There are very few people who know more about the NCAA Tournament than Clark Kellogg. He’s been been broadcast March Madness for more than 25 years, and he played in the tournament himself back in his Ohio State days.
Kellogg will once again be broadcasting games throughout the big dance this year, and ahead of that ride, he spoke with CBSSports.com about what we can expect during the tournament, which players have a chance to make a name for themselves, and more.
CBS Sports: How do you view this tournament in relation to last year in terms of being more or less “wide open”?
Kellogg: I think the general feeling for me for the last 15-20 years — with the exception of ’08 Memphis-Kansas, ’09 North Carolina, ’05 North Carolina, 2012 Kentucky — every other year has trended and bent towards being more wide open in terms of how the tournament plays out. When you get to the Final Four, you typically have ended up with brand-name, perennial, championship programs. So I see that being much the same.
There could be a change in that I think Gonzaga is the most complete, experienced and ingredient-full team in the field. Duke is talented but young, and the question marks about Zion. North Carolina has a nice blend of experience and talent. But I think Gonzaga is the most complete team, when you look at championship-caliber. I love Virginia. I like Tennessee. I like Kentucky. I also like Florida State. I like Houston.
But I think it’s comparable to the last dozen-plus years in terms of being fairly tight in terms of who’s going to win, but wide-open in terms of what can happen as we get to the Final Four.
You mentioned all three ACC teams. They’re not all going to be No. 1 seeds, most likely. Which one do you see as the most likely odd team out on the No. 1 line?
Kellogg: I think Duke would be the question mark unless they won the ACC Tournament. I would give Virginia the favorite of staying there. Carolina has an inside track to being a No. 1 seed. And Duke is right now, I think, on the outside looking in.
With Duke, Zion Williamson has been unbelievable, R.J. Barrett has had good stretches and bad but is still considered an elite prospect, but Cam Reddish has seemingly fallen behind the two of them. What’s your feeling on what’s gone on with him this year?
Kellogg: Nothing has gone on other than everybody’s individual journey is different, no matter what the hype says. It’s an individual road, even if you’re on the same team. Cam’s journey is different from R.J.’s. So is R.J.’s from Zion. The projections are the projections. The reality of growth is not linear and is not uniform, so therefore nothing has happened other than the hype has outrun the reality. That’s all. Zion’s hype … his reality has been commensurate with the hype and in some cases maybe exceeded it. But it doesn’t change the pro prospects of any of them. They are all looking like long-time, high-level pros when that time comes.
How do you think what’s happening with LSU right now affects them going into the tournament?
Kellogg: Well, I think a couple things. One, you never want to be without the leader of your program. LSU is doing the right thing in standing down and suspended Will Wade based on the information that’s circulating out there, and also holding back Javonte Smart.
The bigger issue is how long will Javonte Smart be held out because he’s an integral part of who they are as a top two or three seed, assuming they fare well. So, I think the players, while it will have an impact if Will Wade is out, the greater impact will be Javonte Smart not being available. At the end of the day, the players — at that age particularly — while affected by it, there’s something that happens when you get between the lines. You tend to focus on that and you lose yourself in that, so I don’t think not having Coach Wade on the sidelines will be that big of a deal come game time.
You mentioned earlier that when you get down to the Final Four that it’s usually the brand-name teams. It’s been a lot of 1 and 2-seeds the past few years. Are there any teams from the 3-4-5 range that you think could crash the party?
Kellogg: Well, Florida State could be a 4-seed. I love what Houston has shown. I don’t see Houston going beyond the 2-line at the top and the 4-line at the bottom. I think they’ll be in that top-16 range. They’re a very dangerous team.
Teams outside of that can make a run: How about a Buffalo? Tremendous. A Wofford. You have Loyola of Chicago. One of the things we don’t know is how the bracket is going to play out once it’s laid out. So, Kansas State. Although Dean Wade is a question mark now which is unfortunate. I really hope that young man can play. But there are a number of teams that are of that ilk. Experienced, good talent, that could possibly converge on Minneapolis.
It was a surprising thing to me to see Wofford where they are as someone who doesn’t follow that conference closely. How for real are they in terms of being able to make a run?
Kellogg: Legit. They’re legit. They’re legit. That conference is much better than people think. The quality of the other teams in that league is very good. UNC-Greensboro, the team they beat in the championship game of the conference tournament, is just a notch or two below Wofford. That conference has tested them and they tested themselves in the non-conference. They’re very capable. They’ve got shooting, they’ve got size, they’ve got toughness. They’re very legitimate. Buffalo is, too.
Are there any guys that stand out to you as someone who could sort of carry their team to a deep run and really make a name for themselves through the tournament?
Kellogg: Ja Morant at Murray State is obviously a dynamic talent. And he’s not by himself; he’s got some other good players with him. Corey Davis Jr. at Houston could have one of those kind of significant runs as an individual. Typically, you’re looking at wings and guards because they have the ball and they can orchestrate. Cassius Winston, he’s been phenomenal.
What Michigan State has done with the injuries they’ve had and shuffling of the lineups. Tom Izzo, it very well could be time. Those are guys that just off the top of my head that could have the potential. And the kid [Rui] Hachimura at Gonzaga. Although he doesn’t have that kind of role, he could be that kind of dominant player. He’s got so many good players around him. And Zion goes without saying.
And I’ll tell you another guy: Tennessee’s Jordan Bone or [Jordan] Bowden. One of those two guys. Bone’s been fantastic all year. Bowden’s been up and down but he’s the kind of guy that might be able to elevate Tennessee.