Interview with Seth Davis of CBS
Seth Davis is a college basketball analyst for CBS and SI, and the face of the Coca-Cola Brain Bracket, a unique scheme which will see inventive fans rewarded for their smart ideas. Visit cocacolazero.com/ncaa to vote on the top 64 ideas in the Coca-Cola Zero Department of Fannovation Brain Bracket Championship. The good folks at Coke put us in touch with Seth, who let us probe one of the finest minds in college hoops for his thoughts on tournament expansion, curious seedings and the hype surrounding John Wall. Thanks to Matt Hirsch at 360i for setting this up, and to Chris Sells for providing most of the questions.
So, you’re involved in Coke Zero’s Department of Fannovation promotion. It looks like a lot of fun. What exactly is it about?
They set up this website, cocacolazero.com/ncaa, and they’ve been inviting college basketball fans all season long to go onto the website and submit their best ideas to enhance the fans’ experience. So now they’ve set up a Brain Bracket, with the 64 best ideas and they’re inviting people to come in and vote on those ideas to move the ideas through the bracket. So fans have something at stake here because if an idea does well then someone out there is going to get the smart idea to add it to the arena or the telecast. So I invite everybody to go to cocacolazero.com/ncaa and vote on the Brain Bracket. It’s a lot of cool stuff there. It’s a fun website to visit.
The seedings are out. What are the surprises for you this year?
Well, I think the main surprise was Duke getting seeded over Syracuse and West Virginia. I really didn’t think there was much of a case to do that. Syracuse had won the Big East regular season by two games and had a much better record on the road, a much tougher schedule, more wins against the top 25. I think maybe they were trying to adjust for the injuries, trying to take that into account. And I kinda thought that WV had a better case for number one than Duke. That aside, I was pretty surprised to see Temple as a five. I thought they were closer to a three. Cornell as a twelve I thought was pretty low. I was real surprised to see California as an eight. I personally didn’t even have them in the tournament, but to put them as an eight seed I thought was pretty ridiculous to be quite honest. But you know, mostly I think the important thing, the big decisions they have to make, I think, is to decide who’s in the tournament and who’s not in the tournament. You know, you could quibble and say Virginia Tech should have been in or you want to make a case for one of the other teams to be in, that’s fine, but you can’t really wax indignant about it and be all outraged – "Well, how can this be?". Every year there are close calls, and by and large I think they get it right.
Every year there seem to be a number of questionable decisions. What are the unspoken selection criteria the committee uses? Are they basing their seedings on the right factors?
Yeah, that’s it. It’s how you did this year. There are all these conspiracy theories, and there’s TV ratings. Unfortunately not everyone can do this, but I’ve gone through the mock selection exercise that the NCAA puts members of the media through every year and when you’re making your votes and you’re deciding where to seed teams, you don’t see the bracket. It’s just all listed one through sixty-five, and then you’re putting them in terms of geography, so you’re not really looking down the road at who might play whom. So you just don’t have time for conspiracy theories. I mean, it kind of bothers me a little bit because I feel like, I disagree with some of the decisions that they made, but it’s possible that we can just disagree without levying charges of incompetence or dishonesty. When you say somebody is biased or that they’re trying to create TV ratings, you’re basically castigating their integrity, and that’s just not what I think we ought to be doing.
So if it’s a tough enough task for 65 teams, what would a 96-team field mean for the seeding process?
Probably make it a lot longer! Certainly would make it a lot easier to get into the tournament. They’d basically be folding the NIT into the NCAA Tournament. So I think competitively it’s not a good thing. I’m not seeing a lot of good teams being left out. If anything, I’m seeing a lot of mediocre teams getting into the tournament. But, listen, if the NCAA feels like they can get more money out of it then you gotta let them do it. We might not like it, but I promise you we’ll watch.
What is it like being in the studio on opening weekend when you have that many games to cover? As a broadcaster, what are the challenges involved?
The challenge is mostly, C.Y., physical. It’s just very tiring to be in that studio for thirteen hours really watching games closely. I think we have to be there 9:30 on Thursday and then you have a production meeting, you get dressed, you put your make-up on and you do some rehearsing. Then you get out there and you start watching games at noon. You don’t really get out of the studio until one in the morning, and then you’ve got to do the same thing the next day, and then you’ve got a very long weekend. I feel like I spend fifty-one weeks of the year preparing for those four days, trying to get my rest and get into good shape. I took a yoga class in the morning (laughs). I’m feeling OK, so I’m trying to get ready for that, and mentally I’m preparing as much as I can. We’re also provided with so much information and insight that you almost have to try to screw that part of it up.
Thousands of people across the country will be basing their brackets on what you and other broadcasters say. Do you traditionall fill out a bracket yourself? How accurate do your predictions generally prove to be?
Well, as I have told many people including my wife and mother-in-law, I’m not responsible for other people losing in their pools. I mean, who wins the pool every year, C.Y.? It’s the secretary who hasn’t watched a game all year.
Yeah, that kills me.
Always, right? So I fill out my brackets and some years I do pretty well, some years I don’t do pretty well. But we always put a bracket up on SI.com so people can see my picks if they want to go there. But, generally speaking, I’m just guessing like everyone else. Sometimes, too much knowledge can be a very bad thing in this little exercise.
So who do you have as the big winner this year?
Kansas. Kansas was my choice back on October 15th, and all throughout. There are certainly other teams that can win it, but Kansas has more ways that they can win it, and Kansas is more able to survive as bad game than some of the other suitors. And the other thing I really like about them is they have a senior point guard in Sherron Collins. The other two main competitors, Syracuse and Kentucky, both have a freshman at that position. They’re not the only team that can win it and it’s never an automatic, but I feel pretty strongly that Kansas is going to win this thing. And I’m only wrong about once a decade, so you’ve got to like them a lot (laughs).
You’ve said before that you think the point guard position is more important in the NCAA than the NBA. Why do you think that is?
Well, the game in the NCAA tournament, C.Y., tends to slow down and become a halfcourt, slug-it-out affair, and in those games the guards really take over because you get to the end of the shot clock and they’ve got to break down their defender and they’ve got to make a play either by feeding a big man or hitting a big shot. College basketball is a guard-oriented game anyway because anybody who’s of reasonable quality and a good size is going to leave to go to the NBA. So there are really not a lot of high-quality big men in the college game anyway. So to me, the two most important positions on the floor are, number one: point guard; number two: center. And that’s why I love Kansas, because they’ve got Sherron Collins at the point and they’ve got Cole Aldrich at the center, both players not only talented and very effective, but also a junior and a senior.
You touched upon the discrepancies between the styles of play in the NCAA and the NBA. With that being the case, do you think it’s tough for NBA GMs to draft based on production in college? Do you think some guys hurt their draft value by playing in the NCAA where their game might not be shown in its best light? Would they be better served playing abroad or in the D-League?
Well, they certainly do not see their value decreased because they play in the NCAA, but I mean, the reality is that the longer you stay in college means that you haven’t proved yourself to the pros to the point that they’ll take you in the first round or in the lottery. That’s the just the reality of it, and it’s kind of an unfortunate stigma if you’re a junior or senior that it means that you weren’t good enough to go pro. So it’s not that you’re hurt by staying in college, and college is definitely a much better place to develop your game certainly than the Developmental League, and depending on the situation – some situations in Europe are pretty good, but we’re talking about a young kid being far away from home, and that’s not easy to do either. So, I’m generally about giving these youngsters the opportunity to pursue every opportunity that they can, so if they prefer going to the D-League or overseas or what have you, then I think that they should have the ability to do that, and I’m not a fan of the NBA’s age minimum for that reason.
So, one final question. John Wall: Is the hype justified?
Absolutely. Oh yeah, he’s the real deal. He’s an incredible talent. He’s got great court sense. He can shoot it. He gets a little bit careless because he takes risks, but that’s also part of what makes him great. He’s very aggressive and attacks, and he’s had some games where he hasn’t had a particularly good game for the first thirty to thirty-two minutes, but then when it comes down the stretch and it’s a close game he makes big plays. So he’s a winner. I think he’ll be the first pick in the draft, and a multi-year All-Star in the NBA.
Seth, thanks for taking the time out to talk to HoopsVibe. We look forward to seeing you and the CBS team throughout the tournament.
Great talking to you, C.Y. Enjoy the tournament.