In this topsy-turvy NCAA tournament, in which two No. 1 seeds have already gone down, Ian Eagle sees one thing when it comes to Villanova: consistency.
The veteran broadcaster, working his 21st NCAA tournament, will call Villanova's matchup against No. 5 seed West Virginia in Boston at 7:27 p.m. Friday on TBS. Eagle, who is calling his first Sweet 16 game on television filling in for the recovering Verne Lundquist, will be joined in the booth by longtime broadcast partner and one-time Sixers guard Jim Spanarkel. Allie LaForce will handle the sideline reporting.
"Villanova plays beautiful basketball. From a play-by-play man's perspective, it's probably closer to an NBA style — the rhythm, the passing, making shots," Eagle told the Inquirer and Daily News. "There's still that championship pedigree there… and I just think Jay Wright has his finger on the pulse with this team."
So far, Villanova has been able to coast through the tournament. The top seed in the East Regional, the Wildcats won their first two games against Radford and Alabama by a combined 49 points, and have trailed their opponents for a grand total of 122 seconds. Eagle called Villanova's 81-61 win over Connecticut in January, and despite the Wildcats' younger roster this season, he's been impressed with their consistency.
"I think Villanova stands out as one of the teams that's just had it from the very beginning of the season and never wavered," Eagle said. "As much as there's been flux within the top five or top 10, I always thought Villanova was consistent throughout the year in that you knew they were going to be there when the smoke cleared."
The next challenge for the team is West Virginia, a former Big East rival that plays aggressively on defense and hopes to break up the Wildcats' passing rhythm and shooting success.
"From my perspective calling games, West Virginia is a tough team to call, because [coach Bob] Huggins will rotate players in every break in the action and he'll go 10, 11 players deep," Eagle said. "They have the ability to beat anybody in the country. It's that simple. And their style can be disruptive."
As soon as the game ends and his broadcast responsibilities are over, Eagle will almost immediately divert his attention to another Sweet 16 game, as No. 11 Syracuse hopes to keep its magical season alive against No. 2 seed Duke in Omaha at 9:30 p.m.
But Eagle isn't calling the game. He'll be rooting for his alma mater, the Orange.
"Both my kids go there right now. My wife went there. So there's still a strain of orange in my blood," Eagle said. "It certainly was enjoyable to watch Syracuse march through the the first weekend, but in all truthfulness, years ago when I started doing this job, I realized what I truly root for are competitive games and exciting endings."
Eagle's ties with Syracuse made national news last month during a Syracuse-Miami game he called on CBS. His son, Noah, is a junior at Syracuse and was also calling the game for WAER-FM, an NPR affiliate that covers Orange football and basketball. It's also the station at which Ian Eagle learned how to be a broadcaster (His photo hangs on the WAER Hall of Fame next to NBC Sports' Mike Tirico, another Syracuse broadcasting veteran).
Noah Eagle interviewed his father before the game, and the three-minute segment, featuring snarky give-and-takes over their attire and the pronunciation of Ian's name (it's EYE-in), quickly went viral. CBS also carried about two minutes of Noah Eagle's play-by-play for WAER during the telecast, and the young broadcaster seemed to hold his own.
"As a father, I am beyond proud that he has a legitimate desire to follow a path that I took," Ian Eagle said. "At the same time, I know how difficult it is. You can't just snap your fingers and be on the air."
Eagle equated it to a hypothetical situation in which Chris Rock's son wanted to be a stand-up comedian. During the first two minutes of the son's set, the crowd would want to like him because he's Chris Rock's son. But if he's not funny, by the third minute, the crowd would turn.