Dime Q&A: Seth Davis On What You Don’t Know About The Argument For Paying College Athletes

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.

Keep reading to hear who Davis thinks will win next year’s NBA Rookie of the Year…

Dime: What do you think is the most interesting matchup in the Syracuse vs. Michigan game?
SD: Individually it’s hard to say because of the zone. But, clearly, you have two of the best point guards in the country in Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams. These guys have unique skill sets but they’re different. Burke is a much, much better shooter. But Michael Carter-Williams is a little bit better defensively, is a great rebounder because he’s 6-6 and he’s a distributor. But he can’t really shoot it as he only shoots 29 percent from three-point range. So it’s going to be interesting to watch those two guys go at it. I’m sure they’ve been kind of eyeing each other from across the country throughout the course of the season and now for them to be on the court at the same time will be really cool to watch.

Dime: Who do you like more as a pro between those two?
SD: That’s a great question. I’ll go with Burke because he can shoot it. Obviously Carter-Williams has the size, but in the NBA now it’s such a scoring-oriented position that’s really evolved. You really don’t find too many NBA point guards who are purely distributors anymore. So I think Trey Burke is very quick, very crafty. I’m not sure he’s a great athlete; I think he’s good enough. I think he’ll be effective in the pros. I’m not saying he’ll be great, I’m not saying an All-Star. I actually think the best pro prospect at the point guard position in college is Marcus Smart. I think that kid is really special. But I think between these two guys I’d go with Burke.

Dime: So you have it being Louisville vs. Michigan in the championship game. Who do you think wins that and why?
SD: I would go with Louisville. I just think they’re the better team. I think Gorgui Dieng is a difference-maker. I think his basketball IQ is vastly underrated, including at the offensive end. When Louisville sliced and diced Syracuse and had that big comeback in the Garden, they just stuck Dieng in the high-post and let him operate and think the offense. They ran everything through him and he’s a really impressive kid. Obviously a great shotblocker. But I think at the offensive end he’s very dangerous as well and I think he’s a real difference-maker. It would be a heck of a game though, that’s for sure.

Dime: Okay. Let’s move on to a more general NCAA question. I’ve seen on your Twitter this morning you’ve been talking about the press conference of Mark Emmert. What do you think the NCAA needs to do in the next year to change this negative perception that people have towards it?
SD: I honestly don’t think there’s anything the NCAA can do. I think the vast majority of the negative perceptions about the NCAA are either inaccurate or unfair. There are certain areas that are legitimate criticisms, there are certain things that are legitimate problems, but I think there’s a huge misunderstanding about… first of all, when we say NCAA what we mean by that. The NCAA is the schools. We tend to think of it as Mark Emmert and the folks in Indianapolis at the national office. They work for the schools. Mark Emmert and the Office of the President of the NCAA is basically a figurehead. He doesn’t really have any real authority. He can sort of move things around, but he can’t pass rules, he can’t vote on rules, he can’t veto rules. He works for the schools. So the system is set up because this is how the schools want it and there’s a whole bunch of reasons why it operates the way it does as a huge, kind of, faceless organization and it’s just an easy target.

When I think of college sports, I think of all of college sports. I’m not just thinking of the Final Four or Cam Newton or Alabama football. I mean there are literally hundreds of thousands of young men and women in this country who get access to a free college education because they’re good at sports. And 99.9 percent of them will never make a dime professionally playing their sports. So the public is what the public is. Twitter is what Twitter is. The blogs, the media, it’s just a very easy target. I think they can always improve and there are a lot of things I would like to see changed, but I think the basic culture of criticism against the NCAA is grossly misinformed and unfair.

Dime: So with that I would assume you’re against the idea of additional payment for players?
SD: Well, you have to ask the correct question. Players already get paid, right? They get scholarships. They get food. They get books. They get housing. They get the best training in the world. They get game experience, media exposure. So the players are compensated quite handsomely. Now, the problem is that the scholarship that they are given is basically still stuck in 1970 and it does not really completely cover what they call the cost of attendance. So the scholarship needs to be updated and I would like to see them get a little bit more than they currently get. But they get a lot.

It’s never about compensating them because they bring money into the university. For the very small fraction of a percentage that has the ability to do that, they have the freedom to turn pro anytime they want and go out and make money in the marketplace and be professionals. But certainly the scholarship and the cost of living and the stipend needs to be updated. And by the way, the number one biggest advocate for doing that is Mark Emmert but you wouldn’t know about that with the way people write about him and the NCAA. The reason why that doesn’t get passed is because you have schools out there who can’t afford to give money to their athletes the way Louisville or Michigan can afford to do that and they’re trying to keep a level playing field. So that’s what’s mixed up with the NCAA as schools that don’t have those kind of resources are able to wield that sort of power over the schools who really wheel the freight.

Dime: Looking at the prospects that we expect to leave early, who do think will surprise us and stay in school?
SD: Well, Alex Poythress kind of surprised me. I’m impressed by him and the fact that he decided to stay. Basically, I’m surprised when anybody stays to be honest because to me I’m just conditioned to believe that if they’re a lottery pick or a first-round draft pick and they have the chance to go pro they just do. And that’s what I would do, too. I don’t blame them one bit.

Dime: Finally, what player do you think will have the biggest impact on the NBA next year or more simply, who will be the Rookie of the Year next season?
SD: Wow. That’s a great question. I’ll say Ben McLemore of Kansas. I think he’s got some Ray Allen in him. I’m a little bit concerned about his motor and he can be too passive sometimes. But I think in terms of sheer talent, he looks like an NBA All-Star. He’s a great, great… not a good… a great athlete and he’s a terrific shooter as well. So he’s got a great chance to have an impact.

What do you think? Should NCAA players be compensated?

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