As the host for the basketball version of College GameDay and various other ESPN programs, Rece Davis has arguably one of the best jobs in the world. Before he made it big, though, Davis was a local TV guy in Georgia and eventually one-time basketball hotbed Flint, Mich. That was almost 20 years ago, but Davis hasn't forgotten about the little guy. Making the media rounds on behalf of the Capital One Cup, Davis took a few minutes Wednesday morning to discuss his thoughts on the first weekend of the tournament, how he sees Michigan State finishing and more.
The Only Colors: How did that first weekend, especially Thursday and Friday, compare to other NCAA tournament opening weekends you've seen?
Rece Davis: I think that there were some terrific performances. I don't know in terms of jaw-dropping upsets if we had quite as many as we've had in some years. The only one that really stunned me was Mercer over Duke. I didn't see that coming, with all due respect to the Mercer players. That's a really, really good, veteran basketball team. I think if they played a seven-game series, it would be 4-1 Duke. If they played 10 games, I think it would be 9-1 Duke, and maybe if they played 50 times, it might be 49-1 Duke. But that was the one, and that's part of the beauty of the tournament.
That was the only one that really stunned me. I thought that Dayton – about the only thing I had right in my bracket was, I had Dayton to the Sweet 16. I don't want to say I thought they would win; I thought they had a good chance to win those two games.
Stanford beating Kansas absolutely shocked me. You look at it now, and you can see where it's a good matchup in terms of size, but you just didn't foresee Andrew Wiggins being as passive as he was in that game. I didn't see that one coming at all either.
I thought it was a weekend really in which, with the notable exception of Kentucky and Witchita State, that veterans and maturity sort of carried the day. Certainly Michigan State was evidence of that as well, as they fought back against a really, really good Harvard team and held them off to get to the Sweet 16.
Experience seems to be the biggest thing for MSU to hang its hat on. How much of an advantage do you think that is going forward, even against a really good Virginia team that doesn't have much tournament experience?
They don't have the tournament experience, but Virginia has guys who have been around the block. They have guys who have played a lot of basketball. Joe Harris has certainly played a lot, Akil Mitchell has played a lot of basketball. [London] Perrantes he plays as if he's been around a long time, even though he's only a freshman. It's a really good time.
When I say experience carries the day, sometimes it just sets the tone. They don't necessarily have to have a roster or a lineup full of experienced guys, the way a Michigan State or Florida does. But Virginia, for instance, has two or three guys that I mentioned who have played a lot of ball and kind of set the tone, can keep guys even-keeled when it gets a little hairy, although it hasn't necessarily gotten that hairy for Virginia yet. It certainly will coming up friday night. But I think that has been a theme of that tournament is that, teams that have those rocks to build around or to base some strength on, guys who have some toughness to them and some experience to them, they've succeeded for the most part in the tournament.
Any teams not really being talked about that you think have a chance to make some more noise this weekend and advance to the Final Four
I think you better be careful of UConn. Nobody is paying attention to them, but UConn playing in Madison Square Garden, historically when they were in the Big East and Big East tournament, they've had a lot of success in that building.
Now, that's an intangible that may or may not matter in the tournament, but they've got a guy who can carry a team and a guy who not only can, but is willing to do so in Shabazz Napier. They don't have a great inside game, but they have shot blockers. They always have guys who can block shots. They have a couple other guys who can score, [Ryan] Boatright and [Niels] Giffey, so I think that, while I would favor Iowa State to win that game based on talent, there's certainly an intangible quality to UConn, in particularly playing not too far from home where they should have a good portion of the crowd. I think that UConn, among those Sweet 16 teams that are overlooked, might be the one that I would say could sneak up on people, given the type of player they have first on the floor in Napier, who can kind of take over a game, and the fact of the intangible of being not too far from home in a building in which their program has enjoyed a great deal of success over the years.
You've been pretty familiar with MSU basketball over the years. Does this team remind you of any others in the Tom Izzo era?
So many of Tom's teams have been of such high caliber that it's hard to pick out one and say this team reminds me of that one, but I do believe that this team has most of the characteristics of his Final Four teams, and there have been a boatload of those obviously. And I think that they are playing with the motivation of wanting to get [Keith] Appling and [Adreian] Payne to the Final Four to keep that remarkable and seemingly unprecedented streak alive of every four-year player going to at least one Final Four.
I think that this is a team that's capable of winning the National Championship. Obviously, they need Appling to continue to stay healthy. I've seen in some places when you watch, he's not looking to score as much, so how healthy is he really? But he's been able to be effective.
They have something that I'm not sure anybody else left in the tournament has, and that's multiple guys who can go off and get you 30. Or in Adreian's case, 40 on a particular night. Obviously all these teams have terrific players, but Michigan State has had huge offensive nights out of two guys, and their best player still hasn't done that. Gary [Harris] has played fine, but he hasn't been the one -- it's not like Gary has scored 40 and 30 in the first two rounds and carried them. They've got a variety of options on offense, and I think that can certainly give them a great advantage in terms of trying to win this weekend get back to the Final Four, and it could help them in their quest for a National Championship.
Were you surprised at all that your colleagues unanimously picked the Spartans before the tournament started?
Shocked. Not because of who they picked, but because of the way it's done, that they all came to the same conclusion was remarkable. I think it really speaks to the level of respect that all of our guys have for Tom and the program and the players who play in it.
But just to give people insight on how this was done, there was no bandwagon, no getting caught up in the moment with everybody else. How this works is, we were on SportsCenter before the brackets were announced. As they are announced, they run them out to us, and then as quickly as possible, because they have to have time to build those graphics, guys are handed a bracket and asked to fill the thing out from start to finish. They do so during breaks or while I'm interviewing a coach, but there's no time for discussion. There's no cheating off somebody else's paper. They're just kind of going through and writing out the games, and they give them to our production assistants, who take them upstairs. I think that's one thing that I would like for people to know how that goes. There's no bandwagonning or saying, "Well Jay Bilas picked this, so I'm going to also."
You can't respond to every criticism, but sometimes there's some that you say, "You know, I just wish people understood how this worked." Sometimes you see the criticisms in various social places that ESPN wants them to say this, or they had this person say this and that person say that, or they want them to do this. If that were the case, you don't think some producer would have come down and said, "Hey, all you guys picked Michigan State. Can anybody else at least just try to pick somebody else?" Nobody said that, and the reason they didn't is because we want our analysts to say what they think. We don't want them to manufacture something, so nobody said that to any of our guys, nor should they have.
Because of that, the guys were also surprised when it came on the screen. They didn't know that all of them had picked Michigan State. They didn't have any idea until each one of them told, and he did too and he did too. But they didn't know until it actually came on the air, and I didn't know either. That was the first I'd seen of their brackets, too.
I know you're on the advisory board for the Capital One Cup. What's at stake in this tournament as far as that is concerned?
Sixty valuable points, in both the men's and women's tournaments. The Capital One Cup is a competition, which to me represents the ultimate bragging rights across the board for a complete athletic program. We award points based on the national finishes in all 39 sports in which the NCAA awards championships. And the basketball tournaments for both the men's and women's side are worth 60 points a piece, so you can make quite a jump in the Capital One Cup standings by winning this tournament. It's something I'm very proud to be a part of. We want fans to follow along with it. They can go online, they can go to Facebook, they can follow us @capitalonecup on Twitter, keep up with the standings and engage in the bragging rights.
The most important thing about the Capital One Cup is the fact that $400,000 in scholarship money is provided to students who play sports. We talk all the time about sports providing opportunities out of the arena or off the field, and Capital One is really putting its money where its mouth is by providing this program. They do it in a fun way. They want the fans to get involved with advisory board members like me or Doug Flutie or Lisa Leslie, Clark Kellogg that get involved with social media and have fun with it.
Michigan State and the arch-rivals down there to the south have a lot at stake here. Michigan State, for instance, with its football finish providing a good jump in the standings, if they could back that up with basketball, I don't see any way they wouldn't be in first place. They're in the top-5 right now sitting at No. 4 right behind Florida State, North Dakota State and Notre Dame, all of whom won national championships in the fall. If Michigan State can follow that, they would be in very good shape on the men's side.
Do you have any Final Four and national championship predictions?
I filled out a bracket like everybody else in America, and I will continue to work since mine didn't come through for Warren Buffett. But I have Florida, Michigan State, Arizona and Duke (chuckles) in the Final Four. I have three of the four still alive.
I have Florida winning it all, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if Michigan State did. Those to me would be the two favorites. I think the winner of that national semifinal -- and that's the game I anticipate seeing -- will ultimately win the National Championship.
Thanks, Rece. One last question: Do you ever wish you passed on ESPN and just became an honorary Flintstone?
(Laughs) No, I would wish that, except I'm not sure that the Flint tattoo would look quite as good on my arm as it does on the arms of Mateen, Antonio and Charlie and those guys. I'm not sure I can carry the Flint tattoo with the same swag that they did, so I probably oughta be glad that it worked out the way it did.