WILMINGTON, N.C. – When Jay Bilas walked onto Duke's campus for the first time as a freshman in the fall of 1982, he was just one of four highly regarded basketball players in Mike Krzyzewski's second full recruiting class. Johnny Dawkins, David Henderson and Mark Alarie filled out a class the took Duke from 10 wins the year before they arrived to a 37-3 record and second place finish in the 1986 NCAA Tournament.
Bilas served as an assistant under Krzyzewski in the 1990's and for the last few seasons has been one of the top college basketball analysts on ESPN. Also an attorney based out of Charlotte, Bilas offers clear, technical and objective analyses of players, coaches and teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the west coast.
I had a chance to catch up with Bilas on my radio show on Friday night while he was watching the Oregon Ducks practice in preparation for their matchup with California on Saturday.
Here is the part of the interview that was about the ACC.
SW – Why is it that Carolina has fallen as they have? Is it recruiting, coaching, a combination of the two and also something that happens after a legend (Dean Smith) leaves?
Bilas– I think that (legend's retirement) may be part of it. They've had three coaches in the last five years and you gotta remember that Kris Lang and Jason Capel, that when they committed to North Carolina they committed to Dean Smith. And it seems like that's a long time ago but it's not. And when Bill Guthridge came in – and I have the utmost respect for Bill Guthridge and I think he is a great basketball coach – but everybody knew he was going to be a short-timer there and recruiting took a hit as a result of that. So they're down on talent and they've got a lot of young players playing key positions - that being the guard spots and things have sort of snowballed on them.
And I remember when I was at Duke we started four freshmen and we took some lumps (although) not quite as bad as Carolina is taking now. But when you get into a season situation when you're losing games back-to-back and you get down on yourself a little bit and people are down on you it's hard to deal with. I think those kids are mentally worn out. They're tired. And it's gonna take a lot of fortitude for them to stick with it so they can finish this season out strong.
But Matt Doherty's a good coach. You don't go from national coach of the year (2001) to being a bum in one year. And I think one thing that all of us media types have to keep in mind - all of us who were sitting here talking about what a great coach he was last year and guys are bagging on him right now - what we are really saying is that we're a bunch of idiots if we are changing out minds that quickly, that we can't evaluate things. I think it's been a piling on mentality on to Matt Doherty and I don't think it's been fair. I'm not sitting here saying he's the Second Coming of Dean Smith. I think he's a really good coach and he's gonna prove himself to be that but I don't think it's fair sort of to judge a guy just on this year.
SW - Looking at the rest of the ACC, one of the real surprise teams has to be N.C. State.
Bilas – I think so. Herb Sendek's done a really nice job with them. They're running a different offense this year. It's more of a Princeton style where they have all five guys more out on the perimeter and make some passes and force you to guard and they get a lot of good back-cut action and really punish you if you want to overplay them. And they've got some good young players. Julius Hodge is a terrific freshman. Scooter Sherrill came off the bench the other night when Hodge was suspended and had 20 points. They're playing with a lot of confidence. I think they are an NCAA Tournament team and I hope what this season has done for N.C. State is crystallize for Lee Fowler (State's athletic director) that he's got the right guy in place and let him continue to build that program because I think he'll continue to do a good job there.
SW – Does your alma mater (Duke) have as good a chance to win the national title this year as they did last year and if not what weakness do you see in this team they didn't have a year ago?
Bilas – I think, if you want to say a relative weakness is that they don't rebound the ball particularly well. They're a decent rebounding team just not a good one. I think that's one place where a team like Kansas can really hammer Duke is when they got those three big guys - Drew Gooden, Nick Collison, Wayne Simeon - they can punish Duke on the boards. But Duke's guards are better than anyone else's. I think that's a fair statement. They are so explosive scoring-wise that you have to be very careful not to let their guards take over games. Jason Williams is the key. I think teams have tried different things on him. You've got to do whatever it takes to keep the ball out of his hands. The problem is there are so many other weapons on this team from the perimeter with Mike Dunleavy and Chris Duhon and now even Dahntay Jones is starting to knock some shots down and that's a real dangerous combination.
SW – What kind of chance does Wake Forest have to make a run in the (NCAA) tournament?
Bilas – I think a pretty good one. They're still learning how to play Skip Prosser's system, which is a big departure for them. Dave Odom, as great a coach as he is, had a completely different way of doing things. There's nothing wrong with doing that it's just a different style. They're still learning how to play at that speed but still play it efficiently. Josh Howard is starting to blossom. He's starting to become the player everybody thought he would be. The key for how far they go is their point guard position. Taron Downey is starting now and if Broderick Hicks and Downey keep giving Prosser good minutes at the point I think they could be a team that gets past the Sweet 16.
SW – Last question. If you could fix one thing in college basketball what would it be?
Bilas – Boy, if I could fix one thing … there are a ton of things that need fixing. The first thing I'd do is put a commissioner in place. Get somebody like Dave Gavitt or if Krzyzewski ever decides to retire, somebody like him that's got a sort of global view of the game and get rid of the bureaucracy and let somebody who has the best interest of the game start making decisions that are good for the game.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.