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NIT Semifinals Tip-Off Preview

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

Nov. 21, 2005

New York, New York, the city that never sleeps! Let it fly, baby, as the NIT Season Tip-Off has its semifinals on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

It will be rocking in the Big Apple as the #1 team in America, Mike Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils, will be coming to town. They are a popular choice no matter who they play as fans flock to see them. People either love or hate the Dukies, the same way they react to the New York Yankees or Notre Dame football team.

The bottom line is you must face reality -- this program is always competitive. They always knock on the door and this is the team to beat this season. Duke will set the standard once again.

The Blue Devils have a great blend of experience and youth. You don't often get players the caliber or J. J. Redick and Shelden Williams staying in school for four years. They are legitimate All-Americans and still hungry.

Then you look at the diaper dandies. Greg Paulus will become a solid point guard and his whole make-up is about winning. He is not about being an individual as he is an unselfish player and a tremendous athlete. Paulus could have been a quarterback for the Fighting Irish but instead chose hoops at Cameron Indoor Stadium, baby!

Josh McRoberts will be a star. Throw in veterans like Lee Melchionni and Sean Dockery and you can understand why there is so much optimism in Blue Devils country. There is really only one goal, and that is cutting the nets down and winning the championship. It's all about being the best and it starts with the leader, Mr. Krzyzewski.

His coaching staff has such a passion and love for the Duke uniform and it becomes contagious. All three assistants wore that jersey Johnny Dawkins, Steve Wojciechowski and Chris Collins and with that mentality, it usuall equals a W.

Duke hooks up with a Drexel basketball team that is happy to be in New York. Coach James "Bruiser" Flint has been ecstatic with his backcourt tandem of Bashir Mason and Dominic Mejia, while senior forward Kenell Sanchez is an inside factor after shooting eight-for-12 from the floor in a win over Sam Houston State.

The Dragons had a couple of nice wins over Princeton and Sam Houston State to advance to the Garden. It appeared that the NIT was going to get the mentor vs. the pupil in Krzyzewski against Quin Snyder, but Sam Houston State stunned Missouri in the opening round.

Drexel and Flint, who was a pupil under John Calipari at Massachusetts, are looking forward to the challenge. It did not work out at Massachusetts and Flint never moaned and groaned. He went back to the City of Brotherly Love, where he starred at St. Joseph's.

This has the makings of a 1 vs. 16 NCAA tournament game, a David vs. Golaith special, baby! It is exciting for Drexel to make the journey!

In the other semifinal, Memphis takes on a banged up UCLA squad. John Calipari's Tigers had to go on the road and defeat Alabama by 11 to advance to New York City. The Bruins got past New Mexico State and Temple in the NIT.

Ben Howland's team has been plagued by injuries. Jordan Farmar missed Saturday's game against Delaware State with an ankle injury but is expected to play Wednesday night. Arron Afflalo and Farmar form a lethal duo in the backcourt. Cedric Bozeman is back from a knee injury which sidelined him last season. He gives them a player capable of playing any of three spots on the perimeter.

The Bruins are a perimeter oriented team. Michael Fey is questionable (shoulder) and Alfred Aboya (knee surgery) and Josh Shipp (hip surgery) are still sidelined. When UCLA is at full strength, watch out. It is just touching the surface of how good it will be come Pac-10 time.

Howland is starting to get the Bruins program back to the upper echelon of the league.

Calipari feels he has the best team together at Memphis since his arrival. In the past, he has been burned by players committing and then not showing up. This season, he has a deep and talented club. They are playing winning basketball already and have bought into his concepts and theories on the sport.

The veteran combination of Darius Washington and Rodney Carney is dangerous. There are several diaper dandies contributing right away, including Shawne Williams, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier.

It should be interesting to see these pairings. Obviously Duke is the big favorite to leave the Big Apple with the gold trophy from this event. Remember, in college basketball there are always surprises ... just ask Michigan State about Hawaii, Stanford about UC-Irvine, TCU about Tarleton State, and on and on!

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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