NEW YORK - Bill Raftery is in for a busy week. He'll be calling all the prime time games at the Big East tournament on Fox Sports 1, then on Sunday he'll cross the East River for the A-10 title game on CBS.
To set the stage, I caught up with Raftery for a few minutes on Tuesday at CBS and Turner Sports' annual NCAA tournament media preview breakfast.
A simple question to start: How good is Villanova?
I think they're surprising a lot of people, but not the people that see them play all the time.
Everyone talks about Syracuse because of C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis, Duke because of Jabari Parker, Kansas because of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. Throw Arizona, Michigan State and Wichita State in that group too. It seems like Villanova hasn't gotten the same kind of attention, as you said, yet here they are sneaking up on people.
Jay Wright makes no secret of the fact that he and his players don't mind being out of the spotlight. When the time comes, though, and they don't have quite the kind of game-breaker like Ennis, Parker or Wiggins, what do you think is going to happen?
What do they have to do different? They've got a team. They don't care who shoots the ball. They share the ball. Everybody makes big plays. You don't necessarily have to have “a guy” to go to. And invariably, the guy you go to, they take that guy away. The guy's not asleep on the other bench. They just do so many things together. That makes them extraordinary.
What do you think the Big East tournament is going to be like this week? Fans of the Big East's schools are excited about it, but nobody really knows what the crowds will be. There are a lot of teams on the bubble - and St. John's and Providence are going to play each other, and almost surely knock the loser out of the NCAA tournament picture. So what do you think is going to happen?
I have no idea, and that's what makes it exciting. I think the teams that are coming in that haven't done as well as they would like feel they have an opportunity. A lot of people would like to see certain teams make it to the final. But I think the unknown is what makes it exciting. Obviously, Creighton and Villanova have been at the top all year long, but it doesn't give them the right or the position to just walk in there and not play their best. I think it will be just a very competitive week.
Let's focus on that Providence-St. John's game for a minute, because it might be the biggest one of the week. Would it be enough for either team to get over the hump with the selection committee just by winning that game?
It would be better to win a couple. I don't think there's any sure shot way of getting in if you lose the first or the second game. You've got to go in and play your best basketball, and hopefully the committee will like your strength of schedule and what you've accomplished over the course of the year.
One question not about the Big East. You've seen a bit of the American Athletic Conference this season, including calling the Connecticut-Louisville game this past Sunday on CBS. Many of the teams in the league haven't played each other in this kind of an environment before. There are a lot of good teams in the field - Louisville, Memphis, SMU and others - but I'm not sure anyone really knows what to expect. What do you think that tournament will be like?
It's a heck of a league, by the way. I think Memphis being home is an obstacle but I think Cincinnati would be in their bracket, which makes it a little easier on Louisville. We had Louisville-Connecticut the other day and Louisville looks as good as they did last year at times. It has turned into a very formidable league, and that's what's great about these postseason tournaments. It gives these kids a chance.
Is Louisville maybe under the radar a little bit, because they aren't in the old Big East with all the hype it used to get?
I think they're under the radar because different pieces were missing [from last year]. Montrezl Harrell became a force underneath. Russ Smith turning into a point guard gradually this year, that process - and he had 13 assists the other day [in that UConn game, an 81-48 blowout win]. So they're a little better than they were earlier in the year.