By: Steven Wright – Sports Editor
Sports editor Steven Wright participated in a conference call with ESPN college basketball personality Jay Bilas Monday, Nov. 5, on the upcoming college basketball season. After taking note of some Bilas’ opinions, he presented some of the same questions Bilas faced to FN’s assistant sports editor Chris Bendel, and created out own back and forth bantering session.
Q: How do you feel about the new hand check rule?
Bilas: I was in favor of it. I’ve been advocating it for years. I think that our game has gotten away from us. We’re organized wrestling matches and that’s what our game has been. … If you look back and I have, at tapes of games from the 70s, 80, 90s, up into today, it is stunning how our game has become this organized fouling, wrestling match.
Bendel: I agree with Jay, and I feel like these new rules could increase scoring throughout college basketball by allowing offensive players more room to maneuver and get to the hoop. My concern though is college basketball will turn into a game marred by stoppages over needless foul calls. The extra whistles, even if trying to clean up the game, could slow down a game’s flow and hurt offenses that rely on an up-tempo pace.
Q: Should the 35-second shot clock be reduced?
Bilas: We have to reduce the shot-clock because college basketball right now has the longest shot clock in the world – men, women, you name it. The truth is that’s an embarrassment. There’s no reason for it; there’s no data that suggests that 35 seconds is the magic number to get off a really good shot against good defense… if the entire international basketball community can squeeze a shot off in 24 seconds, but we need 35, we should be embarrassed by that.
Bendel: I’m going to have to disagree with Jay on this one. Long-gone are the days of the University of North Carolina’s four corners offense intended solely to drain the clock. Many people believe a change in the shot-clock would solely affect offenses. I disagree. The 35-second shot clock forces teams to dig in on defense and work longer for a stop against teams with offensive systems. It’s not about an offense needing a longer amount to time to get a shot off. For a lot of hoops fans, the emphasis on defense is what separates the college game from the NBA.
Q: How are you feeling about the Michigan State University versus University of Kentucky game Tuesday, Nov. 12 in the Champions Classic?
Bilas: I think this is the kind of thing we need more of, where top teams play earlier in the season because they’re games you can learn from and recover from, and it’s good for the game overall. I think having a contrast of the tremendous young talent that Kentucky’s got with the older, more-experienced players that Tom Izzo’s got, will be very fun to watch.
Bendel: I’ve had this game circled on my calendar since the non-conference schedules were released. This matchup pits the Associated Press’ preseason No. 1 and 2 ranked teams in the country at an extremely early point in the year. UK head coach John Calipari boasts the number one incoming recruiting class in the country, who many project as lottery picks in next year’s NBA draft. I’ll be looking for how soon these talented freshmen can mesh for the Wildcats. I expect Michigan State’s experience to trump Kentucky’s raw talent, especially this early in the season. But trust me, it could be different come March.
Q: How do you see the strength at the top of the Atlantic 10 Conference?
Bilas: I think [Virginia Commonwealth University] is a top-20 team, maybe 15 and I think they have a chance to be just as good, if not better than they were last year, and that’s saying a lot. [Saint Louis University] has got some people back that’s going to make them very competitive. Are they as good as VCU? I think they play so differently that I give VCU the edge because VCU can play so much faster.
Bendel: While the A10 lost a few notable programs in the conference re-shuffling in the offseason, the conference still has formidable teams at the top. Clearly the cream of the crop in the A10, VCU begins the season as the favorite in the conference and starts off ranked No. 14 in the AP poll. Saint Louis and La Salle University should challenge VCU, and also both received votes in the preseason AP poll. Of the NCAA tournament teams last year, La Salle returns three double digit scorers and Saint Louis returns four starters.