ESPN’s Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas get an A for their coverage of Illinois’ blowout win over Michigan

The college basketball season is winding down this week. Battles for the number one seeds for the NCAA tournament are still on the line. On Tuesday, when #2 ranked Michigan hosted #4 Illinois on ESPN, Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas were on the call. Shulman said a one seed is a lock for the Wolverines, but the Illini were still battling for a top spot. After Illinois’ blowout win, a number one seed is well within its reach.

The announcers were handicapped, having to call the game remotely, a Covid precaution that seems to be turning into a common and lasting practice. Shulman and Bilas were in separate locations.

Dan Shulman

  • His reputation for excellence keeps swelling. His baseball work with the Toronto Blue Jays in Canada, post-season MLB playoffs for ESPN Radio and college basketball telecasts are outstanding.
  • He set Bilas up well to comment on pertinent topics. After Jay made his points, Dan often interjected his own well educated thoughts.
  • As it was becoming evident that the game was low scoring, Dan was right on it, telling the audience it was unusual because both teams average around 70 points a game. At halftime, there was a telling graphic informing the audience that the feeble 22 points Michigan scored in the first half was its lowest all year.
  • When the game turned completely one-sided the two voices shifted gears somewhat. Dan brought up the earlier lead-in game on ESPN in which Baylor knocked off West Virginia. He said that the win gave the Bears their first regular season conference title in 71 years!
  • Announcers have their own styles. Shulman and Bilas have worked synergistically and seamlessly for years. They rarely step on one another’s toes. Doing so, while separated by hundreds of miles, is quite an accomplishment.
  • Some play-by-play voices have a tendency to occasionally interrupt their partner, chiming in with viewpoints of their own. Dan’s prudent. He deferred to Bilas, waiting for him to complete his thought before adding any related nuggets of his own.
  • Shulman doesn’t holler. He uses his vocal cords cautiously and steadily throughout the broadcast. His energy is stimulating but it’s tempered. He’s not overbearing. It’s a comfortable listen for fans!

Jay Bilas

  • Bilas talked about Illinois having fun. He said an old coach once told him, “When an opposing team comes into your house and is having fun, you’re doing something wrong.” The Illinois bench was jumping up and down after every single basket.
  • Illinois, without one of its top players, Ayo Dosunmu, demolished the number two team in the country in Michigan. Bilas said he had believed the Wolverines were the best team in the country and said he had not seen Michigan play this poorly all year. Bilas came into the game saying Michigan’s strengths are its ball movement and how well and often it cuts to the basket. The Wolverines did neither well in this game. Bilas noted how it was unusual to see the Michigan players just standing around and being inoffensive.
  • Illinois’ defense was fantastic, holding a team that averages about 79 points per game to only 53. Bilas credited its coach Brad Underwood for the defensive turnaround, pointing out that Illinois was more aggressive in the past, trapping ballhandlers and pressing them. Now the Illini play a “traditional Big Ten analytical defense.” They don’t foul as much, and they play more cautiously on the defensive side. Bilas loved how strong the fighting Illini are, saying they came into the game expecting a street fight.'” The rebounding numbers were one indication of how solid Illinois was playing. Illinois won the battle, 42-26. It was only the second time all season that the Michigan were outrebounded. Shulman, right there, added that the only other time was against Purdue.
  • Bilas’ greatest contribution is his scouting analysis, breaking down players’ strengths. The two players spotlighted were the two seven-foot centers, Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn and Michigan’s Hunter Dickerson. Shulman said that these are two traditional big men who like to be near the paint and won’t stretch the court. Jay added that even though Cockburn and Dickerson don’t stretch the floor they are both mobile, and Cockburn is fantastic at rolling to the rim on the pick-n-roll.
  • Bilas played up Illinois’ transition offense. He says when the Illini move the ball quickly up court, especially when they can get it to hefty Kofi Cockburn, they are almost impossible to stop.
  • When the game got out of hand, Shulman brought up how the Big Ten has a chance to have four teams as number one or two seeds in the tournament. Bilas added that the Big Ten Tournament will look a lot like the NCAA tournament in terms of team quality.

 Overall, Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas get an A for their efforts.



David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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