The Shadow League caught up with former NBA sharp-shooter and current NBA TV analyst Steve Smith at a media function at Essex House Hotel in Manhattan. He shared his NCAA and NBA thoughts.
Smith's favorites to win The NCAA C’hip:
“Obviously Michigan State University – my Alma matter – is playing well for sure. But unfortunately injuries have hurt both MSU and Kansas, who would otherwise be a strong favorite. I really love Wichita State. This is a team that came out of nowhere last season and made it to the Final Four. The knock on them was that they didn’t play a tough regular season schedule. Last year I said the same thing that everybody else said about Wichita State. 'Oh they haven’t played any big boys yet.' But then they hit the NCAA Tournament and defeated Pittsburgh, Gonzaga and Ohio State and had Louisville on the ropes and obviously Louisville goes on to win a National Championship. So they’ve been there and done that already."
"Winning the championship is the next logical step for them. It’s not like this is anything new to them. They are used to the pressure and have played the big boys in the most crucial situations. The bull’s eye is already on them and they still ended up undefeated, and that’s hard to do at any level of basketball. They are solid not only on the court, but in the locker room and with comradery and team chemistry, you really have to give a lot of credit to head coach Greg Marshall for keeping that group focused and keeping them together.”
“Florida. The job Billy Donovan has done has really gone under the radar. “
“Villanova and Jay Wright have done a phenomenal job. With Nova and it’s funny…I wouldn’t call them a sleeper because they are ranked fourth in the country, but it’s funny that with all the media today… and Villanova’s been a very successful program with Wright and now everybody is like, 'Ya know, Villanova ain’t that bad.' You think? They have almost 30 wins in a Big East Conference that’s still strong."
"Mick Cronin has done an unbelievable job at Cincinnati and (despite Virginia's upset loss to Maryland in ACC Tournament) Tony Bennett is the ACC Coach of The Year. He took the Cavaliers to the top of a tough conference that just added power-house Syracuse, for the first time since ’81. It’s weird though. All of those teams are still considered sleepers in the tournament even though they have the records and wins to prove otherwise. That’s kind of our fault in the media. We kind of get fixated on the preseason rankings and those top four teams. The season will determine who the top teams are. The end of the season is actually what you should be looking at when analyzing a team’s NCAA title chances.”
Players on Smith's NCAA radar:
“Doug McDermott is a player who will have a great impact on the tournament. He’s going to prove he belongs among the elite players and can go to the next level.”
“Jabari Parker as well, and now with Joel Embiid hurt you see Alan Wiggins exploded for 41 points the other night. Sometimes a player needs that. You see it all the time. In the NBA when Westbrook went down Durant stepped his game up. Wiggins knows it’s all on him now so I think you will see the real Wiggins in the tournament because he is going to be forced into the role of doing everything…rebounding, block shots, score.
The best of the Fab Freshman?
“I’m a big Jabari Parker fan. He’s been the most consistent and fundamentally sound player this season. Duke's played him at different positions all year. He plays the 4, 5 and 3, the 2… I think he has handled it extremely well. I don’t know if any of their upsides are as big as Wiggins is though. He may be the top of the class as far as upside and potential goes.”
Can Phil Jackson change the NY's fortunes?
“It’s not that easy to change a culture, but none of us doubts Phil Jackson’s basketball mind. Any kind of way that you can have a guy like that as part of your program, yes of course you bring him in. But at the same time, for the Knicks it’s just one more drama situation and change at the top.”