Top College Basketball Analyst Jay Bilas Likes the Spartans Come Tournament Time!

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Well, Michigan State fans, Jay Bilas is a believer. Spartan Nation recently caught up with the ESPN analyst to find out exactly what he thought of this year’s squad.

“Yes,” he says when asked about a Final Four possibility for the Spartans. “I don’t think Michigan State is the best team; I think Kentucky and Syracuse are better. I think UNC might be a little bit better, too, but besides, that I don’t really favor anyone (over them).  I’ve really been pleasantly surprised at the strides Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix have made this year. They’ve gotten better and better, very poised in the post and have improved a great deal, and that’s been the difference for this team. It’s really a connected group.”

Bilas, who is never one to give undeserving applauds, was again complimentary of the team’s star player and famed coach. He says that when he looks back at the end of his career, he will remember newly crowned Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green as one of the guys he most enjoyed covering.

“Draymond is obviously an outstanding college player,” he says. “I think he’ll play in the NBA, but as a college player he’s one of the guys who is truly memorable. For guys like us who cover year after year, I know we’ll all look back and think, ‘man am I lucky, I got to cover Draymond Green.’”

He also says he hopes Green’s teammates understand how much better he makes them.

“He’s one of the greatest teammates I’ve ever seen,” he says.  “He’s got empathy for his teammates, he puts others first, he plays harder than everybody else, he’s accountable, and he takes responsibility first. They don’t make them like that very often.  For the guys who have had a chance to play with him, if they haven’t realized it now they will realize later how lucky they’ve been. I think Izzo has realized how lucky he is to coach him and have him be a part of his team. I also think when you talk to players he’s played against years from now and ask who the greatest players are that they’ve competed against, he will be at the top of the list.”

Bilas spoke glowingly about Izzo, as well, calling him one of the greatest coaches in American sport, period.

“I mean, he’s taken a program that Jud Heathcote did a magnificent job with, and he’s elevated it,” he says.  “I do think MSU is up on the top shelf of programs, with Duke and Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky, UConn, you name it – all the schools that do well. You don’t just go to six final fours or whatever the heck it is that he’s done.  People know Michigan State Is always going to do well and go for a championship, because they play well at the end of the season when you’re supposed to. Most of the time you don’t even know what Michigan States record is, because the team doesn’t really care. They just care about how they’re playing at the end of the season.”

He agrees that the fact that Izzo does his best coaching at tournament time is a very good thing for the beloved coach, particularly considering how easily coaches are fired these days.

“It’s such a big money game now, and they’re so reliant on outside influences, whether it’s media coverage or dealing with recruiting, or boosters, or the folks who are writing checks to them. Athletic directors don’t fire people because of issues that they see; they’re just worried about their own jobs. When you fire someone, you get a little heat off yourself and everyone looks forward to you for a little while.”

He even admitted that as a freshman at Duke, he thought his school was going to fire his now legendary coach, Mike Krzyzewski.

“Luckily for me and I guess for the game, the administration and the A.D. had his back and gave him the extension, and he wound up being a pretty darn good coach.”

           With Selection Sunday less than a week away, Bilas says it would be helpful for MSU to get a number one seed. While this is much less likely than it was a week ago, as the Spartans have now lost two straight to Indiana and Ohio State the Spartans are looking for a strong Big Ten tournament showing this weekend to get back in play for a top seed.

“I think it’s really important to be a number one seed if you can,” he says. “I differ from a lot of my colleagues who say it doesn’t matter at all. I think that mindset is just the path you take when you’re a competitor and get a two or three seed, and you say ‘it doesn’t matter, we gotta play,’ and that’s true. But if I can be handed a number one seed, I want one. The numbers say it’s easier to get to the title game and to win a championship with a number one seed than with any other seed line, so why not battle for it and take it if it’s up for grabs.”

With the recent season-ending injury to freshman Branden Dawson, MSU will have some adjustments to make for the tournament, and Bilas commented on the Spartans’ ability to adapt.

“I think the good news for MSU fans is that Tom’s team can play different teams different styles. They don’t need the game to go a certain way to do well.”

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