In a recent conversation with my close, personal friend Bobby Knight, we discussed his respect for the Wisconsin basketball program and coach Bo Ryan, and what he liked about how Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino handled his practices and coaching in the preseason NIT, where the former Indiana and Texas Tech coach was doing color commentary for ESPN.
So being the college basketball expert he is, Knight was asked to pick who he thought is the best team in the country right now. His answer: No. 6 Wisconsin, who defeated the Gophers 76-63 at Williams Arena on Thursday night.
"I've seen some good basketball, but I haven't seen what I would consider to be a great team [this season]," Knight said. "I like Gonzaga because of the way they play. I think they play the game the way it should be played. Wichita [State] has come back and they're playing well like they did a year ago. [But] I don't think there is a great team.
"But I really like Wisconsin. I enjoy watching Wisconsin play. You mentioned the three-point shot. The team that I've seen that best uses the three-point shot is Wisconsin. They do a great job with it. They're a very, very solid team. If you were to pick out a team for me to watch play, I have to watch this team play. I would pick Wisconsin because of the way they play at both ends of the court."
Knight coached at Indiana for 29 years, and he said Ryan's success in the Big Ten Conference comes as no surprise to him because Ryan coaches the game the right way.
"He just teaches the game better than most people do," Knight said. "He allows some things to happen and doesn't allow some things to happen. You know, coaching is not magic. You just go out and do the things that could help you win and stay away from the things that could cause you to lose. He's awfully good at that."
On the topic of Pitino, Knight described what he saw out of the second-year Gophers coach earlier this season at Madison Square Garden.
"I watched their workout and watched what they did and I really enjoyed watching them," he said. "I thought they were doing things really well. His dad is a heck of a coach and there's no reason why he shouldn't be, too, which he is. I think he has done a very good job. Last year in the NIT and then I haven't followed the Big Ten very much so I'm not sure where they are, but watching them play at Wake Forest, I liked what I saw. I enjoyed watching them work out and enjoyed the things he did with them."
Still a traditionalist
Knight was asked for his opinion on a number of college basketball topics, including the three-point shot.
"I didn't like it 10 years ago, or nine years ago, or eight years ago, or seven years ago, or six years ago, or five years ago, or three years ago, or two years ago, or one year ago, and I don't like it today."
What about the debate surrounding the one-and-done phenomenon, where players only play one college season and then turn pro?
"Well, it's my understanding, and I don't know whether this is actual fact or just somebody guessing, but the NCAA apparently is thinking about what it used to be like way back when I played, that you didn't play as a freshman," Knight said. "You started playing as a sophomore. That's one of the few smart things that I've seen the NCAA come up with. Right now the worst problem for college basketball, beyond anything, is the NBA. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the NBA is so anxious to take people out of college after one year. I once asked David Stern how much money the NBA lost because of taking guys out of college after one year who weren't ready to play in the NBA and maybe weren't good enough to play in the NBA, so they ended up getting slated away in some minor league somewhere but they're being paid a lot of money. The other thing I can't understand about the NBA is the player's association. I can't understand why the player's association would be so supportive of taking kids out of college, because all it does is it takes away maybe a year or two from one of the older players in the NBA. They nursemaid these kids."
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Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com