considering the awkward set-up and his TNT sidekicks consistently letting him down.
Reggie Miller: B
Miller also had a leg up as he was paired up with Kevin Harlan, who has broadcast the tournament for years and also works with Miller on TNT’s NBA coverage. Miller had some good moments, like saying Jordan Taylor needed to step up if Wisconsin wanted to beat Kansas State right before the Badger hit a monster 3-pointer and getting very animated during the double-overtime game between San Diego State and Temple.
But a straight-shooting announcer isn’t nearly as effective when he seems unsure of himself, and Miller often stumbled on words and names most likely due to his unfamiliarity with the teams and players (Note to Reggie: It’s Jamar Samuels not “Jamar Sandals”).
Charles Barkley: C
Let’s be clear: Charles Barkley was brought onto the CBS set to provide entertainment, not analysis. And he still provided some great comedy by calling the Big East the “Itty Bitty East” (a conference he said even before the tournament started was way overrated) and ripping Louisville for destroying his bracket with Rick Pitino sitting right next to him.
Barkley would be great if they cut to him every once in awhile for a comedic riff but replacing Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis – who covers the sport year round and has consistently done a good job for CBS – on the primary set? That’s just tragic. Barkley consistently referred to players as “the kid from (fill in school)” and showed no knowledge of the teams he was discussing.
And as pointed out by Chris Chase over at “The Dagger,” CBS failed at recreating the chemistry over at TNT by obsessively showing Barkley’s terrible bracket. Even worse, Barkley’s schtick that works so well at TNT instead came across like he was completely disinterested in the games last weekend.
Kenny Smith: D-
We hate to be so hard on Smith since he’s great at TNT and was nothing but nice to us last week during our Q&A with “The Jet.” But his work on March Madness so far has been a complete crash landing, starting when he called Xavier guard Tu Holloway “Tu Holliday” on Selection Sunday.
Smith seems as unprepared as Sir Charles – which is a problem when you are supposed to be the insightful analyst – and looks intimated sitting next to analyst Greg Anthony, who has transformed into an excellent college basketball analyst in just a little over two years on the job. As Anthony rattled off names and insight, Smith looked like he wished he could crawl under a rock.
Case in point: After Kentucky’s win over West Virginia on Saturday, Anthony pointed out that the Wildcats were able to come back from an eight-point halftime deficit because they made an adjustment to put their best defender, DeAndre Liggins, on a red-hot Joe Mazzulla – an excellent analysis that wouldn’t show up in the box score and wasn’t mentioned during the telecast.
Smith’s response? (Paraphrasing) “Can you believe these Kentucky freshmen were on the couch watching this tournament eight months ago?”