Dissecting the Madness of March With TNT’s Ernie Johnson

Johnson will anchor coverage of the NCAA Tournament from the CBS Broadcast Center in NYC

Ernie Johnson Jr. looks on before a 2023 NBA In-Season Tournament game.
Ernie Johnson will turn his attention from the NBA to the NCAA.
Mike Kirschbaum/NBAE via Getty

A six-time Emmy award winner and member of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, TNT’s Ernie Johnson is best known for attempting to keep Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal on track and on topic while serving as a primetime hall monitor of the glorious chaos that is Inside the NBA. A member of Turner Sports for more than three decades, Johnson has also assisted with coverage of the NFL, Major League Baseball, the Olympics, the World Cup and Wimbledon during the course of his decorated career.

A pro’s pro, Johnson will be giving a boost to coverage of the 2024 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship with Greg Gumbel sidelined and will anchor coverage of March Madness from the CBS Broadcast Center in NYC alongside Smith, Barkley and Clark Kellogg. With the NCAA tournament’s first round set to tip off today, Johnson and the rest of his crew are going to be very busy until the championship game on April 8 at State Farm Stadium in Arizona. According to Johnson — who recently teamed up with Buffalo Wild Wings on a promotion that involved an actual buffalo named Jack picking a bracket that has the No. 12-seeded McNeese State Cowboys cutting down the nets in April — that’s fine with him.

“Those first two days in the studio in New York are unbelievably long because there are 16 games being played,” Johnson tells InsideHook. “You sit down in the chair at noon and you get out of the chair about one o’clock in the morning. It’s a challenge to your concentration, and it’s a challenge being around Charles and Kenny for that long. Thank goodness Clark Kellogg is in there. The thing is everybody wants to watch the tournament, which I think about when the day starts really getting long. If your boss told you, ‘All I want you to do for your job today is watch the tournament,’ you’d sign up for that. That’s what we get to do.”

Though he sees last year’s champ UConn going pretty deep in the tournament, Johnson isn’t so sure about Jack taking McNeese State to go all the way in ’24. “They’re a 30-win team, and it’ll be interesting to see what they’re able to do, but I don’t know how many folks are going to have McNeese winning the whole damn thing.”

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However, Johnson, who has Tennessee, UConn and Kentucky in his Final Four but is undecided about which school will come out of the West region, does have his eye on a potential Cinderella squad. “It’s the most unpredictable sporting event, anywhere. History has told us somebody will come out of nowhere,” Johnson says. “If I had to pick one, I would say Samford. I like the way they play. Their head coach Bucky McMillan likes to press all day long and keeps fresh guys in there all the time. They drew Kansas and they’ve been kind of banged up. Maybe that’ll open it up for them.”

Does Johnson see any other upsets on the way?

“McNeese beating Gonzaga is a possibility,” Johnson says. “James Madison over Wisconsin is another one. James Madison has had an unbelievable year. It seems like a No. 12 seed beats a No. 5 every year, and that’s certainly a possibility this year given the matchups. But if UConn gets out there and plays the way they can, I don’t see anybody beating them. Purdue, I don’t know. They’re a No. 1 seed, but we know what happened to them last year with Fairleigh Dickinson. Is Purdue ready to rewrite that script and go run the table this time? I don’t know. It’s not an easy road for anybody. All I know is that I’m going to fill out my bracket and then probably throw it away about 15 hours into the proceedings.”

As for the wings? Johnson prefers flats over drums and goes with lemon pepper sauce.

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