This week I spoke to ESPN College Gameday Analyst Jay Bilas on behalf of the TechHoops.com team to preview the upcoming season. You can listen to the conversation by clicking the play button below, but we’ve also included a transcript if you can’t listen at work.
TechHoops.com: Where do you think the Hokies will finish in the ACC this year?
Jay Bilas: I think Virginia Tech will finish in the top half of the ACC, but last year I didn’t think they would finish anywhere near the top half and they did. So, a lot depends on how some of their younger players matured over the summer. They relied on a lot of young players last year, and those young players certainly treated them well. It was really a good year for Virginia Tech when not a lot of people expected it. So, this year people are expecting more and it’s going to require guys like Jeff Allen to take a big jump and play even better because he’s a known commodity now and people are going to come after Virginia Tech even harder than they did last year.
TechHoops.com: How do you see Virginia Tech and Coach Greenberg responding to this new role?
Jay Bilas: It depends on how the players handle it, really. I think Seth will be fine. The issue is how the players deal with it because it is really tough in the ACC to step up into that top group of teams because they have been there forever. You are talking about a team in Virginia Tech that when Seth first got there it was a Big East team, and then they jump into the ACC and it’s been a difficult transition for them, but it’s one that they’ve handled really well and not all programs have. I remember when florida state came into the league. florida state started off great, but after that it became difficult for them because they had to recruit head-to-head against ACC schools. I like Virginia Tech and their makeup. They really fought hard last year. Like we were talking about before, it’s more a function of how did their players respond to how close they got to being a NCAA Tournament team last year and are they going to continue to improve or is it going to be something where there is a satisfaction level of where they are at. I don’t think they will be satisfied. I think they will really step forward and have a better year than they did last year.
TechHoops.com: Tech has earned a first round bye in the ACC Tournament three of the last four years, but do you feel they get a lack of respect?
Jay Bilas: It depends on what you mean by respect. I think opponents respect Virginia Tech because they’ve been getting beat by them, so they understand. They’ve played north carolina and duke and they played them tough at their place and won games against them. I don’t think anybody looks past Virginia Tech, but I think nationally it is a little bit of a different story. I think the ACC has been such a conference of tradition that Virginia Tech still seems a little bit like a new kid. I frankly find that with a florida state a little bit and florida state has been in the league for 16 years. So, there is a little bit of that going on. The kids that are there now don’t care about that. The way you get national respect is by doing well in the national tournament. Every team that does well in their conference earns that regional respect and the conference props that you deserve, but if you want to capture the imagination of the rest of the country, you have to do well in the NCAA Tournament and I don’t think anyone would deny that.
TechHoops.com: Speaking of north carolina, can anyone contend with unc or is everyone else playing for 2nd in the ACC this year?
Jay Bilas: Can they contend? Yes. If you look at last year when unc won 36 games and went to the Final Four, they were a consensus Top 4 pick to start the year. I think most people predicted that north carolina was going to make it to the Final Four. Their two losses during the reason season were at home, and they were to teams that weren’t the supposed big time contenders. duke had a very good year last year, but that wasn’t Mike Krzyzewski’s best team and they also lost to maryland at home. So, can they be beat? Yea. With the unfortunate injuries they’ve suffered thus far with Tyler Hansbrough being out for a little while and Marcus Ginyard being out perhaps until the latter stages of December. Nobody’s invulernable and unbeatable, but they are the prohibitive favorites. I don’t think anybody as good as north carolina, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get beat.
TechHoops.com: What percentage of Virginia Tech’s success would you credit to Coach Greenberg?
Jay Bilas: All of it. You give it all to him. The head coach in college basketball is the most important thing and that’s the guy that puts the staff together that establishes the identity of the program and brings players in. And if he doesn’t do a good job in those areas, he’s the guy that gets fired – not anybody else. The emergence of Virginia Tech as one of the better programs in the country over the last five years is attributable to Seth and Seth alone. There’s obviously some credit to spread around, but Seth has been the architect of it without question.
TechHoops.com: What Virginia Tech player are you most looking forward to watch over the course of the season?
Jay Bilas: I’m a big Jeff Allen fan. I worked with him a little bit this summer at the Amari Stoudemire Skills Academy I thought he was very good. I was really impressed with him. I like A.D. Vassallo very much and Malcolm Delaney has a chance to be a very good player. If I had to pick one guy, it would be Allen. He’s undersized, but he’s got a lot of fight in him. He’s improved his skill level. He is a passionate player. He goes after it and he plays hard. He can score. If he becomes a better rebounder and works on his defense, he is going to be a player that is going to be All-ACC caliber throughout his career there.
TechHoops.com: Do you believe that A.D. Vassallo has NBA potential?
Jay Bilas: You know, it’s hard to say. I think he could play up there. I wouldn’t say he’s a player that’s going to be drafted, but he can make a team. I mean, heck, you know DeMarcus Nelson is starting right now for the Golden State Warriors. They got a bunch of injuries, but he was an undrafted player. This is one thing that you wish you were a player now because right now there are 30 teams in the NBA and they have to keep 15 guys each. That’s 450 players. Can you imagine that? That’s a lot of guys. There weren’t 450 spots when I was playing. I can tell you that. That’s an awfully nice thing for the players of today. You have to believe that you’ve got an opportunity to play professionally, and I’m not saying leave early. There’s way too much of that and guys that have no business of doing it are doing it, but if you stick with it, you can find a place in that league. It may not be a long term place, but there are a lot of success stories in the NBA of guys who were not expected to be great players – Matt Barnes is one of them from ucla. But you could probably pick a guy out for a team that you would have thought that when he came out of college whether early or after exhausting his eligibility had no business being in the NBA, and they’ve stuck.
TechHoops.com: Is your role on ESPN going to remain the same this season as an analyst of College Gameday and Gamenight along with broadcasting a couple times during the week?
Jay Bilas: I haven’t heard it’s changing. They haven’t kicked me to the curb yet. I’m still doing a bunch of games. I do Big Monday games. The first time that we’re really out on the road doing games will be at north carolina in November for our first Gameday broadcast, it’s kentucky at carolina. Then, go to the Maui Invitational and I’ll probably do two games a week the rest of the season. Then you got Championship Week and Gameday each week, and studio work. So, there’s no shortage of talking head opportunities for me and I’m really fortunate that I’ve got a place at ESPN. It’s a great group of people. It’s a pretty deep stable of talent that I get to work with, so I’ve been pretty lucky.
TechHoops.com: Any new folks coming on board ESPN College Basketball this year?
Jay Bilas: Not that I am aware of. I know that we are looking forward to perhaps having Bob Knight back again. I don’t know that all those details have been hammered out yet. That’s above my pay grade. I think Jay Williams is going to work with us this year, but I don’t know the status of that either. That’s what I’m saying about the depth of analysts. There’s so many different perspectives that we got out there. We’re really lucky to have all these great people that have so many different perspectives on the game.
TechHoops.com: How many Sonic burgers and Cherry Limeaids do we need to promise to have you and College Gameday make a visit to Cassell Coliseum this year?
Jay Bilas: You know I am actually coming to Cassell Coliseum at least once. I’m slated to do the north carolina at Virginia Tech game. It’s not a Gameday broadcast. Those are set in stone already. You can bet whenever I land in Roanoke, Christiansburg is not that far away and that’s where the local Sonic is. So, I’ll be cruising over there in a heartbeat.
TechHoops.com: Is there anything else you want to mention about the upcoming season with Virginia Tech or the ACC?
Jay Bilas: Well, I think it’s going to be a really good year. With the ACC , you say that every year. There will always be the top dogs that you expect to be really good, and then there will be somebody, kind of like Virginia Tech did last year, come out of nowhere. When I had this conversation with the Virginia Tech folks this time last year, I think I expected Virginia Tech to be at or near the bottom of the league. Clearly, they exceeded those rather low expectations in a big way because they were right there in being in the NCAA Tournament. Doing what they did late in the year and having a chance to beat north carolina when they did, it was a great year for Virginia Tech. I would expect even better, but that’s the hard part really. When you are expected to be good … Pat Riley in his book called what Virginia Tech did last year, the innocent climb, and now its more of an issue of doing it when the lights are on. They got a spotlight on them now. There are fewer unknowns and there won’t be any surprises. It will be a fun year in that regard to see if Virginia Tech can pass those different kinds of tests that they are going to get.
As always, we thank Jay for his time and insight.