We had the recent opportunity to catch up with ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi to get his feedback on the future of Hokie basketball, among other topics.
Joe’s “real job” is the chief marketing officer for Saint Joseph’s University. He graduated from St. Joe’s in 1982.
Joe answered the questions below on Thursday, May 25, 2007.
TechHoops: At one time in February, you had 9 ACC teams making it to the Big Dance. What is your opinion on why the ACC had such a poor performance in the tournament (only 1 of 7 teams made it into the Sweet 16)?
Joe: Most performance in the tournament is fairly random (both at the team and conference level). Other than a few obvious early-round mismatches, we’re talking about an event in which the majority of games are in the “coin flip” category. So we probably shouldn’t make assertions about whether a conference is trending up or down based on a small sample of mainly random outcomes. By RPI, only Carolina (No. 4) and Maryland (No. 16) would have been forecast as Sweet 16 teams this year; so, while the 2007 results may have seemed poor for the ACC in a historical sense, they weren’t too far off in terms of the actual level of the teams this year. Personally, I thought Georgia Tech would make the Sweet 16 and that NC State (had the Wolfpack qualified) was playing well enough at the end of the year to do the same. Duke, B.C, and UVa appeared “spent” to me for one reason or another. I’ll leave the VaTech analysis to your readers!
TechHoops: Did you feel that Virginia Tech received an appropriate seed at #5? Not like it mattered in the end, but many Hokies questioned how uva could be a #4 seed and Virginia Tech a #5 seed when you compared their quality wins and strength of conference schedule. Your thoughts?
Joe: As I have written elsewhere, the Committee seems to be going backward in its ability to make logical seeding determinations. UVa was DRAMATICALLY over-seeded according to any logical application of bracketing precedent or ’07 performance, not even factoring in unbalanced conference schedules. I think the Hokies were just about right.
TechHoops: You have 6 ACC teams in your first edition of the ’08 Bracketology. Besides unc, what were you reasons behind the selections of n.c. state (2), georgia tech (2), duke (5), clemson (7), and uva (8) ?
Joe: Many of these projections will change, of course, as we learn which players are (or are not) staying in the NBA draft. Georgia Tech, in particular, looks like it could take a real hit. Virginia may, as well. We’ll see where NC State falls when we update the bracket after the draft, but you have to like the way they finished last season and the talent they have coming back. Overall I’d guess that the ACC has fewer than seven NCAA teams next year, but that those in the field advance further. And Carolina will (again) be the only likely national championship contender.
TechHoops: n.c state and georgia tech as 2 seeds is quite an improvement for both those squads from ’06-’07. What do you see in these teams that resulted in their high seeds?
Joe: The early Georgia Tech evaluation assumed the return of player(s) who are now headed for the NBA draft, along with an exceptional Adjusted Scoring Margin (ASM) ending last season. NC State was/is more of a hunch in that I have to think at least one other ACC team will join North Carolina will be among the national elite.
TechHoops: What is your prediction for the Virginia Tech ’07-’08 season?
Joe: It would take a real leap of faith to slot the Hokies into a pre-season NCAA Tournament bracket. I say that more because of the seniors who are leaving than any lingering uncertainty with respect to recruits. The latter is not something on which I have any “inside” information.
TechHoops: Do you foresee the Hokies returning to the NCAAs in the near future or going through another 11 year drought? What are the keys for the Hokies to stay successful?
Joe: I like to look at long-term NCAA Tournament prospects in light of conference affiliation. In other words, which ACC teams are likely to be in the tourney pretty much every year (Carolina and Duke)? Which are going to be in the field most years (Maryland, B.C., Georgia Tech)? And which seem, more often than not, to be near-annual “bubble” teams (VaTech, FSU, NC State, and now Virginia under Leitao)? If you figure that 4-5 NCAA spots are spoken for every year, that leaves another 4-5 teams — plus whichever from the “bottom three” might have an occasional burst — battling for anywhere from 1-3 positions on an annual basis. I see the Hokies as being an NCAA team approximately 3-4 times in any 10-year period.
TechHoops: What is your opinion on the initiative to extend the 3 point line to 20′ 9″ in the ’08-’09 season?
Joe: I’ve given this next to no thought (as both 19’9″ and 20’9″ are well out of MY range!!), but I can tell you that most coaches are neutral to slightly in favor of the change. In the short-term, I think we’ll see a small decrease in the number of three-point attempts and a larger decrease in three-point accuracy. It’s harder to say what will happen long-term, but I’m hopeful for a greater emphasis on the so-called “middle game.” I also would have favored, if only for consistency purposes, a compromise to the international distance (20’6″). One issue that I’ve not heard addressed in any serious way is how the change will impact the evaluation of high school shooters, who are remaining at the 19’9″ distance for the foreseeable future.
TechHoops: What impact do you think the Virginia Tech massacre will have on recruiting and the perception of the program?
Joe: I am a university communications professional in “real life” and have to say that, at least from a distance, it appear that VaTech handled and came through this tragedy as well as (if not better) than anyone has a right to expect. Ultimately I think the spirit and tradition of the school came through loud and clear and will bring more positives than negatives to Blacksburg.
TechHoops: Have you ever been to a game at Cassell Coliseum? If so, what did you think of the atmosphere? How does it compare with other environments?
Joe: Twice (during VaTech’s short stay in the Atlantic 10, when I broadcast a pair of St. Joe’s games back to Philadelphia). I loved Cassell — then and now — and described it as a smaller, but equally “collegiate” version of the old Cole Field House at Maryland. I love the wooden seats and rounded corners, and I fondly remember the outstanding press room meals! It’s not often we media hacks get hot mashed potatoes and cooked vegetables!! Come to think of it, it should have been three games in Blacksburg (but one visit, circa 1996, resulted in a “snow out” and I did not accompany St. Joe’s on the re-scheduled date).
TechHoops: Virginia Tech isn’t quite building its basketball culture from the ground up, but its pretty close. What is the one (or more) piece of advice you’d give to Virginia Tech fans to get them going in the right direction as they build a new Hokie basketball tradition in the ACC?
Joe: Sustained winning begets TV and media attention, which begets better recruiting, which further increases winning and exposure. And no single factor is more important than having the right coach in place.
For more info on Joe Lunardi, you can find his bio at http://www.sju.edu/ucomm/about_contact.html