Illinois is not alone in having to rebuild its roster. I’m curious your perspective on how Brad Underwood went about that this offseason.
JAY BILAS: Well, with the transfer portal, things are obviously very different than they’ve been in the past. If you lost a player like Andre Curbelo or Kofi Cockburn goes pro, something like that, it might set you back a little bit, but now you can go into the portal and beef up a little bit.
Brad has got a really good program. I think going into the portal and getting Terrence Shannon was a really good get.
Illinois plays really hard. I think their focus having a player like Cockburn was interior oriented, and then they also lost Grandison, who wound up going to Duke. But he’s like a sixth-year player.
I think Illinois will do well. How well, I think we’ll have to wait and see for everybody that we may talk about today.
The thing that — one of the things that I like best about the current landscape is it seems like we have more players that are staying now that would have left in years past, and one of the big features of that is NIL. If they can do well in college, so many of them have decided to stay rather than maybe be a late first or second-round pick or be an undrafted free agent.
And that does nothing but help the game. And for those who — I count myself among them, for those who really value education, having players stay in school longer is a net positive for everyone.
I think overall, even though there are some issues with it that could be certainly ironed out, the portal overall I think has been a net positive.
The Big Ten lost a lot of its talent from last year. How do you see it shaking out, and maybe where is Illinois’s place potentially in there?
JAY BILAS: I wish I had a good answer for that, but the truth is I don’t really know because of exactly what you pointed out, that the Big Ten lost, what, 15 of its top 20 scorers, something like that, from last year? In a year that was a good one. But I don’t think the Big Ten would raise its hand to say it had the best NCAA Tournament, or at least the tournament that it expected.
That probably goes for two years in a row where the league I felt was really strong and didn’t perform quite as well in the tournament, which obviously is the biggest spotlight and biggest stage of the season.
But there are a lot of question marks around the teams because everything is so new. There are so many new pieces being plugged in.
So I think Indiana, I would put Indiana as the preseason favorite because they’ve got Trayce Jackson-Davis back and Race Thompson and they bring in Jalen Hood-Schifino to run the point, who’s a really talented young player.
But I think Michigan State is going to be better than people think. I think Michigan is going to be very good. But there are probably more preseason question marks about just how good everybody is going to be because there are so many new variables.
Oftentimes, one of the things about — even with transfers, they may be experienced, but they’re not necessarily experienced in your system and with your players and your culture.
Some of these things take a little bit of time. For an example, we saw last year with Kentucky, that was probably the oldest team Kentucky has had, I don’t know, maybe the last 40 years, whatever it is. I think that served them well. But then they stubbed their toe in the NCAA Tournament and everybody questions it.
But they evolved into a really good team over the course of the year, and I think they’ll be even better next year. But just as an example, I think that’s what we’re going to see with a number of teams in the Big Ten.
I’m trying to have a little bit of fun with this. What do you feel like is the bigger pressure situation for Hubert Davis, year one where he’s following after Roy Williams, or year two where he’s got four starters back on a team that reached the national title game and preseason No. 1?
JAY BILAS: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. It’s funny, I don’t think Hubert feels pressure the way other people do. I’ve known Hubert a long time, and he’s one of the friends I value most.
He’s an extraordinary human being. The things that Hubert says, if somebody else said it, you might roll your eyes. But when he says it, it’s so authentic and genuine, I trust it and believe it without question.
I do think, like with everything, there was an adjustment period. When you take a new job and a new role, all those things, he’s not immune to that. But he never wavered last year in what he thought was important and how he was going to do things, and I don’t think he’ll do that this year.
But to more directly answer your question, I would say that it would be more difficult to — in your first year in anything because you’re still kind of feeling your way around a little bit, even though he was completely secure and is and exactly who he is.
So I don’t think this will faze him at all. He wanted those expectations. He wanted to build North Carolina back into the contender that it is and to have people say, hey, they’re the best team.
But he knows that doesn’t — while it’s a wonderful thing, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s not going to win you any games or hang you any banners. Who was preseason No. 1 last year? I don’t know that anybody remembers that. I don’t.
JAY BILAS: I don’t remember. Honestly, I don’t remember.
I wanted to ask about Caleb Love specifically. We saw him take a pretty good jump from freshman to sophomore year, and I was wondering what areas you feel like he still can improve upon this year to be in that All-American kind of stratosphere.
JAY BILAS: Well, he’s up there. He’s one of the best guards, not just point guards but guards, in the country because he can play both ends of the floor really effectively. Like he’s got the ability to be an excellent defender with the way he can pressure the ball, get steals and impact on the defensive end.
I think he improved — I think he really improved his shot selection and his decision-making, and that’s an area where most every player can continue to get better.
The game has slowed down for him. I think he picks his spots much better.
Then the combination of Caleb Love and R.J. Davis is fantastic. They have two point guards out there, and when you can grab a rebound and outlet it to either one, and both of them can operate equally effectively on or off the ball, so when Love doesn’t have it and Davis does, he can concentrate on being a weapon and look to score, and when he has the ball, he can look to play make, not only for himself but for others.
I would say continuing to improve his decision-making. That doesn’t mean his decision-making isn’t really good because it took a quantum leap last year. Those two are both — one of the things that I think is really a positive for North Carolina is their free-throw shooting.
They shoot free throws extraordinarily well. Those two guards are well over 80 percent, 85 to 90 percent. And late in games you get the ball in their hands, and that’s a comforting thing to know that you foul them and you just gave North Carolina two points.
What’s the challenge for UNC? What’s going to have to happen for this team to get back to the Final Four, and what do you see any issues being for this team to get back to where they were last year?
JAY BILAS: Yeah, that’s a good question. There’s no weakness. Starting the season this year, they’re better than they were last year because they’re deeper and they’re more experienced, with the depth that they have, which they didn’t have last year.
They basically played six players last year. So that puts you in a difficult position with regard to if you have a twisted ankle or an injury, if you have foul trouble in a particular game, as they did in their first game against Duke when Armando Bacot picked up a couple fouls at the Smith Center, it puts you in a bad spot.
They’re not in that spot this year. They have a lot of quality players. That doesn’t mean everybody is going to play, but they have a number of players that can play.
The other thing that that does is give you way more competitive practices. It also makes the bench a motivating factor that now you make mistakes or whatever, when you have depth, you can be taken out. When you don’t have depth, Coach has to leave you in there.
I actually talked about Hubert the other day. I was up at North Carolina the other day, and that came up, the idea of one of the things that hasn’t changed about basketball over the years is the bench is still a very positive motivating tool. That hasn’t changed.
I think they’re in fantastic position. Just because you’re really good, though, doesn’t mean you can’t get bounced out of the tournament early or something like that. It happened to Gonzaga last year where they get to the Sweet 16, which is a great accomplishment, but that’s not what they’re — they’re used to going further than that these days.
It doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but Carolina is poised to have, as long as everybody stays healthy, to have a great year.
Losing Brady Manek was a blow because of his ability to knock down — really stretch the floor. But they brought in Pete Nance from Northwestern, who is probably a better rebounder than Manek and equally as good a passer, if not better. Expecting him to deliver five or six threes in a particular game like Manek could may not be realistic, but he can stretch the floor.
To be able to plug him in there is a big get, I think, for Carolina.
Obviously last year for UVA was a bit of a down year, missing the NCAA Tournament. But bringing back all five starters, I wanted to hear what your outlook was for this Cavaliers team and Tony Bennett this year.
JAY BILAS: I think very good, because having Gardner and Franklin in there for yet another year, they’ve got a year under their belt in Tony Bennett’s culture, so that’s going to make them better off the bat.
If they start the year the way they ended last year, that’s not just an NCAA Tournament team, it’s a team that can really beat people when they get there.
As you know, I think the biggest issue Virginia had last year, they were an excellent defensive team, not particularly deep, so they didn’t have a ton of bodies, but they defended really well, but they couldn’t make shots consistently.
That’s a hard way to play. When you can’t put the ball in the basket consistently, it really puts a ton of pressure on your defense to get stop after stop after stop.
I think they probably, admittedly, had to play even a little bit slower last year than they did in years past to manage games and manage playing time.
They’re probably not going to have to play Kihei Clark as many minutes as they did. I think Reece Beekman has a chance to take another leap if he can continue to improve his shooting. He’s an All-ACC-caliber guard, one of the best defenders in the country and a great decision-maker.
I think Virginia is going to be very, very good. The ACC is — I haven’t done the research on this, but I cannot believe there is an older league in the country than the ACC is. It seems like every roster you look at, you’re looking at nothing but juniors and seniors and fifth-year players and grad transfers and all that stuff. Hell, Notre Dame’s starting lineup is collecting Social Security already.
I think Brey played with half of them in high school.
It’s an older league. I think that’s going to make the league pretty tough nationally.
Is there a swing factor maybe for Virginia, because last year it seemed like North Carolina was kind of their — they just couldn’t get anywhere close to them, losing both games by 20-plus points. Is there a swing factor that will help them compete maybe at that higher echelon in the league?
JAY BILAS: I mean, I think everybody has to improve. They need better production out of the 5 spot.
But I think Virginia had Carolina’s number in a way before last year because they could really slow tempo and take Carolina out of transition, and they had a harder time doing that last year. One of the primary reasons was it was really difficult for — they didn’t make Carolina take the ball out of the net as often.
I know that sounds simple, but man, when you cannot make shots, and then they were relying on some inside — having Gardner inside, and he’s not a — Gardner is not a big guy. He’s an outstanding player. I think he’s a great player. He proved that at East Carolina, then proved it again last year. But just being able to consistently knock shots down is going to be a force multiplier for Virginia’s defense.
I had a question about college realignment. We know football pays the bills, but I was curious what your thoughts were on the impact of all the changes we’ve been seeing over the past couple years on basketball, and really just your thoughts on basketball being kind of a bit of an afterthought in these discussions, as pretty much every non-football sport is.
JAY BILAS: Yeah, I don’t have a problem with that because basketball is a multibillion-dollar business. The fact that football makes more is not an issue for me.
Like the realignment stuff, people — I’m the same way as most fans. Initially you’re like, this doesn’t — what is this? I’m not used to this. I’m not used to seeing Nebraska in the Big Ten. It’s like seeing the Astros — to me the Astros are a National League team. It’s that kind of analysis.
But after a while you kind of get used to it. The leagues are bigger now. You don’t have — except in maybe the Big 12, you don’t have the round-robin home-and-home thing where if you take a lump on the road you know that you get them back at your place. That was kind of fun.
But it’s not that way anymore. But the games are still great.
I think the only concern I have about basketball generally is the fact that there are 360 Division I teams I think is too many. If you want to have a, quote-unquote, level playing field, which we’re never going to get with 360 teams, it’s harder and harder for the better mid-major teams, if you will, or non-Power Five teams, to get quality non-conference games because there’s so much conference inventory. And then the big shots are having to play each other in intersectional games and multi-team events that really limit how many times they can step out and play some of the really quality mid-majors.
So there’s a little bit of a squeeze there, and it makes it a little more difficult for a really good non-Power Five program to get non-conference games that are going to give them the opportunity to be an at-large team if they don’t win their conference tournament.
But the one thing about basketball that football does not have — like football is a closed community, and with all respect, I mean, I love football, but there’s only a dozen teams every year that have a chance to win it. In basketball, everybody has got a legitimate chance.
For those that say it’s not fair for the non-Power Five teams, they don’t have as many opportunities, you always have the chance to win your conference automatic bid to get in the tournament, which football cannot say.
I mean, I’ve sort of pointed that out over the years as just an observer of football that really enjoys it, but far from claiming expertise in it. But some of these non-Power Five teams that are really good in a given year, they have to be perfect to even be considered for the CFP, and that’s not the case in basketball.
Conference realignment is not over. This is not the — USC and UCLA going to the Big Ten is not the end of this. It might not happen all at once, but the idea that this is over, it is not over.
Back at ACC media day, Commissioner Jim Phillips mentioned wanting to add regulation to collegiate athletics in regards to the NIL. We had several players I spoke to mention that they didn’t want their money being regulated based on their play on the field or on the court perhaps. What is your thought on there being some type of stipulations on how much a player can make within collegiate athletics? A lot of players comes from different upbringings, whether that’s taking care of their family back home or trying to provide for themselves on campus. What is your thought on having their money stipulated or some type of regulation throughout collegiate athletics?
JAY BILAS: I didn’t hear Jim say that so I don’t know the exact context of it. If you are talking about government regulation, where Congress came in and passed a federal law that were to limit player compensation or — the NCAA likes to use the term “guardrail,” this is new to a lot of administrators, and they don’t know how this should work.
But it’s pretty clear, the Supreme Court spoke pretty clearly in the Alston case that federal antitrust law is going to be applied to the NCAA the same way it is to any other multibillion dollar business. That has to be unsettling.
So really the only legitimate regulation of player compensation is going to have to be through federal law. I know that the NCAA has spent a lot of money trying to lobby Congress for that kind of law.
They say how can you have fair competition when you have all these differing state laws and all that stuff, which I think is, frankly, nonsensical. They’re just begging for somebody to do their work for them because they know they can’t do it and do it legally.
What I would use as an analogy is to say there are 50 different state taxation laws, and the NCAA has never complained. They’ve never said, how can we have fair competition when Florida and Texas and Nevada have no state income tax, and so therefore coaches can be better compensated at schools within those states than they can in New York and New Jersey and California. Yet they’re not asking for guardrails on coaches’ salaries.
With all respect to Jim Phillips, who’s a great guy, and I respect his viewpoint, but they’re not asking for regulation on AD salaries and commissioner salaries and coaches’ salaries, and I think it’s ludicrous to suggest that — what are the guardrails for how much a non-athlete student on scholarship can earn or accept in the marketplace? There are none. Zero regulations. They can earn or accept whatever they want and it doesn’t affect their status as students and they’re not worried about how much money their parents have and what kind of car they drive and is that going to cause problems in the classroom with their fellow students. It’s an absurd notion.
These are just talking points the NCAA has, and I don’t think they’re going to work. They certainly haven’t convinced me that we need to worry about anything.
We’re in like year two now of NIL, and I haven’t noticed one difference on the floor or on the field. Not one. No fan has turned away from the game. We haven’t had fights erupting in the locker room like coaches like to posit.
But absent Congressional intervention, I don’t see any legitimate way the NCAA can put any sort of regulation or restriction on what players can earn without running afoul of federal antitrust law.
Just to follow up on that, there’s been a hot topic recently in regards to expanding the NCAA Tournament. We know it’s a billion-dollar industry. Who says no to money realistically? A lot of coaches, I believe Leonard Hamilton at Florida State mentioned at ACC media day that he would like to see the NCAA Tournament expanded. So did Jim Boeheim, with the type of restrictions, logistics, et cetera, et cetera. Do you honestly see the NCAA Tournament turning down more money to expand the NCAA Tournament in your opinion?
JAY BILAS: Well, I’ve never seen the conferences or the NCAA turn down money in the past, so I don’t see why they would do it in the future. Look, there’s a lot of people out there that say, hey, the tournament is great; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But they went from 64 to 68 and it was fine.
I played in the last NCAA Tournament before it went to 64. It went to 64 in 1985. That was the first 64-team field. So I played in the tournament in ’84 when it was, I think, 54 teams.
We actually had a bye in the NCAA Tournament in the first round, our team, and then played in the first 64-team field the next year, and I don’t recall the tournament going backwards or losing interest.
Obviously, as you pointed out, you add more teams to the tournament, that’s more inventory to sell. But isn’t it funny that after talking about guardrails, they want to add more games and more responsibility on the players to play more often so more money can be made, and there’s nobody saying, okay, well, if we add more games to the tournament, we’ve got to let the players have more money.
The whole thing is so ridiculous. If they want to increase the field, I have no problem with it. I just don’t see the problem with access right now to the tournament.
They say there’s 25, they want 25 percent of the teams, whatever, and look at bowl games and all that stuff. Well, some of these bowl games, in my view, are meaningless exhibition games. And they’re consumed and watched, they’re great, but they don’t do anything — they don’t impact the National Championship in any way, shape or form. They call it a reward for the players. I don’t see it that way, but maybe the players do. Maybe some of the players do or a majority of them do.
But if you look at all the postseason we have in basketball, what’s the difference between the NIT and the CIT and the Poulan Weed-Eater Bowl? A bunch of teams play in postseason. But I look at the NCAA Tournament, it’s the National Championship event. So whether a team is in the play-in games — they don’t like it called play-in games. Within the First Four or in the regular field, they’re in the national — they’re playing for a National Championship when they suit up.
Everybody has access, equal access to the tournament through their conference tournament automatic bid, and these conferences can hand out those automatic bids however they want. They can have a postseason tournament and the winner goes, they can give it to the regular season champion, they can arm wrestle, they can flip a coin, do whatever they want.
Every conference is represented, so I don’t see the problem there.
Obviously we’re about a week away from the start of Duke’s season. There’s a lot of newness there, a couple preseason injuries to deal with, a couple really good teams in the conference, as well. What does Duke need to do the first few months of the season to compete with teams like Virginia and North Carolina?
JAY BILAS: Get older and get more experienced. They’re really young. I think we pointed out earlier, the ACC is a league of old guys and really experienced players throughout the league.
There’s an experience deficit at Duke, which they’re used to. They’ve had young teams before. Right now Dariq Whitehead and Dereck Lively II have been out, but they’re expected to be back relatively soon. So it’s not going to be a long-term problem, as far as I know, of availability.
But with those guys in the lineup, they’re formidable. They have the number one recruiting class. Their key player in my view is Jeremy Roach because he’s the most experienced player and has been named captain and is the de facto leader of the team. So his leadership is going to be vital.
Watching them practice recently, they do look young. Some of the bodies that they have are not — after having Zion Williamson and Paulo Banchero and Trevor Keels, guys like that, those guys looked like they were 30 years old their freshman year.
The current Duke roster, they look a little younger, but they’re uber talented, so they should have a really good year. But there’s likely to be some experience-related ups and downs like most young teams have, but I they they’ll do very, very well.
John Calipari has talked about the option of summer basketball league for college basketball; what’s your thoughts on should there be some type of summer basketball league modeled after the NBA’s Summer League?
JAY BILAS: Well, it’s coming, whether the players organize it themselves, which they can, and that’s something that’s going to open up. A lot of teams take these foreign tours during the summer. That’s been a longtime practice every four years. A team can go overseas to play a foreign tour. Some go to the Bahamas, some go to Canada, things like that, that are shorter trips. Auburn went to Israel this year. Teams went to — I think Virginia went to Italy.
There’s no reason that the players can’t set those trips up on their own and do it and make their own money, like a team full of SEC All-Stars or ACC All-Stars. You used to have to do that after your senior year. They’re called barnstorming games. I played in a lot of those and made a good deal of money after my senior year.
But I think the idea of a summer league is a good one. I’ve never understood, and not to get off on NCAA policy, but there are a couple players that are dealing with eligibility issues because one player played in the Portsmouth Invitational and just got docked — at Arizona, just got docked three games for playing in the Portsmouth Invitational, Courtney Ramey, and you’re like, a basketball player getting suspended for playing basketball, I mean, that doesn’t make any sense.
I don’t see why we have to have control over what the players do in the off-season. So I’d be in favor of it. If the players want to play. If it’s a requirement, that would feel a little bit different to me. But if they want to, that’s fine.
We went from players once the season ended, once school ended, going home during the summer and playing in local summer leagues, and they’d get in trouble for playing in a summer league that wasn’t sanctioned, to now they’re in summer school all summer and the schools can work them out, they can feed them. The players are now on campus almost year-round.
So I don’t see a problem with it. If players want to do it, that’s fine. But we’re headed toward a place where this has — this has been professional basketball for decades now, and it’s not going to be long, in my view, absent Congressional intervention, that the schools are just going to be signing players to contracts. That’s the cleanest and easiest way to do it, and if you do that, then a summer league makes sense.
A few weeks ago, Jim Boeheim had some very choice words in comparison for the Big Ten in comparison to the ACC, or lack thereof, their success they’ve had in the postseason. How much truth do you think there is to what he was saying, and why do you think we haven’t seen a national champion in over 20 years for the Big Ten? How close are they to closing the deal on being able to be crowned one?
JAY BILAS: Well, the Big Ten has been close, as you know. They’ve had teams playing in not only in the Final Four but in the championship game, so it’s not like it hasn’t happened. Since the time that Michigan State won it — I believe Michigan State, that Mateen Cleaves-Charlie Bell team, Mo Pete, was the last Big Ten national champion.
Look, I get it, it’s been a while, but it’s not like they haven’t been knocking on the door and the league hasn’t been truly outstanding, both in the regular season and in the tournament.
Clearly, the last couple years the league didn’t perform at the level they expected or that we expected. Two years ago was the real gut punch where you had so many teams that you thought were Final Four caliber and exited the tournament way early. Last year it was similar but not as jarring.
Look, I understand what Jim Boeheim is saying, and it’s not that I have a huge disagreement with it, but I don’t think you can just say, well, the only thing that matters is tournament performance. I don’t think that’s necessarily true as an indicator of how good your league has been during the year.
But it’s not irrelevant, either. I do agree that, in today’s world, you’re judged more harshly by the tournament or more gently by a good performance in the tournament. Like you can erase a regular season that was less than stellar by having a really good three-week period in the tournament.
But I wouldn’t go as far — I didn’t quite agree with saying the Big Ten sucked or something like that. I’m paraphrasing, but I think that’s basically what he said, and it was by virtue of just looking at the tournament alone.
I think it’s a little more — I think it requires a little more analysis and it’s a little more nuanced than that.
On Illinois, what do you think about what Brad Underwood has done with that program over the last five years, where maybe this offseason lose an All-American, two transfers, a bunch of fifth-year guys, and they’re still in the preseason top 25?
JAY BILAS: Well, Brad is a great coach, and he’s done a really good job everywhere he’s been. I think when he first got to the Big Ten at Illinois, thought that it may be the right thing to press and up tempo it, and he decided to go a little bit of a different route and made some adjustments in their style of play for efficiency, and adjusting to how the Big Ten plays, and it was really successful.
I think in today’s game, every coach, not just Brad but every coach, has to be used to you’re going to have personnel losses every year. You’re going to have transfers. And if you don’t, it’s extraordinary. If you have really good players, some of them are going to leave and go pro. That’s the way it is now.
I think having more of an eye on the portal, on recruiting and restocking year to year — as you know, it used to be where you recruited a great point guard, you wouldn’t bring in another great point guard the next year and stack them up. But now you almost have to do that because you’ve got to be prepared that you’re going to lose a player.
Oftentimes you know, mid-season or late season, this guy isn’t staying, whether there may be a transfer or what. But it’s certainly made April and May a little bit more chaotic for coaches because they’re having to make quick decisions: Is this guy going to stay? Can we get this transfer? Do we know enough about him? Does he fit our culture? All this stuff. How good — and you’re getting players making visits in May now that you never had to deal with before.
But I think Brad has done a great job of establishing who they are and who they want to be and then fitting players into that culture. It’s looked seamless. Nothing is seamless, but he’s done a great job.
You mentioned Indiana being Big Ten favorite, and that’s who I had, as well, but they did go 9-11 in the league last year and it’s basically the same team. Is the Big Ten maybe as open as it has been in a while?
JAY BILAS: Yeah, because I think any person that has watched the league would feel uncomfortable about making these bold predictions — here’s what’s going to happen. I wouldn’t even venture to guess that. There’s going to be a lot that unfolds in determining is Indiana going to be the best team. They have terrific personnel.
It’s almost like we don’t deal with this anymore because of the way the game has changed or the way we think it has changed, that in past years when you had a team that was .500 in the league but had younger players and then added some players, you’d feel pretty good about them taking that jump.
So I’m not as concerned with the fact that Indiana was a fringe tournament team last year. I think they’ve got the chops to be the best team in the Big Ten.
Whether they do it remains to be seen, just like it is every year. Like Purdue, I thought Purdue was the best team in the league by far at the beginning of last year, and you watched them play in November and December and you’re thinking, man, these guys are the best. They had some ups and downs toward the end of the season. I still think they were a Final Four-caliber team but didn’t play quite that way once they got to the tournament. Got beat by Saint Peter’s.
But I think Purdue is going to be really good again.
But I’m comfortable that the league is going to show well. It’s just that we don’t — there are a lot of unknowns, and who’s going to fill some of these voids, who’s going to be a load carrier at Michigan State. They don’t have as much depth, stuff like that. We’ll see how it shakes out. But I think the league will be very, very good. How good, I just don’t know.
Just a couple ends of the spectrum; on one side for us here, we’ve got Duke who’s a very inexperienced team, and then on the other side we’ve got a Carolina team who seems to be a really experienced team. Just in your opinion, how do coaches go forward if the name of the game is winning with balancing what you need to do? Of course you want those highly recruited players, but they may not stick around for a long time. You said the name of the game is experience. How do you think coaches go forward with what they want to do in regards to winning a National Championship?
JAY BILAS: Well, I mean, I think the name of the game is talent first. Would I rather have experienced talent over inexperienced talent? Yes, of course. If I had to go in for surgery, would I rather have a more experienced surgeon than a less experienced one? Of course I would. Same thing if I get on an airplane and they say, well, welcome onboard, this is our pilot’s first flight. I’d rather have the experienced pilot.
But if I get the most talented one, too, I’d be really happy with that.
For a place like Duke or Kentucky — most teams don’t have the choice of do we go with four or five McDonald’s All-Americans versus an older team of non-McDonald’s All-Americans. Most teams don’t have that choice. This year Arkansas has a bunch of McDonald’s All-Americans and a really super talented freshman class; Kentucky has had that choice over the years; Duke has had that choice over the years.
But most everybody else, the overwhelming majority of teams, have to balance having maybe a superstar freshman and some more experienced players.
My colleagues say often, and I don’t disagree, that hey, experience wins in basketball. Well, the overwhelming majority of teams are experienced, but a lot of those experienced teams lose.
Over the last 10, 11 years, two of the teams that have won the most NCAA Tournament games over that time period have been the youngest, Duke and Kentucky. Now, Kansas and Gonzaga have been up there, as well, but Duke and Kentucky have won with young players.
Last year John Calipari made an adjustment and had more older players and transfers, and he’s got a similar team this year with older players, but he’s balanced that he’s got some young guys, too, that can really play.
Duke is overwhelmingly young with the No. 1 recruiting class and superstar talent as young players. They’re going to be there. Now, whether they win it or not, they’re going to be there.
I think going forward, especially if the NBA comes to a new collective bargaining agreement and players can go directly out of high school into the NBA, you’re going to see more coaches having to decide, would I rather have an experienced transfer for a couple of years or the second tier of great high school player making up my team?
Those are going to be decisions. Because that’s going to hurt college basketball. If you lose 15 players a year out of high school that never come to college even for a year, that’s going to hurt the product. It’s not going to kill it and it’s not going to be a substantial wound, but it’s going to hurt.
Nobody can tell me that college basketball would have been better off without Zion Williamson and Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose and Kevin Love and all that. There’s no way it would be better without those players.
By the same token, it is not going to be better in years forward if players go directly out of high school. So the decision is going to be do you go with the experienced transfer or do you go with a less experienced, sort of one step below McDonald’s All-American out of high school.
I think balance is probably for most the best way to do it, and you’ve had a number of teams that have been very successful doing it that way. But there are just precious few teams like Kentucky and Duke and this year Arkansas that have a chance to get those caliber of players and bunch them up together in a single class. It doesn’t happen very often.
What do you think that the realistic expectations are this year for a team like a Michigan State, of which the past couple of years just haven’t really looked like the same Michigan State that we’re accustomed to seeing, even if that is also in March? What has changed within that program? And obviously touching on the bright spots, that it appears they will have going forward following up this year with a recruiting class and so forth.
JAY BILAS: I think Michigan State is going to be very good. They’ve got a lot of versatility on their team, so having Joey Hauser and Malik Hall that can play — they can each play the 5 spot in kind of a small ball style. They’re both versatile. They can both guard. They’re both good rebounders, positional rebounders, and they can both shoot it.
I think Michigan State is going to be able to spread the floor. My sense is that Tyson Walker is going to be their best player and probably their leading scorer, but they’re going to have to get 30 minutes a game out of Walker, out of Hauser, out of Hall, and then distributing those other minutes.
It’s not a team that’s really deep in the post, and they’ve got Mady Sissoko, who has improved, and the question is how many minutes is he going to be able to play and stay out of foul trouble and really contribute at a high level? Because he’s got the ability to run and block shots and rebound and finish plays around the basket.
I think one of the keys for Michigan State is going to be, one, their freshmen. Jaxon Kohler, the Cooper kid are they going to be able to contribute at a high level, and I think they can.
And then what are they going to get out of — is Jaden Akins — he’s not back yet, he’s had a little bit of an injury problem, but it’s not a long-term thing, when he gets back, he can really make shots for them.
There are going to be players in some new roles and playing a few more minutes. But I like the makeup of their team. It’s just not maybe a traditional Michigan State that you’ve seen that has two or three post guys that they’ve had in the past. It’s going to be more of a versatile multipositional team.
But their guards are going to be very important, AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins are going to be very important players for them, and then their ability to take care of the ball.
If they can drop their turnover rate down from 14, 15 down to 10, that’s going to really be a big difference for them.