Dick VitaleSPECIAL TO ESPN.COM
August 25, 2006
Each Friday I will write about the sport I love, college basketball
George Mason was one of the greatest Cinderella stories in NCAA tournament history. Jim Larranaga's squad was in the Bracket Buster tournament last year and the Patriots will host a game in this year's event. This is the fifth annual event, on February 16-17, really helps the mid-majors add a game against quality opposition. A total of 102 teams will be involved in the expanded event, which includes 13 games on national television to provide added exposure. As part of the agreement, all of the home teams in this year's event will play a return game at their opponent's facility next season. I love this because the little guys get a chance to share the spotlight. It showcases some solid leagues. The Mid-American and Colonial Athletic Association (where George Mason plays) will have 12 teams in the 2007 field. Last year's Bracket Buster tournament had 19 teams go on to make the NCAA tournament. George Mason (a Final Four team), Wichita State and Bradley all made the Sweet 16 last season and were part of the Bracket Buster.
Louisville fans have to be happy with the news that the Cardinals will play in a new 22,000-seat arena . It is expected to cost close to $400 million in the facility located in the downtown area. That is good news coming after Rick Pitino learned starting guard Brandon Jenkins will likely miss the next three months with a broken leg. If it doesn't heal properly, Jenkins could be redshirted.
Speaking of the Cardinals, former Louisville forward Brian Johnson has transferred to Mississippi State. The 6-9 forward has been bothered by knee injuries which have led to numerous surgeries. He showed his potential with a double-double in just 24 minutes against Clemson in the NIT last season (13 points, 13 rebounds). Johnson will sit out this season and be eligible for the 2007-08 campaign.
The first game to tip-off college basketball on ESPN this season will feature the winner of the Conseco region of the NIT, with Indiana-Louisiana-Lafayette amd Notre Dame-Butler. Could we see Notre Dame-Indiana? Wow, that would be exciting!
More and more schools are taking advantage of a rule which allows them to take a preseason trip. The NCAA allows a member institution to take one designated "foreign" trip every four years. A program cannot miss any class time, and can only practice 10 days prior to the trip. New student-athletes entering the program cannot start practice until the beginning of classes. These early trips give coaches the opportunity to get a good evaluation of players. It also allows teams to get used to one another well before the start of the regular season. These trips can also boost confidence when the schools perform well, sometimes against lesser competition.
New Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez made a great move, adding former Pirate guard Shaheen Holloway to his staff. Holloway led the Hall to the Sweet 16 in 2000. Pittsburgh hired one of its own, naming Brandin Knight as a program assistant.
I have known Miami-Ohio coach Charlie Coles for a long time. He coached in Saginaw, Michigan while I was coaching at the University of Detroit. He was one of the outstanding high school coaches in Michigan. This season, he has an ambitious non-league schedule which includes Kentucky, Illinois, Xavier; Michigan and Cincinnati. The RedHawks were 14-4 in league play last season and this aggressive scheduling should help prepare Coles' squad for the upcoming MAC play. Miami returns a pair of All-MAC forwards Nathan Peavy and Tim Pollitz.
While talking about scheduling, I remember a few years ago referring to Gardner-Webb as a cupcake. That led to the fans rallying behind Rick Scruggs' program, which went on to upset Colorado State that season. Scruggs has always put together a rugged schedule and this year is no exception -- NC State, Wake Forest, Georgia and Wisconsin are on the agenda.
Virginia signed a familiar name as 6-4 guard Jeff Jones of Wilmington, Delaware is part of the school's 2007-08 class. He is no relation to former Cavalier guard and current American University coach Jeff Jones, who starred on Virginia teams in the Ralph Sampson era.
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. Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories