Quotes and Reactions: ESPN College Basketball Analysts Provide Insight as 2021 NCAA Tournament Bracket is Unveiled

College Basketball - Men's

Quotes and Reactions: ESPN College Basketball Analysts Provide Insight as 2021 NCAA Tournament Bracket is Unveiled

Host Rece Davis, with analysts Jay Bilas, LaPhonso Ellis, Seth Greenberg and Dick Vitale provided their analysis, predictions and thoughts on the 68-team field for the 2021 NCAA Men’s Tournament today during ESPN’s Selection Sunday coverage. Quotes and reactions from SportsCenter (6 p.m.) and Bracketology presented by Lowe’s (7 p.m.), as well as prominent player and coaches interviews, are below.

East Region

Bilas: “Michigan State is in the play-in game? With the wins they have, that’s amazing.”

Vitale on Michigan State: “Any team that can beat three teams ranked three, four and five in the nation and beat them within an eight-nine-day period. They can cause some damage.”

Bilas on Michigan State: “To draw BYU as a sixth seed, I think that’s a really good draw for Michigan State. Michigan State’s way better than their record. And I think it’s going to show up at some point.”

Greenberg on Georgetown: “They’ve gotten back to old Georgetown. They rebound. They defend. They’re extremely physical… They’ve taken care of the ball and gotten back to that physical mindset.”

Bilas on St. Bonaventure: “LSU is way more talented but St. Bonaventure is really tough. If they’re not ready for a fist fight, the Bonnies can beat them.”

Ellis on St. Bonaventure/LSU matchup: “Darius Days is really the key… I’ve been saying it all week. If they can get 10-12 points a night out of him, then they have a chance to advance. If not, this is a very good St. Bonaventure team that will beat LSU.”

Bilas on UNC Greensboro’s chances against Florida State: “They have one chance, and that’s Isaiah Miller. Isaiah Miller is the two-time SoCon Player of the Year. The last guy to do that was Steph Curry.”

Greenberg on UNC Greensboro: The one thing Greensboro does is they turn you over, 21% of your possessions. They get up and underneath you. They disrupt you. They change their defenses. They’ll extend their defenses out.

Greenberg on Texas: “A team that has to make good decisions, not play on just emotion. Take care of the basketball.”

Ellis on Michigan potentially facing LSU: “It becomes problematic for Michigan because of those three scores. The reality is, right now, they continue to play through Hunter Dickinson, but that offense just doesn’t flow as well without Isaiah Livers. His ability to be able to shoot the three ball… now all of a sudden you have to match up to him… it’s a big loss.”

South Region

Ellis on North Carolina: “There’s no question… the best offensive rebounding team in the country. Guard play is improving, they’ve had some issues with turnovers, but something kind of funky is going on with Wisconsin’s big guys. I see North Carolina advancing there.”

Greenberg on Winthrop: “Winthrop is a dangerous team. Talk about a team that plays fast. They explode up and down the floor… This team rebounds the ball. Toughness.”

Bilas on Utah State: “Utah State’s pretty good. Neemias Queta can block shots. He’s a great defender on the interior. Justin Bean is also a good defender who has improved on the offensive end. They’re good.”

Greenberg on Utah State: “They are a physical, front court team. They rebound the ball. They defend.”

Ellis on North Texas’s matchup against Purdue: “Gotta deal with Trevion Williams, though, in the interior for Purdue…One of the best big guys in the Big Ten.”

Greenberg on Virginia Tech: “I’m surprised Virginia Tech is a 10 seed. I thought they’d be a bit better than that… Virginia Tech has a hardness about them, a toughness about them.”

Ellis on Colgate: This is an excellent offensive team for Colgate… Jordan Burns is a terrific point guard for them. They’re going to have to control the pace against Arkansas

Greenberg on Arkansas: “Arkansas is the real did. The style of play for Arkansas is no joke.”

Ellis on North Carolina’s potential matchup against Baylor: “I think the one team that could make it interesting for them… if North Carolina is able to get past Wisconsin, that’s a lot of offensive rebounding for Baylor. As good as they are defensively, they are very tall… if North Carolina can dominate the boards and they can keep their young backcourt from turning the basketball over…”

Ellis on Texas Tech: “The key for them is going to be the continued improvement and production of Kevin McCullar. They need a secondary and a third guy to be able to step up consistently and make plays for them, and when he’s been good he’s taken the pressure off of Mac McClung. That’s the issue… they’re great defensively, but they don’t score enough.”

Midwest Region

Bilas on No. 2 seed Houston: “Houston is tough as nails. Even if they shoot it poorly – which they do a lot, they offensive rebound, and I don’t think Cleveland State can stop them.”

Greenberg on San Diego State: “San Diego State is a terrific defensive team. They are physical… San Diego State is hard to play against. They execute at the half court.”

Ellis on Liberty: “This Liberty team… there not as good defensively as they have been in the past, they extend their defense out a little bit more… that could actually work to Oklahoma State’s benefit.”

Greenberg on Morehead State: “They have defensive confidence. . . That team can really guard.”

Ellis on Clemson: “Clemson can get stuck on the offensive end, so it’s going to be important for Nick Honor to be able to create offense for himself. He’s one of the only guys on that team that can make his own shot.”

Greenberg on Rutgers: “I think Rutgers has the chance to advance not only this game but potentially past this game. I really like their team.”

Ellis on Houston: Justin Gorham is a freak athlete at the power forward position… he goes to the glass every single time, runs the floor well

Bilas on Oklahoma State: “I think that’s a really rough draw for Oklahoma State because they get Tennessee in the second round assuming they beat Liberty which is not going to be easy to do.”

Greenberg on Oklahoma State: “Oklahoma State is fearless. The manner in which they play is fearless. To me, maybe being young is an advantage for them. Sometimes when you’re young, you don’t know what you don’t know. You just go out and play. They play hard.”

Ellis on Illinois: “I actually like Illinois’s draw… I don’t know if they have as much resistance until likely they get to the Elite Eight. Should West Virginia be able to advance, with Derek Culver and the middle, obviously the way West Virginia shoots it, I think West Virginia could give them some competition, but in my mind, I think Illinois has the easiest advance to the Final Four.”

West Region

Bilas on Gonzaga: “I don’t know that this is the best team Mark Few has ever had. That 2017 team that went to the Finals against North Carolina was more physically imposing. But this is the best offensive team. It’s absolutely a beautiful offensive team.” “There’s no other team that can match the top three players of Suggs, Kispert and Timme.”

Ellis on Gonzaga: “Every great team needs a good quarterback, and Jalen Suggs is that guy. His ability to know when to pass, when to look for a scorer… unbelievable. In late game situations, he’s so good with the basketball in his hand, can confidently knock down the three ball, get to the rim, and make plays for his teammates.”

Greenberg on Gonzaga: “The pace they play with is incredible.”

Vitale on Gonzaga: “I like the Zags’ chances. I like them big time… I’ll go on record right now. They are going to pull a Bobby Knight, 1976. They’re going 32-0. They’re going to win this tournament.”

Bilas: “I love Gonzaga’s draw. This is the first tournament since 1976 without Duke or Kentucky in the field, and that just happened to be the year that Indiana went 32-0, the last undefeated team. And Gonzaga has a chance to do that in a similar year. Their draw is fantastic. They couldn’t ask for a better draw. If I picked one team that got the worst draw: Oklahoma State.”

Greenberg on Oregon: “I just like their style of play. They are going to make you react to them by extending their defense. They don’t look to steal it as much as disrupt you and then they only expose themselves on the defensive end for a limited period of time.”

Davis on the questions surrounding the status of Virginia and Kansas: “The other thing to think of, when you look at this draw, you have Virginia and Kansas. Last night at 11 p.m. was the deadline for teams to inform the selection committee whether they could meet medical protocols. No one said that they couldn’t. Both the Jayhawks and the Cavaliers had to withdraw from the Big 12 and ACC Tournaments, respectively. So you don’t know if they might not have players available, how much they’ve been practicing, and all of those things could affect whether they even get to the [point] to meet Gonzaga.”

Greenberg on Virginia: “Their style of play and concept of the art of upset… Own the tempo of the game Take people off of the glass. Don’t turn it over and then have someone step up and make a play.”

Additional comments

Vitale: “The one thing that disappointments me – one team I thought should have made it in was Belmont out of the Ohio Valley… They won 26 games. That’s as many as anyone in the field.”

Selection Committee Chair Mitch Barnhart on Virginia and Kansas participating in the NCAA Tournament…

“The NCAA basketball staff stayed in touch with the administrations of those schools, making sure the protocols were being met that would allow them to be available to come to Indianapolis to participate. And so, with that confidence, we were able to work through the evaluation process and place them in the field. So we’re confident at this point that we’re moving forward to tip off on Thursday with a full field of 68.”

Barnhart on when Virginia and Kansas can arrive in Indianapolis…

“Each one is individually different and I’m letting the staff work with that, but clearly we have a tournament that starts on Thursday and we’re working our way into that schedule and tip times and locations and all of those things are still to be worked through.”

Barnhart on what was most challenging about building the field of 68…

“The pauses, the pivots, the different resumes…they were so different. You had teams that played a full schedule and you had teams that played much less than that. The non-conference games that disappeared off everyone’s schedules became very difficult to say that someone didn’t try to schedule. So it was a variety of those kinds of things and I thought the committee worked really diligently hard to evaluate. We said from the very beginning that it might not always seem fair, and it wasn’t going to be easy because of all the protocols and testing that was going to be in place, that there were games that were going to be missed. But at the end of the day, we played over 80% of the regularly scheduled games in college basketball this year, which is a figure that allowed the top 100 in the net to have played an average of 23 games. Couple that with the fact we played 85% of the games in conference play and almost 99% of the tournament games from this year’s college basketball season were played, so I think it gave us a resume that we could work with on most of the teams. I think that was the most difficult, just the games that were missed, the MTEs and the non-conference matchups that sort of disappeared early on in the season.”

Quotes from Player and Coaches Interviews

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few on the significance of this season

“I don’t know if it’s significant, and I can’t take away from how competitive a group that I coach or how competitive I am…but I think I’m pretty good at perspective. What we’ve been through this year, to have this incredible run, to be undefeated on March 14, it’s crazy. Especially with the preseason we played and even just getting through our league season. We carried the No. 1 target on our shoulders all year, all the way back to November 1. So I think that’s an incredible accomplishment. That said, heck yeah, we want to win a national championship, but the one thing I know I can give to these guys is the experience of being in this tournament. Every darn game, we have to be ready to go and we have to play really, really well, including this first one. We’re going to celebrate the heck out of each game we get and each one we’re successful in and focus on the day to day. The interesting thing is living in the bubble and doing all that, I think that will be a real mental challenge for all of us involved.”

Baylor guard Jared Butler on preparation for the NCAA Tournament

“Playing in the Big 12 prepared us extremely well [for the NCAA Tournament], especially during this time of the year. It’s a players’ game and fouls aren’t getting called, and there are a lot of teams that are really good. It’s do or die, win or go home basketball and this is a fun time. There were a lot of battles to get into the tournament, so it should be good.”

Iowa center Luka Garza on preparation for the postseason…

“I think it’s going to be similar to how we’ve handled things all year, making sure we don’t put ourselves in any situation to get exposed. And we’re going to be locked into our quarantine and start watching some film individually of Grand Canyon, and then we’ll meet up as a team and get ready for them as a group.”

Garza on Grand Canyon…

“As soon as their names were called, you could see everyone get on their phones and start looking them up, looking at their stats. Obviously, for them to win the regular season and the postseason of the WAC is very impressive, so we know we’re playing a great team. They beat Nevada, who is a really good team and they pushed Arizona State really early in the year, so we know we’re going against a great team and we’re excited for the opportunity.”

Garza on what quarantine has been like in Indianapolis…

“It’s been interesting. Obviously, the Big Ten Tournament is operating a bit differently than the NCAA Tournament, last week was a bit less strict. So we could go outside or go into other people’s rooms. So when we first got here, we were watching all of the great games that were on TV in the Big Ten Tournament and other conference tournaments around the country together. That was most of our days when we got here, and we’d practice. Now we’ve entered our quarantines where we can’t leave our rooms, our food is going to be delivered to our rooms, so it’s going to be a little bit different from what it’s been for the last couple days, but we’re all so excited to be in the tournament and to have this opportunity, so we’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll quarantine for a year if that’s what it takes. But we’re really excited right now. We have two days of this quarantine and then we’ll meet up as a group and start preparing for Grand Canyon and start practicing or doing whatever we can. It’s been fun so far, being able to be here as a group and it kind of feels like an AAU Tournament, a long AAU Tournament.”

Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu on the most important thing to get Illinois ready for the NCAA Tournament

“The most important thing for us to take it one game at a time, not really looking down the bracket or looking at who we might play next. Just focusing on our opponent and not taking [anyone] for granted. We understand that it’s win or go home. I feel like when we have that mindset, we play with so much intensity.”

Iona head coach Rick Pitino on motivating his team

“I have eight suits [packed]. I use it as a motivational tool with my players, that they saw all the managers carrying all these bags with suits in them. I’m trying anything to motivate them right now since we can’t practice.”

Final Four Predictions

Dick Vitale (winner: Gonzaga)

LaPhonso Ellis (winner: Baylor)

Seth Greenberg (winner: Baylor)

Jay Bilas (winner: Gonzaga)

Rece Davis (winner: Gonzaga)

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Anna Negron

It was always a dream of mine to work at ESPN, and here I am! I joined the College Sports PR team in March 2016. Hailing from the great Garden State, I graduated from Seton Hall University (Go Pirates!) with a degree in sport management, where I not only sang the National Anthem at games, but was also a member of the Seton Hall Sapphires Dance Team and a student reporter for Pirate Sports Network. Before joining ESPN, I served as a Public Relations Associate for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
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