Dime Q&A: Kenny Smith On His Unexpected Tournament Prediction & The NCAA/NBA Debate

Kenny Smith knows a thing or two about basketball, having covered the NBA for years with TNT as well as the NCAA Tournament. And while his Carolina ties certainly show through at times – check out his hilarious responses below to questions I posed on the now former Dukie, Austin Rivers – Smith has added a breath of fresh air to CBS’ continued coverage of March Madness.

Smith is currently touring on behalf of his work with Coke Zero, and fans can gain unique codes from Coke Zero products – as well as from the Watch & Score Instant Win Game – by entering these codes through their My Coke Rewards account at www.enjoymoremadness.com. With each code entry, fans receive the chance to pick a team to advance to the next round in the NCAA Mens’ Basketball Tournament. Each correct pick will enter that fan into a drawing with a chance to win a variety of prizes, including a trip to the 2013 NCAA Mens’ Final Four.

I had a chance to chat with Smith about everything from his unpredictable views on this weekend’s Final Four to what he thinks about the Kentucky vs. an NBA team debate.

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Dime: Tell me how you got involved with Coke Zero.
Kenny Smith: With Coke Zero you just enjoy more Madness. When you’re watching the games on CBS and Turner and March Madness Live, you just look on the screen at certain keywords that’s gonna flash and you just text to win. Text those words in and you get an opportunity to win tickets to the Final Four, home entertainment systems, ultimate basketball fantasy camps. So just enjoy more Madness with Coke Zero, and I’m giving away stuff man (laughs).

Dime: To go off that, this weekend, do you think there’s any way Kentucky loses?
KS: Well I actually think Louisville’s gonna win. I think that when you give Rick Pitino this kind of… time… you know he’s a great coach. He’s going to make it a close game, and when it becomes a chess match, he’ll have an opportunity to pull this out and I think they’re gonna win.

Now if the game is checkers and it’s just a player’s game, they lose easy. But it’s got to become a chess match, and in a chess match I would pick Rick Pitino today.

Dime: With Kentucky, there’s this thing going around where people really believe Kentucky could beat an NBA team. What do you think about that?
KS: Yeah Charles said. Charles kinda started that jokingly and halfway serious because they have so many potential pro players on their team. But UConn beat Kentucky last year and Kemba Walker was on that team. They had a great time. This guy’s on the last place team in the NBA. You know what I mean? Let’s just start there. This guy won the NCAA Championship last year, single-handedly almost at times and he’s on the last-place team in the NBA. Let’s keep that in perspective. Kentucky can’t beat an NBA team (laughs).

Dime: From your time with the tournament could you give me the names of a couple of guys who might surprise people in the NBA?
KS: I think people have kind of made their name in the tournament. I don’t think people would be surprised. All of those Kentucky obviously have been playing great. I do like Thomas Robinson, for sure. The kid Kyle O’Quinn from Norfolk State, like who is this guy? 6-10, runs the floor. I love the kid from Iowa State (Royce White). He kind of reminds of a Rodney McCray. I don’t know if you remember Rodney McCray. He was a great NBA player who played with Louisville, handles the ball, 6-8, 6-9. That kid reminds me of him. I like Russ Smith from Louisville. I love all my Carolina compadres so there’s a lot of kids.

Dime: What do you think about all your Carolina boys going pro?
KS: Well I think they gave it an opportunity this year. Last year, they could’ve tried to smell the grass of the NBA, and they said we’re gonna come back for one year. And then they see how fragile that is. Anything can happen to get all the way to the championship game. I think if Marshall doesn’t get hurt, more of them come back. If they would’ve lost, and just lost (without injuries)… but now they see the fragileness of being in the Final Four, that probably made them leave.

Dime: In the NBA’s East, you see Miami has some issues with getting bored during the season, and of course, Chicago has issues of their own with Rose being hurt. Which one of those two do you think is more prepared to make a run at the Finals?
KS: Miami Heat. I just think their talent this year is not hindered by external factors of what’s going on, hoopla, trying to play together, who’s on first, what’s on second, you know what I mean? It’s about basketball for the first time for them, and when it’s about basketball I just think that they’re too talented and they’re playing with a great cohesion.

Dime: What about in the West? Do you think the two best teams are the Thunder and the Spurs?
KS: You can throw the Lakers in there. The West is wide open. The West is wide open. If Oklahoma lost in the first round or won the West, I wouldn’t be surprised either way.

Dime: To go back to the tournament, do you think Austin Rivers made the right choice as far as coming out?
KS: He was gonna be a pro this year or next year so he just elected to do this year. He was on the Dukies, that school in Durham, he still was okay (laughs). He’s an okay player. That’s hard to do (laughs). He’s tough.

Dime: Being in your position as a guy who made his name in broadcasting, who are some of the current players you think could do the same thing?
KS: Grant Hill. Steve Nash. The two Phoenix guys out there could do it. I’m thinking of guys in the latter stages of their career. The younger guys I ain’t even thinking about. Those two guys in their latter stages… those two guys would make that swing easy.

Dime: With Kansas and Ohio State, who are you taking in that game?
KS: I’m taking Kansas. I’m taking Kansas to win it all.

Dime: You were saying before you really like Thomas Robinson.
KS: Yeah I really like Thomas Robinson, and Tyshawn Taylor. I think they have a nice bracket in there. I think if Louisville is able to upset Kentucky, I think they’re a better team than Louisville.

Do you think he’s right about Kentucky against an NBA team?

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