For the second time in three years, Andrew Catalon and Steve Lappas are in Salt Lake City to call first- and second-round NCAA tournament games on . And the sportscasters think things might be different this time.
In 2017, there were no upsets here.
“I'm not saying there's going to be upsets this time,” Lappas said, “but there certainly is potential.”
• New Mexico State (12) vs. Auburn (5) — “They’ve been in the tournament now three years in a row,” said Catalon, who will do the play-by-play on TNT (11:30 a.m. Thursday.) “Even though they haven’t won, I think the lights won’t be too bright for them.”
And Lappas also pointed to NMSU as “veterans” who “won't be intimidated.”
• Northeastern (13) vs. (4) Kansas (4) — “Northeastern is a pretty good team,” said Lappas, who’ll provide analysis on TNT (30 minutes after NMSU-Auburn ends). “They’re a very smart team. A veteran team. And when you look at Kansas, they’ve got all these freshmen that they’re playing. What are they going to be like?”
“And I think Northeastern has has a really good player in a (Serbian guard) Vasa Pusica, which will be fun to say many, many times on Thursday,” Catalon said.
Neither expects Farleigh Dickinson (16) to upset Gonzaga (1). “Gonzaga, to me, has a chance to win the national title,” Catalon said.
And regardless of who wins the 8-9 game between Syracuse and Baylor (30 minutes after Gonzaga-Farleigh Dickinson ends), that won't be an upset.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN SLC • “Syracuse is one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country,” Lappas said. “Baylor's one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country.”
• “The New Mexico State teams plays 10 guys,” Lappas said. “They're the only team I ever heard of that doesn't have one guy who started every game this year. They're so deep — one guy plays 25 minutes and everybody else plays less than that.”
• “You look at Kansas and the injuries that they've had, and now all these freshmen they're playing and having to rely on that,” Lappas said.
HIGH ON UTAH STATE • Catalon and Lappas won’t be calling the only game to feature a Utah team — Utah State (8) and Washington (9) play Friday in Columbus, Ohio, (4:50 p.m., TNT) — but they both believe the Aggies stand a great chance of advancing.
Catalon called two USU games in the Mountain West tournament, and he wasn't overly impressed with the Aggies' 91-83 quarterfinal win over New Mexico, in which they turned the all over 24 times.
“I said, 'What's the big deal with Utah State?' And then I saw them in the semifinals” — an 85-60 win over Fresno State — “and I said, 'Wow! This team is going to win a game or two in the NCAA tournament.”
“There's no doubt that they're capable of winning,” Lappas said. “If you're [Washington coach] Mike Hopkins, you're thinking to yourself. 'Boy, this is not a great team to play zone against.' Washington's zone has been really good all year, but they're playing against a team that shoots it well … “I think if you're Washington, you're saying, 'Man, this is a tough draw.' Especially the way Utah State passes the ball. They're one of the best passing teams in the country.”
ROOTING INTERESTS? Catalon graduated from Syracuse, but he laughed at the (joking) suggestion that he might have to recuse himself from the Syracuse-Auburn game. He worked a Syracuse-Louisville game a couple of years ago, “and I did not feel anything going on in my head other than calling the game.”
“I think announcers always root for a close game. I don't think any announcer roots for a team to win.”
And if anyone should raise a question about that, “Well, I'd have to recuse myself from the Gonzaga game because my son's an assistant at Farleigh Dickinson,” Lappas said with a laugh.
LONGTIME PARTNERS • Catalon and Lappas been partnering on basketball games for seven seasons “and we're right around 200 games, give or take, together,” Catalon said. ““I always joke that Steve and I are like an old married couple. We spend about four to five days a week together during the basketball season, so we definitely see each other more than our wives during basketball season.”
“I think we play off of each other very well,:” Lappas said. “People say that we have a tremendous chemistry. I feel it.”
“Knowing exactly where he wants to go, how I can get him to where he needs and just the ability to have a laugh, because you've got to keep it fun — especially on a long day like Thursday.”
They're calling four games in one day, and it will be the first time either of them has seen any of the eight teams in person this season. So they've been watching film and doing research on all eight since the brackets were announced on Sunday.
“You just hunker down and you do it. But you know there's no doubt that it's a whirlwind,” Lappas said.
They've had it worse. Two years ago, they did two “first four” games on Tuesday and then worked the Thursday-Saturday subregional in Salt Lake City.
“That was tough,” Catalon said. “This will seem easy compared to that.”