March 12, 2006
Wow, all of the speculation is over, and the field of 65 is set. I think Craig Littlepage and his committee, all in all, did a good job. I do think that Cincinnati was snubbed, and I have one simple question: Are the Bearcats one of the best 34 at-large teams, going .500 in the Big East and scoring wins over West Virginia and at Syracuse, among others?
OK, enough about who isn't in the field, let's talk about the teams that are in. I feel that the D.C. region is loaded, with Connecticut, North Carolina, Illinois, Washington, Michigan State and Kentucky there. I see some pretty powerful matchups with North Carolina-Michigan State and Connecticut-Kentucky.
The greatest three weeks in sports, March Madness, should be awesome because there is so much parity in college basketball. Look at the top teams in the nation and most have three losses or more. Look at the conference tournaments, and a pair of No. 1 seeds -- Connecticut and Villanova -- as well as three of the No. 2 seeds -- Texas, Tennessee and Ohio State -- failed to win their conference tournaments.
All in all, this should be a great tournament. The passion and emotion is incredible. I just spent three days at the ACC Tournament and those were flat out battles, baby! The final between Boston College and Duke was awesome with a capital A! Craig Smith and Boston College are so physical, and those kids can really pass the rock. The Dukies escaped with their seventh tourney title in eight years, an amazing feat. If the NCAA Tournament has games that live up to that intensity, watch out. They should because it is survive and advance, as my late buddy, Jimmy Valvano, always said.
Let's look at my picks for the Elite Eight and the Final Four:
In the D.C. region, I see Connecticut and North Carolina meeting in the regional final. Jim Calhoun's Huskies are so talented and have so many weapons. The frontline of Rudy Gay, Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong can rebound and score. Marcus Williams and company will be refocused. I like the Huskies to move on to Indianapolis.
In Minneapolis, I believe that Boston College's physical strength and determination will make a difference. I have Al Skinner's club going to the Final Four with a win over Florida.
In Atlanta, I feel the regional final will be a rematch between Duke and Texas. I see this being much closer this time around compared to the blowout at the Meadowlands. J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams and company are too strong. Greg Paulus has developed handling the rock, and Josh McRoberts showed strength inside in the ACC tournament. The Blue Devils go to Indianapolis.
Finally, out of Oakland I see Memphis and UCLA battling. Guard play is so important. I love the tandem of Jordan Farmer and Arron Afflalo. Ben Howland has done a super job and the Bruins were so impressive at the Pac-10 tournament. The Bruins are happy to be in California. They are my pick to move on to the Final Four.
I like Duke and Connecticut to meet for the national championship, and when it is all said and done, Calhoun and company cut down the nets in Indianapolis.
Let the games begin. It should be something special, baby!
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.