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Final Four picks, Kentucky, the point guard, style of play and more with CBS' Clark Kellogg.
Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall had a chance to sit down with CBS College Basketball analyst Clark Kellogg to preview the 2011-2012 NCAA Basketball season. You can follow Braden on twitter at @AthlonBraden.
Braden Gall: The college basketball season is upon us, but first, the Capital One Cup is awarded annually to each of the best men’s and women’s college athletic programs. Talk about your involvement in the Capital One Cup.
Clark Kellogg: This is my second year on the advisory board of the Capital One Cup, and we had a fantastic first year. There have been some sports added and there are now 20 women’s sports and 19 men’s sports that can vie for the Capital One Cup. It is a competition that goes year-round and encompasses the fall, winter and spring sports that have championships. Schools can earn points by finishing in the top ten of the final polls of their respective sports, and then each winning program will receive not only the Capital One Cup Trophy but $200,000 each for their scholarship fund designated for post-graduate for former student athletes.
You can get all the information at CapitalOneCup.com as well as Facebook.com/CapitalOneCup and Twitter.com/CapitalOneCup. So I am looking forward to it again for Year Two. It is a great way to engage fans and reward excellence on the field through scholarship dollars.
Gall: Every season we see a ridiculous influx of young freshman talent. Who are the names we will see right off the bat make the biggest impact?
Kellogg: I’ve got all the names down but I have normally refrained from watching them too much in high school because it doesn’t always translate to college. But in terms of names, you’ve got a bunch of them at Kentucky. Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Shannon Scott at Ohio State, Austin Rivers at Duke, Myc Kabongo at Texas and Quincy Miller at Baylor. I mean, these are all guys that have tremendous reputations coming out of high school, and it is always fun for me to see how they pan out in their new respective environments. And we will have some freshmen that perhaps aren’t as highly touted that might be more productive than some of the guys I just mentioned. So that is part of the fun for me to see how these guys handle all of the things that are new and challenging about being a Division I college basketball player.
Gall: We saw a lot of talented guard play down the stretch last season — Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight, Kendall Marshall, Aaron Craft, just to name a few. Have we seen a transition from the big man to the point guard as the most dominant position on the court?
Kellogg: You know, that is interesting. And as you look at different periods of time, clearly there is a premium on having really good guards lately. You need tremendous ball-handling and leadership in the backcourt nowadays as well as the ability to pressure defensively. You also need big shot-making and playmaking back there. Those guys are going to have the ball most of the time, so when you have elite level players at those positions, they can really elevate your team’s chances at success. If you can combine that with some presence inside, now you have a really lethal combination. So I think you are right, backcourt play, as well as shot-making, has really become the focal point of what teams are trying to do offensively now.
Gall: One guy that has no problem landing elite level backcourt players is Kentucky’s John Calipari. How does he land four or five of the best players in the nation every single season?
Kellogg: First of all, he is a terrific coach. I don’t care what folks have to say about him, because there are some naysayers out there. He has got a personality that is very much up in front of you, but he is real and he is excellent at what he does. Kids see the success that he has had with outstanding point guards and it feeds upon itself. They know the demands will be high and that they are going to be pushed to get better and that is what kids of that level want to see — an opportunity to realize their dreams of playing pro basketball and to do it at one of the greatest, if not THE greatest program’s environment. So he has got that working for him, and it will continue to be the case because of how he is as a coach, what he’s been able to do in terms of results as a coach and how kids become enamored with that when they are trying to fulfill their own dreams.
Gall: Now that he is 15 pounds lighter, how good can Jared Sullinger be this season?
Kellogg: He is going to be terrific, and he was outstanding last year. He had one of the great freshman seasons in the history of the Ohio State program. Really, when you look at what he did and how consistent he was, it might be right at the top of the list. He is a hungry, thirsty player who wants to be better and wants to be the best he can be and wants to see his team have a chance to win a national championship. You add a year of maturity and take a look at what he has done to improve his body and his game and I think he will be one of the most impactful players in all of college basketball this season.
Gall: How do you replace Kemba Walker and how can UConn build on last year’s national title season?
Kellogg: You typically don’t replace guys like that — his leadership, his charisma, his production. His ability to rise to the highest level at the most important times. That is pretty unique stuff. But you have a culture of winning and excellence that has been established there by Jim Calhoun, and the players see it and they feed off of it. You continue to bring in talented guys who can also be leaders. So, I actually don’t think that they will miss much of a beat — it will be different as it is every year — but they will be right in the conversation for not only getting to the Final Four but having a real chance to win it all.
Gall: The LSU-Alabama football game reminded me of the UConn-Butler final from a year ago. From a personal standpoint, is there a style of play that you enjoy more?
Kellogg: I can appreciate a good defensive struggle. I can appreciate the effort, will and skill it takes to play at a high level on the defensive end. But what I enjoy most, is quality defense and really good offense together: ball movement, great floor spacing, making the right pass at the right time, and finally, shot-making. There is no substitute for putting the ball in the basket. And that to me is the essence of the game. Sure there is going to be defense and rebounding, but you cannot have, in my mind, a really enjoyable, compelling game if there is not a good level of shot-making. And if that is done against good defense, then you have the ideal way to see the game played. The ball being moved, people sharing it, your elite players doing their thing and it coming down to who can make the best plays, primarily on the offensive end, in terms of shot-making.
Gall: What will be the best league in the nation this year?
Kellogg: Man, that is a tough one. I think the Big Ten will be down a notch in terms of its overall depth. I think you look at the ACC with a consensus No. 1 team in North Carolina. Duke and some others will be better than anticipated as well. To be honest with you at this point, I am not sure I can pick just one yet. The Big East will be excellent again and is always right there in the conversation, but I am still searching. I do not have an order in the conference rankings just yet.
Gall: Who are your preseason Final Four picks?
Kellogg: Because I am not in the studio any more and will be courtside for games all season and for ultimately the Final Four in New Orleans (laughs), I have recused myself from coming up with my Final Four predictions. Simply because my predecessor, Billy Packer, came up with a pretty good rule: When you are calling the games, you are better served not making predictions.
Gall: So who are the four most talented teams in the nation, then?
Kellogg: I have a group that I have looked at. Certainly you start with North Carolina, when you consider talent and experience. I don’t think anyone will argue that with that combination, North Carolina has more than anybody. I think when you look at talent, you have to throw Kentucky in there. Even though they are youthful, they are extremely talented. I think Baylor is quite talented. UConn, Syracuse and Duke are right in that mix as well. Then I would probably look at Vanderbilt and Florida as teams that are fighting to get into that top-six range in terms of talent and potential.
Gall: Tell everyone again about how you are involved with the Capital One Cup.
Kellogg: The first stop is CapitalOneCup.com. But you can also check us out on Facebook.com/CapitalOneCup and on twitter.com/CapitalOneCup. That gives you an opportunity to not only follow your teams in the fall, winter and spring sports but also to get caught up on how the points are divvied out and accumulated. It should be another exciting season for the Capital One Cup, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.