Seth Davis

College basketball season starts next week. To learn more, we thought it would be a great time to catch up with Seth Davis. He recently left The Athletic and is now the Senior Basketball Insider for The Messenger. He’s also a reporter for CBS Sports.

We wanted to get Davis’ thoughts on what promises to be another riveting season. 

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

Awful Announcing: What is your role with The Messenger?

Seth Davis: “College basketball is still my bailiwick, but I’m going to be writing more NBA, particularly once the tournament is over because the playoffs begin. I live in Los Angeles, so not only do I have two teams here, I have two opponents. My assignment from (editor) Dan Kaufman is to write about the world of basketball. So, that’s what I’m going to do.”

How else is it different from your previous jobs?

“This is the first time since I was covering high school sports for the New Haven Register in Connecticut that I’m writing for a publication that has news. It’s not just sports. I did 22 years at Sports Illustrated. I did six with The Athletic.”

“With The Messenger, our political coverage is as good as anywhere. We have some big-time reporters doing great work on the political front. And I’m sure this next year is going to be very good for business. We have a presidential election coming up. It’s not purely a sports audience, and it’s not a paid audience.”

“I will be doing not as much long-form stuff. Probably more newsy stuff. I’ve already broken a couple of stories for The Messenger. I’m partnering with Jeff Goodman, who is the best newsbreaker on the beat. I think the two of us are well-positioned to do some damage. I love it.”

With major conference realignment coming next year and possible expansion of the tournament in the future, this could be the final season of college basketball as we know it. Is this an exaggeration? 

“I think it’s an exaggeration. At the end of the day, people just want to watch the games. Everyone bemoans realignment.”

“It’s definitely uncomfortable, but look at the ratings in college football. They’re through the roof. I think it’s going to be the same in college basketball.”

“People are bemoaning UCLA and USC and the breakup of the Pac-12. It’s sad to see, but I’ll tell you what. When UCLA goes to play Michigan State, that’s going to be a big deal.”

“I’m far from convinced that the tournament is going to expand. There’s not nearly as much money for individual schools in doing that. I don’t hear a lot of momentum for it. I really don’t.”

Who are the four best teams right now?

“I have Kansas, Duke, Purdue, and Michigan State. Tom Izzo has a great recruiting class coming in, and he’s brought a lot of guys back. Of course, he only has the one (national championship) that he won in 2000, and it’s been bothering him for a long time. He’s been to a ton of Final Fours. And the Big Ten hasn’t won since then. They’re doing everything they can. They’re bringing in a lot more teams.”

The last time a No.1 seed lost to a No.16, Virginia rebounded to win the 2019 national championship. Can Purdue do the same?

“They definitely can. They brought a lot of guys back. Their guards were so terrible (against Fairleigh Dickinson). Now that those guys are a year older, there’s reason to believe they can get it done.”

“I will say that I think the same problems that have plagued them for the last three years are still going to be there. It’s often a disadvantage in March to be the bigger team. You’re going up a team that has smaller, quicker players who can bring Zach Edey away from the basket.”

How fast will Rick Pitino get St. John’s up and running?

“They’re up and running now. In the old days, I would caution fans. A new coach comes in, and he’s recruiting high school juniors. So it takes two years to get his guys on campus. Then, it takes a while to develop them. It’s a long process. Now it’s overnight.”

“St. John’s is not getting a version of Rick who is looking to coast into his retirement. He is hungry. He’ll insist that he’s not trying to redeem himself and that he has nothing left to prove. I know this man. He has a very healthy chip on his shoulder from the way things ended in Louisville, being a piñata for everyone, and not knowing if he’ll ever coach again.”

Zach Edey is the preseason favorite to repeat as national player of the year, but who are some other players fans should watch?

“I love Tyler Kolek, the point guard at Marquette. That’s an interesting story with Shaka Smart, who is trying to recapture what he was able to do at VCU. I’m a big fan of Max Abmas at Texas who transferred from Oral Roberts. He’s small, but he’s a dynamic scorer. He’s coming into a situation in Texas where they need him to do that. He could very well lead the Big 12 in scoring.”

“Hunter Dickinson will be a fascinating case study with him transferring to Kansas. It’s very unusual for somebody who started at Michigan for three years, led the team in scoring all three years, and then transfers. That doesn’t happen often. He’s playing for Bill Self, who is one of the best big-man coaches in history. I think he’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.”

Who could be this season’s version of FAU?

“At this point, it’s hard to tell. These rosters have changed so much. You don’t know who’s got what.”

“Nobody was talking about FAU this time last year. FAU made the Final Four. They brought everybody back, including coach Dusty May. They came very close to losing in the first round to Memphis. If they lose that game, nobody is picking FAU in the top 10. Now they’re moving to a new conference. It will be interesting to see how they adjust to the (American Athletic Conference) and all these expectations.”

Who’s on the hotter seat: Kenny Payne at Louisville or John Calipari at Kentucky?

“It depends on how you define the hot seat. There is nothing hotter than that seat at Kentucky. I don’t see Cal’s going anywhere. I think he’s got a good team. They need to get healthy.”

“I’m hoping both of those guys do well. I know how much people in Louisville love that team. Kenny Payne means a lot to that program. He’s one of the real quality gentlemen I’ve met in this business. I’m hoping he crushes it.”

We can’t get out of here without discussing Duke and North Carolina. What are your thoughts on them?

“I think both are going to be good teams. Hubert Davis has played the feast or famine game at North Carolina. He got them to the Final Four in his first year, which is extremely hard to do.”

“They had a huge hangover last year and it just never worked. He has revamped his team, and brought in some transfers. He has a good recruiting class. (Freshman point guard Elliot Cadeau) is the ACC Preseason Rookie of the Year.

“I thought Jon Scheyer did a good job at Duke last year. He has another great recruiting class. The fact that (ACC Preseason Player of the Year) Kyle Filipowski came back speaks very highly of John and the program because he might be the only guy back in college this year who had a chance to be a high-draft pick.”

“It’ll be interesting. We’re going to find out early because Duke plays Arizona at home on Nov. 10, and they play in the Champions Classic against Michigan State on Nov. 14 in Chicago.”

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.