From Kentucky’s chances of staying undefeated to under the radar players and everything in between. Here are some thoughts from basketball hall of famers and analysts on the upcoming NCAA Tournament and much more from media day.
Who we caught up with:
Charles Barkley: National Basketball Hall of Famer, 11-time NBA All-Star, 1992-93 NBA MVP. He is now an analyst on Inside the NBA on TNT and CBS for March Madness. Played college basketball at Auburn University.
Reggie Miller: National Basketball Hall of Famer, five-time NBA All-Star, regarded as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. TNT NBA and March Madness color commentator and analyst. Played college basketball at UCLA.
Grant Hill: 1994-95 NBA Rookie of the Year, seven-time NBA All-Star. Color commentator and analyst for TNT and CBS. Will call this year’s Final Four as a color commentator. Played college basketball at Duke, where he won back-to-back National titles.
Kenny Smith: Two-time NBA champion with the Houston Rockets. Inside the NBA analyst, CBS March Madness analyst. Played college basketball at North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Jim Nantz: Leading sports play-by-play broadcaster on CBS. Will be calling his 30th NCAA Tournament this season and the 2015 Final Four. Regarded as one of the best in the business. University of Houston alum.
Which teams have the best chance at beating Kentucky?
Barkley: "There are about four or five teams that have a chance against Kentucky. Arizona has a chance. Gonzaga has a chance. Wisconsin has a chance. Duke has a chance."
Miller: "At the start of the year, the one team that came to my mind was Virginia because of their defensive identity." "They are well coached, but have limped to the finish."
Smith: "Duke, Virginia, Arizona, and Wisconsin for sure."
How do you beat the Wildcats?
Hill: "It takes one bad half, a team or a matchup. A team that has experience, a tremendous game plan. When we played Vegas (UNLV) in ’91 they were undefeated, our game plan was ‘let’s keep it close,’ let’s come out early and hit them a little bit, manage the game."
Hill (cont.): "You win 16, 17 in a row, even if your coach is on you, we are winning. Your 19 years old you fight that temptation that attitude that you are invincible."
Miller: "Defensively you really have to get after their shooters. You can’t turn the basketball over, especially with that full-court pressure. Protect the basketball, limit Towns and Cauley-Stein to shooting outside of the paint, which is easier said than done because Calipari does a great job of that high screen and roll where one big is diving to the rim and the other one is replacing up top and they have a high-low dynamic." "It is easier said than done to take both of those away." "They are not a great shooting team and keep them off of the offensive glass."
Barkley: "Got to keep them off of the offensive boards and you can’t let them get a bunch of layups and dunks. They are not a great shooting team. They have a very physical team, but if you keep them off of the boards you have a chance."
Smith: "The difference between the tournament and the regular season is that no one is playing nine or ten guys, they start reducing their lineup." "Those units don’t have that big of an advantage." "They’ll have an advantage, but not the same."
Thoughts on Okafor vs. Kaminsky for National Player of the Year
Hill: "I think there is a chance at player of year (for Jahlil Okafor). Kaminsky would be in consideration." "I feel like those who make these decisions like to award these players who have stuck around. It could go either way."
Barkley: "Both are very good players. Towns at Kentucky is a very good player and Russell at Ohio State is a very good player."
Smith: "Those are the two for player of the year. They have the most responsibility for their team and have played the best."
Any of the college players today remind you of a little bit of yourself in school?
Hill: "Maybe [Justise] Winslow, maybe he is a guy that is similar. Selfishly, my ego likes D’Angelo Russell, but I don’t know if I was that dynamic, especially my first year."
Miller: "Ron Baker at Wichita State stands out a little bit as a flat out shooter."
Is there a player that you can’t wait to see?
Miller: "I'm curious to see how the young players like Karl-Anthony Towns react to the big pressure. I've always been a big Frank Kaminsky fan. Stanley Johnson from Arizona, I love his game."
Barkley: "The [D’Angelo] Russell kid is a stud. If you have good guards, it is a guard dominated tournament. You can take big guys out of the game by doubling quickly or with a zone."
Smith: "I always root for North Carolina. I am looking forward to watching Arizona because I have known Stanley Johnson for a long time." (Smith coached Johnson when he played AAU basketball)
Is there an under the radar player that can announce himself in the big dance?
Hill: "I think SMU, if their guy Keith Frazier had not gotten hurt I think we’d be talking about them possibly as a number one seed, they are that good." "They have four really talented big players, good point guard Sterling Brown, he’s going to make a nice run this year."
Miller: "To me, Seth Tuttle the big guy from Northern Iowa. This dude can flat out play, he could play at the next level." "Teams do not have a lot of time to prepare." "I don’t know they are going to prepare for a guy like a Seth Tuttle who is physical and has great inside moves on a team that is great defensively."
Thoughts on the alma mater?
Hill on Duke: "Duke has surprised me this year. The freshmen have played well. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones really complement and thrive together in the backcourt." "I don’t know if they have seen a team quite like Kentucky. Okafor going against multiple players that are long and athletic. As a former Duke player, I am pretty excited about this team as opposed to last year’s team."
Smith on UNC: "They have a lot of size, multiple long bodies that they can throw at you." "Their guard play probably did not play as well as they did last year, which they could hit this month." "Paige did not hit the strides that he hit last year."
Barkley on Auburn: "I like the direction we are going. They are a lot more competitive this year. It is has been a long time since they have been enjoyable to watch."
Miller on UCLA: "He (Coach Steve Alford) was hit with a big blow with Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine all leaving. Imagine if those three guys would have stayed, where they would be this year." "He has got to recruit LA better. I think they are heading in the right direction."
Difference between covering NBA and March Madness?
Hill: "It is just the excitement. Last year, I was in the studio the first two weeks and it was complete madness. We were in the studio from eight in the morning until two a.m." "Something about it just energizes you." "There is a passion that is unmatched when you talk about a relationship with your alma mater, it is personal."
Miller: "It’s all about the Cinderella story. We don’t deal with the best of seven series, anyone can be beaten on any night." "It is a lot different from an NBA arena."
When you hear the words, "Big East Coast Bias," what is the first thing that pops into your mind?
Hill: "I think of Georgetown because I grew up a Georgetown fan. The first game I ever watched I fell in love with college basketball was the 82’ finals between Georgetown and North Carolina." "I went to every home game that I could go to." "When I grow up I want to play at Georgetown." "We you say Big East Coast Bias, I think of the personalities, the coaches. As a fan, it was fun to watch."
Smith: "Haters from the west." "You are who you are, I don’t know if there is bias." "Always just felt like there were haters from the west."
Miller (A West Coast guy at heart): "Nothing really. I don’t think anything of it."
Barkley: "I don’t know if there is a coast bias. The first thing that comes to my mind is the great rivalries in Big East in the past."
Wrapping it up
Here are three quick things that we learned from the experts, plus a bonus fact:
1. Watch out for Arizona and Stanley Johnson in the NCAA Tournament.
2. Beating Kentucky is certainly possible, but only a number of teams can pull it off.
3. SMU, Northern Iowa and Ohio State could sneak up on some teams despite either struggling or being under the radar.
BONUS: Reggie Miller does not legitimately fill out a bracket. Does anyone else find that to be a little bit strange?
I finished the afternoon by talking with Jim Nantz, who is about the call his 30th NCAA Tournament, and he discussed his favorite moments of calling the madness. Duke beating UNLV is 1991 was one, and that team was trying to stay perfect just like Kentucky. He also mentioned Gordon Hayward missing the last second half court shot against Duke in the 2010 National Championship game, which Nantz said was almost one of the greatest finishes in sports history. Another was Mario Chalmers hitting the game-tying three pointer against Derrick Rose and Memphis in the 2008 National title game to send it to overtime.
As Nantz and the rest of the guys get ready to call what will be another fantastic March of madness, we await anxiously to see what is going to unfold. Until then, let the speculation commence. These guys certainly gave you enough to chew on until things kick off this week. Happy March everyone!