I've gotta admit, I hope this can become a regular thing. The
good amazing folks at ESPN's communications department reached out again and asked if they could throw a guest our way to help break down the Backyard Brawl tonight - Pitt Vs. West Virginia (The game is, of course, on ESPN at 9:00 p.m. tonight).
This time? Fran Fraschilla.
Fran, like just about every ESPN analyst, is extremely well-informed. Plus, he offers the experience of being a long-time head coach, so he can actually speak from experience. He's in town for the big game tonight and offered some thoughts on what we'll see tonight, coaching strategy in the NCAA tournament, and if he'll ever coach again. I thought about asking about the Dwight Hardy call since he coached St. John's, but that horse couldn't be beaten any more than it already has.
Cardiac Hill: Pitt's offense has been a little stagnant at times lately. Part of that is obviously due to Ashton Gibbs' absence, but I've been seeing a general slump on the offensive end. Should that concern Pitt fans or do you think it's simply the ups and downs of a particular season?
Fran Fraschilla: It has something to do with Ashton Gibbs missing three games and more about the competition Pitt has seen over the last seven. Five of the last seven opponents are at the top of the Big East defensive charts. While certain players have momentarily hit a slump, I would attribute it to the level of competition they have seen. I don’t think there is much to worry about.
Cardiac Hill: The Panthers had a hard time stopping big man Deniz Kilicli the last time around - he had a career-high 19 against Pitt. Bob Huggins said after that game that they need to go to him more. He's had some games where he really struggled this season, but what kind of upside do you see for him since he's only a sophomore?
Fran Fraschilla: I watched the entire first matchup between Pitt and WVU and he certainly had a big role in West Virginia’s offense that night. To his credit, he made some incredibly tough shots over Gary McGhee but hasn’t shown any consistency since then. He’s still a young big guy learning how to play at the college level but I don’t think he will be as big a factor in tonight’s game as he was in the first matchup.
Cardiac Hill: I know you do some work with the coverage for the NBA Draft. Do you see any Panthers or Mountaineers getting a look by some teams in June's draft?
Fran Fraschilla: I certainly think Gary McGhee has a chance to be drafted in the second round because, at the moment, he is a prototype back up NBA center. While his offense is still a work in progress he certainly has impressed people this year with his defensive ability and improvement overall. While Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown may not be drafted, they will get a look by some teams at pre-draft workouts. Remember, former Marquette (player) Wes Matthews, now a solid starter with Portland, wasn’t even drafted in 2009. If you play well at the big east level, NBA teams will give you a look.
Cardiac Hill: To me, West Virginia is the perfect example of why the Big East is so rough. If they were in any other conference, they'd likely have a more favorable record than 17-9. They have some nice wins, beating Notre Dame, Purdue, and Georgetown. What's your view of them?
Fran Fraschilla: They’ve certainly been knocked down a notch by losing some quality seniors from last year’s final four team but they have proven to be very capable in a league that might not be the best ever, but is certainly one of the deepest ever. West Virginia the perfect example of a team that will finish in the middle of the BIG EAST pack but will be dangerous in the NCAA Tournament.
Cardiac Hill: You've coached in the conference tournaments, the NCAA tournament and the NIT. I imagine that it's easier as a coach to stay focused on each individual game than it is for the players. Give us an idea of how you balance the preparation for the current game vs. preparing for future opponents at the same time.
Fran Fraschilla: Every coach motivates his team differently down the stretch of the season. For me, it was always about getting my team to start a one game winning streak, regardless of the outcome of the previous game or what was remaining on our schedule. Rick Pitino prefers to break the regular season up into three game segments, Mike Krzyzewski treats the NCAA Tournament as a series of three four-team tournaments. As importantly as how you get your team focused for the final couple weeks of the season is to keep them fresh physically and mentally. We shortened our practices to about an hour or less of physical assertion on the court and spent more time shooting and watching tape. It’s a long season, that for some teams started back in mid-August.
Cardiac Hill: I'm a big fan of your game analysis, and while I think it would be a loss for the average spectator sitting at home, do you ever think about going back into coaching?
Fran Fraschilla: Anybody who coached for as long as I did always thinks about it. But I’m fortunate because I get to coach both teams from the other side of the court and not have to worry about winning and losing. I feel like I’ve done my job if I can provide a fan with inside access and also forecast what I think will happen in a game before it happens. Broadcasting for me is just another form of coaching the game without the stress. If I’m lucky enough to get a contract like my good buddy Steve Lavin at St. John’s I would consider going back to coaching, but seriously, I’m very happy in my role at ESPN.
Cardiac Hill: Give us your keys to victory for Pitt for the game.
Fran Fraschilla: Create scoring opportunities off the offensive glass. They are rebounding 44% of their own misses, so even if their outside shooting has been off a little recently they can still score around the rim. Get Gilbert Brown and Brad Wannamaker going again offensively. Though Pitt is not known as a transition team, they were averaging almost 80 points a game early in conference play. Contain Joe Mazzulla and Casey Mitchell from attacking the paint off the dribble. When they are effective at getting into the lane, Kevin Jones and Casey Mitchell get easier scoring opportunities.