March Madness Previews? NBA Playoffs Predictions? Charles Barkley’s Got You Covered with Analysis and Opinion

March 23, 2011 – 8:15 am by Michael Bean

With the first week of the 2011 NCAA Tournament in the books, how would you assess this year’s new television coverage? Are you in the camp of old fogies like Billy Packer who cringe at the thought of change? Or are you elated to see some fresh blood in the studio and court-side calling games? Have you enjoyed watching and listening to Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith even if they spend most of their time and energy analyzing the NBA game?  Regardless of which side you come down on in terms of the new personalities involved in this year’s March Madness coverage, I don’t think there’s any disputing that it’s been a treat to be able to watch each and every game in its entirety rather than being stuck with whatever games are being shown in your market. Barkley himself believes that fans’ expanded viewing options are why the 2011 Big Dance is better than ever.  On Tuesday, Sir Charles talked on the air in Phoenix about his experience as a college analyst, and what he sees shaking out this coming weekend. And of course, no lengthy Barkley segment would be entirely devoid of NBA talk. Let’s get to it.

Barkley joined XTRA Sports 910 in Phoenix to talk about March Madness viewers enjoying watching him blast the Big East with Louisville coach Rick Pitino sitting just a few feet away, the positive reaction by most everybody to the new life and energy that he and Kenny Smith have brought to this year’s tournament coverage,  his disdain of the AAU circuit and how he feels it’s not only bad for the college game, but also the NBA product as well, how he doesn’t think BYU will beat Florida despite the Gators being potentially short-handed due to Kenny Boynton’s ankle injury, how he thinks BYU’s Jimmer Fredette will fare at the next level, his thoughts on the fading New York Knicks, and why he believes Mike D’Antoni’s stubborn tendencies will prevent him from ever winning championships.

On if he’s aware that people enjoyed watching Rick Pitino quietly and uncomfortably listen to Barkley rip the Big East during an in-studio segment over the weekend following Louisville’s early exit:

“You know, one thing I try to never do is be personal. I try to look at the game of basketball and just look at the basketball, so of course I’ve been watching a lot of college basketball this year. And I’m sitting there and ESPN…first of all, everybody loves ESPN, let’s get that straight, but ESPN is telling me all year that the Big East has got 11 great teams going into the tournament. So I watch them the first time and I go ‘solid, nothing spectacular.’ And then I watch another week, and they’re like ‘the Big East has got 11 great teams.’ I’m like ‘let me look at this again.’ So I looked at it again, and said ‘okay….maybe six or seven good teams. Not eleven.’ And I watched TV another week, and they go ‘they’re going to get 11 teams because they’re the best conference.’ I’m like ‘let me look again because maybe my eyes are playing tricks on me.’ The one thing I do want to do is give Arizona a shout out, because I’ve got Arizona going to the Final Four. I watched that team quite a bit this year and in my bracket I’ve got them going to the Final Four. I actually picked them to win, but I thought the winner of the Texas-Arizona game would go on and win that region, and I still feel like that.”

On folks across the country enjoying the energy and less rigid style that he and Kenny Smith have brought to the studio coverage:

“Well let me just say this — the tournament is great by itself. But this to me is the best year, not because I’m doing it. I think you never knew it before, not being able to watch all the games, I think you never realized how bad that sucked. Because you only got the games in your area. Listen, I just thought it was so cool to be able to view all of them because you never really thought about it until this year when you can watch every game. You’re like okay the tournament is great, but in the past you only got to watch the game in your area. I mean, in Arizona, we probably wouldn’t have gotten the Butler-Pittsburgh game the other week. Or the Arizona-Texas game wouldn’t have been played all over the country. And those are two of the best games I’ve seen all year. I told somebody when Texas and Arizona played, that ain’t no place for no girls to be. Those are two of the more athletic teams I’ve seen all year. I said it the night before the game…and I said it before the tournament…they said ‘pick an intriguing first round game’. I said ‘let me tell you what’s an intriguing game — that second round game between Texas and Arizona.’ They were like ‘neither one of those teams have gotten out of the first round yet.’ I said ‘trust me, they’re going to get out of the first round. But the team that wins that game, I’m going out on a limb, I’m picking them to go to the Final Four.’ Because I knew it was going to be a knock down, drag out. But going back to your original point, our company, we gave them $11 billion dollars so it is what it is. I enjoy looking at all the games. I love trying to figure out who are the best players. I’ll tell you what’s going to be interesting now, and I’ve said this before — the first rounds of the tournament, most of the top seeds are going to win. But now you’re going to see who can really coach, because now lots of the teams are going to be evenly matched. Because those big schools, they should really beat lower seeds if they’re any good, but now it’s going to come down to who can really coach.”

If he agrees that the whole general upbringing of young players is disconcerting and if he believes the prominent AAU culture has anything to do with it:

“No, they’re killing the game. AAU is the worst thing to happen to college basketball ever. I hate AAU more than anything in the world. To piggy-back on your point, these kids aren’t getting good coaching. They’re playing too many games and not working on their game enough. And what happens with the AAU and all the extracurricular stuff, the college coaches have no control over these kids. They have to kiss their butts to come to their school; they’re afraid to coach them because if you criticize them, they don’t consider that coaching, they consider it criticism. There’s very few coaches that are actually coaching these kids. They let them do what they want to because they’re happy to get them because of the AAU circuit. It’s bad basketball. And what’s happened is the NBA, we’re the beneficiary of it unfortunately. We’ve got a bunch of guys who…my number one thing I hate in the world is when you’re talking to fans and they’ll say ‘man that guy can really run and he can really jump.’ And I always say ‘so can a deer but I wouldn’t put him in a game.’ These guys, listen, they’ve been coming into the NBA for the last three years and they can run and jump, but they’ve cut out the middle man when you go to college and learn how to play. And listen, it’s really had a huge negative effect on the NBA, plain and simple. I mean, you look at the last couple of drafts, it undermines the integrity of the game. And what I mean by that is the draft is designed for the bad teams to get help, and they’re drafting an 18-year old kid who don’t know how to play, who’s not physically or mentally mature or tough enough. And you’ve got the same cycle of bad teams staying bad. Then you’ve got the thing going down in Miami where these young guys are like I don’t want to be on those bad teams. Then all the stars get together and the rest of the league is going to get screwed. It’s just ugly right now.”

What he thinks of BYU and their chances this weekend:

“They play Florida next don’t they? I don’t think they’re going to beat Florida. They’ve played very well, but I don’t think…I tell you what, that injury to that Boynton kid is a big one. That’s a big one. but I still think Florida has enough to beat them. But that’s a big injury right there. He has not practiced and that could change the game, honestly. We’ll see how healthy he gets by the end of the week, but going into the week, I was going to pick Florida to win that game.”

On how he thinks Jimmer Fredette will fare in the NBA:

“Well I would like to see him in person. What I mean by that is I’ve heard some stuff about his height. Because you know, all these guys are listed bigger than they are. Have you guys seen him in person? Because somebody told me he was only like 6’1 1/2….The key for Jimmer is how he’s able to move to the point, because if he’s only 6’1 or even if he’s 6’2, he’s going to have to play the point. So it’s just a matter if he can develop a point guard mentality. Clearly he’s a terrific shooter, but I don’t think you want your point guard shooting a lot. So I think that’s really going to be the key — number one if he’s able to move to the point.”

His take on the fading New York Knicks:

“Hey you know what guys? Remember when I was on your show earlier this year and I tried to tell you guys. You know, fans should just shut the hell up and listen because they don’t know what they’re talking about. I told you guys the Suns made a good decision — I wouldn’t have given A’mare all that money. Because they would have been dead. They would have killed their cap and they wouldn’t have been contenders for the next ten years. I like A’mare but he can’t be your best player, and I like Carmelo but he can’t be your best player either. You cannot be a great player unless you can win a game more than one way. I like both of those guys as guys, and I like them both as players. But they can only win a game one way. And your best player has to be able to win the game more than one way. Like I knew when I played, one night I can’t make a shot or Kevin Johnson or Dan Majerle are playing well tonight, or Ced Ceballos, they’re rolling — let me get 17 or 18 rebounds. But with A’mare and Carmelo, they’re one-dimensional players. And Mike D’Antoni, I’ll admit this, I think Mike D’Antoni is being stubborn. Because the one thing that bothered me with him in Phoenix is they never got better defensively. And at some point as a coach you’ve got to say ‘you know what, I’ve got to stress defense with these guys.’  And they never got better defensively. Never.”

On D’Antoni passing up the opportunity to hire Tom Thibodeau to be an assistant and instead hiring his brother:

“Let me tell you something else, the point I wanted to make about him being stubborn — I think he’s saying ‘no, we can win with my system, we can with my system.’ I’m like ‘no you can’t.’

Listen here to Barkley with Bickley & MJ on XTRA Sports 910 in Phoenix

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