Sam Webb: How would you kind of forecast how things are going to go for the Wolverines as they enter the tournament, obviously facing South Dakota State in the opening round.
Tim McCormick: “I really like this Michigan team. They are still on the finesse side. They’re young, and if you look at the landscape of college basketball, not only now, but over the last thousand years, it’s always the same. Freshmen do not defend as well as juniors and seniors, and I think that was the biggest flaw in Michigan. They were matched up with big, physical, tough juniors and seniors from Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Iowa. It’s really difficult. Wisconsin took the face veteran defensive players. So what happened is Michigan freshmen, I think, hit a wall, and it happened right when they played Indiana, then had to play Ohio State, and play Wisconsin, and they lost their confidence, and that really hurt Michigan at both ends of the court, and I don’t think they have really recovered from that. Now, it’s a negative that they lost to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, but I do think having an extra day or two to get home, get off your legs, get refreshed a little bit, this is going to be an exciting tournament. I think Michigan has a good draw on their first two games. I think they’ll handle both South Dakota State and VCU.”
Sam Webb: One of the points that has been made, including from Oakkland University coach, Greg Kampe, he said there’s going to be a discernible difference between the physicality that these teams see in league and that which they see in the tournament. Not just because the teams are inherently more physical, but also because the officials in league allow more physicality. Do you think that’s going to be the case for Michigan and all these Big Ten teams?
Tim McCormick: “There’s no doubt about it, and if you sit courtside for a Big Ten game in February and March, it’s fascinating to me that when Trey Burke comes down the court and he calls a play, immediately after the play is called, the Aaron Crafts of the world are yelling to their team what’s coming, you know, side pick and roll, we’re going to double the ball and the rotations are all ready to go. Can you imagine if Devin Gardner goes back in the pocket and you told the cornerback which route the receiver is running? Of course, they’re going to have a great chance to stop it. It’s the same thing in basketball. So, I know that South Dakota State is going to scout very hard. Their coaches have stayed up all night watching probably ten to twelve of Michigan’s games throughout the Big Ten, and how Tom Izzo and Bo Ryan cover their pick and rolls, and how to deal with Stauskas and Robinson, but it doesn’t matter, because over the course of time, Big Ten opponents get really good at their rotations. They know exactly how Michigan plays, they know the game keys, and South Dakota State is not going to be able to figure that out overnight.”
Sam Webb: Tim, you said you like the draw for Michigan, San Diego State in the second round, and very likely VCU in the next round. Why do you like those matchups for Michigan?
Tim McCormick: “Well, first of all, again South Dakota State – and I saw Nate Walters in person, I broadcast their game last year against Minnesota, and he’s really good. He’s a big athletic guard, he’s an NBA player. Very good passer, kind of a bouncy athlete, but if you take a team and say ‘they are driven by one player’, and you match up that guy against the best point guard in all of college basketball , if Trey Burke can negate, even if he plays Nate Walters even, Michigan’s talent beyond that is superior, and I think the real beneficiaries of playing a team out of the summit are going to be Michigan’s freshmen. Stauskas has not had any open jumpers since the non-conference. Glenn Robinson needs to get out and transition, have some early success and get into a feel good zone. I think that Michigan’s support cast is much better than Jordan Dykstra and some of the support guys for the Jackrabbits. By the way, I love the name Jackrabbits. I think that Michigan wins this game convincingly.”
Sam Webb: And then VCU… if it is VCU, why do you like that matchup?
Tim McCormick: “With the havoc defense that VCU plays, and I’m a huge fan of Shaka Smart, the Rams are top ten in the nation in scoring, but it’s off of their defense. They create a lot of steals, and as their defense is called, they create havoc. The good thing about Michigan is that they specialize in low turnovers. They’re very good at handling the ball. Trey Burke runs an efficient offense. I don’t think that VCU is going to be able to turn Michigan over. If they’re struggling a little bit, I like the idea of putting Spike
Albrecht in to help handle some of the ball handling responsibilities and let Trey Burke run off some screens. I think that Michigan has a good matchup in both of these games, and will advance to the Sweet Sixteen.”
Sam Webb: Let’s talk about the tournament field from a more broad perspective. The four number one seeds, much of the debate was about Gonzaga… whether or not they really deserved to be a one seed. Wondering what your thoughts are on that, and what are your thoughts on Louisville as the top number one seed overall.
Tim McCormick: “Gonzaga is overvalued to me, and they had a really nice non-conference, but they did lose to Butler, and Illinois beat them in their own building. They hadn’t lost in a long time because the west coast conference was not anywhere near as good as it’s been, so I think Gonzaga is the weakest by far in terms of the number ones. They really had a special season, but their best work is done on the defensive end of the court, and I don’t trust their offense at all. Payton Siva, I’ve seen him have way too many subpar games, where he just disappears, and Russ Smith specializes in bad shots and erratic behavior on the court. I don’t trust that the droughts that Rick Pitino’s squad goes through. Gorgui Djieng has been really good for most of the year, but he struggled over the last couple weeks, so has Chane Behanan, so to me, Louisville is in a really killer bracket. I look at St. Louis and think that they are one of the hottest teams. Jim Crews is my coach of the year on a national level. I think that Louisville gets beat by St. Louis early, and if they don’t, what a loaded bracket that is, with Michigan State, Duke, and Creighton. I think Louisville will not get to the Final Four.”
Sam Webb: A couple of matchups, and I don’t know if you’ve broken down the entire bracket yet, but people are already starting to go after their upset specials, and for me, I look at – first and foremost in the south region that Minnesota/UCLA matchup. I don’t anticipate Minnesota being a team that can string together a number of wins in this tournament. I just don’t think they show the kind of mental toughness for that long; but for one game against the injury depleted UCLA team, do you think Minnesota might have what it takes to knock off UCLA?
Tim McCormick: “Yeah, I filled out my bracket this morning. I have Minnesota beating UCLA. Jordan Adams is a really important shooter, and he has a broken foot, for UCLA. He’s out. I feel like Minnesota has really underachieved, but Trevor Mbakwe wants to play in the NBA, so does Rodney Williams, and this is a good opportunity to showcase your skills. I think Tubby will have them ready, and Tubby beats his guys up during the year, and I see this every year. Last year they were 12-1 to start the season, ended up in the NIT. This year they started out 15-1, and then Tubby beats them down, and they really have struggled throughout the Big Ten; however, I like Hollins, I think their big guys, and I agree that UCLA is powered by freshman that just don’t have any idea what the tournament’s about.”
Sam Webb: What do you think about the Butler/Bucknell matchup? I know very little about Bucknell, but we know that Butler is a team, a program, that comes in every single year, and you can count on them for consistency, you can count on them not to make many mistakes, and very rarely do you see a team that’s ranked lower than them come up and beat them.
Tim McCormick: “Usually it’s the 5-12 matchup where you see a lot of upsets. This year, I think it’s the 6-11. I think that Belmont can beat Arizona. We already mentioned UCLA getting knocked out by Minnesota. I think Bucknell with beat Butler, and Butler’s overvalued as well. They just don’t defend anywhere near how they did last year and the year before, and Bucknell is led by one of the most underrated big guys, Mike Muscala, who will play in the NBA, 6’10”, 6;11”, you know, capable of 20 and 10, and the Patriot League has a history of knocking off big time powerhouse schools. And remember last year, Lehigh, out of the Patriot, knocked off Duke.”
Sam Webb: You mentioned Duke. Look at where Miami fell, in the east region. They’re playing in Austin, Texas. Duke, meanwhile, they get a really good draw a two seed in Philly. How come – it really seems like Duke got the better end of the two seed equation there.
Tim McCormick: “I think this year the number one seeds received a disservice in their matchups. The number two seeds have clear paths. I love Miami’s path, I love Ohio State’s patch, and Dukes has the easiest of all, teams that I think they will march over. They’re 18-1 with Ryan Kelly healthy. I know they had a bad game in the ACC tournament, but they have veteran players. Quinn Cook has really emerged as a solid point guard. If you remember back last year, Duke did not win, they got beat by Lehigh because they had Seth Curry trying to play point guard, and Austin Rivers was not a point guard, he was masquerading as a point. They have a really good point guard this year, Rasheed Sulaimon is a defensive star, and I really like his game. He’s capable of a lot of points, and limiting his matchups, and Plumlee is going to be a very underrated pro, and Sam, you have to love Mike Krzyzewski in March. I mean, how can you not have confidence in that guy?”
Sam Webb: Give us your final four. First, how far do you have Michigan going, and what’s your final four?
Tim McCormick: “I have Michigan going to the Sweet Sixteen. I have Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen as well. I really like Kansas a lot, and I think because of the fact that last year, they played in the national championship game in Kentucky, and have four of their key players back in the starting lineup, plus the best freshman in all of college basketball in Ben McLemore, so I have Kansas. Miami has a really good route, veteran players. Ohio State – my gosh, how in the world did they get a path like that? I know New Mexico is a good team, and people don’t really know about them, but Ohio State has the easiest path of anybody, and so I like them. Same thing with Duke. I have Duke and Kansas in the championship, and I just can’t go against Bill Self. I’m a huge fan of his. I think they win the national championship.”