ESPN College Basketball Media Conference Call with Analyst Jay Bilas

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ESPN College Basketball Media Conference Call with Analyst Jay Bilas

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas participated in a media conference call on Monday, March 6, in advance of ESPN’s Champ Week and the NCAA Selection Sunday.

Buzz Words: Tony Bennett; Virginia; ACC Tournament; BIG EAST; Buzz Williams; Virginia Tech; North Carolina; Monmouth; Belmont; Illinois State; Kentucky; Brooklyn; Barclays Center; Madison Square Garden; Villanova; Kansas; Gonzaga; Louisville; Donovan Mitchel; Wichita State; Duke; Coach K; Oklahoma State, Butler, Cincinnati; Notre Dame; Miami; Big Ten; Wisconsin; Purdue; Indiana; Ohio State; Michigan State; Syracuse; Jim Boeheim; LSU

I have a question about Tony Bennett in Charlottesville. Wondering what this season, with all its ups and downs and also having lost Anthony Gill, Malcolm Brogdon, Mike Tobey. What does this tell you about the system he’s built in Charlottesville?

JAY BILAS: He is a great coach. And I think they’ve done more with the personnel they have than I could have ever imagined. They’ve got good players. But they don’t have any pros. And they’ve had pros there.

I mean, Joe Harris, Justin Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon. Those guys were problems. Mike Tobey is in the NBA and other guys that were kind of overseas pros.

But they’ve got a lot of young players this year. They don’t score easily. That’s been a little bit of a struggle for them. But their defense is fantastic, and they’re really disciplined.

I mean, they play their style no matter what. And nobody can get them out of it. And that’s not — they’re no fun to play against. I don’t think anybody is signing up saying, yeah, I’d like to go to Virginia and play them, that would be great. That’s a compliment to them.

Swinging over to Virginia Tech as well. Based on what we know about Buzz Williams in terms of his coaching reputation and what he’s like as a very detailed-oriented guy. Is it at all surprising that he’s been able to orchestrate this three-season turnaround and really get them on their way to their first NCAA Tournament?

JAY BILAS: Well, that he have been to the tournament a number of times. This isn’t their first tournament.

In years, sorry.

JAY BILAS: Yeah, the program was in really good shape under Seth Greenberg, but Buzz is a really good coach. I first got to know him at Marquette as an assistant. He did a great job there and is doing a really good job at Virginia Tech. They’re much better offensively than they are on the defensive end, but they’re a team that can really shoot it, and they attack. And that’s always — Buzz is a big analytics guy. And they count their paint touches and all that stuff.

Before I met him I never heard of the term “paint touch” just called attacking the basket. But he’s done a great job.

They’ve got a very good team. They will not, they’ll be difficult to play against just because they’ve got so many different guys that can score.

One, you did the Carolina game on the weekend. Want to talk about what their ceiling is moving forward, and maybe some of the things that can get in their way. And two, any of the mid-major teams that stumbled over the weekend and didn’t win their conference worthy of a tournament bid?

JAY BILAS: First, on Carolina. I’m tempted to say their ceiling is the roof. But that seems to — (laughter) — but I do think that North Carolina’s the best team. They’ve had some stumbles here and there where they haven’t brought it. But they had similar things happen last year where they might go on the road and just kind of lay an egg, which they did that three times this year against Georgia — they were all in the league. Against Georgia Tech and Miami and they were just awful against Virginia, scored 43 points in that game, which I think a lot of people would have lost money on that one if you would have bet people, the over — you said the over/under is 44. I don’t think anybody would have taken the under on that.

But once we get to the tournament, I favor them. That doesn’t mean they’re going to win, obviously. And it doesn’t mean that other teams aren’t capable. But when they play their best, they’re the best team.

Your question about the mid-major thing, you said who are worthy.

Like obviously Monmouth lost, and Belmont stumbled, any of these teams that didn’t win their conference worthy of a bid?

JAY BILAS: I think there are a number of them that are worthy and that could be successful in a game if they got in the tournament, it would be a difficult out.

I think the only one that has lost thus far that I think has a shot is Illinois State. I’m not even sure they have a great shot. I think they’re probably on the outside looking in. But they’re in the best position. Monmouth didn’t get in last year and they lost in the title game last year to Iona and this year they lost in the semi.

And they don’t have near the resume this year that they did last year. Last year they had beaten UCLA and Georgetown and Notre Dame. They had won, like, 19 true road games or something.

And I couldn’t believe they didn’t get in last year. And my sense is that if they couldn’t get in last year, that it’s not going to happen this year. And so I think Illinois State is probably positioned the best to get in but I think they’re going to have a tough time too. I think it’s going to be very difficult.

They only lost six games. But they were beaten twice by Wichita State once by 40 and the other by 20. They got handled pretty good in the Missouri Valley title game. And I think they’re really good. They’re good defensively. Paris Lee is really good. But I think it’s going to be difficult. I can’t think of anybody else that’s been beat yet that was sort of near the cut line.

Am I missing anybody?

Belmont I was thinking maybe?

JAY BILAS: Belmont — I don’t think they have a chance. And I mean I don’t mean to say that flippantly. But just their numbers — their numbers aren’t going to be able to put them in the conversation. And they’re just going to be too far outside of — they’re basically — if you’re outside of the top 60 or so in the RPI, and even in the analytics, like Belmont is not in the top 75 of any of the analytics. So if you went to KenPom they wouldn’t be ranked in the top 75.

So sometimes the committee looks at those things more now. It’s not — all the data is organized by RPI which I think is a horrendous mistake on their part. But all of it is organized by the RPI. But they do look at other analytics. But those don’t favor Belmont either.

I think Belmont is very good. Evan Bradds is a great player. They’re very good. And they’re extraordinarily well-coached. Rick Byrd one of the best coaches in the country.

But it’s just math. When you have 351 Division I teams, how are you going to kind of shoehorn so many mid-majors into 36 at-large spots? It’s just not going to happen.

And it’s not a question of favoring mediocre major teams. That’s not the issue. The issue is like there’s no way for all these teams to get quality games during the course of a season. They can’t do it.

And you can’t ask the 70 or so major conference teams and then the top half of those that are the best teams to go play everybody. They can’t.

Like Duke and Carolina, they can’t schedule Belmont every year. What about the other ones? They have to play home games. They have to do this, they have to do that. It’s just too difficult. Now they’re going to increase the number of power games, the power conferences.

So it’s going to mean even fewer opportunities for mid-majors. So this sort of isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Do you feel better or worse about Kentucky today than you would have a month ago?

JAY BILAS: Better. You know, they’re not that much different than they were a month ago. But I think they’re tougher and they kind of get it more. They still have the same sort of issues.

I mean, Bam Adebayo’s played better. I think he’s continued to improve. He had a couple of 15-rebound games in a row.

Malik Monk is still one of the handful of the best scorers in the country. I know he didn’t play well the other day, or score well. They’re still a little bit vulnerable at the 4 spot and they don’t score from every position. They don’t shoot it from every position but they’re still really talented.

And if they defend at a high level, they’re one of the top 10 teams, I think. So, yeah, I like their team. But they’re not — this is not the team that he had two years ago. But I think it’s better — I think it’s better than the team he had last year.

What do you think’s the biggest key for them, if you think they’re going to make a big run in March?

JAY BILAS: They’ve got to guard people. They’ll have to do it defensively. I don’t think Kentucky can rely upon outscoring people. And when I say outscore people, obviously you have to score more points than them to win but it’s sort of like outrebound. Like there’s a lot of teams — there’s some teams out there that are not as defensive-oriented. So they’re going to try to just be more efficient offensively than you, just kind of try to pile up points and you can’t score enough to beat them.

I don’t think Kentucky can afford to do that. They’ve got to really be — they’ve got to be at their best defensively, because even when they played Vanderbilt, they’re getting down in these games. You get down against a good team in the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to be a short stay.

But they’re capable of second weekend. But they’re also, being as young as they are, second-round game is going to be difficult depending on what matchup they draw.

I mean, they’ve seen that when they got Indiana and all that, it’s not easy.

The ACC Tournament’s going to be in Brooklyn this week. Did you ever think in your lifetime you would actually hear that phrase, ACC Tournament in Brooklyn and is it a good thing for the tournament? What do you think of it?

JAY BILAS: Well, when I was playing in the league I didn’t think it ever would be there. If you told me the league one day would be 15 teams or 16, that we’d have 16-team leagues or all this stuff, I wouldn’t have believed it. Because the ACC was eight teams when I played in it a million years ago and it was the best league in the country.

These leagues now they’re not leagues anymore, they’re not conferences. They’re media rights consortiums, they’re just together to house their media rights. And there’s no — geographically it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But after I saw the Big East — I was fortunate to do the old Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden, that’s another thing if you had told me when I was a player that the Big East would be better than the ACC Tournament I would not have believed it. But it was.

And being in the Garden for that tournament was one of the reasons for it. And so I had thought, when the ACC expanded, they need to get up to the Garden. And I still believe that.

I think Madison Square Garden would be the perfect place for the ACC Tournament permanently. But in the short run, getting up to Brooklyn or staying in Brooklyn, whatever it is, at the Barclay Center, is fantastic. I know the old guard and North Carolina have driven to the games forever and feel like it’s a birthright to have it in Greensboro will scream tradition, but most of the teams in the old ACC used to be in the southern conference and they weren’t screaming tradition then.

You know, things change. And if we’re going to have 16 teams and be this big behemoth of a conference, the biggest stage is in New York. And I think it’s great.

And secondly, a lot has been said about kind of the bruising style of the Big East and kind of the New York fans are kind of used to that. It’s literally five miles between the two venues. Might take you an hour to navigate that five miles, but what can the fans expect when they pile into the Barclay Center to see the ACC, what’s going to be different for them? In terms of the brand of basketball?

JAY BILAS: The brand isn’t going to be different at all. It’s not like they’re seeing we’re back in the ’50s and ’60s where they didn’t know what people looked like. They’ve got the Internet and television. They’ve seen these teams play.

And Duke is up there all the time playing in the Garden. They’ve had North Carolina in the Barclays Center recently. So they’ve seen all these teams. And plus, you know, the old Big East is already in the league. So they’ve seen all those teams.

The ACC is half ACC, half Big East. Half the league was in the Big East at one time. Virginia Tech was in the Big East. Obviously Notre Dame, Syracuse and Louisville, and all that. Half the league has been in the Big East at one time or another. Miami was in the Big East. So it’s not going to be anything foreign to them at all.

To follow up on that a little bit, obviously the ACC I believe is booked for two straight years in Brooklyn then they’re booked to go back to North Carolina. Is the Big East the only one that can, I wouldn’t say get away, but get away with staying in one spot in this day and age with the big conferences?

JAY BILAS: No. I think the smart thing to do is to stay in one spot. That this idea about giving everybody a turn doesn’t make any sense. Put it in one spot and I think they should put the Final Four in one spot.

Pick the best city for it and keep it in one spot. But I understand, you know, them wanting to do it differently than that. But I think you’ve got a good city for it. I think Indianapolis is a great city for the Final Four because you can walk everywhere.

But having a home base for that I think is fantastic. But especially when your spot, you plant the flag in New York City or in this case Brooklyn. I don’t know whether Brooklyn is long-term home for the ACC. But, look, I didn’t — when I played I didn’t like the fact that we went to Atlanta twice.

I felt the tournament back then, and this was again a million years ago, back in the ’80s, but you felt like the tournament was Greensboro. That’s where it felt like it should be.

But now that the league has expanded and now it’s up and down the East Coast and actually into the Midwest, New York is the place for it to be.

And when you can — it’s a destination trip. I don’t think anybody’s going to complain about the accommodations or the restaurants or being able to walk to the games.

It will be a hot ticket if it’s in Madison Square Garden. The only downside is there have been people that have made that their tradition; that they drive to the games, it’s in Greensboro, they eat barbecue and they go to the games. They feel like they own it. But you know what, the door’s open now to other things.

And the game has changed. And so has the league. It’s not the same league it used to be. And it’s just one person’s judgment, but I think it should be in New York and that’s it. I wouldn’t move it around at all.

I know you have obviously connections in the league. Obviously with them already agreeing to go back to, I believe, it’s Charlotte and Greensboro in ’19 and ’20, that’s your opinion, you don’t see any desire to do that?

JAY BILAS: I don’t know. I mean, I’m talking — I don’t care like next year, the year after that, all that stuff. That’s such a short period of time. I mean, 10 years is not a long period of time. And especially for planning purposes.

And if you’re looking long term, I’m talking about the long term, for the long-term health of the league, because I think that’s the way to go.

But, look, reasonable minds can differ. I wouldn’t argue with somebody who says I like it better in Greensboro, I’d like to see it shift around every few years, that’s all fine with me. Wherever the games are, I’m going. It doesn’t matter to me because it’s better for me in Greensboro. I can drive and then go home because I live in Charlotte.

But I think for the health of the league long-term and for the most exposure and all that, New York’s where I’d put it.

It’s been 30 years since the NCAA adopted the three-point line. How do you think that’s changed college basketball over the years, and what kind of impact do you think that has on how the NCAA Tournament plays out?

JAY BILAS: I don’t think it has any impact at all in how the tournament plays out. We have the same number — basically the same number of upsets that we’ve always had.

There was no three-point shot when Indiana State and Penn went to the Final Four in 1979 or when NC State upset Houston in the championship game in ’83 or when Villanova won in ’85 or all that stuff.

So I don’t think it has any effect on the outcome. Sports, that’s sports. There’s going to be upsets. The three-point line, the game has evolved, but it’s evolved globally. It’s not just college ball. It’s evolved globally.

And so the game’s played differently now than it was 30 years ago. I happen to really enjoy it the way it is now. But I enjoyed it back then, too.

So it’s just the natural evolution of the game. And people are learning how to use the line better and be more efficient with it. It’s an asymmetrical threat. It’s a higher-value shot. So if you have a higher-value shot people will work harder to get it. And it’s opening the floor up more.

So now teams are better using all 94 feet by 50 and using the length and the width of the court. So I think it’s been fabulous. But I don’t think it’s had any real effect as far as now all of a sudden teams that couldn’t win before can win.

If you couldn’t win before, you can’t win now. So to me it’s just an exciting thing and I think it’s been great. But it’s not like college basketball could have kept its head buried in the sand saying we’re not going to have the three-point shot just because the rest of the world doesn’t.

It was a smart move. And we should continue to look at the rest of the world the way they do things, because we’re again men’s college basketball is still behind the rest of the world.

We’re still having the same discussion. Like we waited forever to go to put our shot clock at 30 seconds when the rest of the world had already done it.

And we complained about it. And we said there will be nothing but bad shots and we did it. And scoring is up and the game is better. And I don’t think any reasonable person can look at basketball over the last two years and say it’s not better. It’s substantially better.

And our next thing is now we’re arguing over quarters. And the rest of the world uses quarters. We’re the only game in the world that doesn’t have quarters.

And we’re saying, well, it’s tradition. Peach baskets were tradition, so what. We should go to quarters. But we’re still arguing over it.

And women’s college basketball has quarters and it’s worked out wonderfully well and we’re still slow to do it.

Because of the way the game has evolved, do you think it’s really important now if you’re going to be a team that can win the tournament, do you have to be a good three-point shooting team.

JAY BILAS: Well, I think in any — whether you have it or not, I think you have to be a good shooting team. There’s never been a time, even without the three-point shot, when defenses could pack it in and could play zone, you’ve got to be able to shoot to get them out of that and stretch a defense and to attack it.

So I don’t think the three-point line necessarily means you have to be good shooters. It puts a premium on shooting. But there aren’t that many good shooters to go around, just like there aren’t that many super athletic players and that many great back-to-the-basket big guys. There’s always a premium on skill and shooting in basketball, always.

But I think you’ve seen more teams that have worked harder to get transition three-point shots. You didn’t — when I played 30 years ago, it was unusual for you to see somebody grab an offensive rebound and look out to the three-point line for a shot. And that’s routine now. That’s one of the best threes you can get. Offensive rebound, kick it out for a step-in three.

You’ve seen the game evolve in that way as to the way it’s being used.

Jay, if you look at the last four national champions and the runner-up last year, they all started two point guards the way Kansas and Gonzaga and a few other teams do this year. Is there something about the rules of today’s game or the way it’s played, the way it’s coached that makes that an advantage more so than in the past, or do you believe it’s just a coincidence that that’s what’s happened the last four years?

JAY BILAS: You know, I don’t know that it’s necessarily a trend. I think having a couple of guys that can handle the ball out there is — and handle it as a point guard is a nice thing. But it’s not absolutely necessary because you’ve had teams that have won without that.

You have to have — you have to be able to do a number of different things to win, so you’ve got to be able to — I think you do have to have a point guard. You know, you’re not going to be naming a lot of teams that have won without one, but you also have to be able to score and defend in the post, and Kansas has always had that. They’re a little bit different this year. They’re not as proficient of a scoring team inside as they have been in the past, but they can still defend in there. Landen Lucas has been an anchor for them. But they’re not — you can’t throw it in there and get a bucket this year like Bill Self used to do and used to be able to do. It’s not built inside out. It’s more, as you know, you watch them all the time, but it’s a four-on-one guard-oriented offense, perimeter-oriented offense.

I think what he’s done this year has been maybe his best coaching job to — he won the league going away, but there was a lot of close games, and that team really competes, and they compete on both ends. I think this is his — really kind of the most amazing of the 13 to me is this year.

I’m sure you know Kentucky has had wild swings in games. Inconsistency has been a mark of the team so far. I’m wondering how you think that impacts their viability as a team that can win six games in the NCAA Tournament.

JAY BILAS: Well, they can win six games. I don’t favor them to do it. It’s a difficult task, as you know, because it’s a three-week tournament, so remaining consistent over three weeks is not easy.

But at the same time, if you really — really all this is, it’s three four-team tournaments for each team, so Kentucky’s draw, they’re going to have a four-team tournament the first weekend, and then they get to go home and practice for a few days and get prepared for another four-team tournament if they were to win their first two games.

And then the Final Four just happens to be a four-team tournament. So it’s not — it makes it a little easier to wrap your head around, but the tournament is not about 68 teams, it’s about each team’s specific path forward. It’s not a golf tournament. You don’t have to beat everybody. It’s like a tennis tournament. This is not the masters, it’s like Wimbledon.

Roger Federer when he won the Australian Open, he didn’t have to beat everybody, he just had to beat the six guys in his path, and you play in a golf tournament, you’ve got to beat everybody. In the NCAA you don’t, you just have to — so if you get a bad match-up, you’re going home. But if something happens in your bracket like what happened to Syracuse last year, Syracuse didn’t play a single-digit seed until the Elite 8.

Who’s fault is that? They got a good draw, and they did well against it. But those are the kind of things that happen in tournaments, and a lot of people forget that.

Is Kentucky’s inconsistency just purely a matter of depending on freshmen, or is there something else? Is there enough time to smooth that out?

JAY BILAS: I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that because I don’t know where — it’s kind of like getting hot. How do you know when somebody is going to get hot, or when you’re riding a hot streak, how do you know when it’s going to end? You just don’t.

They’re capable of playing better than they’re playing, and they’ve made some strides. They’ve gotten better. I think they’ve gotten tougher. But I think I had mentioned to somebody that you get down 19 in the NCAA Tournament, you don’t want to do that. You get down 19 at home to Vanderbilt or something like that, you can overcome that. But they’ve been down double digits in a number of games, and that is not a recipe for tournament success.

So they’ve got an opportunity in the SEC tournament to kind of get sharper in a tournament setting, at a neutral-site setting, and that’s pretty darned good barometer of what you’re going to — what you have to deal with going forward because they’re going to play NCAA Tournament caliber teams. So that’s step one is perform in that tournament and then move on to the next one.

What’s your assessment of Villanova? What do you like, and what concerns do you have?

JAY BILAS: I don’t have any concerns except for health. Darryl Reynolds getting healthy and staying healthy would be the only concern. This is a really good team. I mean, offensively they are excellent. They run. They’re resolute to run their stuff. They’re a good screening team. They’re a very good passing team. And by passing team, I don’t mean they’re that — that they’re a passing team that all of them pile up assists, but they move the ball, and when they catch it, they either pass, dribble or shoot, like they don’t pass it, catch and hold. And then they’re strong defensively, but they’ve got a lot of experience, and then they’ve got some really good young players.

I love that team. But the only issue would be dealing with teams, like if they played North Carolina again, dealing with their size, I think they were a little bit better off dealing with size last year, but they’re not — they beat Purdue earlier this year at Purdue. They can handle size. But if Darryl Reynolds isn’t healthy, it makes it a little more difficult.

I just wanted to ask overall, look at Louisville and the way they’ve come into the postseason, where do you see them in this ACC tournament puzzle and how the season plays out for them?

JAY BILAS: Well, they’re capable of winning the ACC Tournament. They can win the whole thing. They’re good enough to win the whole thing. Earlier in the year when I watched them, I wasn’t confident that they would be a great offensive team, that they could really score, and they were subject early on to some pretty significant scoring droughts, like the game against Baylor and all that stuff. They’ve had times where scoring was an issue. They can stop people, but I don’t care how good your defense is, and their defense is great; great defense doesn’t always stop offenses. Like there are some really good offensive players out there that it’s hard to keep teams from scoring, and they get hot, and you’ve got to be able to score yourself. But they’ve really improved over the last month, month and a half on the offensive end.

They’re way better than they were early. I’ve been really impressed. I think they’ve got — and Donovan Mitchell has been excellent over the last month or so. Deng Adel has gotten better. They got a really nice game from Mangok Mathiang the other day. But I think they’re very, very good, and I would not be surprised to see them win in Brooklyn. I would not be surprised to see them in Phoenix.

That was the other thing I wanted to ask was about Donovan Mitchell. I know one time you told me making the decision about the NBA Draft is like deciding when the right time is to get married. With Donovan, the way he’s been playing, how do you think he’s kind of improved his stature as an NBA prospect?

JAY BILAS: Well, I think he’s improved it a great deal. I don’t remember how many threes he made last year, but it wasn’t more than 20, and this year he’s made almost 80 if I remember right. I mean, it was in the 70s at least. But last year I don’t think he hit 20. So for a guy to really improve his perimeter shooting to that level where he’s a legitimate threat out there now and you have to go out and guard him and it opens up his ability to back off the dribble. He’s an excellent defender, you know, he’s not the biggest guy, and I do think — he’s 6’3″, maybe 6’2″, but the league still is — they have a lot of big guards there.

I think he’ll play in the NBA. I don’t see the rush, unless they’re going to draft you really, really high. There’s no rush. He needs some – the more he works on things, the better he’s going to get, and I don’t think he’s done getting better.

Do you agree or disagree with the contention that the importance of solid guard play is magnified in the postseason?

JAY BILAS: I think it’s — I don’t know about magnified in the postseason. I mean, I think guard play is always important. If you’re playing a regular season game, it’s not like guards don’t need to play. But I think everything is magnified in the postseason. People pay attention more, so they’re looking — they may be looking — look, you’ve got to have really good guards to win, but you know what, if you don’t have big guys, you’re going to lose, too, because you can’t name me a team that’s won this thing or that’s done really well in the tournament that hasn’t been able to score and defend in the post. They don’t exist.

Now, if I could only have one and had to choose, I would choose guards, just like if I could only choose — if I’m flying in an airplane and I can only choose between the pilot and the maintenance crew, I’d choose the pilot.

But sooner or later, if you don’t have a maintenance crew, you’re going to have trouble and the pilot is not going to be able to do a damned thing about it. But if you could only choose one, you’d probably choose that first. But you need both, and I’ve always — maybe it’s because I was a big guy, but boy, everybody — all they want — everybody wants to talk about guards until they need a damned rebound, then they want to talk about big guys.

And have you ever seen an ACC Tournament that has the potential to be as wide open as this year’s?

JAY BILAS: Yeah, every year. It’s that way every year. I think we’re a really interesting culture in college basketball. I don’t know that we do this with any other sport, but it’s remarkable how every year we talk about how wide open it is, and hardly ever does it vary.

You know, like last year, what I see happening just about every year — and there may be exceptions to this, but this is generally what happens. There are upsets every year in the first weekend. Every year. There’s never a time when there aren’t upsets. So we talk about how crazy it is, and oh, my God, look how wide open, anybody can win, unbelievable. And then the second weekend it normalizes, and there are usually like 13 major conference teams and three mid-majors, and two of them are usually Gonzaga and Wichita State or somebody like that, Dayton back when they were mid-majors.

Last year, remember the first weekend we talked about how crazy it was, Middle Tennessee and all that, and when we got to the Sweet 16 it was 15 major conference teams and Gonzaga, and the Final Four were the usual suspects.

Every once in a while somebody is going to catch fire and you’re going to have a VCU thing happen and all that, but usually it kind of — we have upsets the first weekend, and like the record for 15 and 16 seeds, I think they’ve won a grand total of like eight games. Eight, since 1985. So it’s not like when — the outlier was Florida Gulf Coast because they won again. A lot of teams pull one upset. Very few win again. Like last year Middle Tennessee, and they’re very good, Kermit Davis does a really good job. Last year they beat Michigan State, they shot the lights out, and we were falling all over ourselves talking about it, and then Syracuse, who barely got in the tournament, beat them by 30.

So I don’t know how wide open it is. I’m talking too much, but like what was the story this year in the ACC? All the coaches said, boy, it’s really hard to beat Boston College. Well, it may have been harder than last year, but everybody still did it, and they were 2-16.

I know I’m a little early on this question, but based on what you just said and based on what you’ve seen through the regular season, can you give me a couple of teams that might be dark horses that are capable of going on a long tournament run, and by dark horse, I mean someone — teams that are maybe in the 5, 6, 7 seed range?

JAY BILAS: I would say Wichita State would be one, but like the committee has a wonderful chance to screw this tournament up by mis-seeding Wichita State because their resume says that they should be a double-digit seed. That is not a double-digit seed. That is a 5 seed. And if they put them as a double-digit seed, the team that gets them is going to get screwed.

Now, maybe the basketball gods, like Coach K likes to talk about all the time, maybe Wichita State deserves a break like that where they’re — I don’t know. But they should not be seeded — like they were seeded 1 and then the committee put a mis-seeded Kentucky against them a few years ago, and that was a horrible mistake, and they got bounced out in the second round, and Wichita State is very good, and they’re way better — their losses came early on when they were young and trying to figure it out, and they’ve figured it out. They’re really good.

who else would be a 5 seed?

Oklahoma State and Cincinnati are pretty good. Cincinnati is a little bit different. They could be in the 5 line. They can really score this year. They’re still really good defensively and they rebound, but they’re much better — they can score five positions this year, which has not been the norm over the last several years with Cincinnati.

I like Butler a lot. They’re probably in the 4, 5, 6 range, because they’ve got a really good — they’re tough, and they’ve got a really good scorer. He’s coming off the bench now, Kelan Martin. The kid is just wired to score. But they’re a talented, talented team.

Notre Dame can really score. They’re not great defensively.

Let me think who else I would put up there.

I mentioned Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State would be there. They’re another team that’s great offensively. They’re not as good defensively, but they’ve gotten better, and they change the way they defend. They were a heavy pressure team earlier. They’re more containment now. But Brad under wood’s team, they’ve got really good guards, like Jawun Evans, he’s like a poor man’s Chris Paul, really talented player.

Just wanted to get your take on Miami really quickly. A lot of tough teams in the ACC. I’m wondering if you kind of see anything with them that would let you think that they could maybe go a couple games deep in the NCAA Tournament and what would concern you and what would kind of keep you from thinking that?

JAY BILAS: Well, I think they can play in the second weekend. A lot depends on their draw. They’re kind of young in spots, too. They’ve got some — obviously some returning players. Davon Reed is a senior and an outstanding player. But they’re not as experienced as they’ve been, and that’s — I think it’s hard to kind of tell them apart, really, if you look at their resume and all that. It’s hard to kind of tell them apart from Virginia, frankly. They’re not as good defensively as Virginia but they’re really good. I like their team. Bruce Brown has gotten a lot better and he’s a big-time scorer.

They defend pretty well. They run a lot of ball screens. They’ve got good big guys, but they don’t score from the post all that well. But they’re very capable.

Do I favor them to be a Final Four team? I do not. Do I think they can play in the second weekend? I do. I think if they’ve got a good draw they can do that.

Quickly on Bruce Brown, he’s had some really good games against high-profile opponents, and there’s kind of been some talk about him maybe thinking about leaving early. I’m wondering if you have a take on him and what you’ve — not asking you to assess him as a draft prospect but just what do you think of him and what he’s been able to do to the freshmen?

JAY BILAS: I think he’s been great, and he keeps getting better. He’s like really dynamic, and he’s not afraid. He can shoot it and he’s improved his shooting. He’s improved his shot selection. Yeah, I like him a lot. He’s one of the best freshmen in the league, and he played his best basketball toward the end of the season. Gets to the free-throw line. He attacks.

As far as pro prospects, he’s a potential pro player. But you know, if you look at the landscape, I don’t know what the rush would be. But it depends on each kid and each player as to what they want, and what they want out of their careers and what they consider ready to be. Are you ready to be a pro? Are you ready to be an impact player? And some guys are just ready to be a pro right now, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. I would never talk anybody out of it. You just want them to make an informed decision, as long as he knows what he’s getting into.

But I think if you were to ask me what’s best for his long-term career, then being as prepared as possible would be the best thing, and I don’t think he’s fully prepared yet.

I was just wondering what your perception of the Big Ten is heading into the tournament. Seven or eight teams may get in, but is there a Final Four team among that bunch?

JAY BILAS: I think the Big Ten has had a good year. Like you compare the Big Ten against prior years in the Big Ten where it’s been so unbelievably strong, then maybe you’d say, well, it’s not the best it’s been. That’s fair. All you have to do is go down the list and say, wait a minute, Michigan State has been better because they’ve been injured all year, and Iowa has been better and Illinois has been better and Indiana had a rough year and Ohio State has been better. That’s where the perceptions come in.

But the top of the league has still got good teams, like Purdue is Final Four good. They’re Final Four good. Their guards are so much better than I gave them credit for before the season started. They’ve come a long way, and they’re really difficult because they’ve got big guys and they can shoot it, and they’ve got a Player of the Year candidate that produces every single game, Caleb Swanigan. Every single game. He doesn’t have an off game.

Wisconsin has run into a rough patch, but Minnesota has gotten a lot better. I mean, they’re capable. But I would say the only — the team that I think is the Final Four threat is Purdue.

How much of that perception is both the tournament last year with Michigan State and Purdue losing in the first round, then not winning the championship since Michigan State?

JAY BILAS: That’s got nothing to do with it in my judgment. Look, I don’t think the Big Ten is — this isn’t it’s best year, but it’s still strong. It’s still one of the top leagues in the country and it’s still hard to beat as far as a league is concerned. I mean, it’s probably third behind the ACC and the Big 12 I’d say. But it’s not at its best. You can’t have Indiana and Ohio State where they are and Illinois where they are or Iowa where they are and say, those teams have all been significantly stronger. I think Michigan State would be up at the top if it hadn’t had injury. Tom Izzo lost his whole front court before a ball was dribbled this year. Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter were gone before a ball was dribbled, and then they lose Eron Harris a couple weeks ago.

Those are catastrophic injuries, and some other coaches are — they complain about, well, I lost a guy for this amount of games or this guy has been out. I think a lot of — I think Tom Izzo would trade places with all of them, just to have his guys out for nine games. He’s had them out for the whole year. So that’s been significant. But last year doesn’t have anything to do with it.

But not having won a title, that doesn’t have anything to do with it.

But the fact that, hey, it’s the third best league or whatever number you put to it, I mean, the Big Ten does have to own it. You are what your record says you are. There may be reasons for it, but you are what your record says you are. I mean, Bill Parcells said that, and I think he’s exactly right.

First and foremost, with John Gillon and Andrew White III at Syracuse, two grad transfers that had never played together, have you ever seen two guys have such an effect on a team so quickly, and what can you say about their season and kind of how they’ve looked so far?

JAY BILAS: I have seen guys have effects on teams quickly, so you know, I don’t know where I’d rank this one. But they’ve done a great job. I mean, it’s — early on I had Syracuse quite a bit early on, and they were not playing well, and most of it was due to defense. Jim Boeheim made the point that you’re getting fifth-year transfers in that are first year in your program. So you usually get a transfer, they’ve got a year in your program and then they play, and he had said, they’ve got habits but they’re not Syracuse habits. And Syracuse plays defense differently than other teams, even differently than other teams that play zone. They have a different way of doing it.

You know, it takes a while to get those habits down, and they’ve done much, much better. But you know, you don’t often see — I don’t know when the last time a team had two different guys score 40 points in a game in the same season. I’m sure it’s happened before, but I haven’t — I don’t remember it. That’s pretty remarkable for that to have happened.

Syracuse is starting to play much better, and that’s certainly coming at the right time.

When you look at a head coach like Jim Boeheim and this being his 41st year, to have the team that he had with two grad transfers starting, two freshmen starting and a sophomore starting, have you ever seen him have a tougher road, so to speak, to get this team and corral this team together? What can you say about the job he’s done this year?

JAY BILAS: Jim does a great job every year. He’s so good. It doesn’t matter what — he’s like that old saying, I don’t know who said it, but he’ll take yours and beat his or he’ll take his and beat yours. He knows what he’s doing. So nothing surprises me with him. One of the best teachers and best evaluators of teams.

After what he did last year, being out nine games and then taking that team to the Final Four — and he keeps plugging. I know he doesn’t give off the — he doesn’t always give off the air that he is an optimistic, sunshiny person, but he keeps plugging, and he’s not going to quit until the last buzzer goes off.

I just wanted to talk to you about what may be happening here in Baton Rouge. What do you see, maybe LSU needs to do in the future? I know it’s off the conference call, off the NCAA Tournament path.

JAY BILAS: Yeah. I think whether it’s LSU or anyone, you know, the landscape of the game is so different than it used to be. It used to be that you would give somebody — somebody gets a job and they have an opportunity to get recruiting classes through, and you have time to build. That doesn’t work anymore.

Do I think Johnny Jones is a good coach? I do, and I like him very much. But what happened with Kim Anderson at Missouri is an indication of where we are now, that Kim Anderson was there three years. They gave him a job of a program that couldn’t have been in a worse position, and as bad as Georgia Tech — as everybody said Georgia Tech was when Josh Pastner took it, Missouri was far worse, far worse, and after three years, they asked Kim Anderson to pack his bags because they needed to appease their fan base.

So they just — they’re going to go through part of this again. But that’s the world we’re living in now.

Look, I don’t like it, but I’m a realist. Like this is the business we’ve chosen, and we all serve at the pleasure of our superiors. I understand how it works, so I’m realistic about it, and it’s hard for me to feel sorry for — I feel sorry for the individuals, but sort of as — across the landscape, it’s hard to feel sorry for coaches when we’re talking about positions that pay millions of dollars. This is professional basketball. It’s pro sports. And it’s no — if anybody needed to be convinced that this is pro sports, all they have to do is look at the way not only the game is marketed and sold but the way coaches are — the way coaches are dealt with now.

They’re paid millions, and they get fired whenever it’s expedient and in the best interest of the enterprise to do so, and that’s not the way it was years ago.



Rachel Margolis Siegal

As part of the College Sports PR team at ESPN, it has been an exciting adventure for me since I joined the worldwide leader in July 2010, working on college football, college basketball, college lacrosse and WNBA properties. I began my love of sports as the manager of several high school sports teams and continued that hobby into college. While at Quinnipiac, I worked in the Sports Information Department, which led me to a summer internship at the New Haven Ravens, a AA baseball team, and an eventual job with the Athletic Communications Department at the University of Connecticut. After my five-year stint at Connecticut, I spent six years as Director of Communications at the BIG EAST Conference in Providence, R.I. before joining ESPN.
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