The Top 64 NCAA College Basketball Announcers of All Time
Every March, this nation becomes crazy—dare I say mad—for brackets. It’s not just the NCAA tournament bracket that gets people nuts. People just love to see things in brackets. Heck, for two years, I did a bracket of all the best brackets, and people seemed to love debating which bracket would win that make-believe bracket.
This bracket, however, is probably my favorite (other than the actual basketball bracket) I have ever filled out. The top 64 NCAA college basketball announcers of all time, here, in one bracket-style ranking.
We have done single-sport announcer lists before, usually running a top 25 or top 50 to include as many announcers as possible. With this being the college basketball list, we couldn’t resist giving each announcer his or her own seeding.
(Before you get too far along in each matchup, know that our bracket is just for seeding—the results would be straight chalk.)
Oh, and there are no play-ins in this bracket, just 64 of the best, most memorable and most dependable announcers in the game.
Remember, please, this is all for fun, so while you may disagree on who got a No. 4 or No. 5 seed, please voice your disagreements with a modicum of respect for the lighthearted nature of (most of) these selections.
Also, before we get on to the list, it’s important to remember that all of these announcers have some national profile and experience. There are more than 300 top-flight basketball programs in America, which means that on any given night, there is a potential for well over 100 different games. Someone—often someone very talented—is calling each of those games on radio or regional television.
Many of those announcers deserve to be included on an all-time list. But for every Johnny Holliday I might select, there are a dozen more memorable announcers I’d be omitting. Please feel free to add your favorite local announcers in the comments.
With that, it’s time to look at the most in-depth NCAA college basketball announcers bracket of all time. Who do you have cutting down the broadcasting nets?
The No. 16 Seeds
Yes, we are starting this list off with a few dandies, that’s for sure.
Knight is not a terrible studio analyst. He certainly knows the game of basketball better than almost anyone on the planet. I just never felt like he cared much about doing television. And while being a professional curmudgeon can work in a studio setting, his personality and style of announcing, for lack of a better term, fail to serve the traditional live-game audience.
I really never understood the reason to ship Knight off to various parts of the country to call games. ESPN often does some peculiar things with talent just to get attention. I think the attention this decision received was never all that positive.
The third guy in the booth gets to be the comic relief, and that’s a role Miller seems to relish, but there’s just not much space for that in an NCAA tournament game. Even the blowouts have underlying stories the announcers can advance for the following rounds.
When Miller has been placed with the likes of Kevin Harlan and Len Elmore, as he will be this year, it just seems unnecessary. Miller isn’t a bad in-game announcer, and he is certainly qualified for the job, but a third person isn't needed.
Quick story. I worked at Rutgers for a long time, starting just after Wenzel left Piscataway but before he worked up the ranks of CBS to start calling tournament games. He came to campus to call a game one time—I believe it was his first time back at The RAC—and was telling old friends he was on the short track to big assignments for CBS.
Wenzel thought he was going to be the guy. Final Fours. Championship games. Someone must have been in his head, because he suddenly stopped being an analyst and started trying to mimic Bill Raftery.
Wenzel ruined himself. He was at one point a competent announcer, but he got it in his head that he was going to be a star and lost track of what he was good at.
Wenzel no longer calls NCAA tournament games for CBS. Who didn’t see that coming? Well, other than him.
The worst. The. Worst.
Packer worked every Final Four from 1975 through 2008, and every year he got meaner, angrier and more disenfranchised with the sport he was handsomely paid to cover all those years.
It was this kind of nonsense that made people so angry. Packer once called a Kansas-UNC game “over” with 7:32 to go in the first half. Sure, Kansas won, but its hefty lead was cut to four points in the second half, making it far from over at any time before that.
Why did he make the list of the best announcers if he was so bad? The guy worked 34 straight Final Fours with four different play-by-play announcers for two different networks. Someone had to think he was good.
The No. 15 Seeds
Please note that any of these announcers could be anywhere from a No. 15 to a No. 9. Or not on the list at all. That’s part of the fun of this.
Anderson is more known as a solid baseball announcer, but he has done a good job in his time working college basketball on a national level, calling tournament games for CBS and now working for Fox. This spot could easily go to any number of young, fresh announcers, but we went with Anderson because his trajectory with CBS seems very high.
Kugler (heard in the video above) is one of the lead radio announcers for Westwood One, calling the NCAA tournament and Final Four, as well as Sunday Night Football for one of the largest sports radio outfits on the planet. He also works in television, calling games for Fox and the Big Ten Network.
Boog Sciambi is one of those guys at ESPN you probably wouldn’t recognize if he sat next to you at a diner counter, but once he ordered his plate of flapjacks—I assume Sciambi is a red-blooded American flapjack lover like many of us—his voice would be unmistakable. Like Anderson, Sciambi is known as more of a baseball guy, but he has earned his stripes as one of ESPN’s more dependable college basketball announcers.
I had trouble picking the last announcer in the field, but it went to Criqui for his long, solid tenure in the industry. To me, Criqui was always more of a football announcer, or Notre Dame mouthpiece, so I waffled on his inclusion.
Ken Fang of Fang’s Bites broke the tie for me, saying: “I go with Criqui because of his history with the tournament, especially calling the St. Joe's upset over DePaul in NBC's last year of airing the games.”
Criqui narrowly edged out Scott Graham, who is currently calling games for Fox. You may know him more for his work at NFL Films. Or, perhaps, the Puppy Bowl. Here is a good write-up on Graham. Worth noting: I found out recently he lives three blocks from me, so if there was a tiebreaker on this one, it certainly wasn’t proximity.
The No. 14 Seeds
Without question one of the best announcers in the history of American sports, Jackson was known far more for his work as a football announcer than a basketball broadcaster.
Still, in football, there is an offseason to be had, and Jackson filled some of that time calling college basketball games in the winter. Jackson was actually on the call in 1964 for the second nationally televised NCAA Final Four, working with Bill Flemming. I’m sure he should be higher on this list, so he seems like a perfect Cinderella selection.
Buckner may be known as more of an NBA guy, both for calling games and working in the professional ranks, but he did work as a college analyst for CBS for nearly a decade in the late 1980s through most of the 1990s. Much like his work on the NBA, Buckner always seemed to be well informed and professional, which seems to be a very important theme with CBS analysts. More on that in a bit.
Waters, like many other announcers on this list, was a relatively ordinary college coach—he went to one NCAA tournament and three NITs in his eight years at West Virginia and Duke—before going into broadcasting, covering more than just college basketball across the decades of his media career. Waters covered the Big East, ECAC and NCAA tournament for NBC before moving on to a myriad of other broadcasting assignments over several national platforms, including ESPN.
He was as anonymous as they come, and in Ryan’s case, that wasn’t a bad thing. He was just a solid veteran announcer who never seemed to get in the way of his more demonstrative partners. Throughout his long career working at NBC, ESPN, CBS and Fox, Ryan worked every event imaginable, including some big NCAA basketball games.
The No. 13 Seeds
Jones has been an ESPN mainstay for nearly 25 years. Seriously, he started at ESPN in 1990, calling a wide variety of programming, including NBA, WNBA and college football and basketball games, in addition to hosting several studio shows.
Jones has carved out a decent niche for himself at the Worldwide Leader, never breaking through as one of the top announcers but maintaining a long career nonetheless.
Brando has become one of the more polarizing figures on this list, and in sports media, over the last few years. He recently ended his relationship with CBS this January, thus ending his near 20-year run calling NCAA games.
A basketball jack-of-all-trades, so to speak, Brown—alongside lead host Greg Gumbel—has been a studio host for CBS’s coverage of the NCAA games for years. Brown did play-by-play for the network from 1989 to 1993, then again upon his return from Fox before moving back to the studio. He also served as a color commentator for one season in the 1980s, making him one of the very few announcers to hold three major roles at some point in his storied career.
CBS lured the NCAA tournament away from NBC in 1982, and before Brent Musburger and Jim Nantz became the top announcers for the tourney, it was Bender who got the assignment of lead basketball announcer, calling the first three Final Fours for CBS.
The No. 12 Seeds
I’m not sure I ever quite understood Walton as an analyst. He’s either the absolute best in the business or certifiably unlistenable, and sometimes I’ve felt both ways during the same game.
The one undeniable fact is that Walton loves the game of basketball. His joy of working with the game—while less outwardly exuberant than, say, Dick Vitale—is every bit as obvious. Walton may be a better NBA analyst in terms of breaking down the game and critiquing players, but the college assignments have given him more opportunities to relive history, and any time he can tell a good story about the John Wooden years, it's a better time for everyone.
For years, listening to Spanarkel call NCAA games with Ian Eagle—and even his work covering the Brooklyn Nets on local telecasts—I just assumed he was one of those coaches-turned-analysts who never made it big as a coach and found a comfortable niche in television to stay in the game without the pressures of having to win. (This list, as you can see, is riddled with those guys.)
It turns out, Spanarkel has never been a coach, at least not at any high level. He played at Duke in college, making one All-America list before playing just over four years in the NBA. He joined broadcasting shortly after that. The fact that I thought for all this time he was a failed coach actually makes me appreciate the way he calls a game a little bit more.
Dedes is another young broadcaster on this list, but his career path makes him feel like a 20-year veteran. He is an announcer for the New York Knicks on radio and TV, having returned to New York after working for six seasons as the radio voice of the Los Angeles Lakers.
A few years back, CBS hired Dedes to ostensibly replace Dick Enberg in its stable of NCAA tournament announcers, and Dedes has been a staple in March ever since. He was saddled with Bob Wenzel as a partner his first few years, and now works games with Doug Gottlieb, making a CBS tandem we might expect to see move up the company ranks together as some of the older announcers continue to move along.
Speaking of older announcers moving along, Stockton has been in broadcasting since 1965, working every sport imaginable at the network level. He called the NCAA tournament during his long tenure at CBS, often pegged as one of the four regional-site announcers. Stockton may be thought of differently now than, say, 20 years ago, as Father Time has not necessarily been his greatest partner in the booth. But in his prime, there weren’t many basketball announcers better.
The No. 11 Seeds
I remember Wischusen calling regional games as he worked up the ladder of national prominence, grabbing any assignment he could to gain experience and get his name out there.
The hard work paid off.
Wischusen went from a guy whose voice you’d hear call your favorite team when you knew the network didn’t care about it—oh, this must not be a big game if Wischusen got the call—to one of the most reliable and dependable big-game announcers ESPN employs. When you hear his voice now, he finds a way to make that event feel a little big bigger, which is a credit to how hard he worked to get there.
Bonner’s bio at CBS tells you everything you need to know about him. Here are my two favorite lines out of a three-paragraph write-up:
He served as an analyst for CBS Sports' coverage of the 2000 and 2001 Final Four and Championship games in HDTV.
From 2004-07 he served as the assistant athletic director and assistant girls' soccer coach for Robert E. Lee High School, having previously coached the girls' basketball team from 1999 to 2003.
Doesn’t that just about say everything you need to know about Bonner? He’s called the Division II Championship nearly 10 times for CBS, the network put him on the “HDTV” Final Four before anyone had or knew what HDTV was and he was a high school soccer coach. Sorry, he was an assistant soccer coach, which was important enough for him to put in his bio.
I love this. Truly.
Pasch has worked at ESPN since 2003, and in those 10 years, he has become an integral piece in its play-by-play puzzle. He is another guy you probably wouldn’t recognize if you shared a cab with him, but the second you heard his voice, you’d realize how familiar he sounds.
That might be as big a compliment as I can give a play-by-play announcer: He sounds familiar. Pasch has definitely worked himself into that category, and his efforts working college basketball are perhaps his best of any sport.
Valvano may be more known for his last name than his work as a college basketball analyst, but he has proven over the years to be extremely knowledgeable and fun-loving without making a telecast too much about him.
His years as a sports talk radio host serve him well in the booth, as he never seems to be without a great story. Not to mention, his work with The V Foundation over the years should have him on every list ever, just so we can mention that as much as possible.
The No. 10 Seeds
Gottlieb may be the most difficult person on this entire list to rank, in part because the different facets of his career have been so divergent and in part because I know, of everyone on this list, he is Internet and social media savvy enough to see whatever I write.
Gottlieb is a smart and incredibly informed basketball announcer. He is at his best when he is calling basketball games; it just seems that calling basketball has become such a small part of what CBS wants him to do that he feels a bit overexposed. Maybe more than a bit.
Gottlieb has a career trajectory anyone in the industry would want, yet I get the sense that if he focused just on being a basketball analyst, he’d be one of the best in the game. All the other stuff—the radio work, the Web interviews and the studio hosting, which has always felt forced and unnecessarily aggressive—really do him no favors as a top basketball analyst.
Even going back to his ESPN Radio days, Gottlieb’s shtick is that he tries to sound like the smartest guy in the room. That is fine when you are an expert at one sport, but it's impossible when you try to be an expert at everything.
Meyers was one of the first women to challenge the establishment that traditional men’s sports needed to be called (and played) by men.
She is one of the most important figures in the history of basketball, and her work as an analyst for both the men’s and women’s games has helped pave the wa