Wojo's plan to 'sustain' Marquette 

September, 17, 2014
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Steve WojciechowskiAP Photo/Jeffrey PhelpsSteve Wojciechowski was an assistant under Duke's Mike Krzyzewski for 15 seasons.
It doesn’t matter the job. When a newly hired coach walks into his office, it is empty. Everything is cleared out but the furniture. In a very real way, every coach is starting over and building anew. Almost without exception, any new coach talks about building an improved "culture." It's almost cliché, and it typically implies there was a culture that didn’t exist before and should now, or that the previous culture was deficient in some way.

That's not the case with new Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski. It’s true that he walked into a bare office and starts anew. It is also true that he walked onto a campus in transition, with a new school president and no athletic director in place, but Wojciechowski was not denigrating the culture that existed before his arrival. He believes it's his job to steady the program and provide stability in a broader sense, but he's not getting grandiose with talk of a new aura around the program.

“Marquette has great tradition and is committed to winning,” Wojciechowski told me.

Kentucky's biggest challengers in the SEC 

August, 12, 2014
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FloridaNelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsFlorida guards Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier II form one of the nation's top backcourts.
I've been here in the Bahamas watching the Kentucky Wildcats as they play six games in eight days, and my jaw has been on the floor. John Calipari brought his team (and his Big Blue Nation donors) to the tropical paradise to get some early practices in, and for some competition against a few international pro teams. In doing so, he has sent an early signal to the rest of the basketball world: The Wildcats are national championship good, and they have a roster you could split in half to make two ranked teams.

First, Kentucky has more non-freshmen than freshmen, an anomaly under Coach Cal in Lexington. The Wildcats also have a record nine McDonald's All-Americans on the roster, a number that would be impressive for a conference, let alone a team. (Only Duke can match that number this season.) Calipari has the No. 2 recruiting class in the country, featuring Karl Towns Jr., Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. Kentucky is athletic, long and really big. Of the top 10 players in the rotation, Kentucky has nine players 6-foot-5 or taller, six players 6-8 or taller and four players 6-10 or taller. It's an embarrassment of size and riches -- one that has to create major cause for concern for the Wildcats' challengers in the SEC.

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Kansas will be even better in 2014-15 

July, 29, 2014
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Wayne SeldenDenny Medley/USA TODAY SportsSophomore Wayne Selden is one of the Jayhawks' several key returning players.
The last time Kansas failed to win the Big 12 title, man was just climbing out of the primordial ooze. Before every season we naively ask: "Will this be the year that someone knocks Kansas off its lofty perch?"

The Jayhawks are coming off a 25-10 season in which they won the Big 12 with a 14-4 conference record and entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed. Coach Bill Self lost two players, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, to the NBA draft, along with his starting point guard, Naadir Tharpe. And, without the late-season injuries to Embiid, one could argue that Kansas' postseason results would have been much better.

But the cupboard is hardly bare. It is fully stocked with young talent, and Kansas will be the favorite to win the Big 12 yet again and have a legitimate chance to be even better

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How we can improve college basketball 

July, 23, 2014
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SmartAP Photo/Tori EichbergerMaking referees full-time employees: just one change Jay Bilas believes needs to be made.

What’s wrong with college basketball? It is a question that is asked frequently.

The Bilastrator has the answer.

Nothing.

Nothing is “wrong” with college basketball. It has always been a great game, it is still a great game, and it will remain a great game. But I don’t want just what is good for college basketball; I want what is best for college basketball. Right now, the game is not the best it can be. As great as the game is, it can be better.

When this topic is broached, one generally hears something along the lines of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In my judgment, that phrase is often uttered by people who might argue for sticking with the rotary phone, short shorts and plain white Chucks. There is a difference between “fixing” something and “maintaining” something -- a difference between breaking something down, and adapting or changing it, so it can evolve with the times.

The game wasn’t “broken” with peach baskets and ladders. But it adapted. The game wasn’t “broken” without a shot clock, a wider lane or a 3-point line. It just changed and adapted as was necessary, and the game is better for it.

As of late, college basketball has been glacially slow in its evolution. As the global landscape of basketball shifts, the college game stands pat. We like to believe that college basketball is different from everything else, that it is "our game," and that, somehow, it is immune to change. That's nonsense.

The rest of the world has adapted and made the game better. College basketball has not, and so our game has fallen behind. We are behind the times, and by not “fixing” our unbroken game, the game has broken down in certain areas.

A while back, a friend said to me, “If you prefer college basketball to the NBA, it’s not for the basketball.” I believe he is correct. The NBA and international leagues provide a better game on the floor and better rules and better overall play. What college basketball has is better environments, and better atmospheres, and better passion. In other words, what is auxiliary to the game is better in college, but the college game itself is not quite as good as its professional competitors. The good news is, with some proper maintenance, we can -- without much difficulty -- adapt and improve the college game.

Of the rule changes that college coaches have said they wish to see, here are the ones, in order of priority, that I believe the game should make. Of course, these are just my opinions, and I may be wrong (but you know I’m right).

I covered a lot of these ideas in last season's college hoops preview issue of ESPN The Magazine, but have some new thoughts to share, as well. If you're looking for someone else's take, check out Jeff Goodman's recent piece on the rule changes college coaches want to see most.


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Ranking top national title contenders 

December, 17, 2013
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In his College Basketball Opus, the seminal work of this hoops season, The Bilastrator gave you his top eight national title favorites: Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas, Arizona, Florida and Syracuse. After watching and processing over a month of college basketball games, one thing is clear: There is not a truly great or dominant team this season.

At least, it should be noted, not yet.

There is not automatically a "great" team or teams every season. There is a champion crowned every year, but that doesn't make a team historically great. "Great" is a term that is overused in sports, and when I say great, I mean the dictionary definition of the word. Great means to be "remarkable or truly outstanding in magnitude, degree or extent; superior in quality or character; to be of outstanding significance or importance; to be eminent, distinguished."

Because there are no dominant teams like there were in 2007-08 or 2008-09, it would not be at all shocking to see a team like Colorado, Iowa State or Oregon get hot and reach the Final Four in Dallas. It could be that kind of season, and those seasons can be all kinds of fun.

That said, while there is no great team yet, there are still prohibitive favorites to win it all. Here are the eight teams that The Bilastrator believes are the best so far, and the best-suited to reach Dallas and cut the nets down.


1. Arizona Wildcats

The Wildcats are the most complete team The Bilastrator has seen, and have the size, athleticism, depth, lineup versatility, guard play, and mental and physical toughness to win the whole thing. And, this team can and will get better and better.

Where Arizona sets itself apart is on the glass

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Parity label cheapens Cinderella stories 

March, 27, 2013
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La SalleJohn Sleezer/Kansas City Stat/MCT via Getty ImagesLa Salle has knocked off two "power six" conference teams en route to the Sweet 16.
This has been a wild and fun NCAA tournament, but let me ask you this: When was the last time the NCAA tournament didn't deliver?

Yet every year we lead up to the tournament by proclaiming that it will be "wide open" and that "anybody can win."

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Toughest players of the past 20 years 

March, 6, 2013
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Mateen Cleaves Jed Jacobsohn/ALLSPORTMateen Cleaves, a three-time Michigan State captain, led the Spartans to the 2000 NCAA title.
When I think of the toughest players in basketball, I think of the players who are relentless, compete with high-level consistency on every play in games and in practice and are difficult to play against and easy to play with. They aren't always the biggest or the strongest, nor are they the loudest. They let their games do the talking, and win or lose -- it's usually win -- you walk off the floor with nothing but respect for those players because of their toughness.

I knew the toughest players when I was playing, and there's no substitute for playing against someone to truly understand how tough they really are. But I can't remember back that far, so I am going to give you a list of 10 of the toughest players I have seen in college basketball in the 20 years I have been broadcasting. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Of course, I may leave out players who have shown great toughness on the floor and off, who were great teammates and amazing competitors. These are just a few who have stood out to me in my years behind the microphone.

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Key fixes for UNC, UK, others 

January, 16, 2013
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North CarolinaPeyton Williams/Getty ImagesNorth Carolina's largely young, inexperienced roster has been inconsistent this season.
It is flu season, and the doctor is in. These are the dog days of the college basketball season -- conference play -- and the time when a malady can befall a promising team, leading to a malaise in its fan base. Once conference play begins, the difficult part of the season can hit hard, and not every team was properly inoculated by facing the right nonconference bugs.

The following five teams are all winning programs with good players that had promising outlooks to begin the season. Yet they have suffered aches and pains, and their temperatures have spiked at different times of the season, leaving some of their records looking a bit sluggish. It is not just struggling teams that may need a checkup and a prescription for better health -- elite teams are in need of assistance, too. The smartest teams evaluate themselves while winning, not just when they've been kicked to the curb.

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Thoughts on transfers, top frosh, more 

January, 5, 2013
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With conference play getting underway, it's an exciting, eventful time for college basketball. I sat down to give my thoughts on several things going on in the sport, including my take on the nation's best freshman, shooter and shot-blocker, Jim Boeheim's place among the all-time greats and my midseason top-5 ballot for the Wooden Award.

But I'll start with a look at a new proposal on transfer rules.

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VCU tops list of underrated teams 

January, 2, 2013
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Treveon GrahamAP Photo/John BazemoreTreveon Graham and VCU have what it takes to make another deep NCAA tournament run.
Several teams have signaled early on that they are legitimate contenders to reach the Final Four. Whether it is Duke, Indiana, Louisville, Kansas, Syracuse, Arizona or Gonzaga, there are teams that are properly valued as contenders and perhaps some that are overvalued as the same.

There are teams that are underrated, too. An underrated team isn't necessarily a Final Four team or a top-10 team, but it isn't valued by "the machine" as highly as perhaps it should be. Here are five teams that are underrated, under-the-radar, undervalued, overlooked, need some love, and have been getting "dissed," relatively speaking, along with Associated Press poll and ESPN Basketball Power Index (BPI) rankings for each.

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The early-season All-Toughness team 

December, 20, 2012
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Roosevelt JonesAP Photo/Michael ConroyButler's Roosevelt Jones turned in a gutty performance against Indiana, scoring 16 points.
Toughness is one quality, above all, that a coach values in a player. I hear it all the time. Coaches admire and respect tough players, whether it is one of their players or an opposing player. Toughness is talked about and emphasized, and toughness wins. I have written about the definition of true toughness in the past, and its importance in the game.

Yet, despite the constant emphasis on toughness, there is no measure of it, and no award to recognize it in players. We have awards for valuable players, improved players, point guards, rookies, newcomers and players who happen only to begin games on the bench. We have awards based upon the calendar and league affiliation, and we even have mythical awards for players who remind us of an adhesive used for sticking materials together. No coach goes on the recruiting trail to find a good epoxy, paste or other sticky, gelatinous substance. Coaches want tough players, guys who can endure great strain without breaking, and are strong and resilient.

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How the NCAA is like the Kardashians 

December, 16, 2012
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"That's not what college sports are about."

As the Big East continues its metamorphosis and conference realignment continues in pursuit of maximum revenue, we all hear the phrase. While backroom decisions are made by well-paid conference commissioners and executives of NCAA members -- and players have no say and no influence whatsoever -- the phrase is uttered. It has been uttered so cavalierly so many times over the years, it has become almost required language. Whenever money issues in college sports are discussed, especially the NCAA's policy of limiting athletes to "expenses only" and allowing the athletes no voice and no rights in the process, this well-worn phrase is reflexively trotted out. The mere use of the phrase is expected to end the discussion in favor of the NCAA's position.

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The nation's top five big men 

December, 5, 2012
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Mason PlumleeDaniel Shirey/US PresswireDuke's Mason Plumlee is averaging a double-double while shooting 76 percent from the foul line.


We are not yet done with the first quarter of the 2012-2013 college basketball season, yet several big men have set themselves apart as the most productive, efficient and effective players.

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Kentucky leads nation's top frontcourts 

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
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Nerlens Noel Mark L. Baer/US PresswireNerlens Noel's defensive abilities help make the UK frontcourt the nation's best.
We always hear that college basketball is a guards' game. Of course that is until you need a rebound or someone to protect the rim. The truth is that both guards and big men are important for title-contending teams, and there has not been a Final Four team that lacked quality frontcourt play or couldn't defend and score in the post. We can quibble about which is more important, guards or big men, but there is no question that guards cannot win by themselves.

So, which squads measure up the best down low in 2012-13? Here is my ranking of the top five frontcourts, along with two more on the cusp.

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Picking the 'Conference of Champions' 

October, 29, 2012
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Gottfried/BrownEthan Hyman/Getty ImagesThe Wolfpack will push aside the Tar Heels and Blue Devils, according to Jay Bilas.
As we begin the 2012-13 campaign it's clear to me that the gigantic, super-cranial neuroplasticity of The Bilastrator's mind could be of great assistance in gauging how the season's conference title races will play out. Rather than simply providing a road map for the selection committee regarding the nation's true 68 top teams, as the Bilas Index will do later this fall, we're starting with the teams I believe will claim the regular-season championship. Consider it an amuse-bouche prior to the intellectual feast provided for you in the season ahead.

I realize this exercise in clairvoyance could rob some of the joy from the season, making games anticlimactic given that these teams are now preordained for glory. However, it is The Bilastrator's solemn duty.

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