For the second straight year, Kenny Smith will be in-studio, breaking down all the frantic action that comes with March Madness. The affable TNT analyst will again join his partner-in-jocularity, Charles Barkley in the shift from pro ball to shining moments. He was kind enough to speak with us about the chaotic, but enjoyable days to come.
BroBible: That time of year again?
Kenny Smith: Yeah, sure is. Going to be crazy, but fun. A lot of fun.
BB: You primarily cover the NBA for TNT, so when do you start really focusing on college basketball in advance of the NCAA Tournament?
KS: It’s not really that big of a role change for me. As a college basketball fan, I am watching anyway. Since I’ve been part of the coverage, I’d say I pay attention an extra 15 to 20 percent throughout the year. Also, I probably look at the game a little differently, with an analytical eye. But other than that, they’re paying me to do something I probably would have been doing anyway.
BB: Can you take us through a typical day on set during the first weekend of the Madness?
KS: Well, the first weekend is bananas. It’s like something I’ve never experienced. That is the most fun day because the games are non-stop and the competition is really ramped up. It’s hard to get a free minute, so you’re sprinting to the bathroom, eating food under the desk.
BB: And being around guys who aren’t just analysts, but fans of the game helps?
KS: Yeah, without a doubt, the competitive nature is fun. You want to make sure that your bracket is better than the other guy’s.
BB: Last year was a real change for the way the tournament is presented. Now fans can watch every game. What do you think is best about that?
KS: I used to remember when I watched games where they’d cut in and I’d be like, “well, that’s the game I really wanted to watch.” Wait a minute, wait a minute! And they’d say this game is out of reach, we’re going to move—No! I still wanted to watch. I know kids on that other team and I want to see them play their game. I want to see my game in its entirety; I don’t really care if there’s a closer game going on. I think that it’s more important to me to get to watch the game I really want to watch.
BB: It seemed like you and Charles Barkley tried to take your personalities from TNT to the college arena. What directive were you given?
KS: The directive was for us to do what we do. There was no direction as to what they expected out of us. The only difference is they’re a little more time-restricted. But we’re going to say what we want to say and how we want to say it, and that’s going to be it. If you don’t like it, you shouldn’t have signed up for it. I think that’s what makes Chuck and I a little bit unique.
BB: What’s it like to work with that kind of freedom?
KS: I mean, it’s the only way I know how to operate. I’ve only operated like that, even before Charles got there. I had freedom and I think that attracted Charles. He saw what we were doing, saw that it was kind of loose, whereas other places it was more tight. It’s great to have that liberty. They know there’s nothing that’s going to happen in the course of basketball game that Charles or myself haven’t seen, done or been a part of.
BB: Switching over to the actual bracket, what jumped out at you?
KS: It was less surprising than last year. The only thing that everyone said was Iona. But you had to go all the way to No. 68, the last team, to find that. I think that it was pretty accurate. Everyone’s got a case, but I don’t think anyone on the outside was markedly stronger than those who made it.
BB: The committee did a pretty good job with the top 16 seeds overall.
KS: I agree. There’s really no difference between a No. 1 and a No. 2. If you can’t beat the 15th-best team in that region, you shouldn’t be in the bracket. And then after your first game, all bets are off. There’s no meaning to the seeding after that because teams have momentum. It totally changes, so you might as well throw it out the window.
BB: Who’s in your Final Four?
KS: I have two so far. I have Kentucky and North Carolina. There’s a couple other teams that I’m going to have to really pay attention to see if they really are what I think they are.
BB: Sounds like you’re talking about Syracuse …
KS: No, I’ve seen them enough. I haven’t seen a couple other teams enough. Missouri is one of them and there are a few others. I’ve seen them win, but I haven’t seen them win using different styles. To win an NCAA tournament, you have to be able adapt to multiple styles.
BB: Finally, what did you learn doing this last year that you want to put to use this year?
KS: I think I’m going to stay the course. What I realize is that I don’t analyze college games the same way I do NBA games. One thing about college kids is that they’re student-athletes. All of them won’t be playing professionally, not all of them have those aspirations. They’re going to make mistakes. In the NBA, I’m very critical of players getting paid to play when they make mental errors. I also realize that with one of these college kids, he might have a chemistry exam tomorrow. So he’s not thinking the same way. And that’s the difference.
Smith is touring on behalf of Coke Zero, which is giving fans the chance to Enjoy More Madness before the 'Madness' officially begins with the Coke Zero School Shout Out. Fans can text “0” and send a shout out to their favorite NCAA Division I basketball team to “2653” for the opportunity to score one of thousands of free mobile and digital NCAA March Madness Live access packages produced by Turner Sports Interactive. (March Madness Live will be available for $3.99.)
They can also win trips to the 2012 Men’s Final Four and roster spots for an Ultimate Basketball Fantasy Camp with a current college basketball head coach. There are more ways to win then texting. Fans can also register at www.enjoymoremadness.com for the chance to win a trip for four to the 2012 NCAA Men’s Final Four in New Orleans and special access to the Coke Zero Countdown Concert.