Jay Bilas, ESPN analyst

Q&A --

College Basketball 2006

National Men


What's a reasonable number of ACC teams to expect to receive bids to the NCAA tournament?

There is no set amount, but I would expect that North Carolina, Duke, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Florida State should be right there, with Virginia and Virginia Tech with solid chances. Truthfully, a lot depends upon the committee and how individual members see the field. Last year, Air Force made it into the field with only wins over Miami and Georgia Tech to brag about. Maryland beat those teams a total of five times and was left home. Go figure. Not everyone sees the game the same way.

Who is this year's George Mason?

It could be George Mason, but I doubt that the Patriots can catch lightning in a bottle two years in a row. The most likely teams to advance in March are Nevada, Hofstra, Wichita State, Creighton, Southern Illinois, College of Charleston, Winthrop, and of course, Gonzaga (if you can still call them a mid-major).

Do you foresee any changes with how the RPI factors into the bracket?

No. The RPI is a joke. There has to be a way to rate teams that is more precise than the RPI. It is just an organizational tool, but how one organizes information relates directly to how one interprets that information. I still believe that each game should be given a numerical performance rating that does not change over time. Until we are able to treat games with equanimity, the process will not be truly fair. However, we argue over which team is No. 34. Football argues over which team is No. 3.

Which conference will be the strongest?

I think the SEC, the Big East and the ACC will be the best leagues. I give the edge to the SEC at the top, and to the Big East from top to bottom.

How will Duke fare without J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams?

Duke will still be good, and will challenge for the ACC title. I just think that North Carolina is stronger. Mike Krzyzewski has very good players, but not a single senior, and Josh McRoberts can be one of the nation's elite players if he stays healthy. Actually, that is the biggest key, staying healthy. Greg Paulus broke his foot in practice and is out indefinitely. If something like that happened during the season, it would be difficult to recover from.

Will Maryland get back to the NCAA tournament this year?

Yes. Maryland should have made it last year, and with the exact same record would have made it had Chris McCray remained eligible. It is very unusual for a senior to miss time because of academics, but Maryland pulled him anyway. That shows the system works, but the APR [Academic Progress Rate] punishes the basketball program for actually having standards. Silly. But, to answer the question, I believe strongly that Maryland will be in the NCAA tournament.

Will the freshman class live up to its hype?

They shouldn't have hype. We should all take a wait-and-see approach with freshmen. Gary Williams is a very good recruiter, and a great coach. The hype never comes from a coach, but from an outsider. We need to give every kid some room to grow rather than saddling them with hype and expectations.

Do the seniors on the roster have what it takes to be a tournament team?

I think so. Ekene Ibekwe is really good, D.J. Strawberry is a tough kid that knows how to play, and Mike Jones is athletic and can really shoot it. Add in James Gist and some solid newcomers, and Maryland has good experience and talent. I like the makeup of this team.

How important is it for Gary Williams and the program to return to the NCAA tournament this year?

It is important for any program, and any coach. However, missing out on the tournament last year was not an indictment of Williams as a coach. He brought that program back to the very top of the game from the deepest of depths when he took over. ... Gary Williams is a Hall of Fame coach, and he has proven that. He wants to win for the sake of winning, not just to quell some unrest among fans. Making the field last year would not have made this year's team any better, and missing out because of McCray's ineligibility will not make it any worse.

How might Maryland's strength of schedule help or hurt it this season?

Maryland's schedule is very good. I do think, though, that the committee has to give proper credit for beating a good mid-major. If the mid-majors are so good, and they are, then a team like Maryland deserves credit for beating teams like Winthrop instead of having a win like that dismissed. Wins over Illinois and Notre Dame would help immensely. I still find it hard to believe that Maryland only plays North Carolina once. That is not right.

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