As ESPN prepares for the flurry of Championship Week Presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods games, analysts Jay Bilas, Dan Dakich, Hubert Davis, Jimmy Dykes, Sean Farnham, Fran Fraschilla and Dick Vitale – who will have called more than 170 games combined during the 2011-2012 regular season – shared their thoughts on the season that was and the road ahead. A look at the best conference games and moments they experienced, announcing team rituals and more:
Best Game Called this Season:
Bilas: Syracuse at Cincinnati. If the Orange were to lose to the Bearcats, the season might take a major hit. In a really tight game, Syracuse won a big road game, and established that they could compete, even without Fab Melo.
Dakich: Illinois-Ohio State: It was a great game with Illinois’ Brandon Paul hitting 43 points in the win.
Davis: Virginia Tech at Virginia, easily the best one. It was a rivalry game. Va. Tech got its first conference win (Virginia beat them twice last year) and Dorenzo Hudson hit a game-winning three.
Dykes: Kentucky’s comeback win on the road (February 21) after trailing Mississippi State by 13 at the half.
Farnham: Missouri at Oklahoma State and in the West Coast Conference, St. Mary’s at Gonzaga.
Fraschilla: Missouri at Baylor. At the time, with both teams in the top 5 and with 30 NBA scouts in attendance, it was the game of the season in the Big 12.
Vitale: Kentucky at Indiana. Hoosiers wanted a signature win for the program and Tom Crean’s hard work paid off. When Christian Watford hit the winning three, Bloomington was rocking and rolling.
Three Words to Describe Conference Play:
Bilas (on Big East): Men Only League.
Dakich (on Big Ten): Well-coached, physical and close
Dykes (on SEC): Fast, aggressive, athletic.
Fraschilla (on Big 12): Double-round robin. The Big 12 is only power conference that can truly crown a regular-season champion.
Vitale (on ACC): Better Than Expected.
Bilas: Player: Jae Crowder, Marquette. He is a versatile, inside-out player that has become a match-up nightmare. Crowder is one of the toughest covers in the Big East, and will be an NBA player. Team: Notre Dame has been terrific. When nobody believed Notre Dame could compete without a high volume shooting star, the Irish have been a multi-dimensional team where the go-to guy has been the open man.
Dakich: Indiana. The Hoosiers are the most improved team in the country within the Big Six conferences.
Davis: NC State is back, and Terrell Stoglin of Maryland has had a tremendous year.
Dykes: Kentucky’s Anthony Davis has had a year that he could very well sweep all three national awards for defensive player of the year, freshman of the year, and player of the year.
Farnham: Iowa State. Fred Hoiberg has brought together a group of transfers that have the Cyclones regaining some of the Hilton Magic in Ames, Iowa. They are on the verge of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005.
Fraschilla: Thomas Robinson, Kansas. He went from a 15-minute a game role player to a leading candidate for National Player of the Year.
Vitale: Austin Rivers at Duke.
Bilas: I love Louisville’s “White Out” when everyone wears white to support the Cards, although the league could do without Rick Pitino in a white suit. He was told that he favored Colonel Sanders when wearing it.
Dakich: Illinois’ Brandon Paul hitting a 3-pointer while falling out of bounds with under a minute to go to seal the win against Ohio State.
Davis: NC State student section stands out. It’s alive again because Wolfpack basketball is relevant again.
Dykes: Arkansas’ win over Vanderbilt on January 31; Bud Walton Arena was back rocking like it was in the mid 90’s when the Hogs were in their prime under Nolan Richardson.
Farnham: The Big 12 has so many great venues but it is tough not to walk in to Allen Field House on any night and feel the tradition and passion of their fan base. The pregame ritual of “Rock-Chalk” is amongst the best.
Fraschilla: West Virginia at Kansas State in Wichita. To see Frank Martin and his mentor, Bob Huggins, and their teams battle to an eventual double-overtime Mountaineer win, and see them hug after the game, was fun. Maybe this game will become West Virginia’s new “backyard brawl.”
Vitale: Austin Rivers’ shot against the Tar Heels.
Team(s) that Could Win it All:
Bilas: Syracuse is the best team in the Big East, and is one of the two best teams in the country, along with Kentucky. I like the Orange chances to advance to the Final Four. Another team to watch is Marquette. The Golden Eagles are versatile and in attack mode for 40 minutes.
Dakich: Michigan State. Their defense, toughness, leadership and team connection is as good as any team in the country.
Davis: UNC can win it all.
Farnham: Kansas with the star power of Thomas Robinson and emergence of Jeff Withey.
Missouri also has a shot (as long as Kansas State isn’t around). Frank Haith’s team has bought in to sharing the basketball and playing to their strengths.
Fraschilla: Kansas. Despite a thin bench, Bill Self has two of the Big 12’s best players in Robinson and senior guard, Tyshawn Taylor.
Vitale: North Carolina and Duke. When you have an NBA frontcourt and Kendall Marshall, you have a chance. Roy Williams has won it all when he was favored to. If Duke hits the trifecta, it can be dangerous.