Breaking it Down with Seth Davis
No, we’re not dancing. Just discussing the NCAA Tourney.
by Adam Fleischer
I won’t front: I’d like to think I know a little something about this great game of ours. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that all members of the SLAM Fam really know their stuff when it comes to hoops, too. Even with this as the case, though, my excitement is always there when I get the chance to talk to other folks who have great insight and understanding of the game. Such happened yesterday. I knew it would be pretty cool when I was given the chance to talk to Seth Davis, an SI and CBS vet and a college basketball expert, and he didn’t disappoint. In anticipation of tomorrow’s tip off to what may be the most exciting time in all of sports, Seth and I spoke about his favorite round of the Tourney, why he’s linking up with Coke Zero, Final Four picks, and how much better qualified to talk basketball Bob Knight is either of us.
SLAM: I know you’re involved with Coke Zero and this Brain Bracket that they have going on. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Seth Davis: It’s a cool idea. They’ve been soliciting ideas from fans all season long for this thing called the Department of Fannovation. It’s at cokezero.com/ncaa and fans have been going there all season long, submitting these ideas, and now they have it set up in what’s called a Brain Bracket. They took the bets sixty-four ideas and arranged them in a bracket, and now they’re invited fans to go on the website and vote for their favorite match ups as they move through the bracket. The ideas up there are amazing to me-what people have been able to come up with is very cool.
SLAM: And they’re all ideas related to an experience at a basketball game, right?
SD: Exactly. Like the Zebra Cam: So you put a camera on the referees. Or an application nationwide that lets people enter a bracket pool. Or taking cell phone pictures and having them end up on the JumboTron. Or concession lines with VIP cards. It’s some really creative stuff.
SLAM: So it’s going to progress as the NCAA Tournament progresses?
SD: Yeah. You vote round by round. So once we get through the first round, they’ll move on and follow it. And the person who submits the winning idea is going to get $10,000 and a trip to the Final Four, so it’s actually a pretty cool deal for that person for sure.
SLAM: Any other favorites that stick out to you?
SD: There were a couple. There’s this one that’s like an airport tray table on the seat in front of you so that you can lay down your concessions. I like the VIP lounge, too. One of them I didn’t like is where you get to choose the announcers, so if you don’t like the announcers you can choose somebody else. I don’t like that, because I don’t like to subject my own work to public opinion because I usually don’t fair well when that happens [laughs].
SLAM: Let’s talk about the Tournament a little bit. Do you think that the committee got the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds right?
SD: I took issue with their No. 1 seeds. I think that they got the most important thing right, which is who gets in and who gets out, although I may have done one or two things differently; I had Illinois in and California out. So the fact that Cal ended up as a No. 8 seed…
SLAM: I was actually going to ask you about that. How did they get that seed?
SD: I have no idea…Well, I mean, I know the answer: their non-conference strength of schedule was ranked number one in the whole country-the only problem is, they lost every game [of those], and their best win is at home against Washington. They had one Top 50 win.
SLAM: Right. And Washington beat them in the Pac-10 Finals and somehow got a No. 11 seed in what seems to be a harder bracket.
SD: Yeah, Cal as a No. 8 was a real head scratcher that nobody seems to be talking about. Also, I said this on the show, but to put Duke on the seeding line a head of Syracuse and West Virginia-but, certainly, to be ahead of Syracuse-just made no sense to me. I don’t know if they were doing that because of the [Arinze] Onuaku injury, but, as I said, if that is the reason, it’s a pretty bad reason. But [the committee] makes a good faith effort, and these charges of bias and conspiracy are stupid. Bob Knight’s quote, to me, was totally out of line, you know, They’re not competent to judge basketball. I mean, obviously if you’re not Bob Knight, you’re not competent to judge basketball.
SLAM: I know. What are we all doing? [laughs]
SD: We’re all just wasting our time. We all should just go home.
SLAM: You mentioned Duke. Why do they get the winner of the play in game, as opposed to, say, Kansas, who is the No. 1 overall?
SD: That’s a great question. First of all, the number one thing is you gotta play on Friday. So, I don’t know how they decide who plays Thursday and Saturday as opposed to Friday and Sunday, but they want the opening round winner to play Friday. But I’m honestly not really sure how that’s decided. I know it’s not being the overall number one seed.
SLAM: So who has the easiest road to the Final Four?
SD: You know, I don’t know that there is one. I guess I would say Duke, because I think that Villanova is the weakest No. 2 seed. And I think that Purdue is clearly the weakest No. 4 seed. I think that the general consensus is that the South is the weakest region, but every year there’s one region that’s a little bit weaker than the rest, and there’s one region that’s a little bit stronger than the rest. I actually gotta disagree with this notion that Kansas has the hardest region. Because you could rattle off all those teams in there, but Kansas doesn’t have to play all those guys. So you could say, Well, there’s more brand name schools in the Midwest, which is fine, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the toughest region. For me, the hardest road to the Final Four out of the 1 seeds is Kentucky, because they’re paired with West Virginia, and West Virginia is the number one No. 2 seed. They’re also looking at potentially playing Texas in the Second Round, and then Temple or Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen, or maybe a Cinderella Cornell, and then possibly West Virginia in the Regional Final? That’s a very, very hard road to get to Indianapolis.
SLAM: Final Four picks?
SD: It might surprise you, given how brilliant my picks are, that I take about four minutes to fill out my bracket.
SLAM: Yeah, I usually fill mine out right when it comes out.
SD: You know, thinking about it more isn’t gonna make your picks any better. I just went with what jumped out at me on the page and that’s Kansas, Syracuse, Duke, West Virginia. From what I can tell that’s the most popular combination. The Tournament is all about match ups. That’s really the most important thing.
SLAM: On that note, is there a particular first round match up or possible Sweet Sixteen match up that sticks out to you?
SD: That Temple-Cornell game is a doozy. Contrasting styles. I like San Diego State as an upset pick over Tennessee, possibly. For the Sweet Sixteen, I think a lot of us are looking at Georgetown-Ohio State. I think that would be a terrific game to watch if they faced off. It’s funny, during a commercial break during the selection show, Greg Anthony said to me, Who do you like, Georgetown or Ohio State? I asked him which Georgetown team is going to show up. They’ve been so up and down. A lot of that has been health related, and I think they’ve got that stuff behind them and they’re ready to go.
SLAM: Is there a chance for one or two players to make a name for themselves?
SD: There’s always that chance for someone to be the new Stephen Curry. I look at a guy like Jimmer Fredette at BYU. I mean, he hung 49 on Arizona. Anthony Johnson at Montana, scoring 42 in the championship game. Another guy, even though I have them losing to Marquette in the second round, is Darington Hobson at New Mexico. As Clark Kellogg would call him, he’s a real stat sheet stuffer: points, rebounds, assists, good three point shooter, steals. He’s a quality player and they’re a dangerous team.
SLAM: Do you have a favorite round?
SD: Hm, a favorite round? Gosh, I love ‘em all. I think the Sweet Sixteen is kind of a fun round. In the Sweet Sixteen, every single game is a quality game and you have two nights of double headers that are high level, high consequence.
SLAM: OK, so we gotta go out on this. Who’s your national champ pick?
SD: Easy. Kansas. You start with that and you work your way backwards. They’ve been my pick from the start of the year. They have more ways that they can win. It’s easy to win when you’re playing well, but can you beat a team when you’re playing poorly? Kansas is capable of doing that better than any other team in the Tournament. And I love the fact they have a great senior at the point guard position, where Syracuse and Kentucky both have freshmen there. I’m a big believer in the Jayhawks right now. Kansas over West Virginia. But, as I always say, any similarities between my picks and the actual course of events is strictly coincidental.