Last week, RTC spoke with Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS to talk about a variety of topics on college basketball and a new promotion for Coke Zero. This is not the first time we have spoken with Seth as we interviewed him last March for the launch of his book “When March Went Mad” about the 1979 championship game between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Before the interview officially began, Seth expressed his displeasure about not getting linked every day in the Morning Five. We would give you the transcript of that discussion, but Chinese government regulations prohibit us from doing so.
Ed. Note: This interview took place last week, but due to some transcribing issues we are just putting it up now.
Seth Davis: Man of Intrigue
RTC: I guess we will start with your alma mater. Duke is looking strong again this year, but is different than they usually look as they are not relying on the outside shooting as much as a complete game. A lot of people have been talking up Duke. Do you think this is the year they can make it back to the Final Four?
SD: I do. I think they are legit. It’s kind of funny. Here they are ranked 5th or 6th in the country, putting together a great record, and there is not a lot of buzz about Duke right now. It’s funny to say that because they are so ubiquitous on television, but I think that we have all seen them get off to these great starts the past few years before they fall in the tournament. This team does things that those teams did not primarily defend and rebound. Those things are very important assets to carry into the tournament because at some point you are going to have an “off” shooting night and I think back for example to when they lost in the 2nd round to West Virginia. I think West Virginia was like +16 on the boards. At some point the shots aren’t going to fall. This team has the ability to overcome that so I don’t know from strictly a talent standpoint if I would put them on the Texas, Kentucky, and Kansas level, but do I think of them on a short list of contenders to get to the Final Four? Absolutely. I think by the way they will have a great chance of getting a #1 seed if they win the ACC regular season and then win the [ACC] tournament. I would be surprised if they aren’t a #1 seed.
RTC: Sticking with a US News & World Report College Rankings theme. Another team that has really made a lot of news this year is Cornell with a lot of close losses to very good teams, but that doesn’t impact their RPI and NCAA seeding as much as some people would think. How good is this team? How high do you think they could be seeded and how far could they go in the NCAA tournament?
SD: Well I think they are very good. Their best win was obviously over St. John’s in Madison Square Garden along with a couple of road wins over Drexel and Bucknell. I guess you would have to say their “best win” was their loss at Kansas because that really got everybody’s attention. It’s so much fun to watch Cornell run their half-court offense because they have legitimate inside and outside action, which a lot of teams don’t have, with Jeff Foote in the middle and some terrific shooters with Ryan Wittman being the primary example. They’re very cohesive. Having said that, the talk about two teams going from the Ivy League. . . I hope I’m wrong about this, but I just don’t see it happening for the simple reason that the Ivy [League] doesn’t have a tournament. If Cornell is so strong that they warrant an at-large bid then they are the league champs. So if the committee has to give an at-large bid to the Ivy League I just don’t see that happening.
RTC: I’ve actually had a couple of fans e-mail me about that and I essentially told them the same thing. I completely agree with you there. Going on to the next question. Two teams that have been traditional powers that have been faltering lately are UNC and UConn. How do you think the programs will rebound particularly UConn with Jim Calhoun and his medical leave?
SD: Well both teams are clearly having their struggles right now and the Calhoun situation aside I certainly anticipate both teams getting better. Why wouldn’t they? They are both coached by Hall of Fame coaches. It’s just a natural order of things that when you lose good players you are going to take a step back. I mean UConn lost Jeff Adrien, Hasheem Thabeet, and A.J. Price. Those are 3 not good college basketball players, but great college basketball players. Remember they got to the Final Four last year without Jerome Dyson so those guys have got to be pretty good. Maybe the adjustment is taking a little bit longer than I would have anticipated but there is no reason to expect in a couple of months things will be straightened out.
UConn Needs Calhoun Back Soon
[Ed. Note: This took place before UConn beat Texas and before they lost to Providence
.] The same thing with North Carolina. Look how much they lose from their championship team. So you are having to rely on your older players who were not talented enough to get minutes when those other guys were in the program and your younger players that are more talented, but there is a lot that they don’t get and not ready to be throw into the mix right now. So it’s just a mix of working through these things and I have no doubt that they will.
RTC: We have one of our writers Zach Hayes. He wanted to know who thought the best mid-major team was not named BYU or Gonzaga?
SD: I’m a big Northern Iowa fan. I know they lost, but there is no shame in losing at Wichita State. I think those are the two best teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, but they are a very tough, veteran team. There is no decided star on that team. Kwadzo Ahelegbe is a very talented point guard. And Alahagbi [Ed. Note: We had no idea what he was trying to say]. . .excuse me [Ali] Farokhmanesh. They have the hardest names in the country. And then Adam Cooke in the middle. They are a tough defensive team. They have won a lot of games. They have won a lot of games on the road. I think it’s a good year for the Missouri Valley. Not a great year, but a good one. I think they are going a tough out in the tournament. I have actually been voting them in the top 25 the last couple of weeks because I think they are that good.
RTC: I wanted to ask you a little bit about your show on CBS College Sports. I have noticed when I am clicking through my Comcast listings that there are a lot of college football shows, but not a lot of college basketball on. What are you trying to accomplish with your show?
SD: I’m trying to put together an hour of television that a guy like you is going to want to watch. I’m looking for the hardcore junkies for much the reason that you described. There isn’t another show. . . Well maybe ESPN’s GameDay, but I want to cover an array of topics, but I want to stick to the substance of the sport. I don’t want to go too far afield. The same people who read Rush the Court I want to watch the show. We’ve only had two shows, but I’m very pleased with the guests that we have been able to get and I hope that we will be continue to be able to get that kind of guest to join us on the show. Have you seen it?
RTC: I actually don’t get CBS College Sports on Comcast here. [Ed. Note: This is kind of awkward.]
SD: Oh. Call your cable provider. . .
RTC: Yeah. I know. . .
SD: Where do you live?
RTC: I live in Boston.
SD: I have Comcast too in Connecticut, but I get it on my system thankfully. [Ed. Note: That would be really awkward if he didn't get his own show at his house.] You have to look into it.
RTC: I will. Finally we will get to the Coke Zero promotion. There are a lot of promotions out there. What made you join this one? Can you tell our readers what it is going to be about?
SD: Anything that is going to improve the fans experience of college basketball is something that I am going to appreciate being a part of. Coke Zero is huge supporter of college sports and college basketball in particular. They feel that they have pushed the limits of what is possible by creating a drink that tastes like Coke, but has zero calories so guys like you can enjoy drinking it, but still stay skinny. They have launched something called the Department of Fannovation. So they are calling on fans to go to their website which is cokezero.com/ncaa. It’s a really cool website if you get a chance to visit it and the idea is that you take your best idea to enhance the fans experience whether it is at the game or at home watching and come up with a better idea. It can be something real simple like a cup that turns into a mega-phone or a pair of pants that has a seat cushion or a mascot cam or a pretzel for the concession stand that is shaped like a basketball. Think about the foam #1 finger, the thunder sticks, and that kind of stuff. Come up with your best idea and submit it at cokezero.com/ncaa. They take the best 64 ideas and set up a bracket right around the time of the tournament and have the fans vote.
[Ed. Note: I really should have asked him if they will have a play-in game at some random usenet newsgroup that nobody will pay attention to determine the 64th team.] So if you get to the Sweet 16 you get $1,000. If you get to the championship, you get $10,000 and a trip to the Final Four. It’s a lot of fun and you should check it out. I also wanted to mention that you join Coke in helping out Haiti by going to MyCokeRewards.com and donating points, which Coke is going to match, to the Red Cross. That is in addition to the $1 million that Coke has already donated to Red Cross. So that’s at MyCokeRewards.com to help out our friends in Haiti.