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Transcript: ESPN Conference Call with College Basketball Analysts Jay Bilas and Tom Crean


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Ahead of the 2017-18 college basketball season, ESPN analysts Jay Bilas and Tom Crean spoke with media members to preview the season. Bilas, ESPN’s lead analyst, will work Saturday Primetime games alongside Dan Shulman and Maria Taylor again this season, as well as serving as an analyst on College GameDay covered by State Farm. Crean, one of ESPN’s newest additions to its commentator roster, brings more than 15 years of coaching experience to his new role as both a game and studio analyst.

A transcript of the call is available below.

I’d like to get your thoughts on the Big 5 here in Philly. Of course we have Villanova and Temple and St. Joe’s and just like to get your thoughts on what kind of season you think some of those teams will have and some of the players to watch and that sort of thing.
JAY BILAS: Well, obviously Villanova is the best team of that group, and having the players back that they have with Jalen Brunson, who’s an all-America candidate, and Mikal Bridges I think is one of the elite, lengthy defenders in the country, they’re a proven winning program that has been older in the past, and they’re staying older, so their experience level is really high, and getting Omari Spellman eligible this year as a redshirt freshman, I mean, I’m of the opinion he should have been playing last year, and that was unfair how he was treated. But all that’s behind him now, and he’s a legit, like, low-post big guy and a great young man. So they’re the best team.

I think Temple is going to make a jump this year. They’ve got some very good returning players, Quinton Rose being at the top of that list, and Obi Enechionyia is a really good player, and they have Josh Brown back, who was redshirted, and he’s an older player that’s really capable and very, very good. So if they get really good guard play, I expect that they’re an NCAA Tournament team, as well.

TOM CREAN: I would add a couple things. I think it’s such a great place for basketball, and any time those teams get together, it’s a happening. The Palestra is a bucket list place, no doubt about it, and to me, with what Jay said with Villanova, the one thing about — there’s numerous things about them, but the one thing that always stands out about a Villanova team, a Jay Wright team, is they prove true to the old adage they are not going to beat themselves, and it’s a rare, rare night when they have self-inflicted wounds at the end of games that hurt them, and one of the things that they really stand out on is when they have an opportunity to put you away, they usually do a very, very good job of that. He’s had a chance to develop players over a period of time that — I wouldn’t say that they’re always one of those teams that get old together, but there’s always enough guys that really seem to show the younger guys that come in there that there’s a certain standard that they’re going to play to, and it’s not about making a lot of mistakes. Obviously Brunson is a tremendous leader, a tremendous guard. Mikal Bridges, Donte, those guys are going to have major leaps. I agree with what Jay said on Spellman because he is somebody you can throw the ball to. I believe you can not only go to him but you can play through him, and the fact of the matter that they have so much confidence late in games really stands out.

Temple has got an older team now. I think the one guy that could, along with those people that Jay mentioned, when you start to look at the guard play that they have, I think that the rise that Quinton Rose had last year, and from the sounds of the summer that he had, gives them maybe a dimension that that will take them to another place. That’s one of those inside-outside guys that can rebound it, he can score it, he’s gaining confidence, he’s young, and he’s had a chance to gain some experience.

And when you look at the other three, when you look at LaSalle, when you look at Phil Martelli, when you look at who they have, when you look at all the different programs there, they’ve had a chance to establish over a period of time. St. Joseph’s is always going to fit the same bill of really not beating themselves but finding ways to use their toughness and their experience to beat you, and now that it’s another year later with Steve having a chance to put his system together there, and it’s a great area for basketball.

As you guys know, Kentucky has got a bunch of young guys, eight freshmen, three sophomores. There are 11 scholarship players. How big of a handicap or how much of a problem is that for any team to be that young, or are players players these days, and it’s not as big a deal?
JAY BILAS: I think it’s a huge deal. It’s not — look, younger players are playing against more younger players than they did years ago, but you would still rather have experienced talent than inexperienced super talent. It doesn’t mean that Kentucky is not Final Four good with a chance to win it; they are, but I think you tend to favor when you get down to the end of the year, you tend to favor the more experienced teams, and I think leadership becomes the biggest issue that every day in practice, if you have older players, the younger players watch them, and it’s not — they’re not coach-directed teams. John Calipari has done an extraordinary job there and everywhere he’s been, but especially at Kentucky to sort of have to re-teach young players every single year, I think that’s got to be exhausting. But his best teams, the ones that have been Final Four championship good, have had a mix of great young talent and then really good older players that played significant roles. That doesn’t mean this year’s team can’t win it. They can, but you tend to favor, I think even in today’s game that’s younger than ever, you tend to favor the teams that have really good talent but also older experienced players that have been there before. That’s still as valuable as it’s ever been.

It’s the same in the NBA as it is in college, and you look at the teams that have done really well, younger teams have been there, but the older teams, the teams that have that level of experience, have a little bit extra, I think.

TOM CREAN: I would say with any young player, some of the biggest things that take the longest to get a hold of over a period of time is, number one, you’ve got to make other players better, and it’s not just — well, I’ve got to make this pass or make that pass. You’ve got to move people, you’ve got to screen, you’ve got to make scoring cuts, you’ve got to really move without the ball. You’ve got to talk on defense. Those things not only take time to learn, but they take a lot of mental toughness to carry through, and it takes young guys a long time to do that. It takes them a long time to understand that the energy that they have to play with on a daily basis is crucial to having the motor that they’ve got to have on a daily basis, and I think young players, especially talented young players so many times have an ability to coast by on talent when they’re fatigued because they’ve always been able to get things done.

I think John has got a team this year that — this is not the natural, well, these might be the first — this might be three of the top eight picks in next year’s draft might be on his team. I’m not sure it’s that kind of team this year. That doesn’t mean it won’t be, but I’m not sure it’s that kind of team walking in, and being able to get them to understand the roles they have, that Quade Green has really got to make shots for them, that he’s got to be a disruptive force on defense, probably that he’s got to dribble less, which happens with so many guards, that Kevin Knox and PJ Washington have got to be consistent and playing through fatigue and bringing their motor every day, and Hamidou Diallo can make that rise and can Shai Alexander continue on the uptick. They got out-rebounded by five by Morehead, and it might have been an exhibition game, but that’s a situation where that aggressiveness, that motor that you’ve got to have day in and day out, it’s got to be there, and I say that because that’s what takes the longest period of time, and again, when young players, when it’s going smooth, when it’s going great, when they’re making shots, it’s a lot easier to get that. That’s not always the way it is. It takes time. I mean, they’re 19 of 46 from three in their first three games with the two exhibitions and the Morehead game, and those are average numbers.

So I mean, for me, looking at them, they always get better with John, there’s no question about that. But can this team really understand more than even some of his past teams that they’re only be as good as they are together and that the whole has got to be better than the sum of its parts.

I wonder if I can ask about the ongoing FBI investigation and how widespread do you anticipate that being, how much of a pall will that put over college basketball for the foreseeable future?
JAY BILAS: I don’t think anybody knows how widespread it will be. I think everybody that has had boots on the ground, been around the game knows that there are things going on that are against NCAA rules. And that’s been going out in football and basketball for a long, long time, and it’s not just basketball, it’s football, as well. The only thing that differs here from prior scandals, if you will, in college sports is that the Federal Government is involved and the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office of the Southern District of New York has weaponized NCAA rules. So for these not to be federal crimes, there doesn’t have to be a change in federal law, there has only to be a change in NCAA rules, and that’s a very interesting place for us to be.

Do I think that those that are charged thus far and those that have been indicted, do I think that’s the end of it? No. Do I think that this is going to touch every program in the country? No, I don’t. But it’s going to be — it will be news whenever something comes out, whenever there’s additional charges brought or information comes out where someone is ruled ineligible or a coach is suspended or fired. But once we get to the games, I think it moves to the — moves a little bit more to the backseat.

One thing I know for sure: There will not be one game canceled because of this. All the contracts are going to be fulfilled and all the games are going to be played and they’re all going to be televised. But this is definitely going to be a significant backdrop throughout the course of the year.

TOM CREAN: I would add that as far as for college basketball as a whole, any time there’s a — a player leaves a team, and this happens sometimes with injuries with the players, they really teach all of us that you have to keep moving forward in so many ways, and the bottom line is the resiliency of a player to — something happens and boom, we’ve got to keep going, we’ve got to keep playing because it doesn’t overwhelm them or distract them a great deal. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to play great, but it doesn’t overwhelm or distract them, and I think that’s got to be the same thing that’s got to happen in college basketball this year. Certainly there could be more moments when things come up, when things happen like happened when this all came out. There’s obviously a lot of shock, but if you’re in the business and you’re in it for any period of time, it doesn’t come as some great surprise, but the shock is sudden, but you have to move forward.

And I think it’s going to be a very steep slope through this process potentially. There’s always going to be anxiety and apprehension of what could happen next, but for the most part, college basketball is in a place where people are just going to do what they do on a normal basis to get ready for each practice, get ready for each game, and have enough to worry about on their own with getting their teams ready and getting ready to do the things that they have to do that I don’t think it’s going to overwhelm the majority of people in the game, and hopefully it won’t the fans, either, because this has got a chance to be, I think, a great college basketball season. It really does.

Look at the game, and I should have said this maybe earlier, but you look at the game on Tuesday night, Devonte’ Graham played over 3,000 minutes in college basketball, and he’s going to be matching up with people that have played maybe one or two games by that point. I mean, there’s some fun to that, watching the intrigue of that and being able to see how that transpires. So I think the overwhelming story line of how good college basketball is is going to stay alive and well as people deal with the things as they come this year.

You touched on Kentucky; I was just wondering what both of you think the roles that PJ Washington and Kevin Knox have to evolve into if Kentucky has a chance to be a Final Four team as you talked about.
TOM CREAN: I would say this: Both of them are hard, hard match-ups, and they stood out in high school because PJ played so hard, and being the son of a coach that he is and the way that his dad, I believe, pushed him, I think says a lot. But he’s now got to bring that motor on a daily basis. He could overwhelm you with how hard he plays and the intensity and with just pure force when he was playing in high school. Now he’s got to do it against much older people, and he’s got to do it on a consistent basis.

I think the same goes for Kevin Knox. Here’s a guy, he’s got to be consistent in the way that he plays through things. He can be an inside-outside type of guy. When you look at his numbers, he had one game in the exhibition season he went 10 for 10 from the free-throw line, but in the next two games he played he got two free throws. That’s not going to work for them. He’s got to be a guy that is going to be a mainstay on their team defensively as they go into what John is doing, but very much being able to make plays and get a confidence level hopefully early for that team for them to continue to understand that they can play through those guys, because they’re going to go against some really, really good teams.

I mean, you look at the SEC alone, I look at Ole Miss, and they’re not getting very much attention right now. Nobody is really talking about them. But like don’t be shocked when the Sweet 16 rolls around and Ole Miss is in it. I mean, they have veteran players. They have bigs. They have guards. They have scoring. They have experience. You can really go right on down the line with that inside of that league.

And so those guys are going to go against some really, really formidable front lines right from the beginning, and how they continue to play through the fatigue and continue to develop that motor on a daily basis will be a huge key in what kind of success they have.

JAY BILAS: I agree with Tom. I think for Kevin Knox, he’s got the ability to be the leading scorer for that team, and it’s funny that Tom mentioned that because I was thinking, is he going to be the — like John will want him to drive it and to get to the free-throw line and to make those type of plays, but he’s also got to be a rebounder. He’s capable of rebounding, and he’s going to have to rebound on both ends and run the floor and defend at a really high level without fouling, and I think the same is true of PJ Washington. Both those guys are versatile players that can do a lot of different things, and when you’re versatile, you have to show that versatility by doing the hard things well, and those are difficult to do because I agree with Tom; I think this is going to be a great year in the Southeastern Conference. I think the league has turned the corner and is now back to what it used to be, where you’ve got more than just a couple of teams that are nationally capable.

While Florida is a little bit banged up right now with Chiozza’s shoulder and Egbunu out for a little while, Florida is legit, and they can really score, and they’re going to be, by the middle of the season, just as good as they were last year if not better, and that was a team last year that went to the Elite 8.

That’s a formidable league when you go on the road, it will again punish youth. Kentucky has got to grow up in a hurry, and Washington and Knox are a big part of that.

Has y’all’s perception of the SEC changed in the last week because of the suspensions that have came out?
JAY BILAS: No, no. I mean, obviously Collin Sexton not being eligible right now and maybe not being eligible for the year is going to negatively affect Alabama. And they won’t be — you’re not going to be as good without a player of that caliber as you would be with him. But it’s still — the league is still really, really strong, and it’s strong through the middle now, where it used to be.

I think the perception of the league was hurt because teams weren’t able to compete as successfully with Kentucky, so it seemed like Kentucky and then everybody else, and that definitely hurt the league. Obviously the way the league performed last year in postseason was really helpful to perception, but there’s perception and reality, and the reality is it’s a really strong league that is going to — I think will do — you never know how a league is going to do in the tournament, but how they’re going to do throughout the course of the year. They will be just as good this year as they were last year if not better.

TOM CREAN: I agree with Jay, and looking at this from the coaching aspect of watching different games in preparation and seeing the different teams that would play against common opponents, a lot of times you would look and you would see really stellar players, and you would see guys that were key guys, and I think that’s one reason they’ve had so many people drafted over a period of time. I think over a period of now what you see are some really stellar teams and some teams that have been able to get older, people that recruited well. They’ve found different people.

Look at the young guy. I brought up Ole Miss, Terence Davis. He was a football player in high school. I remember being involved Gary Harris when we were at Indiana, and he ended up going to Michigan State, and he played football through his senior year. He could have gone Big Ten, ACC football without question, and you knew he was going to go basketball, but my point was he was a two-sport guy, and now look what he’s done since he’s been a one-sport guy in college and in the NBA. Every once in a while you get somebody like that.

Yante Maten is a guy that we recruited at Indiana. We knew there was something there. You knew he was a late bloomer. There were only a few schools on him, but you absolutely knew there was something there. Well, that team has gotten better and better. There’s better people around him. I think it’s a real tribute to the coaches in that league, the way they’ve built their teams, and the way they’ve been able to build some depth, and I think it’ll show up this year.

I would like to ask you about the prospects for Alabama basketball. I know it’s contingent upon Collin Sexton returning, presuming things work out for him, and Tom, you saw Daniel Giddens in the Big Ten, and Jay, if you would comment on those two questions, as well, that would be great.
TOM CREAN: You’re asking about what I think of Alabama and then if Daniel Giddens —

TOM CREAN: Okay, I think Alabama is a team that’s becoming more and more explosive. They’re getting guys that can play numerous ways. I think that’s one of the keys to any great team, whether it’s the league, whether it’s the tournament, whatever it is. Do they have multiple ways to play, not only when something is not going right but because of being that special preparation, they can go small, they can go big, they can run in the half court what they need to run and slow it down, they can isolate you. They can get the break going. They can switch defenses. Takes time to develop that when you’re recruiting, and I think Avery Johnson has done that.

Certainly you factor Sexton in as a guy who can just — he is a bucket getter. It’s amazing how explosive he is and how wired he is to score, but he’s also got very good vision when he uses it to make people better. But they’re more than that. A guy like Riley Norris is a dependable player for them that people don’t really talk about. But you’ve got to guard him. You can’t leave him, and he’s a guy that’s been through it now with that team. Ingram got a lot done for that team last year, and so to me, they’ll miss Braxton Key for a while with that injury, but bottom line, they’ve got a lot of talent and they’ve got a lot of different ways to play.

Giddens is a guy that he just was never — he seemed to be always fighting himself a bit at Ohio State and not — he played with intensity, but sometimes the — it wasn’t what I would call a confident intensity, and I don’t know him, but I looked at his numbers the other night, they looked good. I imagine that you’re sitting out and being able to develop and being able to develop real confidence because he’s got real poise and he’s got more of a skill set that he can go to now. I would imagine, again, I haven’t seen him play, but I thought that was what he was going to need to be effective for them, and not only be a guy that they threw it to and a guy that could go get it off the glass, but a guy that they could play through because they have so many good shooters and drivers now, can they play through them. And then I think a big key for him is going to be can he take what he can do with blocking shots, because he is tremendous at that, and he walked into college as an outstanding shot blocker, can he transfer that to the court and have to be able to deal, because there’s more and more stretch players in that league that force that spacing issue, and can he go out and guard the pick-and-roll away from the rim and guard away from the rim in a situation where he’s got to guard that spacing four, five guys. Can he do that to be effective for them, because if he can, then that gives them a big jump.

JAY BILAS: Giddens had a terrific game in their exhibition. He played like half the game, and I think he blocked five shots and had a double-double and was — I think he was eight of 12 from the field. One of his issues at Ohio State was he’s not a very good free-throw shooter. I think he shot under 50 percent from the free-throw line, so that’s something he’s going to want to improve upon. But he’s such a powerful presence, and to be able to protect the rim like that and do so without fouling, it gives his teammates the opportunity to get out and be more aggressive defensively that if somebody gets by him, he’s back there to challenge.

I think one of the bigger issues for Alabama is going to be consistency and perimeter shooting. They didn’t shoot the ball very well against Huntsville. It’s just an exhibition, but you would expect to shoot a better percentage from the perimeter than they shot, and then I think they also have to do a better job of taking care of the ball.

With Giddens in there they can expect to protect the paint, especially if you can play significant minutes, but you have to protect the ball, too. You’re not going to be able to protect the paint if you’re giving run-outs and having to guard — you can’t guard run-outs. So if you’re coughing the ball up you’re putting your defense at a disadvantage. But I think Alabama has got a chance to be very good. They would certainly be much better if they had Collin Sexton available.

TOM CREAN: I would add to what Jay said with the shooting, too, is that the shot selection is going to be huge because if you look at Collins last year and this is before they added the freshman, there had to be definitely times Avery would have liked to have a do-over on some of those possessions late in the year with some of the shots that they would take, and while young guys come in and understand how well they have to move the ball and when you’re that talented and athletic you don’t have to have that great degree of difficulty because you obviously get no points for it, you don’t have to have the manufacturing shots ability, you’ve just got to go make shots by having the right play, and again, we talked about this earlier with Kentucky; that takes a long time for young guys to learn, that they don’t need to have the ball to score, they need to be able to cut, move and find the ball because the ball will find them if they’re moving and they’re moving the defense, and that’s going to be a big key for them.

I wanted to ask you guys about Marvin Bagley. Obviously everyone agrees on his tremendous talent potential, but having jumped up a class, what are your expectations for him and what challenges do you think he might face, if any?
JAY BILAS: Well, he is legit. He’s the real deal. He’s left-handed. He’s really versatile, can really change ends. I mean, he can really run the floor and has maybe the best second jump of any player I’ve seen in the last couple of years. It’s not like I’m charting that, I’m saying, well, this is the best second jump I’ve seen the last five years, but it’s up there with any I can remember. So he’s got every tool that you would want. Duke is going to be a different type of team this year. They are much bigger than they’ve ever been. They are not as deep at the guard spot, so it’s not a team that is going to be able to stretch the floor as much as some of Mike Krzyzewski’s past teams. So they’re going to be playing more inside-out, and their ability to offensive rebound and to run the floor and get early posts and all that kind of stuff is going to be a deciding factor for how good they’re going to be and then how well their point guard plays, Trevon Duval. But Bagley, I don’t care how old that kid is, he’s legit, and he’s fully prepared to step in and play right now, as are the other guys he’s playing with, like Wendell Carter. The idea that these guys are 18 years old or 19, whatever they are, is hard for me to fathom because 30 years ago when I was in college, 35 years ago that I first got there, the freshmen didn’t look like these guys. It’s hard to — it’s really hard to wrap your head around how big, strong and athletic and skilled they have at such a young age.

TOM CREAN: I think I agree with everything that Jay is saying. When you look at the skills, when you look at the talent, the explosiveness, all those things are really there. This summer I had a chance to see him in his AAU team, and he would play the point. He would literally bring the ball up, and I think the thing that you really try to do as a coach, and I think Mike does this as well as anybody, and John does this, too, but when you have young players, all right, they come in with an idea that I have to do this or I have to do that or this is what’s going to work for me, but ultimately what happens is they’ve got to feel safe on the floor. They’re going to migrate to what they do best. And great coaches find a way to understand how that works, and I think Mike does and has always done a really good job of that.

Obviously Jay can speak better to that than me, but from my observations and where Marvin seems to be most comfortable is, like Jay said, he can cut, he can slash, he can run an early post. When he gives it up and he flies into the lane, that’s a hard guy because not only has he got that great second step, but like his first two steps to cut for a guy that big, I think that’s where his perimeter work is probably going to help him, and that ability to pass the ball and then just dart to the basket, with that kind of size, and he seems to be very, very comfortable when he’s got a chance to kind of flow, move, make those cuts, not a guy that necessarily flows to the three-point line but that migrates towards the lane area. And when you’ve got that and you’re in great, great position to rebound, you’re in great position to get fouled, you’re in great position to get a mismatch, and if he can play out of that, because obviously there’s going to be double teams somewhere, especially for the fact that they have to prove this year how good a three-point shooting, perimeter shooting team that they can be, I think that’s going to be a big step in their team’s key is how well they shoot the ball, but a big step for Marvin Bagley will be does he just do what he does best when it’s time to win the game and understand that he’s going to get better through the process and not try to force-feed himself into being a player that maybe he’s not ready to be. And I think Mike will do a great job of making that happen.

Tom, I’ve been wanting to ask guys from the Big Ten this question about Duncan Robinson. Covered him as a freshman; how do guys like that slip through the cracks?
TOM CREAN: Well, I could give you a litany of those. Victor Oladipo had one scholarship offer, Dwyane Wade had three. That’s always going to happen. But in that particular case, I don’t have an answer for you, but I will tell you this: His improvement level of going from a thin, straight up-and-down three-point shooter who really couldn’t escape off the dribble at all and was really just a factor for them if the ball was going in, to turn into being last year as good of a help and cover defender as there was in the league, and I mean, literally. For a guy — because every team, you’re always looking for this in film when you’re studying a team. It’s not just about looking who the best players are, what’s the leading scorer like, what’s this like. Who is the guy that they’ve got to have on the floor to be successful, and a lot of times it’s really easy to find it on offense. It’s a little harder to find it on defense, because that guy is the one that’s in a help position. He’s the one that’s covering for the forwards. He’s the one that knows exactly how to bump the roll in the pick-and-roll but not get spaced out so far that he can’t get back to his man. He’s the guy that’s directing traffic, especially on the weak side. And to me, my respect level for him as a complete player went way, way up last year because we game planned to try to move him, and we couldn’t do it. We game planned to try to take him out of some of those help situations, but he’s much more athletic, he’s certainly more skilled, he’s got a tremendous level of confidence right now. He’s far more than just a shooter, and I would say this: I think he’s going to play in the NBA for a considerable amount of time. I really do. And I don’t know if anybody else feels like that or not, but his level of improvement to me has been huge.

If they’re going to have any type of real success this year, he’s going to be a big part of that. But they were fortunate to get him when they did, and hats off to the school that signed him at the beginning, that trusted him enough — where was he, at Williams? Yeah, so that speaks for — that’s one of the great Division III programs in the country. They knew what they were doing. But they’ve done a great job with him, and I think he’s going to be excellent.

JAY BILAS: I actually saw him at Williams —

And I saw you there at Williams a couple years ago. But I wanted to ask you about the difference about what might be the best two non-football leagues in the country, the Big East and the A-10.
JAY BILAS: Well, they’re both really good leagues. The Atlantic 10, both of them — Big East is new, even though it’s got some sort of old standby Big East teams. It’s still a relatively new entity, and so different road trips than you’ve had in the past and things like that. The Atlantic 10 has expanded, but it’s still mostly the same. There are some new additions to it.

Both of them are capable, but it’s really — tend of the day, the league is about which teams are nationally competitive. That’s what makes the leagues stand out. I don’t think anything helped more for the Big East than Villanova winning the National Championship two years ago. That’s a gigantic credibility boost to the league, and especially a league that was really young in its history. It’s got the old Big East name and some of the old Big East teams, but it doesn’t have all the same teams, and so a number of the best Big East teams went into the ACC, and you had West Virginia going to the Big 12 and all that stuff, and it was — the Big East brand took a hit, but it’s still a really solid, excellent league that has really capable, capable teams throughout the top and the middle.

TOM CREAN: What was Duncan Robinson like at Williams?

JAY BILAS: I saw him there, and he was just a shooter, but he kind of took out in the practice that I saw. Obviously you’re looking at a D-III team. I didn’t know much about them frankly. I had played high school ball with Coach Maker’s brother, Wyatt Maker, but then when I was at Michigan a year later I think it was, I’m watching Michigan practice, and this dude on the scout team is crushing them, and I was like, who is that kid, and he didn’t miss a shot. I mean, they couldn’t guard him, and he was shooting from 25 feet further and drilling everything, and I was like, wait a minute, I’ve seen that guy before, and it turned out he was Duncan and that he was sitting out. I agree with you; he’s a really good player and a great story.

There are a number of guys — he’s not the only one that’s had that happen. There’s a kid right now at DePaul that went to Lewis University who’s really, really good, Max Strus is his name, and he’s really good, and he’s going to be — he’s actually way more athletic than Duncan Robinson, and he’s going to be a pro, as well.

TOM CREAN: I agree with you. I haven’t seen him, only on film, but yeah, the rise of Robinson, especially the defensive part because that’s something you just did not see coming early on, and then it’s there. I mean, they’ve really got to have him.

Obviously, Tom, with your Big Ten experience, but Jay, the Big Ten, everyone says Michigan State and everyone else, and I just wanted to hear your thoughts on the second-tier, Purdue, Northwestern, Minnesota, obviously I covered Minnesota a great deal, but just your thoughts on maybe these three teams challenging Michigan State for the top spot.
JAY BILAS: I don’t look at those programs necessarily as being second-tier to Michigan State. I favor Michigan State to win the league. I think they’re the best team. But any time they go on the road, Michigan State is vulnerable to any of the teams you mentioned. I think Minnesota may be the biggest challenger this year that Michigan State has because they’ve got everybody back. They tasted success last year getting back to the tournament. They know how good they can be, and they have a better feel for what it takes, and same thing for Northwestern. Those are both legit top-20 teams that have good guards. They’ve got good size, and Minnesota has got shot blocking with Reggie Lynch, and they’ve got excellent offensive potential, as well. So I’m a big believer in what Minnesota can do.

One of the guys that I think will probably make the biggest jump from last year to this is probably Jordan Murphy, who’s — he’s a double-double guy and gives them a lot of — I think he can be one of the more consistent producers in the league.

TOM CREAN: Well, I was going to say with that Minnesota with Jordan Murphy, too, with what Jay said because you go back to his freshman year, and he came in after signing, I believe, with VCU, and when Shaka left he got out of the letter, and he was one of those late signs that’s been one of the whole keys to that turnaround at Minnesota because he’s been able to play from day one, and he’s had success from day one. Didn’t always transfer into winning, but it certainly has now.

They’ve got an experienced team. I would say in a nutshell that every coach in the Big Ten has just a built-in mantra, whenever they want to use it, that the bulk of the attention when it comes to the credit, it’s going to the best in the Big Ten, it’s always going to Michigan State, and they have a chance to build a battle cry day in and day out, and that bodes well for the rest of the teams, right, because they’ve got a chance to keep building that edge of what they’re climbing for, where Michigan State has — and Tom is never one of those coaches that — I mean, there’s no question, I don’t care what they’re ranked, he will have them with an underdog mentality probably when they walk out on Friday night but definitely when they walk out on Tuesday night, and he’s masterful at that. To me I think that’s going to be some exciting stuff inside of that league. Everybody will be gunning for Michigan State because of the preseason rankings. We went through it a few years ago, in 2012, when we from day — from two days after the National Championship game, we were the project No. 1 team in the country, and you want to build your team up to the point of having them understand what it takes to do that, but when you’re on the other side of it, you’re doing everything you can do to knock it off.

Michigan State will be brought up inside of Big Ten teams’ film rooms constantly because that’s the standard that they all have to chase in that league, and I think it’s going to make for a great league, and I think the teams that you mentioned are not only capable of competing to win a championship in that league, but there’s no question that you can see all of those teams play all the way to the last weekend potentially. I mean, Northwestern is an experienced team. Pursue will miss Swanigan but they’ve got numerous guys that can make plays. Minnesota is now — they’ve had the shared adversity of a couple years ago which has transformed them into being a team that is a true contender, and I think the bottom line with any championship team is how do you handle the adversity of the season, how do you rebound from tough games and tough losses and can you stay committed to each other’s success, and if you can do that, then you’ve got a chance to win big, and all of those teams have enough experienced guys on their team to understand what that means.

On Richard Pitino, he’s done a great job obviously in the last year turning his program around, but with what happened to his father, what’s your thought about his career moving forward, how much pressure is maybe on him to kind of keep the Pitino name in a good light, and obviously he’s still a very young coach but he’s got a long career ahead of him.
TOM CREAN: Well, I would think to me, the first thing is I don’t think any of that — again, I’m not him, but I wouldn’t think any of that is even remotely in the question of the equation of what’s going on in his mind other than the health and safety and how his dad feels, because obviously no parent wants to see any one of their children — the old adage of a parent is only as happy as their unhappiest child is true. Well, when you flip the script and you’ve got a parent that you care about and love so much that’s done so much for you, I can’t imagine what that feels like. So that’s where my prayers are for them and for him in the sense of being able to do everything that he’s got to do to coach his team, and at the same time I’m sure he wants to make sure that his dad is happy, which will be easier said than done.

But I think he’s a very good coach in his own right. I don’t think there’s any question about that. I think he’s improved every year. I think the one thing that he brought into the game, especially in the Big Ten, was he came in competing from day one. He didn’t come into any situation and sit back and say, let me figure all this out. He came in competing from day one, and he’s got a toughness about him. He’s got a very good spirit, and for him to be able to rebound — for anybody to be able to rebound at any age from what he was dealing with back there to the point of where he’s got that now, that just goes to show how much mental toughness and fortitude, and I would bet his dad, again, is probably awfully proud of that.

JAY BILAS: Richard Pitino is an outstanding young coach, and he’s proven that. He is his own man, and I know him as a man of integrity and a man of high character, and I’ve never questioned his integrity or character, and I’ve never heard anybody question his integrity or character. So I think relative to what his father has been through, I don’t think it’s a factor other than how much he cares for his father.

 I’d like to ask you about the American Athletic Conference, beyond Cincinnati and Wichita State what you think the prospects are for the conference to get multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament, and specifically with Houston, Kelvin Sampson, does he have a chance this year? They seem to have a guard, Rob Gray, 21-point average but a lot of people don’t seem to talk about him.
JAY BILAS: Yeah, Rob Gray is a really good player. I mean, he had over 60 threes last year. He gets to the free-throw line. He’s one of the best scorers in the country. (Indiscernible) free-throw line. They got out-shot from the free-throw line and out-scored from the free-throw line last year, and they were very capable. I think they did a very good job at home. They were not quite as good on the road, but solid. But that’s a good team that’s getting (indiscernible).

I know you mentioned Houston but I’m not sure whether you mentioned this team. I think Central Florida, UCF, is going to be very good. They’ve got B.J. Taylor back and also Tacko Fall, and last year they were the No. 1 defensive field goal percentage team in the nation. I think they held teams well under 40 percent. Tacko Fall, he’s 7’5″ or 7’6″ and he can hold his hands over the rim without jumping. That’s how tall his standing reach is.

But he protects the paint. You talk about a rim protector, he covers up the rim, so I think UCF has a chance to be very, very good. So it’s going to be a much more difficult league bringing in a top-10 team on top of already good teams that are coming back, and I think you mentioned Cincinnati.

They’re better than I think they’ve been in a long, long time. They’ve always kind of led the nation in playing hard, and they’ve been really good defensively and really good on the glass, but they can score — they can really score now and score from multiple spots, and they run more motion. They’re harder to guard. So they don’t just have to shut you off, they can run away from you with their ability to score now.

TOM CREAN: Just to second that a little bit, when you look at especially Central Florida because of what they have, and I think B.J. Taylor could be probably in the same breath when you’re talking about underrated guards in the league that Rob Gray is, and really you could probably do the same when you go down to SMU and talk about Shake Milton. Those guys can all really, really play, and if they were on teams that were getting much more maybe notoriety on a daily basis, they’d be household names throughout the country, I think. But I think that just speaks to the volume of really good teams in that league, and when you look at the fact that Temple has got some experience, Central Florida has got that experience, Connecticut is used to winning, Houston made the jump that they made, SMU has done what they’ve done, I think there will be some tremendous games, and I think that’s going to be — obviously Cincinnati stands out not only for what Jay said, but the fact of what we talked about earlier, they have so many different ways that they can beat you, so many different ways that they can play, and if that offensive improvement stays with the ability to make threes and really space the floor so they can get that driving game going the way it needs to be, it’s going to be really good. Gary Clark is a very versatile guy that can do a lot of different things for his teammates, so I think the league will be exciting.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on whether this situation with the FBI could lead to college coaches dealing more or going back to dealing more with high schools than with the AAU handlers?
JAY BILAS: Well, I’m a little wary of taking college coaches away from the summer. I’m one of those that believes that college coaches should have more access to people rather than less. I’m concerned that if there’s an overcorrection, which tends to be the NCAA’s way of doing things whenever there’s a problem, they swing the pendulum too far back in the other direction. If you take college coaches away from the summer, you are going to be open field running for more of the people that the NCAA considers third parties or less desirable parties, and I tend to think that college coaches would be at least as good if not a better influence.

I will tell you that one of the things that I think continues to be a problem is we have in college sports for years looked at things that don’t matter and said, that’s unfair, that’s unfair, and we sound like a bunch of third graders arguing over the size of a cookie that our mom gave us, when right now a lot of these summer tournaments — actually all of these summer tournaments are held away from college campuses when they used to be held on college campuses, and I think that’s dumb. I think we should have more influence and more events should be held on college campuses, and our coaches should be out there more if they want to be.

If we take them away from the summer, all we are doing is giving the summer to people that we are saying we want to have less influence, and I think that would be a profoundly poor mistake that we would make.

TOM CREAN: There’s so many different thoughts that you could have, and the bottom line is that’s all they really become for somebody like me because there is no broad brush that’s going to come in and sweep it all and make it all better because there’s no one entity that you can look at and say, well, that’s to blame or that group’s to blame. I think when things like this happen it gets really, really easy to put it on summer recruiting or put it on AAU coaches, and I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think there’s a culture over a period of time that has been created, and there are expectations that some have. Not everyone, right, just like there’s a lot of great programs in the country, predominantly great programs in the country that wouldn’t have been involved in things. But the bottom line is things happened because there are always going to be people out there that have expectations on the way it should be or that this should have happened for me because it happened for them, and I think it’s really easy to just put it on one group, and you can’t do that.

I don’t have the answer. I think the commission that they’ve put together is the next step, and if they really bring people in that know how it’s done — all right, it’s not a committee that can just get in and talk about just their own experiences. Some can, but there also has to be, okay, this is how it works, this is the culture that’s been created.

Now, along with what Jay said, how do we maximize what the players can get and stop minimizing all the minor things that go on that we worry about and get it to a working place that’s good for everybody. Then the next thing is going to be, okay, how are we going to not only implement it, but how are we going to make sure that people aren’t crossing it, and that’s where it gets really hard because there’s so many different people, so many different groups that are involved, and as somebody that’s done this for a very long period of time, that is really the way that it is. There’s no way to look at it and say, well, it’s just a couple of people or just a couple of groups that do this. That’s not the way it is. There’s a lot of people involved. There’s a lot in the sense of playing basketball that want to play collegiately and want to play in the pros, and there’s a lot of people around them that want to help it, want to see it, or want to get something from it. And it’s very, very hard to neutralize any of that.

But the commission is the next step. Let’s see what they come up with. It’s going to be a very interesting year, and I hope none of it gets overshadowed by the fact that there are a lot of great programs, and like Jay said earlier in the call, no games are getting canceled for any of this, and ESPN is going to not miss a game because of something happened because somebody is out of a game. It’s all going forward, and hopefully the commission and the rules that come forward from this will go forward with it, as well.

What do you expect from the Texas Longhorns this year?
JAY BILAS: Vast improvement. They’re very talented. They’ve all gotten older, and they’ve got a game-changing big guy in Mo Bamba, who I met which he was a sophomore. Tom has probably known him longer than me, but I met him when he was a rising sophomore and was blown away by him as a person, let alone as a player. But he is way more gifted offensively than he’s gotten credit for, and is a fabulous athlete, shot blocker, rebounder. He’s legit, and he’s going to make a huge difference not only in the on-court product, but he’s going to improve an already really good culture there with the kind of person he is.

TOM CREAN: Well, I had a chance to be out there a couple of weeks ago to speak at Shaka’s coach’s clinic and to see them practice, and I agree with Jay, and he mentioned earlier about how quick a second jump that Marvin Bagley has. I mean, I would pay to go watch Bagley go against Bamba in the sense of seeing how quick those guys could get out because they’re two very, very intriguing guys. I remember when a couple of years ago it was Anthony Davis and Cody Zeller were in college basketball together, and is Anthony faster down the court, is Cody faster down the court? They were both fast down the court, and I think that’s what you’ve got when you look at Bagley, when you look at Bamba. Those guys are so unique, and I say that because both of them are going to have learning curves, and Bamba is the same. There’s going to be a learning curve of really getting to the point of understanding what he’s capable of, and I think that speaks of the whole Texas team. They have a chance to be deep. They have a chance to have not only a five, six or seven but maybe an eight, nine or ten that can really go and play, and there’s not much of a drop-off as they get older to be able to play with the pressure that they want to play. I think it’s going to be a team that Shaka can do a lot of different things with defensively, and they’re going to be able to put a ton of pressure not only on you defensively, but because of the athleticism of a guy like Mo Bamba and the other bigs that they have and the ability of their guards to really get out and play and play fast, they’re going to put a ton of pressure on people with their offense, pressure on the rim, so to speak, because you’re going to have to guard the rim to beat the — to not allow the bigs to get the ball over the top, but at the same time they’ve got the spacing and the push and the ability to play from the perimeter. If people are patient with them and watch them grow because of some of the youth, and as they build that depth, I think they’re going to be a real force once the Big 12 rolls around.