As March Madness begins, seeding the SEC Network’s best basketball analysts

It’s the time of year in college basketball that last-second shots and Cinderella wins are remembered by fans for decades. But as the basketball gets better, the announcers get worse.

Why? Because CBS takes over men’s March Madness after airing the random Saturday game, and its play-by-play announcers and color analysts seem to know little or nothing about the teams they’re describing.

(Don’t even get me started on the TNT talking heads.)

Analyst Jimmy Dykes made the point effectively in the SEC Network’s NCAA Tournament selection special Sunday when he directed a question to Auburn basketball coach “Mike Pearl.” It was a jab at Greg Gumbel who flubbed the name of Auburn’s coach when announcing the brackets earlier that day.

For the record, Auburn’s coach is Bruce Pearl. His response to Dykes: “I’ve been called worse.”

As the season goes on, I’ll sorely miss watching games on the SEC Network where the announcers know the coaches — and the players. They can name the stars, sure, but they also know the supporting players and the walk-ons. They know how the teams have fared over this season and seasons past.

So, as we say goodbye to games on the SEC Network, here’s a ranking of the best SEC Network college basketball analysts with a focus on those who do double duty at games and in studio.

Daymeon Fishback

If the mother ship (ESPN) has an opening for a college basketball analyst, Daymeon Fishback should get the call. He’s the SEC Network’s Booger McFarland of basketball. Photo via ESPN Mediazone.

No. 1: Daymeon Fishback. Yes, he knows the game, the teams and the players and talks with authority about all three. But all of of the SEC Network basketball analysts do that.

Fishback does it with a smile and a gleam in his eye that shows his intelligence and his good humor. He’s warm, personable and has a quick, sharp laugh that makes him not only someone I want to talk to about basketball, but  just about anything.

And although he’s enthusiastic, he’s not just a cheerleader for SEC basketball. He was the first of the SEC Network’s analysts to bring up the FBI’s investigation into the NCAA during one of the “SEC Now” broadcasts from the tournament in St. Louis. Props for that.

I remember him from his playing days at Auburn, and I admit I held that against him when he first showed up on the network. I’m an Alabama fan after all. It’s in my DNA to dislike all things Auburn. But it didn’t take long for him to win me over.

Jimmy Dykes

Jimmy Dykes has a coach’s perspective and a serious demeanor. Photo via ESPN Mediazone.

No. 2: Tie between Jimmy Dykes and Pat Bradley. Bradley joined the crew for the 2017-18 season and brought a gleaming, white smile, a quick wit and an incredibly thick Massachusetts accent. But he gets a pass for the latter because he was a star at Arkansas in the late ‘90s. He’s an honorary Southerner.

Dykes brings a coach’s perspective to the show — a really dour coach’s perspective. While Bradley is excitable and isn’t afraid to raise his voice an octave or two, Dykes maintains his monotone delivery almost no matter what. Is he angry? Is he still miffed about giving up his job as Arkansas’ women’s basketball coach?

Probably not. He’s just a little more serious, which makes it all the more amazing when he cracks a joke, like one night recently after the SEC Tournament when the network was showing college baseball highlights.

“I could hit him,” Antoine Walker said about a pitcher who was striking out batter after batter. Dykes responded, “Yeah, but could you hit the ball he’s throwing?”

No. 4: Andy Kennedy. Who knows if he’ll be back on the network now that the SEC Tournament is over. But while he was there, the recently deposed Ole Miss coach was enthusiastic, quirky and smart. Added bonus: He had the perspective of having coached against most of the teams just weeks before.

No. 5. Antoine Walker. I shared my thoughts on Walker in my last blog post. And while he loses points for picking Kentucky for, well, everything, I give him credit for improving in the two years he’s been on the network.

In the beginning, he seemed inexperienced, unpredictable and unprepared. This season, he knows the players across the league as well as the many season storylines. And on the night Andy Kennedy resigned, he described in very personal, credible terms how players feel when they’ve been abandoned by their coach.

It was a particularly bold analysis that countered the prevailing narrative that Kennedy was sacrificing himself for the good of the team.

While the games are moving to CBS, TNT, TBS, etc., it’s good to know these guys will still be talking SEC hoops on “SEC Now.”


Rick Hall and my claim to FAME (Recording Studios that is)

When I was a reporter at the TimesDaily, I got a call out of the blue that Rick Hall wanted to meet with me. After quite a bit of back and forth, we agreed to a day and time. I arrived and was led to a room inside FAME where I waited. And waited and waited. I still had no idea what he wanted to talk about.

He finally appeared wearing a loud sport coat and his trademark handlebar mustache and eager to talk about Shenandoah, a new country band he was producing. I never cared much for the music, but you can’t argue with its success.

Not many people remember Shenandoah now, but the R&B Hall produced in Muscle Shoals lives on as some of the best American music ever made. So glad Rick Hall finally got his due before his death this week.

Here’s the excellent New York Times obit by Jon Pareles. It helped a lot with this recollection of my Rick Hall interview because I was having trouble remembering exactly what it was we talked about. Then I saw the reference to Shenandoah and it came back. So thanks to Jon Pareles for being so thorough.

In the video, check out the cameo by Rick Hall at the :48 mark. (There’s another one later too.)

‘Forgotten’ Horseshoe Bend is a lesson for New Orleans’ Civil War monuments

HorseshoeBend Sing.jpg

The park welcomed me with a grand sign typical of the National Park Service’s careful attention to detail and rustic aesthetics. The next sign I read changed my perspective on the battle.

Third-grade Alabama history is the gift that keeps on giving, even 45 years on. (Thanks Mrs. Virginia Harless Cook!)

This time it was the inspiration for this opinion piece in The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina in which I apply the lessons I learned about the horror of an Andrew Jackson-led Indian massacre to what’s going on new in New Orleans and other places debating Civil War memorials.

Let me know what you think.

To learn from the past, keep its monuments