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ESPN’s basketball-loving Jay Bilas says the road to the 2011–2012 college championship runs straight through Tar Heel country.

The 2010–2011 NCAA men’s basketball season ended on April 4, when the University of Connecticut ended a madcap run through the Big East and NCAA tournaments by defeating Butler, 53–41, in the title game. But for ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas, the season had a far longer tail.

As part of his prep work for the 2011 NBA Draft, he spent the next 10 weeks picking apart the players he’d picked apart all season long. Then he made the rounds of summer player camps (for high school and college kids alike) and coaching klatches, where he listened as much as he lectured. Only then, toward the end of July, was he able to enjoy the offseason lull.

Now You Know:
UCLA won seven consecutive championships from 1967 to 1973 during a run of 10 titles in 12 seasons between 1964 and 1975.

“I had a little more time to, as people say, re-recruit my family,” he jokes. “But it’s not like my job is breaking rocks and lifting heavy objects, so I don’t complain.”

Indeed, getting Bilas to weigh in on the upcoming men’s college-hoops season doesn’t require much arm pulling. A quick “So, about next season …” appeal launches him into a candid, spectacularly detailed monologue on the players, teams and big-picture trends to watch. “I love basketball. I mean, I don’t just have a passion for it — I love it unconditionally,” says the College GameDay co-host. “The only part of my job that’s work is the travel.”

Here’s how he sees the 2011–2012 campaign unfolding: