ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas met with media to preview the 2021-22 college basketball season. The 2021-22 season tips off Tuesday, Nov. 9, highlighted by the 11th annual State Farm Champions Classic on ESPN featuring No. 3 Kansas vs Michigan State (7 p.m.) and No. 9 Duke vs No. 10 Kentucky (9:30 p.m.) at Madison Square Garden.
Jay, you have a unique perspective on UNC and head coach — new head coach Hubert Davis. What are your thoughts on Hubert taking over in year one, how his offensive system — you think his new offensive system will work for the Tar Heels and anything you’ve kind of heard or known having worked with him for so long at ESPN.
JAY BILAS: I’m really excited for Hubert for North Carolina. He’s not only a fabulous person, he’s a great coach. I think one of the things that has been stated a lot, because it’s true, is he’s such a nice person. That doesn’t mean he’s not a cutthroat competitor. Those two things, as you know, are not mutually exclusive.
So, I expect that North Carolina’s going to be — I think they’re really undervalued this year. I think they’re going to be much better than they’re ranked in the preseason at least, from what I’ve seen in some of these outlets. I think they’re really going to be a challenge. They’ve got size and depth and shooting. They can shoot it this year.
So, I’m looking for the start of a great career as a head coach for Hubert. He’s had a great career in every facet of the game leading up to this, and I’m really looking forward to it.
He sent me — I’m sure he did it with a number of people, but sent me his first practice plan. So he’s not just prepared for this, it’s a dream come true. How could you not be excited for someone who this is a dream. It was a dream for him to play at North Carolina, and it’s a dream to take over as head coach. It’s really, really exciting to watch this.
Do you have any thoughts on his offensive system, how that will work? Open, wide open, four shooters, one-in, one-out type deal?
JAY BILAS: I think it’s largely due to personnel, but the game has changed. Even though the Carolina way has been extraordinarily successful over the years, in the half-court, I think, being able to use more of the floor is going to be beneficial. It certainly will be a different look.
Since Dean Smith was there, Carolina was one of the easiest scouts in the game. It was like scouting the Green Bay Packers when Lombardi was there. Everybody knew what was coming. The problem is you couldn’t stop it. So, I think it will be a little bit different because every coach is a little bit different, but you’ll still see the same bones there of the offense, of the fast break. But I think the half-court offense will be a little bit different to try to take advantage of the length and the width of the court.
If you were the czar and you had full control of NIL, what would you do differently for it to benefit everyone? How would you change it from where it’s going right now?
JAY BILAS: That’s an interesting question. What I would do is just deregulate. You hear people — look, I respect all of these opinions. I just differ with a lot of them. But when I hear somebody say the Wild, Wild West, I always ask, you mean the Wild, Wild West that the rest of us live in? Because we all live in the Wild, Wild West. We don’t have any rules or restrictions on what we can earn or accept, and all of the rest of us deal with commerce by signing contracts and making agreements and dealing with it that way. It’s really not that difficult.
I went to Duke University, and Duke has 30,000 employees. Their higher-ups aren’t sitting up at night racking their brains trying to figure out what to pay the landscape professional versus the head basketball coach or what to pay the head of surgery versus the office assistant. They know exactly what to pay everyone. These are market-based decisions.
They know exactly whom to recruit and whom to put in the game when they want to win. They know how much all the players and all the athletes are worth. It’s not that big of a deal. The same thing with the marketplace.
So for me, I would just deregulate it. This talk about guardrails, you don’t need guardrails for any of this stuff. It’s not that big of a deal. So that’s what I would do, and ultimately that’s what the NCAA is going to do because they don’t have a choice. They’ve been violating federal antitrust law for decades upon decades now, and finally the courts have caught up to it.
The, quote/unquote, guardrails they have in place now aren’t going to remain in place for very long anyway.
How much longer do you think that will remain?
JAY BILAS: It depends. That’s a good question. It depends on what happens with these other cases. Jeffrey Kessler, who was the lead counsel in the Alston case, is also participating in this next case. The difference is now that the antitrust cases against the NCAA are going to carry with them significant money damages, and those damages, as you know, in antitrust cases are trouble. So, it’s going to be times three.
The Alston case was over — and not to get too technical on the legal side, but it was a limited scope. It was just over whether the NCAA could limit benefits concerning the academic side. The rest of this is going to be about money. I think the Supreme Court made it pretty clear the NCAA is not going to win these cases.
Things are going to get real. Now, whether it happens in three years, five years, whatever, but I don’t think we’re going to be seeing any new rules that are going to restrict what players can do in the NIL area. I think it’s going to be from specific schools, individual schools, and maybe even conferences that are market competitors, and that’s as it should be.
If a particular school wants to say we don’t want our players doing NIL deals, that’s fine. Maybe that will affect their recruiting in the marketplace, but I think restrictions in this area, the age of restricting athletes economically is rapidly coming to an end.
Wanted to ask you about Texas. Obviously, the last time we saw them, they were getting smoked by Abilene Christian, but now they have a new coach and they’re in the top five. Just wondering, what do you make of their off-season changes, and do you think that a collection of talent makes them for real?
JAY BILAS: Well, first of all, I differ with them getting smoked. What did they lose, 51-49?
A lot of people here they think did, but that’s okay.
JAY BILAS: They got beat, and there’s no excuse for it, but they didn’t get smoked.
I think Chris Beard is one of the best coaches in the country, and he’s got an unusual energy about him that not only is attractive, but it makes players want to willingly sacrifice when a lot of coaches will tell you that’s difficult to do.
So he brought in — oftentimes when there’s a new coach, you hear about changing the culture. That’s cliche now, talking about changing the culture.
Secondly is how long the process is going to take. It’s like when John McKay took over the Tampa Bay Bucs in the 1970s, he said it’s going to be a four-year process. They said why four years? He said, “I’ve got a four-year contract. If I had a five-year contract, it would be a five-year process.”
But Chris doesn’t operate that way. He went out and attracted some of the top transfers on the market, whether it’s Marcus Carr from Minnesota or Timmy Allen from Utah, Tre Mitchell from UMass. He’s got outstanding talent that he can bring in and blend with Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones. He’s got a really good roster. They’re going to be top ten, top five right away, and I have no doubt they’ll be competitive not only to win the Big 12 but to win the whole thing. He’s proven that.
When people say he’s coached at every level, that’s literally true with Chris. He’s coached everywhere and every type of player with every motivation, and I’m a huge fan of his, both personally and professionally. And I’ve been a guest on the Fireside Chat. That’s top of my resume. That was a bucket list thing for me.
Real quick, the big thing he’s wanting to do here is reenergize the fan base, which has been kind of unplugged because how the team has performed the last few years. Is there any secret that you’ve seen, other than winning, other than winning games, is there any magical formula that a guy can do here at a football school to get people jacked up about basketball?
JAY BILAS: Yeah, coach football.
I think they’d take it.
JAY BILAS: This has been a persistent issue for a long time, since Abe Lemons was there. It’s not a knock on the fan base. What people like more is up to them.
We were there, when Rick Barnes was there, we were there for game day when Texas was ranked in the top five, I believe, and there was no crowd at Game Day, and it was one of the very few places we go where it was a low crowd energy. By energy, I don’t mean the people that were there. It was meaning there weren’t very many people there. How do you account for that?
It’s not like Rick Barnes didn’t have incredible success there. It’s not like Shaka Smart didn’t have success at times when he was there. But Chris has a different kind of energy, having gone to school there. Hopefully, for his sake and for just the sake of the game, the new arena at Texas will energize fans to show up and show up for all the games, not just for Kansas.
Look, they’re not alone there. It is not just a Texas issue. There are places where people show up for basketball games and don’t show up for football. It’s school by school, and that’s how you find the terms football school, basketball school, stuff like that.
Can you talk a little bit about the significance of Coach K opening his final season at Madison Square Garden and then maybe share if you have some stories of you and him at Madison Square Garden together.
JAY BILAS: Well, the significance of it, Coach K has sort of turned the New York/New Jersey area into Durham north, and it’s a big base for Duke alumni, but it’s also been a great platform for the basketball program to showcase itself. He’s always playing nonconference games. They have had success in taking teams to the Final Four out of the old Meadowlands. So it’s been a great area.
He kind of cut his teeth there as the coach at Army as well, so he’s got a great history. He’s played in the Garden. He’s coached there in I don’t know how many games, but it’s been a lot of games that he’s coached there. I believe he passed Bob Knight in the Garden on the all-time wins list years ago.
So, it’s very significant. There’s a symmetry to it, to start the season off in his last year coaching. People may differ with this, but I think it’s kind of neat that we know it’s going to be his last year instead of — and people should do it the way they want to. There’s nothing wrong with any way to do this, whether it be retire at the beginning of the year, at the end of the year, announce it, don’t announce it. It’s all good.
But we have a year to celebrate his place in the game, and I don’t think it will take away from the team or the players he’s coaching or the games he’s coaching in. I think it will add to it. And I for one am looking forward to it, and it’s kind of neat that there will be fans in the stands again. I’m glad it didn’t happen last year when there was nobody in person to acknowledge it.
And if your experience as a player or as an assistant, just moments that you guys had together at MSG that maybe stand out?
JAY BILAS: Not really. We’ve been lucky for me to have been coached by him, to be a grad assistant coach under him, and then to have covered him for all these years. I think I’m really grateful.
I wonder how you assess Kentucky, what sort of contender do you think they are?
JAY BILAS: It’s going to be different. Now they’re getting AARP cards in the mail when we’ve been talking about how young they’ve been and one-and-done this and all that. Cal did an amazing job in the transfer portal bringing in older, experienced players.
But the one thing about transfers is they may be older and experienced, but they’re not older and experienced in your system. So, it still will take some time for them to mesh together, but I don’t think it will take as much time as it would take with a group of super talented freshmen.
I like the blend of players that they have and the blend of age and experience, but it’s a little bit of a different look. I watched their tape the other night of their exhibition game, and there were some really good thing. Keion Brooks has really improved. I know they had a couple guys out. CJ Fredrick didn’t play and all that. But they’re going to be good.
I think as soon as they defend at a little higher level and protect the rim a little bit better, I think they’re going to be in the mix.
I wonder, as you know, they had a losing record last year, highly unusual around here. How much is something like that something that’s a teaching tool, or how much of it is something that you just wipe from your memory and move forward?
JAY BILAS: I don’t think you can wipe it from your memory because you’ll be reminded of it all the time, but it certainly leaves a scar, which scar tissue is not necessarily a bad thing. And having a team play with edge — the biggest issue is most of the players that were there are gone. As you know, this is the first time that John Calipari has been the head coach at Kentucky where his leading scorer has returned. But the leading scorer returned off a nine-win team, which is really the worst season they’ve ever had there. The pandemic was a big part of it, I believe. But that’s true of a number of the top programs that had to deal with that as a factor.
Is it going to be remembered? You’re damn right it is. Is it going to be an anchor they carry around their neck? I don’t think so. I think it will just provide them to play with a little bit more edge.
Talk a little bit about the UConn men, year four under Dan Hurley. Assess what you see going into this new year.
JAY BILAS: I think they should be really good. Obviously, losing James Bouknight now, you lose a lottery pick, but every good team is losing top players year after year.
Under Danny Hurley, they play really hard, and they’re getting — they’re starting to look a little bit like some of the front lines that Jim Calhoun had at times that can really protect the rim, block shots, protect the paint.
They’ve got talent and talent up front and size up front. So, I like where they’re headed, and I certainly like sort of the league affiliation. It’s back to something a little bit more that they’re used to and their fan base is used to.
That can be energizing and certainly help in recruiting. UConn last couple years has looked like UConn again, and I think this year even more so.
Who nationally are we not looking at enough that you think is going to be there at the end or close to the end, like Loyola’s been the last couple times around. Who do you see out there that we need to pay more attention to?
JAY BILAS: If I could ask you, are you asking more so about teams that are kind of sleepers to win a couple games in the tournament or teams that legitimately can reach a Final Four and win this thing?
I’m thinking teams that legitimately look like a Sweet 16 that we’re not considering now. For the Sweet 16, anybody’s got a chance.
JAY BILAS: That’s a fair point. I would say the teams that are getting a fair amount of play now after how they’ve done the last few years is St. Bonaventure because they’ve returned a number of really good players — Lofton, Osunniyi, Jalen Adaway. They’re legit. They’re very good. They’ve got size up front, which is really important when you get to postseason.
Everybody talks about guards, and rightfully so, because guards are really important. You’re not going to win without great guards. But you’re not going to win without guys that can score and defend in the post and hold their own on the glass. You might be able to win a game, but you’re not going to be able to win multiple games in the NCAA tournament. You’re not going to compete against Power Five teams generally.
I would say another team is Colorado State. They have a lot of good returnees — Isaiah Stevens, David Roddy, both really good players. Roddy led in scoring and rebounding last year.
I think Richmond is going to be really good again. Richmond returns just about everybody from last year’s team, and they were excellent last year. They’ve got Jacob Gilyard back, who’s one of the best defenders in the country and probably doesn’t get the acclaim that he deserves.
Belmont is another team that I think could very well win two games in the tournament. They’ve got a guard named Grayson Murphy, who — you talk about do it all. He literally does it all out there. One of the best defenders in the country, averages like six assists, eight rebounds, double-figure scorer, handles the ball, initiates. There’s nothing that he doesn’t do out there. So, I think Belmont is another team that I think will have a chance to win a couple games.
Drake will be good again. They were good last year. Liberty will be good again. They were good last year. But I think the theme is teams that returned quality depth, not just quality players, a few quality players, but they returned like all five starters. Like UCLA did, they returned all five starters and added to it. So, there’s an argument that they could be — they might not have the same result at the end of the season by reaching the Final Four, but UCLA, they’ll be better this year than they were last year.
Now, whether they’re better at the end of the year, that’s the big question.
A lot of intrigue surrounding this Memphis basketball team, certainly no shortage of it. What is the most intriguing thing for you? And then is this the year they get back to the NCAA tournament?
JAY BILAS: I think this is the year not only they get back to the NCAA tournament, but they’re going to be a story all year long that’s going to be compelling to watch.
Hopefully, they won’t have to deal with — that James Wiseman business a couple years ago was so ridiculous and unfortunate, not only for Wiseman, who was a great young man and has proven it at the next level, but the entire team doesn’t get affected by that kind of thing and by what I considered to be unreasonable, an unreasonable response by the NCAA in dealing with an issue.
The other thing that I’m intrigued to watch is going to be how Memphis handles and distributes the ball because they have so many quality pieces with Duren and Bates and Quinones. They go across the board with so many outstanding players, the issue is how is the ball going to be distributed? So, the first thing is who’s going to handle it? Who’s going to initiate? I think it’s going to be Emoni Bates. I think he’s going to have the ball in his hands a lot. He’s a pro. I mean, he’s a lottery pick. I’m really looking forward to watching that.
Honestly, I’m looking forward to watching the Penny Hardaway/Larry Brown combo. I hope at age 63 I’m as energetic as Larry Brown is at 81 or whatever he is. It’s really, really kind of incredible what a sharp mind he is, and it’s incredible — I think it’s great that Penny Hardaway has brought him back into the game.
Just wanted to ask you about Virginia Tech coming off an NCAA tournament appearance last spring. What’s your assessment and expectations of the Hokies this year?
JAY BILAS: Another step forward for Mike Young and his program to be consistently a national contender. Mike is one of the best offensive coaches that I’ve seen on any level. His team passes, cuts, and schematically is a joy to watch. They take advantage of their player skills. They take advantage of the court. A lot of people don’t know this, but it’s 50 feet wide. It’s actually wider in the half-court than it is long. And the best coaches take advantage of that, and he does that.
I think he’s got some really good players. He’s got good shooters, again, to be able to help spread the floor. It’s one thing when people talk about spreading the floor. If you can’t shoot, you can’t spread the floor, you can space it all you want to, but it only matters if the defense goes with you. Unless you can stretch the defense, you can space out all you want to. They’ll let you stand out there by yourself. They don’t care. But when you shoot, you can really stretch a defense.
And then Keve Aluma has some of the best footwork of any player in the country. I think he’ll take another step towards being a potential First Team All-American candidate.
So they’re good enough to win the league. The question is going to be not how many points can they score, it’s how many points can they limit their opponents to. If they can defend at a higher level, there’s nobody in the ACC that they’re not capable of beating.
I want to ask you about a subject near and dear to your heart, Duke’s bigs — Mark Williams, Theo John is a transfer, Paolo Banchero is more of an all court player, but he’s 6’10”, 250. Looks like they’re pretty strong in the front court. How can they lead them where they want to go this year?
JAY BILAS: As you know, they’ll be bigger and more physical, more physically imposing. So they’ll be able to really protect the rim. Mark Williams is one of the best shot blockers in the country, and I thought improved greatly throughout the course of last year. And to the point where you’re going, why didn’t he play earlier? One of those deals. It turns out his coach is pretty smart, so you can’t really question that.
Bringing in Theo John was a really good pickup in the transfer portal. He played for Steve Wojciechowski of Marquette. He’s a big, strong rebounder, shot blocker. And not just a rim protector, that’s become another sort of term of art for shot blocker, but he’s a lane protector. And really good taking up space in pick-and-roll defense, communicates well.
So I think he and Mark Williams will be a good combo. When one gets tired, put the other one in. It certainly gives you a lot of quality minutes to be able to use.
And Bencharo is ridiculously talented. He’s probably — he may be the most gifted guy of his size that Coach K has brought in as far as a skill level is concerned, not necessarily athletically or all this stuff. But skill-wise as gifted a big guy since Danny Ferry was there, and Danny was incredibly skilled as a big guy. He can handle it, pass it, grab or rebound it, initiate himself, run his own break. He’s a super talented player.
So they’re going to look a little bit different with regard to how big they are, but I think it will be sort of the same kind of result. The guards are still going to be the most important thing as far as taking care of the ball and establishing the defense with pressure at the point of attack. So Jeremy Roach, Trevor Keels, those guys are going to be really important.
Have you seen much of Trevor Keels as far as film and things like that?
JAY BILAS: Yeah, he’s legit. He can really play, and he can make plays. That’s sort of the playmaker aspect of his game. He’s just not making plays for himself. He can make plays for others. He can draw defensive attention and then play off of it and make plays off of it.
I think for Duke being young in spots — and, again, they’ve brought in some new players that are not necessarily — they’re not experienced in Coach K’s system and the program. So, it’s going to be learning even for some of the older players.
But building habits together is going to be an important factor for them and then taking care of the ball, especially for the guards, for Keels, for Roach, take good care of that thing and make sure that they’re not pitching it away. Because I think last year brought forward that, if you’re not taking care of the ball — you can’t defend a run-out, and they gave up too many of those.
With yourself, obviously, with a long, acclimated career at Duke, and with Jay Williams and the recent signing of JJ Redick to the ESPN team, has there been any sort of talk or interest on your end on a Duke-themed broadcast for any of the final games of Coach K?
JAY BILAS: That’s a good question. I have not heard that. First of all, you clearly didn’t see me play or clearly haven’t read anything about my playing career, if you want to call it a career.
I haven’t heard anything. I texted back and forth with Redick when he signed his deal with ESPN, and one of the first things I said was just further confirmation that none of the Duke guys want to get a real job. But if that were floated, I would say yes to that. I would be more than happy to do a game with those guys.
We’d have to listen to Redick and Williams talk about how great they were. That would take up a lot of the broadcast, and I could talk about all the times they shot it without passing to an open big guy underneath, which was a consistent theme with their teams.
What would be great is have the big guys on, like bring Carlos Boozer on and Shelden Williams for the responsible opposing view to Redick and Williams — Redick and Jay about why they needed to take all those shots when the big guys were wide open underneath.
Maryland is just right down the street from me here in College Park. What do you think about Maryland this year with Coach Turgeon? I read he recruits good players, but somehow they don’t gel together at the right time.
JAY BILAS: Yeah, I don’t know about that. I think he’s done really well at Maryland and he’s brought in — not only in my judgment recruited well, they’ve had very good results. Heck, they won the Big Ten a couple years ago.
I think you can take a lot of cues from Mark on this. He really likes what he has this year and likes this team, and I do as well. I think they’ve got really good parts. They brought in Qudus Wahab from Georgetown, who’s going to, I think, make a really big impact.
So I’m really impressed with their roster and impressed with their team, and I think they’ll be — the Big Ten — and that’s been part of the issue for Maryland. It does take some time to adjust to a new conference. They’ve definitely done that now, but it takes time for the fan base to adjust to it because it’s different, different recruiting strategies and all that.
They’re entrenched in the Big Ten now, but the Big Ten is — I think it’s going to be the Big Ten and the SEC is the best conferences this year, top to bottom. I thought the Big Ten was last year hands down, but the conference for some reason did not perform as well in the tournament as anybody expected. I don’t think we’ll see another year of that. I think the conference is going to perform at a really high level this year.
It’s going to be hard to go unblemished in that league. You’re going to take a few punches, and I think Maryland’s fully prepared for it.
And do you think Coach Manning is going to help him out a little bit better? Because Coach Manning and him used to play a lot at Kansas.
JAY BILAS: It’s been a while. It’s been a while because we played against those guys, and it’s really hard to remember that far back. Danny Manning is, if not the best, he is clearly on the top tier of big man coaches. I watched him a lot and talked to him quite a bit about it when he was at Kansas. He does a tremendous job of coaching big guys.
So I believe that he’ll be a great benefit. Heck, he’s the first pick of the draft. He’s been around the game his whole life, tremendous player, tremendous coach. He’ll be nothing but a great benefit to Mark.
Just wanted to get your thoughts on West Virginia this season. They lose Deuce McBride and Derek Culver, but they have some new guys. Just your thoughts on what they’re dealing with this year.
JAY BILAS: It’s part and parcel of the transfer portal, and those things happen. Whether we have the portal or not, you’re going to have guys transferring. There’s a little bit more movement now because of the additional year of eligibility granted by the NCAA. That’s caused a big part of this, quote/unquote, glut of players and some of the player movement because you’ve got guys sticking around. Other players don’t want to wait. So that’s happening.
But Hugs has — look, he’s dealt with this before. This is not the first time. He dealt with it at Cincinnati. He dealt with it at Kansas State. I don’t think there’s anybody — like Bob Huggins is a Hall of Famer, and he’s one of the best coaches to ever walk a sideline. So I have no doubt they’ll be very good, very competitive. They’ve got Gabe Osabuohien back and Taz Sherman and a blend of new players. So they’ll be good.
Now, will they be as good as they were last year? I can’t say that just yet because you lose players like Culver and McBride, those are not easy losses to absorb. This isn’t an issue of first impression for Hugs. I think they’ll be just fine and he’ll be fine.
Do you think this is the year that Hugs gets into the Hall of Fame?
JAY BILAS: I hope so. It’s just a matter of time. I’ve looked into a lot of these things in different sports, like I’m a huge sports fan, and I’ve been to a number of these Halls of Fame, and I spend a lot of — I love that stuff. I think, when you look at these things and study it, it comes down to just numbers. These classes can only be a certain size by rule.
Then when you start thinking about the way basketball does it now, some sports only allow Hall of Famers — people to be considered for Hall of Fame five years after they’re retired. Well, College Basketball and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, they do it differently, I believe. You’re eligible when you’re still coaching. And I don’t know exactly the reason for that. I think it’s because college coaches have gone so long now that sometimes, by the time they’re eligible, they’re infirm or have passed away. I don’t think anybody wants that.
So for Hugs — look, again, I haven’t done all the math, but when you look at it, it doesn’t seem like it’s that hard to figure out, but you’ve got some coaches that become eligible that are still coaching and kind of moving back a little bit. I don’t know what’s happened, but he’s going to get in. It’s just a matter of time.
He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever watched, and I’m old enough now where I’ve watched a lot of them now. He’s won over 800, 900 games. It’s absurd what he’s done, multiple Final Fours. It’s a no-brainer. He will ultimately get into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, I’m certain of that.
My question is obviously a lot of story lines around Duke this year, from missing the tournament last year to Coach K’s final year to a top-notch recruiting class. What do you think is going to bring them the highest level of pressure coming through this season?
JAY BILAS: That’s a good question. Kind of ranking pressure. One of the challenges will be keeping the players away from all of the Coach K celebration. There’s nothing that Duke can do about it because media is going to chronicle this and celebrate it, and it’s going to be a topic of conversation that for some people may get old, but it’s going to be discussed throughout the course of the year.
I can tell you from knowing Coach K for so long, he’s not looking at this as his last year. He’s looking at this as this team’s only year, if that makes sense. So for this group, this is the only time they’re going to be together. It’s their only year, and I think he looks at each year as its own entity anyway.
I think he’s going to do a really good job of keeping the players’ focus not on him and sort of the pressure of feeling like they have to win for him in his last year, but pursuing something for its own sake for them.
I think that’s what he coaches for. I don’t think he’s going into this year with all that he’s accomplished saying, well, I have to have this cherry on top. I don’t believe he looks at it that way. I believe he’s looking at it for this team and these players to have a great experience with them.
I think it will be a fun year. For us, for the media, we’re going to take this in all different kinds of directions and have fun with it, but it’s going to be business for them.
Kind of just zooming out from Duke a little bit. Obviously a different look from the ACC, not three or four top ten teams like we’ve had before. What do you think has changed? What does the ACC have to do to get back up there and make runs in the tournament again?
JAY BILAS: The short answer is recruit. The league will still have seven, eight teams that are going to go to the NCAA tournament. People seem to forget they have to take 68 teams. They’re going to come from somewhere. Most of the lion’s share of those teams are going to be out of the Power Five conferences. The ACC is going to be well represented.
There have been a few teams, a few programs that have had unusual turnover. Virginia’s had some turnover, so they’re going to be a little bit different. They’ll still be good. Florida State’s had turnover. They’re still going to be really good.
But it was unusual to have North Carolina and Duke not as strong last year. That’s going to be different this year. I think both of those teams are undervalued, frankly. I think Virginia Tech is undervalued in the preseason rankings. So that will all shake out, but I think the league — it might not be as dominant as it’s been in past years, but it’s still going to be really good and really representative.
My question is here in the upstate of South Carolina with Clemson, just over the years, whether it’s Brad Brownell, Oliver Purnell, Rick Barnes, there’s always just this difficulty of recruiting the elite talent from a basketball standpoint. What’s your thoughts on why it’s so difficult for Clemson to attract elite level basketball talent?
JAY BILAS: Well, I think it’s just hard generally when you’re in a league like the ACC and you’ve got the Blue Blood programs that you’re recruiting against are in your backyard to be able to take those players. The state of South Carolina has produced some very good talent, but it’s difficult for both Clemson and South Carolina, the SEC, to keep that talent local. It’s a hard problem.
It’s not a new problem. It’s been going on for a long time. I remember, I’m old enough that, when I was a grad assistant at Duke, Florida State came into the league and into the ACC, and Florida State had been in the Metro Conference, and it recruited incredibly well. I mean, they had recruited Douglas Edwards and Sam Cassell and Bobby Sura and all these guys. When they got in the ACC, they had to start recruiting head-to-head against Duke and North Carolina, and they weren’t winning as many of those battles. I mean, they might have gotten Randell Jackson or somebody like that. But all of a sudden, when you started recruiting head-to-head, you weren’t getting them.
That’s kind of the thing. It’s almost like the Ricky Bobby — recruiting is Ricky Bobby: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” All these guys who say, well, we finished second on this guy, it doesn’t matter. The team that finished last, you have the same thing in common. Neither one of you got him. So being competitive in recruiting, it sounds great, but if you don’t get them, it doesn’t help you. That’s sort of the issue.
To go off your question, like for a program that has to deal with that, it’s just a question of intelligent recruiting. You have to recruit players that fit, that are tough, that may stick around for a while that you can build with. Virginia has done it, but Virginia, when they won it a couple years ago, they lost players to the draft, which happened, but they’re not built to absorb that as easily as some other programs. So they took a hit there.
It’s hard to compete for a championship every year. It doesn’t happen very often. And even the big shots, they get knocked back. Whether it’s Duke or Kentucky or North Carolina, UCLA, whatever, nobody has got it made. It’s not easy.
Do you think there’s an aspect of Brad Brownell, in terms of his style of play, that also limits the ability to attract some of these elite level guys?
JAY BILAS: I don’t. I don’t think it has anything to do with it because you’ve had coaches there in the past that have played fast and have pressed and all that, and it’s the same result. Same result as far as it is difficult — one, it’s difficult to land — I think what you’re referring, you’ve called it elite level talent, which means the highest ranked recruits.
There are only so many of them, and there are 354 Division I programs, and now there are 15 teams in the ACC. Used to be at 8, and now you’ve got 15. So the recruiting piece of this is significant. Look across the landscape. You’re seeing a lot of changes. I see Jerry Tipton up there still, but like Kentucky was going with younger, one-and-done talents, not this year. All of a sudden they look like an old folks home.
So things are changing. If you’re not — one area that’s going to be a huge fertile ground for recruiting going forward is going to be this transfer portal. I’m not a believer in the portal itself. I’m a believer in immediate eligibility and transfers. I think that’s only fair for the player, but for coaches that — I don’t think there are very many of them anymore, but for coaches who don’t think they have to use the portal in recruiting, they do. You have got to be active in the transfer market if you want to be successful now. In my judgment, there’s no two ways about it.