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January 25, 2007

SI.com's Seth Davis chats it up

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SI.com college basketball expert Seth Davis participated in a chat with Rivals.com users on Wednesday afternoon.

Davis, whose column Hoop Thoughts runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays on SI.com, was asked about big-name programs, mid-majors to watch, his thoughts on the freshman class and many other topics.

Rivals users were also interested in his predictions – for the second half of the season and the postseason. Davis also writes a prediction column each Friday on SI.com, but he shared some of his prognostications on Rivals.com.

Considering Arizona's recent struggles in conference play, what is the significance of the upcoming UA vs. North Carolina game in affecting their potential seed in the tournament, and that of the other Pac-10 teams? Many see UNC as a potential final-four team this year, but with losses to Gonzaga and Virginia Tech, they have shown that they are beatable. What is your opinion of this matchup? How much would a UA win/loss...boost/decrease the overall "stock" of the Pac-10?

-OregonDuckFan, DuckSportsAuthority.com

"Funny you should ask, because I spoke to Lute Olson on Tuesday for a column I wrote about Arizona, which will be posted at SI.com sometime today.

"No doubt Arizona has stubbed its toe of late, but the Carolina game is a no-lose situation for them, especially as it concerns their tournament seeding. Barring something really unforeseen, UNC is going to be a No. 1 seed. It would be a nice boost for 'Zona if they could beat the Heels, but losing to them won't hurt at all.

"I'm also picking this game for my weekly Five for Friday column on SI.com (plug number two!), so I won't give anything away here. Let's just say Carolina is a very, very impressive team that seems to be getting smarter, tougher and imminently less beatable every day."

Who are the teams you would consider under the radar right now that could make a run come tournament time?

-denniden, DevilsIllustrated.com

"The way things are going these days, it seems that there are far more teams under the radar than on it (or even over it, for that matter). I'm not sure Nevada could be considered under the radar since the Wolf Pack is ranked 18th in the AP poll this week, but I do believe this is a legitimate Sweet Sixteen threat. Texas Tech is obviously coming on of late. I have liked this team from the beginning because of its excellent guard play. I really think the Raiders had trouble dealing with the pressure and attention as Bob Knight got close to breaking Dean Smith's record. Now that that distraction is behind them and they can just play, their talent is coming out.

"Also, keep your eye on Creighton in the Missouri Valley. The Bluejays were the preseason pick the win, and though they didn't play well in the preconference season, they are now tied for first in the league and are just working Josh Dotzler back into the rotation."

What conference do you think is the toughest right now? Also, do you have any predictions for the NCAA tournament? Final Four? Finals? Champion?

-dtroitlionz3, DevilsIllustrated.com

"Predictions? Dude, I make predictions every five minutes! At some point this season, I will say everything at least once. That way, no matter what happens, I can tell you I saw it coming.

"In all seriousness, though, to me the only prediction that matters is the one you make after the brackets come out. So be sure to watch the CBS Selection Show (plug number three) and then find my bracket on SI.com (number four) the next day.

"I never how to answer the "toughest conference" question because it depends on your criteria. Are you looking for the most Final Four potential or the best top to bottom parity? If it's the former, I'll go with the Pac-10. If it's the latter, the SEC."

Which player(s) do you see breaking out over the second half of the season?

-Troy_K, CuseConfidential.com

"Off the top of my head, I'd say Stanley Robinson, the freshman at UConn. I think the Huskies are still trying to figure out who they are, and they're starting to understand that Robinson is their best player (for now, anyway). I'm also impressed with the way Jon Scheyer is coming on at Duke. He's taking a lot of the scoring and ballhandling pressure off of DeMarcus Nelson and Greg Paulus. Out west, I'm guessing that Micah Downs of Gonzaga, who became eligible this month after transferring from Kansas, will be more of a factor as long as he can stay healthy."

Will UConn make the tourney? What do you think of the Big East this year in general?

-roshanritter

"Really hard to say about UConn right now. Lots of people (including myself) have ripped Jim Calhoun for putting together such a laughably soft preconference schedule, but I'm not sure it would have made much difference. It's one thing to be young, but this team has no junior or seniors, and even its sophomores are very inexperienced. Still, the talent is there and the Big East is definitely down. The one thing UConn does have going for it is that the committee puts an emphasis on how a team plays late in the season. That's why they let Texas A&M into the field last year even though the Aggies had a far-from-sterling resume. The bottom line, though, is you have to win games, and UConn better start winning fast if it wants to make the tournament."

How many SEC teams do you seeing making the tourney? Also who's your National Player of the Year if the season ended today?

-DCotton, GoMiddle.com

"To take the second part first, I'm glad the season doesn't end today because frankly, I don't know who I would pick for player of the year. There is some momentum towards Kevin Durant right now, but I'm not sure that will hold up. For now I'll stick with Alando Tucker, but it's the most wide-open race I can remember.

"Realistically, you'll probably see seven teams come out of the SEC. The problem is, they all have to play each other. It's hard to envision an eighth team getting there, though I suppose if any league can do it, it's the SEC."

Is it possible two or more freshmen will be first-team All-Americans?

-joshthurman, VolQuest.com

"Gee, I wonder which two freshmen you have in mind here? If something like that would ever happen, this would obviously be the year. It's an amazing confluence that during the first year of the NBA's age-minimum rule you'd see a freshman class come in with so many really, really good players."

What ACC teams do you see dancing this year?

-hoosdogg

"The only teams I'd feel fairly confident saying will go to the tournament right now are North Carolina, Duke, Virginia Tech and Clemson – and Clemson could still use some quality wins to buttress its case. Boston College is obviously in good shape with a 6-1 record, but my concern is if the Eagles go on a bad losing streak late, they could really be hurt by not having Sean Williams and (to a lesser extent) Akida McLain. Remember, it's the committee's job to assess a team based on what they have when the tournament begins. The wins BC has logged with those guys in the lineup won't count as much as what they're able to do without them.

"All in all, I'd be surprised if the ACC got fewer than six teams in. It's a really down year in the Big Ten, and the Big 12 and Big East are also going through a bit of an ebb. So there are some bids out there to be had."

Do you think this Buckeyes team will gel around Greg Oden in enough time to win it all?

-buh-buh-buh-bucks

"My biggest concern with Ohio State is the fact that Oden is still playing with the dang cast on his right hand. I'm almost feeling cheated that such a great player is so inhibited this late in the year. As effective as he is, it's hard to imagine Oden leading the Buckeyes to the championship while wearing that cast. Last time I talked to Thad Matta about it, he said he believed it would come off at some point this season, but had no idea when. That's not a good sign.

"In some ways, Ohio State's guards were playing better before Oden came back because they could run all the time and fire threes without hesitation. They still don't look simpatico sometimes, but there is so much talent on this team, and Matta is such a good coach, that I'm sure no one will want to play them in March."

Can you make any sense out of the SEC this year? Who do you see coming out on top in the West and how many SEC games do you think the Vols will have to win to get in the big dance? Will the selection committee give them any mulligans for losses without Chris Lofton ?

-Rocky411

"Wow, lots of SEC questions today. I didn't know I was so popular in the red states!

"First of all, I'd be shocked if Tennessee wasn't in the tournament. And yes, the committee will be made very well aware of the games the Vols played without Lofton. The West division is really sliding these days (or why would Auburn be at the top?). Alabama is reeling with Ronald Steele still injured, and LSU's guard play is actually getting worse. At this point, it's hard to see more than three teams coming out of that side. The more realistic guess is two."

Your team is down by 1 with less than 10 seconds left. Who is the one player in America you would most want to have the ball in his hands?

-RandallThomason, DevilsIllustrated.com

"I'm going with Chris Lofton of Tennessee here, assuming, of course, his ankle is healed. Not only is he a good percentage shooter, but he is an excellent deep shooter as well. He has also gotten much better at putting the ball on the deck, so if someone is going to overplay him he should be able to get to the foul line."

Word on the street is that Greg Oden will stay one, possibly two more years in Columbus. Do you buy that? How long do you see Daequan Cook staying?

-NapervilleBuck, BuckeyeGrove.com

"I don't buy that for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Oden is hands down the number one pick in this year's NBA draft. I suppose he could pull a Tim Duncan and come back to Columbus, but with everything he's already been through with his wrist injury, I think he sees the drawback in staying in school. I'd be surprised but not shocked if Cook came out this year, though. He's a very good player, but this is a very, very deep draft. If he's smart, he'll come back for at least one more season."

Texas A&M has an extremely impressive record, but needs to grab a few more marquee wins. If the Aggies finish the Big 12 season with two or three losses (and a win over Kansas), do you think they could legitimately be a two seed in the postseason?

-Gus Gruner, Rivals.com College Baseball

"When I did my first seed report for SI.com last week, I had the Aggies as a No. 4 seed – and that was before they lost to Texas Tech in Lubbock. The reality is, A&M lost both marquee road games it played in the preconference season (though its win at Auburn is looking a little better now than it did then). They have two more chances (at Kansas, at Oklahoma State and at Texas) to get a quality road win before the Big 12 tournament. From where they're sitting, it looks like a pretty hard road to a No. 2 seed, but I do think this is a very good team so I certainly wouldn't rule it out."

If you had the first pick in the NBA draft, what player do you take this year?

-denniden, DevilsIllustrated.com

"Greg Oden, and it's not even close. I have asked several NBA scouts this question the last few weeks, because some people have been wondering whether Kevin Durant might supplant Oden as the No. 1 pick. And the answer is always the same – it's Oden, stupid. You're talking about a center that can have a huge defensive impact for the next 15 years. And remember, as I alluded to above, Oden is playing with a cast on his shooting hand. He's not a great offensive player by any means, but he's much better than what he's been able to show thus far."

I'd like to know your thoughts on Clemson this year. Do you forsee us making the Tourney? And do you think 8-8 or 9-7 in ACC play will get us in?

-doodog, TigerIllustrated.com

"If Clemson goes 8-8, I suppose it would depend on whom the losses came against, but I'd think since the Tigers went undefeated in preconference play they'd probably still get into the tournament. The only problem Clemson has right now is that it has no real, hang-your-hat win. Their best win before league play was at Old Dominion. Of course, if they're able to win at Duke tonight, that would give them a lot more breathing room!"

What is the perception of Bob Knight's Red Raiders after beating Kansas and A&M in back-to-back games? With tough games ahead, including two against Texas, two against Oklahoma State, and at A&M do the Red Raiders have a chance to win the Big 12 and earn a high seed?

-cte_, RedRaiderSports.com

"As I said, I thought the Raiders were pretty good before those wins. What they're really showing right now is they are really though at home. Winning on the road is important, too, but when this team is getting offense from its inside players (especially Darryl Dora ) it can beat anyone. And again, I really think the whole Knight/Dean Smith record scenario was a tough distraction for these guys. If Texas Tech can win at Missouri this weekend, I think it has a great chance to enter the Top 25."

What would Kansas have to do, in your opinion, to regain a No. 1 seed in the tournament? Also, are they still your pick to win it all?

-Big Mack04, JayhawkSlant.com

"Winning the rest of their games and capturing the Big 12 tournament championship would put Kansas in great position to get a No. 1 seed. Realistically, though, it's hard to see that happening, because the Jayhawks still have a tendency to play down (and up) to the level of their competition. I've moved off KU as my choice for winning the title, but I'm not as far off of them as most people seem to be. They've only lost three games and still have as much talent as any team in America. When Kansas is at its best, it's virtually unbeatable. The question is whether the Jayhawks have the toughness and maturity to win important games in the tournament when they're not at their best."

Two questions: 1) Why has the Atlantic-10 sunk to the level of "sub-mid-major" in the past few years given that you would think that the "Perfect Season" from 2004 should have elevated the league? Now the A-10 has fallen below the Colonial. Even St. Joseph's (Pa.) couldn't capitalize on their fleeting success. 2) Hypothetical scenario with Villanova at 8-8 in the Big East and Louisville, WVU and/or UConn at 9-7. Is it even be possible that any of those three teams could get an NCAA bid over Villanova when between the three of them they have essentially zero quality OOC wins?

A_QUARTERofaMAN, VUSports.com

"1. I'm not sure there's any real answer to this question, aside from the plain fact that these things come in cycles. Also, when you look at this league, there are really only a small handful of schools who have competed at a high level with any kind of regularity. Xavier has definitely been a bit of a disappointment, and we all expected George Washington to take a step back after losing so many guys from last season. Saint Joseph's is actually a pretty good team, but I think most people recognized that dream season to be an anomaly as opposed to the start of something big. At the end of the day, I think UMass is going to be the best team in the Atlantic-10, but regardless this is most likely a one-bid league. Don't worry, though, I'm sure in a year or two things will be on an upswing again.

"2. Villanova definitely has a much better non-conference profile than those other three, so yes, that will work to their advantage. But it's hard to compare league records in the Big East because even the league schedules are so imbalanced. It would depend on where those eight or nine wins came from, and whether any of them were on the road against good teams. There's no better way for a team to demonstrate its NCAA mettle than to beat good teams on the road, especially in the conference."

Is Vanderbilt an SEC contender?

-GoDores2005, VandySports.com

"I'd sure say the Commodores are making their case these days, with three straight wins over ranked teams. For the last couple of years, Vandy has been one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league, but it seems like the Commodores are finally locking down opponents on the defensive end. You'd also be a hard-pressed to find another good major-conference team whose top six players are all juniors and seniors. It's too bad Vandy isn't playing in the West division, because they'd have a more favorable schedule down the stretch."

In regards to the Missouri Valley this year, it looks to be a very wild race for the conference crown with four legit contenders for the regular season crown. My question is will this great race affect the amount of at large bids for the Valley? Also, is it me or is it strange that the Valley is a Top 4 RPI conference yet doesn't have any teams in the Top 25 polls? So much for respect for the Valley this year.

-edgytim, EdgyTim.com

"The parity in the Valley has much more effect on the polls than it does on the NCAA tournament. The committee demonstrated last year that it understands just how good a conference this is, and the teams they picked obviously proved them right. I think the Valley will have a minimum of three teams in this year's tourney, and more likely four. I only wish the league had a better television deal so I could watch more of its games!"

Thad Matta's name came up numerous times in the Indiana coaching search. Do you see Ohio State as a final destination kind of program, or do you think he will eventually move on to another school (not talking NBA)?

-BuckNaked

"I never thought for an instant that Matta was going to Indiana. Everyone talked about Greg Oden, but those of us who follow the sport closely knew how deep Matta's freshman class was going to be, and he is still tearing it up on the recruiting circuit for the classes on the way. Many coaches in the Big Ten would argue that Ohio State is the best job in the conference. Great facilities, great tradition, great fan support, a football program that prints money. It's hard to envision Matta going anywhere else."

I'm a Communications Major at the University of Dayton and I'm focusing on Electronic Media. I know the road to your job can be kind of long and bumpy for some, but I just really think it's the field for me. What advice might you have for me as to what things I should be involved in, internships I should be looking for? Any advice you have would be great.

-Abomb25, OrangeandBlueNews.com

"I'm reminded of what the great Roger Angell said when someone asked him what the key was to writing about baseball: 'Leave it to me.'"

"Seriously, though, it sounds like you have the passion to succeed in this business. That is what matters most. Like most professions, you really have to pay your dues in journalism. That will entail either working as a researcher/gopher at a network or starting out in a really small market to develop your skills. Besides that, the best advice I can give is to encourage you to read everything you can. Be curious. Show initiative. Be substantive. And be sure to stay in touch!"

Davis why are you hating on Duke? Seems like most of the stuff you write about us, is not good. What's up with that?

-Duke5021, DevilsIllustrated.com

"Quite ironic you should ask, seeing as I happen to be a Duke graduate. (Class of '92, AKA The Laettner Years.) The only people who ever accuse me of being overly critical of Duke are my fellow Duke grads. Everyone else calls me a Duke suckup or a Duke apologist or something of that variety. What's up with that?"

No doubt you heard ESPN's Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps stating that Illinois (Weber and/or the fan base) needs to get over the Gordon situation. What are your thoughts about it? If Gordon wanted to be recruited by Indiana, was Kelvin Sampson wrong in doing so?

-DCGeneral, Peegs.com & InsideIndiana

"First of all, what's up with Bilas hating on Duke all the time? Seems like he never says anything positive about that program.

"As for the Gordon debate, I couldn't help but chuckle when I heard my friend Jay complain after the game that too much was being made of the Gordon story. Whom, pray tell, was doing all that "making" the previous two hours? ESPN certainly played up the story for all it was worth. Not that I blame them – it's a pretty juicy story.

"We all know the bottom line here. Illinois fans are ticked off that Gordon isn't playing for the Illini. If the roles were reversed, they would be celebrating Bruce Weber's ingenuity at landing such a great prospect. Yes, Kelvin Sampson should have called Weber directly, but he didn't get hired to be Mr. Congeniality. He got hired to win games. Gordon will help him do that. End of story."

Could you talk just a bit about the Michigan State Spartans? They are playing some great ball as of late and seem to really click when Raymar Morgan is playing.

-titanmsu, SpartanMag.com

"It's good to see Morgan is getting back into the flow of things since returning from his injury, because even with him in the lineup this is one very offensively challenged team. It's very hard to ask your point guard to be your best player and leading scorer, but I have to tip my hat to Drew Neitzel because he has managed to do just that. The reality, though, is the only quality wins the Spartans have are a one-point win over a very young Texas team back in November, and a home win over Illinois after the Spartans trailed at halftime. If you're a Michigan State fan, the best you can hope for is to make the NCAA tournament. Anything beyond that is gravy."

Seth Davis will return to Rivals.com every two weeks for more college hoops chats.



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