From growing up as a kid who loved sports to now being one of the most iconic sportscasters out there, Ernie Johnson has had the privilege of covering the biggest sporting events around the world. Most notably known for being the host of Turner Sports' coverage of the NBA on TNT, Johnson is also one of the lead voices of the NCAA Tournament every year. With March Madness set to begin this week, Johnson is back in the lab, preparing for what should be yet another intriguing tournament.

Perhaps the best part about March Madness is all of the thrilling action and games that leave everyone speechless. From upsets and bracket busters to iconic moments, the NCAA Tournament is always an exhilarating event that Johnson has the privilege of being a part of. This year, Johnson has teamed up with Buffalo Wild Wings for a promotion that is surely one-of-a-kind.

The six-time Emmy Award winner, alongside everyone else in America, is going up against Jack the Buffalo in what is likely the most unique bracket challenge. Do you think you have what it takes to Beat the Buffalo? Well, EJ and Buffalo Wild Wings want you to submit your own bracket to to see if anyone can take down Jack, whose predictions for this year's tournament are pretty wild based on Johnson's analysis.

Right ahead of the start of March Madness, Johnson sat down in an exclusive interview with ClutchPoints, detailing his new ventures with a buffalo who might just shock the world with its bracket predictions. In addition to detailing his predictions for the NCAA Tournament and why March Madness means so much to him, the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer also discussed his time with Shaquille O'Neal, Kenny “The Jet” Smith, and Charles Barkley on Inside the NBA.

CP: Ernie, you’ve been doing the NCAA Tournament for over a decade now. In your opinion, what makes the NCAA Tournament so special?

Television sportscaster Ernie Johnson during practice for the 2017 Final Four at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Ernie Johnson: Part of it is what happens on the floor. Part of it is what happens in neighborhoods, offices, and homes all over the country, where you don’t have to be a die-hard basketball fan to get into it. March Madness has the power to bring people together for a short time on common ground. You don’t have to be an expert, and you don’t even have to enjoy basketball to be a part of this.

That, to me, is what makes this tournament beautiful. The unpredictability of March Madness is just tremendous. It’s watching the unexpected happen. It’s watching this unadulterated joy by young players caught up in the moment. What is there not to like about the tournament? The best thing is that it’s the same every year in terms of the excitement factor. You get this thrill every single year. It never fails.

CP: You have to admit, the promotions that come with March Madness help shape this event every year. Buffalo Wild Wings is running a promotion where they have a real life buffalo named Jack making his own bracket. When they first approached you about this, did you have to do a double take about what they said because how is a real buffalo going to make its own predictions?


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Ernie Johnson: Absolutely. When I was approached, I was like, ‘Well, I am going to need a little bit of explanation on how this works.' I was then told that Jack the Buffalo, who was out there in a field, was going to be making the picks. They had a sign on either side of him. Whichever way he looked, that’s the team that is undisputedly going to win each game. He went through both the men’s and women’s brackets. That alone is interesting enough.

Buffalo Wild Wings sweetened the deal by allowing regular people to go head-to-head against this buffalo for a chance at some sweet prizes. If you put your bracket in and you beat Jack, then you’re in the running for men’s or women’s Final Four tickets for next year, and you’re also looking at a year’s supply of wings. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good deal to me!

You’re already going to be putting in your own bracket anyway on all of these other sites, so why not see if beating a buffalo at it pays off for you? To add to that, when you see Jack’s picks, you think, ‘I can beat this buffalo!' He has McNeese State winning the whole thing. Not UConn, not Houston. McNeese State. He has upsets, which happens a lot, but I don’t think McNeese is going to be the Cinderella of all Cinderella teams we have ever seen and cut down the nets when all is said and done.

On the women’s side, I guess he saw his own kind and liked it because he has the Buffaloes of Colorado winning the whole thing. A buffalo picks a buffalo, go figure. Jack is beatable, so I encourage everyone out there to get in on this thing to try and be in the running to get to the Final Four next year.

CP: Tell me, are you going to be able to beat Jack's bracket because this has to be some sort of super smart, future-telling buffalo, right?

Buffalo Wild Wings buffalo bracket challenge

Ernie Johnson: That remains to be seen. My track record when it comes to filling out these brackets is not excellent. I always love the tournament, and I always love filling out a bracket. With that said, I also feel you only get one bracket. The one thing I hate is when people brag about, ‘Oh yeah, I got 15 out of 16 games correct.’ Well, how many brackets did they fill out? ‘Oh, I have 12 brackets.’ Of course, you’re bound to hit somewhere!

I have trouble going against UConn this year, assuming they are healthy and playing the same guys every night. That is the team that I think has the best chance to win this thing, and that’s not going out on a limb since they are the No. 1 overall team. I don’t think Purdue is going to the Final Four. I got Tennessee in that region. I don’t think Houston is getting to the Final Four. I think Kentucky is getting there. I still haven’t made up my mind on that final side of the bracket with North Carolina. There are too many good teams there, and the matchups are ones I need to look at a little closer before coming to a final pick there.

But, with all that said, I think that if UConn takes care of their business early on, then they are going to be very tough to stop from repeating as champions.

CP: Ernie, I can’t agree with you on your Kentucky Final Four pick because I am a Louisville graduate, and that would be sacrilegious to give you any type of credibility on that pick!

Ernie Johnson: [Ernie erupts with laughter] I didn’t mean to do that to you! You have to admit, though, Kentucky has some firepower on that team. They truly are one of the biggest sleepers in this tournament.

CP: What is it about March Madness that makes it so unpredictable every year? 

Ernie Johnson: You know, it's funny you mention that. It’s funny because my sister has a March Madness pool every year with about 50 of us that get into it. There’s no prize, no money, just bragging rights for the year. All the time, all of her friends are always like, ‘You can’t have your brother in the pool; he works March Madness. We see him there on the TV.’

It’s funny because, with March Madness, it really doesn’t matter how much you know, or how much you think you know. Sometimes the more you know about all of these teams, or the more you’ve studied, the worse you do. I just roll the dice and see what happens. Simply put, that’s what makes this time of the year so special.

CP: I guess we will have to wait and see on the Kentucky stuff … You know, you’ve had an absolutely amazing career to this point, and you were recently named to the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2023. What does it mean to you to receive this recognition?

 TNT broadcaster Ernie Johnson Jr. after the 2022 NBA All-Star Game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Ernie Johnson: First off, it was surprising. It was gratifying to have Charles [Barkley] tell me it was going to happen because he surprised me on the air with the news. It was so cool how they kept that a secret from me.

Look, I have been at this for a long time, and you don’t do this for the recognition. You did it just because you feel blessed to be able to do this. Covering sports for a living … it is an absolute dream. To be associated with the folks I have been able to work with at Turner Sports and WBD through the years, they are the ones that make it all possible. We have great production people and announcers across the board.

If someone sees fit to decide that you’re worthy of this Hall of Fame recognition … man, you’re just grateful and thankful. It was a wonderful night to be accompanied by my entire family up in New York as we celebrated. It was an unforgettable moment that I will hold close to my heart forever.

CP: You mentioned Charles Barkley, so I have to ask: Are you treating your time covering the NCAA Tournament as a mini-vacation in a way from all the Inside the NBA crew? They can be a handful at times!

Ernie Johnson: A vacation from some of the silliness, sure. But this is so far from a vacation for me because there is so much work that goes into this. Those first two days are so intensive. When you have 32 games combined on Thursday and Friday and you’re working on notes for all those teams, there’s no time to rest or take your eyes off of what’s happening!

In terms of the guys, they’ll be with us. Kenny [Smith] and Chuck will be there alongside Clark Kellogg on Thursday and Friday in New York. Not only is it fun watching hoops all day, but spending that much time with Chuck can be a chore in itself!

When you’re sitting down from noon to 1 AM with the Chuckster as well as Kenny, you’re just thankful you have Clark in between as the voice of reason. But this is the best part. If your boss told you, ‘Hey, on Thursday and Friday this week, you know what I want you to do? Watch the tournament; that’s your job.’ You’d simply say, ‘I’ll sign up for that.’ That’s the short answer to what we essentially get to do.

CP: On the NBA side of things, you’ve been paying close attention to each team and the standings. Who is the best team in the Eastern Conference, and who is the best team in the Western Conference right ahead of the playoffs?

TBS announcer Ernie Johnson before the game between Team LeBron and Team Durant during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Ernie Johnson: This is an easy question for the Eastern Conference. The Boston Celtics are the best, no questions asked. I wouldn’t sleep on the Milwaukee Bucks, though. I think after a rocky start under Doc Rivers, they’re finding their footing a little bit. Don’t sleep on them. But overall, those are the top two in the East by a solid margin. Boston is clearly the best.

The Western Conference is a little more out there, but I ultimately think it’s the Denver Nuggets. I love what Oklahoma City has done. I love Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and what he’s done. I think with the Minnesota Timberwolves, I am a little surprised that they’ve had the staying power to be in that top three still because, shoot, the standings change every night in the West. Ultimately, I think we are prepared to see the Nuggets and Celtics for the title.

CP: Are those your two teams making the NBA Finals?

EJ: I’ll lock it in and say Boston and Denver, but I am not throwing any Chuckster guarantee on that! For the NCAA Tournament, I will also throw out another bold prediction: Samford is going to take down Kansas in the opening round and go to the Sweet 16.

CP: The NBA MVP race is as tight as it could possibly be between Nikola Jokic and SGA. Do you think this race comes down to the wire and is decided by whichever team finishes above the other in the West standings?

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) shoots the ball over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Ernie Johnson: It may very well come out that way with how things have gone this season. Look, I have a vote and have had one for years. Last year was one of the most difficult because everybody was so close.

For me personally, where the team finishes is the tiebreaker. If I look at a guy’s numbers, a guy’s season, and his impact on a team, and then I come down to the notion of, ‘Man, it’s a dead heat,’ then whoever has the better record matters. I don’t go into the voting process saying, ‘Which team has the best record? Okay, you’re the MVP.’ I look at the players and what they’ve meant to their respective teams, and then use the standings as the tiebreaker, if needed. Right now, I have no clue who I would choose between Nikola Jokic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. This is some race for the MVP!

CP: If you had to give your biggest bold prediction for March Madness, what would it be?

Ernie Johnson: Look out for Samford! This is not an ordinary 13-seed, and Kansas is dealing with some injuries right now. I have Samford taking down the Jayhawks in the opening round, and then advancing to the Sweet 16, taking down either Gonzaga or McNeese State to get there. Samford are the Bulldogs, and I was a Bulldog at Georgia. It just makes sense!