Seth Davis has been covering basketball for Sports Illustrated for nearly 20 years and this weekend will be his eighth year covering the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship as a studio analyst for CBS Sports. Davis is currently touring on behalf of Subway to promote their new $3 Six-Inch Selects sandwich.
I recently had the chance to talk with Davis about his picks for the Final Four, how the NCAA can change its negative perception, and who he thinks will be the Rookie of the Year in the NBA next season.
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Dime: What’s this promotion you have going on with Subway?
Seth Davis: Subway has this deal that every month they have a different $3 Six-inch Selects sandwich. So to promote that they are going to donate 3,333 of these sandwiches to a food bank in the market of the team that hits the most overall total three-pointers in the NCAA tournament. Right now La Salle is in the lead, but Michigan is only one behind so if they hit two tomorrow night then Subway is going to donate 3,333 of these sandwiches to a food bank in Ann Arbor. It’s a really cool charitable (event) because to get the word out on their sandwich deal and Subway’s all about healthy living which I’m a big believer in, too.
Dime: Sounds great. Let’s move into tomorrow’s games and let’s start with Wichita State vs. Louisville. What do you think Wichita State will need to do to beat Louisville?
SD: The main thing they have to do is maintain their poise. Louisville at some point is going to go on a spurt and rattle them. What they can’t do is let a four-point spurt or a six-point spurt turn into a 12-point spurt or a 14-point spurt. So they have to take care of the basketball, not only in the press but also in the half-court because Louisville likes to take a lot of chances, they like to dig in and get deflections and trap the ball. I was in Wichita State’s film session two nights ago and Greg Marshall was talking to his team about Louisville and how they really need to be strong with the ball. That’s something that he was really emphasizing.
Dime: Do you think Louisville is at risk of playing with too much emotion following the Kevin Ware injury?
SD: No. I don’t think that’s a risk. I think the reality is they’re down a good player. He wasn’t necessarily their best player or most important player, but he was evolving into a really valuable role player and he gave them a lot more depth at the guard position. So if you get into foul trouble, or you get a bad matchup, he just gave Rick Pitino another option. Now, Tim Henderson, who’s a former walk-on, kind of moves up in the guard rotation and that gives Louisville a little less margin for error. But they still have the best players and they have the best team. If they play as well as they can play, they’ll be the champions. But as we know in sports, and in the NCAA Tournament in particular, that doesn’t always happen.
Dime: So you have Louisville winning that game?
SD: I do. I do. But as you may have heard I’m wrong on occasion so maybe that’s the one time I’m wrong this decade (laughs).
Dime: Moving on to Syracuse vs. Michigan and continuing with the theme of you never being wrong, in your bracket for CBS you picked Montana to upset Syracuse in the second round…
SD: Hey, that was pretty close. They only beat them by 47. It was tight the whole way.
Dime: Exactly. It was hit-or-miss. So what do you think is the biggest adjustment Syracuse has made to make it this far in the tournament?
SD: Well I think first of all they survived. I mean, people forget now, they lost four of their last five games in the regular season. They scored 39 points against Georgetown and Jim Boeheim was so confident in his team’s ability to make the Final Four that he planned a vacation to Disneyworld for this week. So, you know, I was not the only person who was skeptical of Syracuse’s chances of making a deep run in the tournament. But I think they really rededicated themselves to the zone and clearly that’s been their calling card in the postseason. It’s a big challenge for teams to go up against that zone because in the Big East they’re used to it, so they have a basis of familiarity, they’ve seen it a couple times. But it’s a little bit different when you’re seeing it for the first time and in a postseason setting.
One of the reasons I’m picking Michigan to win this game is just the fact that John Beilein had six days to prepare for it. On a 48-hour turnaround, it’s really difficult. But to have this much time to prepare for that zone, he’s familiar with it from his days at West Virginia, and that will certainly help their preparation for going up against it. But it will be very, very tricky because it is unique.
Dime: How do you think Michigan will go about breaking the zone?
SD: Well, we tend to think of zones as kind of back it in and let you shoot over us. But the Syracuse zone has a little more of an emphasis on locking down outside shooters. Like Syracuse is always amongst the best teams in the Big East, and even nationally, in three-point percentage defense. So you have to sort of adjust your mindset and you’ve got to penetrate the zone, but on the other token, it’s very hard to finish around the rim against them. Indiana had that problem. It’s a bit of a pickle. You have to get inside the zone by either dribbling it in there by using some ball-screens, and Michigan obviously has the guards who can do that, or you can throw it to the high post and the freshman forward Mitch McGary has really been terrific.
If you were to conceive of a team that would have success against the zone, you would come up with a team like Michigan. Whether or not they can pull it off, execute and knock down shots is another story. But I do think that by design and by personnel, Michigan is very well suited to do this.