Dime Q&A: Doug Gottlieb On March Madness & Bad Hairlines, Part 1

By: 03.11.12
Doug Gottlieb

Doug Gottlieb (photo. ESPN)

From now until the moment March Madness tips off, if you’re anything like us, you’ll be buried in any information you can get that’ll help your bracket. Stats. Trends. Maybe sneakers and mascots. There’s no proven science here. The well-informed don’t always take home the top spot in the office bracket. But a lil’ analysis can’t hurt right?

With that, we give you an exclusive conversation we had with ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb. The former college hoop star at Oklahoma State, Gottlieb will be all over the NCAA Tournament, and spilled the beans with us recently on everything from Twitter to all of the best draft prospects to even who needs to start using Rogaine.

Here is part one of the conversation…

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Gottlieb on Twitter fans.
“I am alone in my basement with a couple of TV’s and I need some to talk to. I need an outlet. One thing about Twitter, we live in a world where people hide behind the veil of secrecy, they will say anything to you. It is really incredible how vile people can be. Things you would never say to another human being they will say on Twitter. It still surprises me. I guess I was raised differently.”

What is so special about March?
“First, everyone thinks they know their team. None of these people have ever gone through the process of putting together a bracket. When you go through the process of putting together a bracket you have to understand is one thing the people on the committee have a tough time doing, but do as good a job as any is have perspective. They do not just watch one team or one conference. They watch everything, ingest everything. When you do you get a much better sense of things. You can tell me that you think a team is great or a team is bad, but I am going to be honest with you I got way more perspective than you do because I am not way too close to the forest where I cannot see the trees, you know? Generally fans lack perspective. I love when they ask for your opinion and then you give them an opinion they do not like and then you are the worst person on earth, (says laughing) then don’t ask for my opinion. It’s an opinion. It is an educated opinion. I will put my work ethic and knowledge up there with anyone, it doesn’t mean it is right, it’s just opinion. I’ve never understood why people get so bothered by opinions they do not agree with. You have every right to have an opinion. I will tell you that my opinions come from an educated background of a guy who played it, a guy whose brother is an assistant coach at a high level, his dad was a coach at a high level, and of a guy who has been through the process twice over of putting together a bracket with the NCAA guys. You know, if you think have a better, a deeper amount of knowledge and perspective than I do, good, great, I will disagree with you. If you don’t like my opinion that is ok, however much you value mine is up to you.”

On his style of analysis.
“I also think college basketball, for whatever reason, is a sport where, maybe it’s because Dick Vitale‘s passion for it he is the voice of college basketball. His passion was always to be positive, he tends to ere on the side of positivity. Which I generally agree and write, but maybe it was a flaw in the way I was raised. I was raised by a basketball coach. I played for a guy who is a basketball Hall of Fame coach, well should be a Hall of Fame coach in Eddie Sutton (Oklahoma State). The way we watch games and the way coaches watch games is different than the way fans watch games. Players, coaches, and basketball teams watch games and find the flaws and the errors, the mental and physical lapses and mistakes that are made. And try and find out what is correctable. What schematically works and doesn’t work? Whereas if all you want to hear is these kids are great, but that is not an opinion or analysis. Sometimes analysis is negative. It is hard in college basketball where it was a belief for probably 30 years that these are college kids and lets just try and be as positive as possible. Tell the coaches and tell the kids they are great. And we did. It is weird what happens in college sports where you can say 60 great things about a kid about a program, but you say one thing “that was a dumb play, that was a selfish play” and suddenly you are the worst guy on earth. I think that is something we have struggled to get out of.

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What is the main storyline this March?
“The overriding big storyline is this: We have this flawed – by my estimation – a flawed presumption that we have a weak bubble. We have over expanded the tournament, which is true, and because of it we have teams like South Florida, Seton Hall, Tennessee, and Northwestern and whether or not they deserve to get in. And because of it, it has created this big bubble, a weak bubble… for the high majors. For the mid-majors I look around the country don’t tell me the mid-majors are having a bad years. Look at Belmont, they are in and automatic qualifiers. Belmont played Duke to two points. I watched the game, there is not much difference between Duke and Belmont. It is Duke and Belmont. Duke is a two seed probably, right? Belmont is a 14 seed. Belmont was just as good as Duke and they played on Duke’s home floor. There is this prevailing wisdom that we have a weak bubble. Alright, well you tell me it is a weak bubble when I saw Iona has 25 wins, 25 wins. I saw them beat Maryland by 26 points, could have been 40. They called off the dogs. Ohio U has 25 wins. I saw them play Louisville to a virtual draw. They had the Louisville game and gagged it away at the end, they are 25-7 right now. Who else is out there? Oral Roberts is a team with 27 wins! Don’t tell me it is a weak bubble, it is a soft bubble at the middle of the high majors. At the top of the mid-majors, South Dakota State here is how good they are, they are likely a 14 seed. They ended up winning their conference tournament that is in South Dakota. They go in (early in the season) and beat Washington in Washington by 20… 20! Middle Tennessee State has 25 wins so because they lost two games in conference and a game in their conference tournament suddenly they are a bad team, they are not worthy? They had a great season and they are a good team. Is there a discernable difference between Middle Tennessee State and Northwestern? No, but I would much rather reward a team like Middle who has 25 wins than a team that goes 8-10 in conference and botches opportunity, after opportunity, after opportunity, after opportunity to win games.”

Did Butler’s success raise the bar for Mid-Majors?
“No, no, no. Here is what they did.

For years we had a one-off mid-major make a run. Then it started happening more often. We started having Davidson, Wichita State, Kent State, and then all of the sudden George Mason breaks through goes all the way to the Final Four. By the way, when they went to the Final Four I don’t know if people remember they beat Michigan State, they beat North Carolina, and they beat a UCONN team with five NBA draft picks. They beat ’em! I see guys who I work with say this is not a trend and it’s a blip, it wont happen again. You know what happens since then? Butler gets to the National Championship Game twice and VCU goes to the Final Four. Everything you watch tells you parity has arrived. The only reason you don’t have true parity is because the high majors will not play enough neutral – they never play on the road against them, you know why? Because they will get beat. Like Carolina got beat by UNLV. You know who gets beat by UNLV that night? Everyone in college basketball. That is how good they played that night. UNLV is good, they are not great, but they are good and they are even better at home like most teams in college basketball. They are not even a mid-major they are kind of like a mid-high-major. Whatever. The point is we are all in denial about it. All of the signs are around that parody has arrived and we are in complete and utter denial about it. Like no, no Middle Tennessee State is not good. Really? Middle Tennessee went out and beat UCLA on the road by 20. Now UCLA is not very good this year, would we agree on that? (Me: Yes, absolutely) UCLA has been beaten at home by three teams this year those teams are in order, Texas a tournament team, Middle Tennessee State, and Cal. Washington didn’t beat them there, Arizona didn’t beat them there, and no one else in the PAC12 beat them there. I am not saying UCLA is good, but they are better playing in a home venue. People do not understand how hard it is to win a “guarantee game.” I would guess that 95 percent of the guarantee games are won by the home team, because they have their own refs and it is setup for them. For people who do not know what a “guarantee game” is a team plays 5-7 of them a year per year and no high major loses them at home. Of the “guarantee games” loses I remember this year are Presbyterian beating Cincinnati and Kent State beating West Virginia and that is about it.”

With the parity, has the gap been closed with recruiting and coaching?
“I don’t know if they are a major player. The fact is what changed is the one-and-done mentality and the massive turnover you have at the high level of college basketball. The proliferation of college basketball on TV, you can’t just say “we are on TV” because everyone is on TV. You have 338 teams, kids are spread out, there is not less talent there is more talent they are just spread out across the country. The best kids at the high level are there for such a short period time and they lack cohesion because they have not played together enough. Whereas a lot of these mid-majors have these three or four year kids who are more committed to the program than to themselves. I am not saying that they are winning National Championships. I don’t think any of them can beat Kentucky, but how many times do we need to see Northern Iowa make a run. Davidson make a run. Kent State make a run. George Mason make a run. Wichita (State) make a run. VCU make a run. Butler is in the National Championship twice. Here is what frustrates me. A 9-9 team from the Big East won the National Championship last year, that’s true. You know who they played in that game? A 12-4 team from the Horizon League that was a three-way tie for first place. So if the argument is the Big East is a great conference because a 9-9 team won a National Championship, shouldn’t the argument be that three teams should have gotten in from the Horizon League because Butler finished in a three-way tie in there league and got to the National Championship Game?”

Who is this year’s Butler?
“I can see Wichita (State) making a run. Wichita State is good, they are absolutely legit. I don’t think the Mountain West teams are mid-major’s, but I can see them making a run. Saint Mary’s could absolutely make a run. Gonzaga is very talented. A lot of it is match-ups. I give you this as my promise, barring some horrible seeding I think that you are going to see no less than five non-BCS teams in the Sweet Sixteen, and maybe more.”

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