Josh Pastner

March Madness is only weeks away and it’s already been a season full of surprises. To help us understand more about college basketball, we thought it would be a good time to catch up with analyst Josh Pastner.

The former coach guided Memphis and Georgia Tech to the NCAA tournament. He was also a member of Arizona’s 1997 national championship team. We spoke to Pastner who now provides commentary for the ACC Network, NBC Sports on Peacock, CBS Sports Network, and The Field Of 68.

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Awful Announcing: Do you want to get back into coaching?

Josh Pastner: “I love coaching, but I’ve loved doing this. I’ve had a great time doing the television. I was at two high-level schools, and we had success at both of them. I don’t know what kind of opportunities there will be moving forward. I’ve tried to do the best I can to take it day by day, to try to get better at television. I think I’ve improved. I’ve been fortunate to be around good people on different networks, good colleagues, good hosts, and good producers who have helped me from all across the different networks

“I just don’t know what the bosses will think when we get to the spring. Do they think, ‘Hey, you could make a great career out of this.’ And I don’t know what opportunities will come as a head coach in the spring either.”

What do you think of Connecticut’s chances to repeat?

“UConn and Purdue are the two best teams in the country. UConn plays extremely unselfish. They play so hard and win all the loose balls. They defend. They share the ball. There’s nothing about ‘me.’ It’s all about ‘we.’ They have great enthusiasm and joy. They’ve got tremendous talent, and they’re going to be a No.1 seed. They’re going to be in the East. I just think it’s going to be hard for them to not get to the Final Four. Now, once you get to the Final Four, anything can happen, but they have as good of a shot as repeating as anybody has had maybe in the last decade.”

This time last year no one was talking about UConn as a title contender. Who could be this year’s version of the Huskies?

“Iowa State and Illinois could be sleeper teams. Iowa State, the way they play defense, they’re tough, they’re hard-nosed. They’re going to be a hard-out in the NCAA Tournament.

“Illinois, they can score as well as anybody in the entire country. Everyone talks about Terrence Shannon Jr., but Coleman Hawkins is such a tough matchup because of the things that he can do on the perimeter as a five-man. Those two teams could make deep runs to Glendale, Arizona.”

If you can’t pick Zach Edey, who is the nation’s best player right now?

“North Carolina’s R.J. Davis is playing as well as anybody in the country. I’m not saying he’s the best player outside of Zach Edey, but I think he’s the ACC Player of the Year. Overall, he’s just been outstanding. UConn’s Tristen Newton, you look at his stat line, not only does he score and have assists, but look at the rebounds that the guy has. Another guy from the Big East, Marquette’s Tyler Kolek is pretty good. You can talk about Kevin McCullar Jr. from Kansas. I love Jamal Shead from Houston. There’s Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht. I can list five or six guys but Zach Edey is the National Player of the Year.”

What do you make of Kentucky since the Wildcats have been so up and down?

“I think John Calipari is a genius. He’s in the Hall of Fame for a reason. For them to beat Auburn like they did the other day when people were just counting them out, he got the guys locked in, ready to play. They defended. They played at a high level. I know Coach – I worked for Coach Calipari. His teams are great defensively. So I knew it was just going to be a matter of time for them to get back to who they were defensively.

“Kentucky’s upside is outstanding. They’re only scratching the surface. The whole thing with them is if they encounter a game in the tournament where they’re not scoring, they’ve got to be able to get stops. They’re good enough to get to Glendale and win the whole thing.”

How surprising is Washington State?

“Kyle Smith has done an outstanding job. He’s done it at Columbia. He’s done it at San Francisco and he’s doing it at Washington State. He’s done an incredible job. They’re sound fundamentally. Offensively, they’re a hard team to guard. They’re playing Thursday against Arizona. If they beat Arizona, which they already have, they’ll be in first place in the Pac-12. He’s a great coach, Kyle Smith.”

Is there a mid-major other than Indiana State or Drake that can make a run in March?

“There are three teams to look out for. McNeese State is really good. They can win a game or two in the NCAA tournament. You look at their stats, you look at the players they’ve got, they’re going to be a hard out. The other one is Princeton or Yale. Whoever comes out of (the Ivy League), based on the automatic qualifier. Those two teams can surprise some people.”

How stressful is it being ‘on the bubble’ as a coach?

“I was on ESPN one day and they had Joe Lunardi on. I told him “Joey Brackets, I just want to tell you the amount of stress, sleepless nights, and overeating that you caused me because of you having us right there on the bubble. I did not appreciate that. You owe me dinner the next time I see you.’

“We laughed about it, but it is extremely stressful when you’re sitting in that position. When you know that being in the tournament or out of the tournament can change your career. You could lose your job. You could get you a raise. There are so many things that go into the tournament. People don’t understand how hard it is to get to that field of 68. There’s so much riding on it.”

When you were coaching, what did fans make fun of you for?

“I don’t curse. I don’t use any foul language. I wouldn’t allow foul language in our practices. I wouldn’t allow foul language in our huddles. We were very intense, but no one ever had to put earmuffs on. It was very G-rated, even though there was a lot of intensity. So I would get heckled because I would say ‘Jiminy Christmas ‘or ‘Goodness Gracious, can you believe that?’ Or ‘For crying out loud.’ I would use those sayings because I would not use any foul language. So, I would get heckled a lot about my sayings when I would be upset at an official, at one of our players.”

Who are your Final Four picks?

“Purdue, UConn, Arizona for sure. That fourth team is still up in the air. It’s a mix between Houston, Iowa State, Kentucky, Tennessee, even Marquette.”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant, Anthony Grant, Amy Grant or Hugh Grant.