Wally Szczerbiak: Duke Is A Once-In-A-Generation Team

The CBS Sports college basketball analyst sees Duke as the favorites to hoist trophy during "One Shining Moment" come March.


(CBS Minnesota/CBS Local) — Selection Sunday is a little over a month away. That means in just four weeks, the Selection Committee will hunker down in a room with all the data, resumes and statistics available to them to try and pick the best 68 teams in the nation. In the past several years, though, fans have learned a little more about where the committee stands on teams earlier in the season, with the committee releasing their top 16 seeds about a month before they do the real bracket.

That happened this past weekend, when the committee released seeding that showed Duke, Tennessee, Virginia and Gonzaga as the top seeds if the season were to end now. Obviously, it doesn’t, but that won’t stop us from discussing as we get closer to the real thing in just a few weeks. In order to get some insight, we caught up with CBS Sports college basketball analyst Wally Szczerbiak.

CBS Local Sports: The Selection Committee gave us a glimpse of their top teams this past weekend. What did you think of the teams they had in the top four spots?

Wally Szczerbiak: It was perfect. To me, those are the best teams in the country, hands down. I don’t look at resumes and Ken Pom numbers as much. I zero in on the players and the level of talent and who has the best players on their team. To me, those teams, with the experience of teams like Virginia and Tennessee and then the pure talent and experience of Gonzaga, with the talent and pro prospects that Duke has, I feel like they got that right.

There are some other teams that are on the cusp, with Kentucky being one of them. That is a very talented basketball team, as far as the players that they have. That is a team that, unfortunately they had that loss against LSU Tuesday night, but it’s a team with a ton of talented guys.

CBS Local Sports: You mentioned the Duke freshmen there, and, of course, the top talent on those teams is getting plenty of attention. Is there another player that isn’t getting as much attention that you really enjoy watching?

Wally Szczerbiak: Ja Morant. That guy is just electric. He is an incredible physical specimen, and I think he is going to have a great career beyond college basketball. He is lighting up college basketball this year. He is playing against some tough teams in that league (Ohio Valley Conference) but obviously it’s not as tough as the mainstream leagues and some teams that other people are competing against.

But he can flat out go, and whenever he is on TV, that is must-see TV for me.

CBS Local Sports: Morant is clearly hugely talented, but Murray State still has to get through their conference to get to the tournament. If they do, are they a team you could see making a run?

Wally Szczerbiak: I think so. It’s tough, depending on the seeds and matchups, and obviously he is going to be zeroed in on. You also have to watch out for a team like Belmont in the OVC that is really good. They put a whipping on Ja Morant when he played against them, though he was a little banged up that night. He is definitely a guy who could make a run. It’s fun watching those mid-major teams when they get into the tournament. He is definitely a guy I will be keeping an eye on.

CBS Local Sports: On CBS this Sunday there’s a Big Ten battle in East Lansing between the Buckeyes and Spartans. Michigan State took the first matchup between the two teams. What needs to happen this time around in order to change that result?

Wally Szczerbiak: The Buckeyes have been really up and down. They started the season really well and were ranked in the top 25 before they got into a tough stretch, where they lost six of seven games in conference. That happens sometimes in a really good conference like the Big 10.

We saw Michigan lose at Penn State on Tuesday night. That was a real head-scratcher, because Penn State is now just 2-11 in conference play. But it is hard to win on the road in conferences like that.

For this game, you have two teams that are really clashing at the right time, since both come in having righted the ship a little bit. The key for Ohio State is to control Cassius Winston. He is playing like one of the best guards in the country. If they can keep him under wraps and continue to execute their gameplan, with fundamentals being foremost for Ohio State, they have a chance. That’s how Ohio State wins, they don’t overwhelm you with talent. They beat you with the meat and potatoes stuff and the fundamentals.

CBS Local Sports: With the way Winston has been playing and some of the other weapons Coach Izzo has at his disposal, is Michigan State a contender in your mind come tournament time?

Wally Szczerbiak: The brackets have to break their way. I have to be honest, the Big Ten doesn’t really wow me with their talent pool of players. That is what I think wins out in the end, especially in the NCAA Tournament. The coaches (in the Big Ten) are phenomenal, and the game plans are phenomenal, especially this year. That is why they are going to get so many teams into the tournament.

But when it comes to the NCAA tournament, you have to let your guys go and let go of the reins. I feel like, as far as they go, I don’t know if Michigan State [can make a run], especially without (Joshua) Langford now, a guy like that is going to be sorely missed come tournament time.

CBS Local Sports: Finally, of those top four teams we mentioned earlier, which stands out to you as the most likely to win the title?

Wally Szczerbiak: It is hands down Duke. That team is a once-in-a-generation team. I don’t think we have seen a freshman team like that since the Anthony Davis Kentucky team. To me, they are the favorites.

 

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