V-MAIL: Feb. 7
Q: Do you think Cincinnati will go deep in the tourney? Why does Cincinnati get so little respect from ESPN and the media? -- Cullen Wainscott, Florence, Ohio
VITALE: I don't know about Cincinnati not getting respect. I think the Bearcats get their fair share of publicity and notoriety. The fact of the matter is, with their suffocating defense, they can make big noise in the Tournament. That's truly the case if they can get offensive productivity from their wing players, Immanuel McElroy and Leonard Stokes. Stokes came up big with 30 points against Charlotte. Steve Logan is a star but he needs some help offensively.
|Cincinnati's Steve Logan (22) was the player of the year in Conference USA last season.|
Q: Mike Dunleavy is on your All-Rolls Royce team, but he's a role player. You should put Casey Jacobsen on your team. He's a guy defenses plan against and he still scores 20-plus points a game. -- Matt, San Francisco
VITALE: I don't agree with you calling Dunleavy a role player. He can go inside and outside, and he's versatile with his ability to handle the rock. It sounds to me like more of the anti-Duke sentiment out there. I've had writers out there whom I respect, guys like Dick "Hoops" Weiss, tell me Dunleavy is the second-best player in the country behind Jason Williams. Jacobsen is certainly a quality player, a star, but you can only pick one second guard and I went with Juan Dixon.
Q: How much better will North Carolina be next year? Are the Tar Heels' current problems mostly attributed to their weakness at point guard or is the talent finally thin in Chapel Hill? Will the underclassmen mature and improve by next year or should we pray for a few diaper dandies? -- Sean Burns, Haverhill, Mass.
VITALE: I think the big thing is that this team is not getting better. They are rolling over, and that is sad. They have not gotten better defensively as a unit, the players don't seem to be improving, and Matt Doherty has to be concerned about that. As for next season, they have to make some strides; they got three of the top 10 recruits in Rashard McCants, Raymond Felton and Sean May. Can those freshmen take them from where they are now to at least the potential of an NIT bid?
It has become embarrassing for the Tar Heels; look at the Wake Forest game the other night, with Skip Prosser subbing with seven minutes left. This is not what you expect from kids with the résumés of Jason Capel, Kris Lang, Juwad Williams, Melvin Scott, Jackie Manuel, Brian Morrison and Adam Boone. They had very impressive résumés, and Doherty has to be totally frustrated. Getting beat is one thing, but losing the way they are is another.
Q: Who is the most underrated team in the SEC? -- an SEC fan
VITALE: Nationally, I think it's Georgia. The Bulldogs have surprised everyone and have enjoyed a phenomenal year, considering there weren't great expectations coming in. To win at Kentucky and at Florida says a lot -- plus non-league wins over Georgetown, a Minnesota (which is making some noise in the Big Ten) and Pepperdine (the WCC leader over Gonzaga right now), says a lot for the job coach Jim Harrick has done this season.
Q: You went to bat for UCLA coach Steve Lavin last year after he got bad press, which I respected. But how many years of this inconsistency should UCLA fans have to tolerate before Lavin gets the blame? This year has to be by far the biggest disappointment. The Bruins have no discipline and rarely look like the cohesive unit that was billed in the preseason to be a Final Four contender. Thanks, and keep up the great work. -- Matt Fossum, Davis, Calif.
VITALE: The Bruins have been up-and-down this season, with some brilliant moments like the wins over Kansas and USC. You can't just fire a coach any time a team slips a little. Come on now, he has consistently kept the program intact, UCLA has been a contender in the Pac-10 and a dangerous team come Tournament time. The Bruins are playing without a point guard. Cedric Bozeman hasn't lived up to his expectations coming out of high school (just like Kelvin Torbert at Michigan State). Sometimes kids need a little time to adjust to the college level. You can't rush to judgment too early, but it's very difficult to survive in college basketball without a genuine lead guard.
Q: Player A averages 33 minutes, 21.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, a .464 field-goal percentage, a .632 free-throw percentage and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1-3. Player B averages 33.5 minutes, 21.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, a .467 field-goal percentage, a .863 free-throw percentage and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2-1. Player B's numbers are as good as, if not better than, Player A. Yet you listed Player B (Steve Logan) on none of your all-star teams, and had Player A (Jason Williams) on several. Yes, Jason plays for Duke, but give Logan his due. Why isn't Logan on any of your teams? -- Jason E. Wheeler, Littlestown, Pa.
VITALE: I don't think stats determine superstar status. Logan is certainly an outstanding player, but you can pick only five for an All-Rolls Royce team. I don't think I'm alone in my evaluation of Williams; just make a call to any NBA scout and he will flat-out tell you he's the premier player in America.
Q: How would you compare Oregon to the national elite like Duke and Kansas? Oregon beat a UCLA team that has defeated Kansas. Oregon won by 30 against UCLA and Arizona. Do the Ducks have a shot at the Final Four? -- Scott, Eugene, Ore.
VITALE: We'll find out when they go on the road with four big games. If they can go 2-2 in that situation, they will remain in contention in the Pac-10. Give Ernie Kent credit for doing a good job. You often rate teams on how they would do on a neutral court, and I think the Ducks could fare well because of the perimeter play with Luke Ridnour, Frederick Jones and Luke Jackson.
Q: What in the world is going on at Illinois? There are no more excuses for inexperience, injuries or a first-year coach. With all that talent, their road record in the Big Ten is appalling (all losses against unranked opponents). The pieces are obviously there. Is it the coaching? Is it too many egos? A combination? -- Dave Ryan, Elgin, Ill.
VITALE: Illinois is trying to find some energy and enthusiasm to feed off, especially from Frank Williams right now. They haven't been getting positive play from him, and the bottom line is he must turn it up a notch and lead that team by example. It's a dilemma right now. He's a talented kid and he has to play like he did earlier this year when I called his game against Iowa. He looked sensational that night. This is a team that people shouldn't count out too quickly; if the Illini have any pride and get emotional and fired up, they can still cause a lot of damage.
Q: Why did you not call for Coach K to clear his bench during the last part of the second half vs. North Carolina? You said the players needed to come out due to the wet floor, but not because of the rout. You also said Duke is thin on players. How can bench people become players unless they play? -- Clarence Corbett, Dallas
VITALE: I guess you didn't hear the telecast, because at the time I said they should take some players out. They were working on their motion game, the delay game, in front of a crowd, working on timing. Duke could have poured it on big time. It's kind of sad in a way, being at Chapel Hill, watching one of the prized programs, and an opponent from eight miles away is on the court experimenting on the delay game on your floor. As for substituting, that's Coach K's decision and not mine up in the booth. I did say he's got to be careful with these players because you don't want to chance injuries in a blowout.
Q: How do you rate UConn freshmen Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon compared to other freshmen nationally? And how do you rank UConn compared to the elite teams across the country? Thanks for your thoughts and come visit Storrs for a game! -- Chris Sullivan, Boston
VITALE: They have a world of potential. They have to add consistency to their game. Okafor gives Connecticut a special defensive presence as a shot-blocker. Their performance in the win at Arizona had to give them so much confidence, and that's what they have to build on to win.
Q: How can you consider Jason Williams a point guard? Chris Duhon is the point guard for Duke. Duhon brings the ball up the floor, starts the offense and is easily the better passer. Williams is a shooting guard, as seen by his unimpressive assist-to-turnover ratio. As a Duke fan, I have to say that Jason Williams is probably the second-best two guard in the nation behind Juan Dixon. -- RL, Durham, N.C.
VITALE: Williams is a combination guard with unique abilities, like Isiah Thomas at Indiana. He can score or distribute the basketball. He can also defend and he's a tremendous lead guard. This is a matter of semantics here; the bottom line is, at Duke, both Williams and Duhon share the basketball, so they could both be labeled point guards.
Q: What do you think of Bowling Green so far? Do you see them winning the MAC? If they don't win the MAC, do you think they could get an at-large bid? -- Tyler Jewel, Medina, Ohio
VITALE: Coach Dan Dakich has done a good job and the Falcons are contenders for an NCAA berth. Keith McLeod is a very underrated player on a national level. It will probably come down to the MAC tournament, which traditionally is one of the most competitive ones during Championship Week. Bowling Green hasn't been in the NCAA Tournament since 1968. Kent State and Ball State are certainly in the mix as well. I have always felt the MAC is one of the most underrated conferences in America.
Q: Why is it that every time media types mention the best players in college, they never seem to mention Mike Sweetney of Georgetown? This big guy averages 18.5 ppg and 10 rpg and shoots 61.5 percent in 27 mpg. Can you name a power forward other than Drew Gooden who does that on a nightly basis? If not, then why doesn't Sweetney receive the credit he is due? -- Geo, Washington, D.C.
VITALE: You can make a very good case for Sweetney, as he is one of the top power forwards in America. Unfortunately for him, there are guys like Gooden, Reggie Evans, Sam Clancy and a host of other outstanding power forwards. If I picked my top 15 players in America, Sweetney would be on that list.