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CBS/Turner put top crew on Loyola, but Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery delight in Illinois

Nantz seemed to give the Illini the edge over the team nearest and dearest to his heart, Nantz’s alma mater and second-seeded Houston.

Jim Nantz (left) and Bill Raftery (right) will call the Georgia Tech-Loyola game at 3 p.m. Friday on TBS. Grant Hill will replace Jim Spanarkel alongside Ian Eagle for the first two rounds because of COVID-19 protocols.
John P. Filo/CBS

Illinois fans tend to be sensitive to perceived slights, but they should pay no heed to the CBS/Turner announcing assignments.

The top-seeded Illini’s first-round game Friday against Drexel (12:15 p.m., TBS) will be called by Kevin Harlan, who will be joined by analyst Dan Bonner and reporter Dana Jacobson. Afterward, the top crew of Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson will call Loyola’s game against Georgia Tech (3 p.m., TBS).

Deep breaths, Illini Nation.

Nantz’s crew isn’t calling any of the No. 1 seeds’ first-round games, and Harlan’s crew is one of the four that will call regional semifinal and final games. If the Illini last long enough, they’ll see Nantz and Co. eventually.

Besides, Nantz and Raftery had nothing but praise for Illinois in a Zoom conference with reporters this week. In fact, Nantz seemed to give the Illini the edge over the team nearest and dearest to his heart — his alma mater, second-seeded Houston.

‘‘I probably wouldn’t be as fortunate as I’ve been to be in broadcasting if it wasn’t for the University of Houston basketball program,’’ said Nantz, who graduated in 1981. ‘‘Coach Guy Lewis asked me to be the public-address announcer [1979-82] and the host of his television show, and that was my entry into working with a microphone.

‘‘But if it’s a 1-2 regional final, I’d love to see it. I’d love to have the chance to call it, and I would call it right down the middle, as I’m required to do. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Illinois win a national championship.’’

After watching the Illini win the Big Ten Tournament, Raftery came away impressed with their depth and versatility. But he sounded most impressed with their camaraderie, which might be important during their isolation as part of COVID-19 protocols.

‘‘The way they get along is something special,’’ Raftery said. ‘‘Not that all teams don’t get along, but they have a lot of juice and life, and they’re having a ball.

‘‘I think the coach that’s gonna win this championship is either gonna be the best entertainer or bandleader, and the reason I say that [is] there’s so much time that [the players are] gonna be alone. We talked with the staff of Illinois, they played poker, they brought their Pelotons, they did a little bit of everything to entertain themselves.

‘‘I think that’s really gonna be the key to keeping them fresh, enjoying themselves, bonding together. That’s gonna be as big a challenge as game preparation.’’