Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
On Saturday, Dec. 19 a new era of interconference basketball continues as CBS Sports’s second annual CBS Sports Classic gets underway. The event, which premiered last year, is a round robin style tournament that takes place over three years at different neutral site venues between four of the best power schools in the nation. North Carolina, Ohio State, Kentucky and UCLA are the first power programs to partake and those four teams will play each other this year at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York after meeting last year in Chicago at the United Center.
This year No. 10 North Carolina will face No. 22 UCLA at 1:00 p.m. ET and No. 4 Kentucky will take on Ohio State at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
To get the lowdown on these great matchups, CBS Local Sports spoke to the man who will be calling the action live on CBS for both games – legendary TV and radio broadcaster Bill Raftery.
Raftery spent 11 seasons coaching the Seton Hall Pirates and has spent the last 33 years working as an analyst and play-by-play announcer for CBS.
CBS Local Sports: Obviously a great slate of games coming up this weekend, but let’s start with No. 10 North Carolina and No. 22 UCLA. Both teams have proven this season they can go toe-to-toe with top-tier opponents, so at this neutral site venue, who do you give the edge to?
Bill Raftery: Well, size-wise, Carolina. Even with (Kennedy) Meeks being out they’ve got a very impressive inside game and that puts a lot of pressure on (Tony) Parker and (Thomas) Welsh. Carolina is very efficient in getting down the floor, getting easy shots and they put a lot of pressure on you. Having said that, I would look for UCLA to use maybe a little more zone than they normally do. You know, they have that 3-2 zone that they feel they can rebound out of and use to control them somewhat.
CBS Local Sports: When you look at the Pac-12 right now, it looks like it’s pretty much going to come down to UCLA or Arizona. Are there are any dark horse teams that are particularly interesting that you think could make a run?
Raftery: I think Oregon’s very interesting. They really have a nice team, they’re solid. We had them out in Maui and Navy really played them hard and tough and all, but the job that Oregon did after bouncing back was impressive. They had a very tough game against Vegas on the way, Vegas pounded them really good. (Tyler) Dorsey got hurt and yet they were able to come over there and do a heck of a job. The Dorsey kid, as I mentioned, is really a talented kid. First year player, along with Dillon Brooks, who’s a very good player, too. So they’ve got some size, some guys who can take it off the bounce and they’re deep. So this team, when they get healthy since there are a couple of guys who have been nicked here or there, can be really good. Jordan Bell is another kid that’s out who will be back too who’s very impressive at blocking shots and things of that nature.
CBS Local Sports: And you think once the conference schedule starts they have the talent to compete with UCLA and Arizona?
Raftery: Absolutely, they’ve been in the NCAA Tournament the last few years. Particularly in the East, you don’t see or hear too much of them because everybody’s in bed by the time they’re on, but they’re a good basketball team. Everybody feels the bottom of that league (Pac-12) is a lot better. You know, that you’re not going to go play Washington or Washington State and have an easy time. Or you’re not going to play Oregon and Oregon State and have an easy time either. So, their league could be a surprise, not necessarily in who’s going to win, but the amount of losses that the winner might have.
CBS Local Sports: Now No. 4 Kentucky vs. Ohio State, what do you think it’ll take for Ohio State to spring the upset on the Wildcats?
Raftery: They’ve got to play much better basketball. They really didn’t play well at UConn and played just ok against Northern Illinois. They just have to have better backcourt play. This young kid (JaQuan) Lyle is talented, but he has played a much better style of basketball. They have got good inside people and continue to get dribble drives from (Marc) Loving and (Keita) Bates-Deiop – who is another player that’s pretty good off the bounce and can make some shots. I think the one guy who seems to bring his game every night is Jae’Sean Tate. He’s an undersized forward but a big guard, a lefty, who has worked hard on his outside shot. They’ve got ample size in (Daniel) Giddens who is coming along and he’s very good around the rim, runs, and is athletic. Then you’ve got the transfer from Virginia Tech, Trevor Thompson, so they’ve got plenty of size.
This is not as big a Kentucky team as we’re used to. This Ohio State team has size. Can they match up with the skill of the guys from Kentucky? We’ll see because these are really talented kids. I love watching them play. With (Isaiah) Brisco, Tyler (Ulis) and (Jamal) Murray, such a great little group out front.
CBS Local Sports: Ohio States’ struggles are well documented at this point. Once they get into that conference schedule do you think they’ll even find a way to get into the NCAA, or even the NIT Tournament?
Raftery: Well the one nice thing they have going, if they do get better, is they’re going to have ample opportunity to increase their RPI (Rating Percentage Index) because there are so many good teams in the Big Ten. And I do think their guards will get better the more they’re together. They’ll play A.J. Harris a little bit even though he’s a backup right now for Lyle. Occasionally, you might see them together. Kam Williams is getting better as well. He’s not getting a whole lot of minutes, but at UConn he stuck a jumper and has showed some signs of being more forceful. So I think they can develop and get better.
CBS Local Sports: Do you think that losing to UCLA was a good thing for Kentucky given what happened last year?
Raftery: You always hear Cal (coach John Calipari) say losing doesn’t help you at any time, but I think it does get the guys’ attention though. Do they listen better? Or maybe do they realize they can’t just be – not necessarily just going through the motions – but not getting after it as much as they should. That’s why I think it helps, not necessarily because of the loss.
CBS Local Sports: Which teams might make a statement and show how good they really are once conference play begins?
Raftery: I watched, for example, Arizona State and they’ve gotten better. Not that you don’t know of them, and Kentucky handled them easily, but they are getting better. Another team is Iowa. Iowa’s a team that can score, if they can guard and get better defensively, they’re going to be one of those teams. Carolina, the more you watch them you realize they have so many good pieces. Also, I think the Duke-Carolina games are going to be off the charts this year.
Then there’s Xavier in the Big East. They’re one of those teams that are under the radar. They’re just a solid basketball team that some people don’t know much about or even follow them with regularity, but coach Chris (Mack) has that crazy 1-3-1 zone that they play – just drives people nuts, you know? They have kids up front that have been there before and guys that are pretty darn good basketball players. That would be another team I might throw in the mix. Plus, Utah’s having their struggles but I still like them.
CBS Local Sports: Finally, which team has surprised you the most, either in a positive or negative way so far this year?
Raftery: Monmouth (laughs). Monmouth would be one. Roberts, their guard is something else. That and their bench have shocked me with the way they’ve played.
CBS Local Sports: Speaking of their bench, what do you think about their bench’s celebrations?
Raftery: That doesn’t bother me. It’s just kids being exuberant, doesn’t influence play at all and they’ve become celebrities of sorts. You know, it’s just kids being kids.
Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for just one championship for any of his other three teams.