Clark Kellogg, the lead college basketball analyst for CBS, spoke briefly with TNIAMM Wednesday morning to share his thoughts on a wide array of subjects, from this year's NCAA Tournament to his involvement with the Capital One Cup. Here are some of the key points he addressed.
Biggest Surprise of the Tournament
In a crazy March Madness tournament that saw the wildest first round in NCAA tournament history, there have been plenty of surprises throughout the tournament. Eight teams who opened the tournament as an 11-seed or worse advanced to the second round. Northern Iowa managed to squander a 12-point lead in 44 seconds against No. 3 Texas A&M. And some pesky little 10-seed crashed the Final Four. However, Kellogg said if he had to pick one surprise this tournament it would be 15-seed Middle Tennessee's bracket-busting upset win over 2-seed and tournament-favorite Michigan State.
"Well I think the biggest upset, the earthquake, was the Middle Tennessee win over Michigan State," Kellogg said. "Me, and many others, thought Michigan State had the ingredients to win it all. I actually had moved them forward in my bracket. In one of the brackets that I did had them all the way to the championship podium. Clearly that was a huge shocker."
Syracuse's Shocking Final Four Run
Most experts didn't even expect Syracuse to be included in this year's NCAA tournament–and once they were, few thought the Orange would be able to advance past the tournament's opening weekend. And yet, 10-seed Syracuse was able to make it all the way to Houston, alongside 1-seed North Carolina and 2-seeds Villanova and Oklahoma, to play in this year's Final Four. It was a run very few saw coming, including Kellogg.
"Syracuse's run has been very surprising considering how up-and-down the season has been for the Orange," Kellogg said. "But they found enough good plays in their wins so far to get to this point. ...Once in the field, we know what March Madness is like. It can be a magical run for a team that just gets in."
Syracuse's Defense Remains the Orange's Biggest Strength
Thanks in large part to head coach Jim Boeheim and Syracuse's 2-3 zone, the Orange have consistently been one of the premier defensive teams in the country. That has remained the case throughout this year's tournament–limiting opponents to an average of 56 points-per-game. While their offense has been inconsistent at times, mainly due to their hot-and-cold shooting woes, Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense and full court press have been the main reasons for their miraculous run to the Final Four, Kellogg said.
"The zone defense, coupled with some pressing at some opportune times–key times–in the wins against Gonzaga and Virginia have really stood out," Kellogg said. "And then different guys have stepped up. Malachi Richardson in a couple of games, Michael Gbinije has been outstanding at times. But it's been the defense though, I think that's what has really fueled this run for Syracuse."
Sorry Syracuse fans, North Carolina Will Be Tough To Beat
Syracuse will square off against 1-seed North Carolina this Sunday with an opportunity to play for the NCAA Championship on the line. North Carolina swept Syracuse during the regular season, winning by scores of 84-73 at Syracuse and 75-70 in Chapel Hill, respectfully. While the Tar Heels struggled with their three-point shot during the regular season, shooting just 32.1 percent as a team from behind the arc, they have finally found their shooting stroke throughout this tournament–exemplified by their 101-86 dismantling of No. 5 Indiana in which the Tar Heels shot 55 percent from the three-point line–which doesn't bode well for Syracuse's chances, Kellogg said.
"There's not much that you can look at, at North Carolina, that you can say 'Hey, they're not good in this area,'" Kellogg said. "They rebound, they pass the ball, and now they're making perimeter shots. So, you've got to play at a really high level. Try to pack it in, keep them from [getting] easy scores, and see if you can make it tough for them to make outside shots."
Final Four Prediction
Out of the four teams remaining, Kellogg believes it will be the North Carolina Tar Heels who will cut down the nets in Houston. Kellogg said North Carolina has too few weaknesses and too many strengths to not be considered the favorite. While Kellogg appeared confident in his pick of North Carolina defeating Syracuse, he also said the winner of the Oklahoma-Villanova match-up could potentially give the Tar Heels some difficulty in the National Championship game.
"I'm leaning with North Carolina right now," Kellogg said. "Although that other match-up, Oklahoma-Villanova, whichever team comes out of that match-up is going to be a really really difficult challenge for [North Carolina], so I'm not sure how I would vote then. But if I'm forced to pick a team today, I would go with the favorite, which I think is North Carolina."
Syracuse's NBA Hopefuls
While Syracuse may not have as many future NBA stars as North Carolina, Oklahoma, or even Villanova, they do have a few players with NBA potential. The Orange's freshman stars in Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon have impressed many with their recent play, even leading to the discussion of whether they should test the NBA waters after the season. Kellogg, a former college and NBA player himself who left Ohio State after three years and declared for the NBA Draft early, said he has always advised student athletes to remain in college for as long as possible. He does, however, think fifth-year senior Michael Gbinije has a future playing professionally, albeit if not the NBA, at least overseas.
"I like the fact that he has improved so much throughout his time at college. ...He has really grown into a really capable college player," Kellogg said. "I think he'll get an opportunity to pursue being a pro in the NBA. He still has to refine his ball-handling a bit, and continue to improve his shooting, and maybe get stronger. But I think he has the potential to at least merit a look at the NBA level. And if not there, then certainly he would have a chance to play professionally internationally. I think he has proven he's got that kind of ability."
Capital One Cup
Kellogg has been an ambassador for the Capital One Cup since it was first created six years ago. The Capital One Cup is an annual award given to the top men's and women's D-1 college athletics program in the country. Its rankings and points systems are based on final standings of NCAA Championships and final official coaches' polls. The team that compiles the most points at the end of the spring season win the Capital One Cup trophy and also a combined $400,000 in student-athlete scholarships.
"It's really the comprehensive and ultimate sports award in Division 1 men's and women's college athletics in that it recognizes and rewards top-10 finishes across national championships and coaches polls during the fall, winter, and spring sports seasons for men's and women's programs," Kellogg said. "It really is about excellence on the field and athletic competitions, but also supporting and empowering student-athletes in their educational pursuits."
Syracuse is currently ranked No. 5 in the men's standings with 44 points and No. 10 in women's with 20. However, Syracuse could potentially finish as high as No. 2 in the men's standings and No. 1 in the women's if they each win the NCAA Championship and receive the 60 Capital One Cup points still available for doing so–a feat only accomplished once previously by Connecticut in 2014. Fans can follow the Capital One Cup standings on CapitalOneCup.com or by following @CapitalOne on Facebook or Twitter.