From October-June, Ernie Johnson is mostly on NBA duty. But every year since 2011, Johnson, along with NBA on TNT mates Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, tackle college basketball. Johnson is a studio anchor for the Turner Sports/CBS Sports' coverage of Selection Sunday and the three weeks of March Madness. Before this year's NCAA tournament, ThePostGame spoke with Johnson to find out how he keeps up with college basketball, who helps him on set and if he makes a bracket despite covering the event.

ThePostGame: Obviously you do so much NBA. When do you start paying attention to college basketball? Is it a slow build-up or what is your winter like when it comes to college basketball?
ERNIE JOHNSON: We've been able to develop a rhythm over the years because this is our eighth year. The first year, I was trying to figure that out. I know I'm knee-deep in NBA, when do I start really watching games? And I think it ramps up around the fist of the year. You're paying some attention to those early tournaments and then when conference play starts, you're taking more notice of it. And then I start doing the updates. I've got files probably on 170 teams that I've built over the years. The teams that might make it, the teams that have made it. You're updating those and seeing, "Who are the freshmen on this team? Who did they lose from last year?" It's kind of this whole rebuilding thing that you're doing with your files and then you just pay attention to, "How's this team doing? Do they have a chance?" If not then it's, "OK, I'll see you next year." Then you're kind of narrowing your focus to the 68 to 75 to 100 teams that you think have a chance to get in there. It's a process, but you have to trust the process.

TPG: Are you watching more SEC because that's where your roots are?
JOHNSON: No. You watch whatever team is hot. You say, 'Man, I want to watch Arizona. I want to see this kid DeAndre Ayton and see if he's all that. Let's watch Virginia and see if they've got a better offense than they used to, to go with that great defense.' And in the two weeks leading up to Selection Sunday, that's when you're getting down to work and trying to prepare for shows and prepare for those first two days that are just crazy in the studio.

TPG: How much fun is working with Clark Kellogg every year during the tournament?
JOHNSON: He's the greatest. He and Seth Davis, both, because they're entrenched, they're embedded with college basketball. We'd all be foolish not to lean in on their knowledge and expertise on that sport when we've been so involved with the NBA. At the end of the day, it's basketball and these guys all know basketball. What I liken it to with Clark, is like when I used to do the NBA Draft, and I'd have Hubie Brown on the set with me. We'd have Hubie, a couple of other coaches and a couple of other analysts. And you'd get down to around the 58th pick, and all you'd have is some grainy, surveillance video from Bulgaria of this 6-11 guy. And I'd look at the other analysts and say, "What do you know about this pick?" And they'd all do this [shakes head]. And I'd look at Hubie, and he'd say, "OK, the guy has an NBA body. He needs to work on his jumper, but he has good touch in the paint." Hubie knows everything about everybody, and it's the same thing with Clark and Seth. You can throw anything about anybody college basketball wise and they run with it.


TPG: Do you do a bracket even though you're in the studio?
JOHNSON: Oh yeah, sure! Everybody does a bracket. I think that's one of the great parts about it. That's what brings people together, that's what brings people in offices that may never interact to suddenly talk to each other. The best one I'm in, my sister has one, it's like 50 of her friends, my mom's in it, and my wife's in it. And it doesn’t cost anything to get in. We just kind of do it for bragging rights and then I pick up a souvenir at the Final Four and we give it to the winner. I think it is a great part of the tournament.


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