Men’s College Basketball: ESPN Analysts React to NCAA Bracket Reveal, Selection Sunday Analysis and Bracket Picks

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Men’s College Basketball: ESPN Analysts React to NCAA Bracket Reveal, Selection Sunday Analysis and Bracket Picks

Buzz Words: Northwestern; Kentucky; Gonzaga; Syracuse; Villanova; John Calipari; Mark Few; Chris Collins; Jay Wright; Josh Hart; Jim Boeheim; Wisconsin; Virginia; Duke; South Carolina; SMU; UCLA; Miami; Michigan State; Kansas; Michigan; Oklahoma State; Creighton; Big Ten; Iowa State; Monte Morris; Wichita State; North Carolina; Butler; Middle Tennessee; Minnesota; Notre Dame; Arizona; Florida State; St. Johns; Boston College; Georgetown; Seton Hall; Tom Izzo; Rhode Island; Oregon; College Football Playoff; Mark Hollis

ESPN’s extensive multiplatform coverage of Selection Sunday – highlighted with instant and in-depth analysis, discussion of the field, upset predictions, Final Four picks and more – aired across studio shows on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SEC Network and ESPN Radio. Coverage included several live interviews with Kentucky’s John Calipari, Gonzaga’s Mark Few, Northwestern’s Chris Collins and Villanova’s Jay Wright and Josh Hart, plus Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, whose team was left out of the field of 68 teams.

Rece Davis hosted ESPN’s 7 p.m. ET Bracketology presented by Allstate with analysts Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg, Jay Williams and Dick Vitale (via satellite). SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt aired an early edition with updates of the bracket reveal with Bilas, Davis, Kara Lawson, Dan Dakich and Miles Simon.

ESPN Tournament Marathon Challenge Begins Monday Night
ESPN will televise its 24-hour Tournament Challenge Marathon – from the network’s studios in Bristol, Conn. and Los Angeles, with an additional set in Las Vegas – on Monday, March 13 through Tuesday, March 14. The Tournament Challenge Marathon begins on ESPN with the NCAA Women’s Selection Special Presented by Capital One at 7 p.m. ET Monday and ends on ESPN2 with a special edition of Tournament Challenge from 4:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Bilas, Greenberg and Williams will appear on ESPN shows throughout the entire 24 hours. Davis will host several editions of Tournament Challenge beginning Monday evening and most of Tuesday. Additional details

ESPN’s Tournament Challenge game returns for its 20th season and will again be free for entrants to submit up to 25 entries each for the Men’s and Women’s tournament at ESPN.com/bracket or the ESPN Tournament Challenge App for iOS and Android. New features in the ESPN TC App include the ability to pre-fill brackets before Selection Sunday, Group enhancements to make play with friends and family easier, an all-new News tab, advanced Bracketcast design and functionality, better ESPN Insider integrations, and improved push notifications for up-to-the-second bracket, news and video updates.

SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt
Before Bracket Release
Bilas: This is the national championship; it is a multibillion dollar event – it’s gigantic and it’s too important for us to have all these bracketing rules… All we need to do is seed this thing 1 through 68… All this messing around and essentially gerrymandering the tournament, there are reasons behind it, some of them are valid, some of them aren’t close to being valid, but we just need to seed this thing based on how good they are.

Bilas: That’s why I’ve argued for years that they need to have basketball people on the committee. Not that the committee doesn’t do a good job, they do a really good job, but the question is ‘Do they do the best possible job?’ Well the answer to that is ‘Absolutely not – they don’t’

East Bracket Seeding
Bilas: Wisconsin will be fine. It’s gonna be a problem for Villanova… That’s a game Villanova should not have to play in the second round.
Lawson: Villanova, this looks like a hard road to me, for them to get to the Final Four… The road, it could be Wisconsin, Virginia and then Duke just to get to the Final Four.
Bilas: A really good draw for Duke because in that 7-10 game, you’ve got South Carolina, a team that can really defend but can’t score against a team in Marquette, that can really score but can’t defend.
Davis: They put the best two with the No. 1 overall seed. I’m surprised to see Duke and Villanova in the same bracket.
Bilas on USC: They’re really athletic and really talented… But they only beat SMU and UCLA during the season. Talk about a team that went both ways, talk about a team that can be really good or really bad… They should be really good but they’ve been horribly inconsistent.

Midwest Bracket Seeding
Bilas: I don’t see a whole lot that’s really shocking or surprising. Miami, if Miami winds up beating Michigan State, Miami is not an easy second-round game for Kansas.
Lawson: My eyes are really looking at that 7/10 matchup of Michigan and Oklahoma State. Those are two, very, very good teams.
Davis: What jumps out at me on both brackets so far, at least on top 2 lines, they’ve favored geographic integrity… Perhaps they’ve decided there just wasn’t a lot of difference among these teams, and therefore, they acquiesced to geography if nothing else.
SVP: I’m frankly a little surprised that Michigan is a 7 given what they just did, winning four in a row.
Bilas: I thought Michigan was better than Creighton before the Big Ten Tournament. Clearly, the Big Ten does not receive a ton of respect from the Committee.
Lawson: [Iowa State] they have so much experience, they have the four guys, and Monte Morris… I love watching him play. He has had one of the great careers in Big 12 history.

South Bracket Seeding
SVP: Here’s our talking point:  We were curious what with Wichita State… Ken Pom has them as the 8th best team in the country. Wichita State is a 10 seed.
Bilas on Wichita State: I do believe it just fell that way because of.… the bracketing principles…
Lawson: This is not a good draw for me to Kentucky at any point in the round.
Bilas: UNC has struggled with teams that can slow the game down to a crawl…If the seeds hold… Butler is one of those teams that traditionally North Carolina has struggled with…because [Butler] can control tempo.
Lawson: I’ve liked Middle Tennessee all year. I think they have the potential to beat Minnesota.
Bilas: It’s interesting the way the committee treats Middle Tennessee, which the analytics don’t love. I agree with Kara, they’re really good… Last year they beat Michigan State and shot the ball really well then Syracuse beat them by 30. They clearly got respect for what happened last year than what they did this year. Because the analytics or their resume say they don’t belong on that line.

West Bracket Seeding
Lawson: I think it sets up pretty nicely in the top half…I actually like the entire region for Gonzaga to get to the Final Four for the first time.
Williams:  I wouldn’t overlook this Notre Dame team. The one thing they have going for them is their ability to spread you out and shoot the three…
Bilas: I like Arizona’s draw… I’m stunned that Florida State got a three seed. I’m stunned. And I’m surprised that Notre Dame is down on the five line… You can quibble over some of these seeds but some of these are really surprising where they put some of these teams.
Lawson: That’s my issue with Florida State; I don’t know if I’m going to get a consistent performance from them night in and night out.

On Syracuse
Bilas: Nobody at the end of the line had anywhere near the number of quality wins than Syracuse did… I say at the end of the line, all these teams have proven one thing beyond a reasonable doubt, they can all lose to just about anybody. So, the separating factor for me is who can you beat? They say anybody can win on any given day. Syracuse had more given days than anybody at the end of the line, and last year, that got rewarded…This committee clearly didn’t value that… That’s a rough one.
Lawson: I had Syracuse as the first team on the bubble that would be in because I value top 50 wins – I value them. And they’re one of the most determining factors for me on the bubble so I’m surprised they didn’t make it in… No one’s winning a beauty contest on the bubble.
Williams: I’m absolutely shocked about Syracuse…They can beat anybody in the country. They beat Duke at home.
Bilas: The messages [the Committee] send year after year, they’re not consistent.

Bracketology presented by Allstate
Bilas: Some of the seeds didn’t make any sense, especially when you look at the two line. I didn’t think that leaving Syracuse out especially after who go in makes sense.

Williams: I think it’s extremely unfortunate for Villanova. MSG is basically Cameron Indoor stadium north. If they made it to the Elite 8, it’ll be a tough matchup against UNC.

Vitale on Syracuse: I think there are similarities with so many teams. I cannot understand how you can go 10-8 in ACC, beat three top-10 teams and be thrown out. I know they lost to St. Johns, Boston College and Georgetown. You beat three teams from that conference that were in the top 10 at some point, and you belong in the tournament… there are a lot of teams who don’t play well away from their arena.

Bilas on Syracuse: It’s not justifiable to say they lost to this team or that team. They’re not playing bad teams in the tournament… the issue is ‘can you beat the best teams you are going to play. They had six top 50 wins. I don’t think that’s comparable.

Greenberg: The 7/10 games across the board, if you’re looking for an upset, I like them all. Opposites attract.

Williams: The 5/12 matchups are usually the trendy upsets. I don’t have any upsets in those games

Greenberg: I think the one bracket that won’t come apart is the east region. North Carolina has a good draw. A good team that could do damage is Seton Hall.

Vitale: I think Middle Tennessee is going to make an impressive run, and I think they could beat Minnesota. They’re a dangerous team with a chip on their shoulder. Call Tom Izzo and ask him.

Dakich: I think Rhode Island can advance to the second weekend, beating Creighton and Oregon. I see a team that’s coming in as an 11-seed and a 3-seed leaving.

Coaches Interviews
John Calipari on seeding and committee: This playing [conference] tournaments on Sunday is crazy, they should all end on Saturday. My one comment is, tell us what these league tournaments mean. Is the body of work going be the main factor, or do we go back to, ‘what’s your record on the last ten?’ I love the fact that they said there’s six No. 1’s right now. The more transparency, the better. If the “s” curve doesn’t work, make some adjustments within the seed line.

Calipari on how his team is playing: I would say we’re starting to buy into defense. The run we make, if we do, will all predicate on our defense. You can’t have one or two guys breaking down defensively—the reason: we’re fast. I’m not worried much about offense. Defend and rebound, and someone else will pick up the slack. We’ve been down and up, but we’re better than we were 3 weeks ago and these kids are in a great state of mind.

Mark Few on being No. 1 seed: I think it’s a great honor to have a group of people deem us a No. 1 seed.

Jim Boeheim on not making the tournament: The biggest problem is that we have three top-10 wins. No one on the bubble has three top 10 wins. We have three monster wins. Last year, we had the same losses and they chose to go with the team that had the best wins. This year, they’re choosing to look at loses.

Boeheim on who he thinks should be on the committee: I think the CFP has some idea, using AD’s and former players, former conference commissioners. It’s difficult for the committee, and there’s a lot of things that go in. It’s about the consistency and what is it that they’re looking for? You have to have something you value as a committee that remains consistent through the years.

Jay Wright on No. 1 seed: We’ll take it. It’s an honor, it’s a sign of our work through the season and we’re proud of it. Tomorrow, we’re one of 68 teams.

Wright on goal for next 48 hours: We’re supposed to get hit with a big snow storm, so we’re getting out of here tomorrow at 3 p.m. We’re going to get our bodies and our minds fresh. You resist the temptation of planning too much when you don’t know who you’re playing.

Hart on conference tournament: We got in the locker room, and we won a conference tournament. Half of the lack of celebration was exhaustion. We were dialed in and knew we could do better. When you have a coach who pushes you to be better, you want to be – especially because of all of his experience coaching.

Josh Hart of defending title: We’re not thinking about last year. It’s about this year, completely different team. We have a different path. We don’t talk about being defending champions, we talk about being the best team we can be.

Chris Collins: It was a pretty special day. We had a couple hundred people here in the arena, and people that have been watching Northwestern basketball for a lot of years. A lot of the joy and excitement. I got real reflective. It’s been a four-year journey for me, they believed in our vision and our dream of having a day like this

ESPN NBA analyst Doug Collins [to son]: Chris had a belief, and he said “I want to be a trailblazer.” I knew he had people that were going to give him the opportunity to succeed.

Committee Chair Mark Hollis
On the last decision the NCAA Selection Committee made today: [It was] line specific; bringing in the last teams [and those are] the ones playing in the first four.

On the toughest decision for the NCAA Selection Committee: All the seeding, because everyone was so close.

On which team enlisted the biggest debate: Wichita State [because] they have high metrics, but at the same time really only had one win vs another team in the tournament.

On Syracuse not being selected: Great wins within the league, but at the same time you have to look at a weak non-conference schedule. They had some issues with a 2-11 [record] on the road. That was a theme: road wins and how you did with non-conference games.

Bracketology Final Four Picks
Bilas: North Carolina (Champion)

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Greenberg: UCLA (Champion)

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Williams: Duke (Champion)
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Davis: North Carolina (Champion)
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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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