Ian Eagle has familiar partners and home-court advantage as he becomes NCAA Tournament's lead voice

Even though Ian Eagle is stepping into a new role as the lead announcer for CBS and TNT Sports' coverage of the men's NCAA Tournament, plenty of things will make it familiar.

One of Eagle’s partners is Bill Raftery, the analyst for Nets games when Eagle moved to the television side in 1995 after one year doing radio.

The location where Eagle, Raftery and Grant Hill will call the first weekend of the tournament is also one that he knows very well. The Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York, has been the Nets’ home since 2012.

Eagle takes over from Jim Nantz, who called 32 Final Fours beginning in 1991. Last year’s Final Four was the perfect stepping-off point for Nantz, as it took place in his adopted hometown of Houston.

“In normal circumstances, it might feel like this is going to be a completely different role. But in many ways, it doesn’t feel like that at all because of all of the shared experiences with Bill and Grant and (sideline reporter) Tracy (Wolfson),” Eagle said.

Eagle — who has been with CBS since 1998 — had taken on an increased schedule of college basketball games on CBS even before Nantz announced in October 2022 that he was stepping away from the tournament. Eagle has called many of the network’s top regular-season matchups for the past five seasons and said this season’s workload was similar to past years.

Even though Eagle will have a higher stature beginning with this year’s tournament, the preparation remains the same, especially when it comes to cramming for calling four games and learning the eight teams for first-round games.

“Once you hit the tournament, it’s flying at you a million miles an hour. You’re working on teams that you don’t necessarily follow throughout the year from smaller conferences but often may make for the best stories,” he said. “There is somebody out there right now that we are not talking about today, that is going to be the focal point of sports in America, coming up in a little more than a week, and it happens every year."

Raftery has had a unique perspective on Nantz and Eagle’s career rise. He was the analyst for Nantz’s first NCAA Tournament game on CBS in 1986 and then worked with Nantz in the studio for a couple of years during the regional rounds.

Raftery said what impressed him early on about Eagle was his enthusiasm and consistent delivery during their first years together, when the Nets had one of the worst teams in the NBA.

"There’s a challenge every night of a team that’s underwater, and to tee it up every night with the same enthusiasm and preparation, I had this feeling things were going to happen for him,” said Raftery, who moved to the lead announcing crew in 2015. “He certainly has worked hard to attain this status. It’s just a thrill to see what he’s been able to do with his career, and I think it’s certainly going to be exciting for the people watching this year.

“He just brings everybody into the fray, whether it’s the fans or his coworkers. I think his impact is going to be extraordinary. We’re going to miss Jim, but, you know, it’s being handed over to one of the classiest, most talented guys in the business.”

Eagle estimates he has done nearly 600 college and NBA games with Raftery. However, the lessons he learned from him during the first couple of seasons with the Nets still resonate.

“What I learned from Bill was authenticity. Be yourself on television, and don’t try to be somebody else. And for me, as I moved from role to role, I always carried that with me,” he said.

Among other notable television changes for this year’s tournament:

Greg Gumbel will miss his first NCAA Tournament since 1997 due to family health issues. Gumbel has been the studio host for CBS since returning to the network from NBC in 1998. Gumbel signed an extension with CBS last year that allowed him to continue hosting college basketball while stepping back from NFL announcing duties.

In Gumbel’s absence, TNT Sports’ Ernie Johnson will host additional hours. Adam Zucker, who hosted Sunday’s selection show, will also host.

Andrew Catalon and Steve Lappas have been promoted to one of the four crews that will call the action through the regional finals. Their first stop is Pittsburgh for games on Thursday and Saturday.

Robbie Hummel will be a game analyst during the first weekend. This season, the former Purdue standout was an analyst for Big Ten coverage on NBC/Peacock, Fox and the Big Ten Network. Hummel will work with Lisa Byington and Steve Smith in Spokane, Washington, on Friday and Sunday.


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