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Given departures, can Tar Heels compete?


Q: Has a national champion ever suffered such a devastating blow as the Tar Heels losing seven players from their roster? Will the Heels even be competitive while they wait for the class of '06 to arrive? Finally, what are there chances for making the NCAA Tournament for the next two years? — Jerry Johnson (North Carolina fan)
Roy Williams
Roy Williams
— North Carolina is bigger than any player. The university is one of the special state institutions in America. With great coaching from Roy Williams, along with the tradition and history of the program, the Tar Heels ultimately will get back to the top. Sure, it will be a struggle for a year as Williams has a young but talented squad, but they will be fun to watch. They will be exciting, with diaper dandies Tyler Hansbrough, Bobby Frasor and Co. in the group. But you can't lose four of the top 14 guys in the NBA draft and not be hurt. In 2006-07, they will be a top-10 team. Williams is a winner, and that Carolina blue jersey stands for greatness.

Q: The one thing everyone has missed about Bruce Webber is what a great coach/teacher he really is. I firmly believe he got more out of Bill Self's recruits than Self could have. I know I am biased, but coach Webber is a great X's and O's guy. With some talent and his ability to teach, Illinois is going to be successful for a long time. Mark my words, the Illini will be a minimum Elite Eight team [in 2005-06] with a chance to go all the way. — Dave (Decatur, Ill.)
— Webber is an old-school purist. He wants to put the whistle around his neck, go to the gym and teach. He breaks teams down offensively and defensively and shows his kids how to play the right way. It is so good to see a guy like that stand out. Illinois has a nice nucleus returning with Dee Brown back; he will be a first team All-America selection on my preseason team. James Augustine should have a big season inside. Look for the Illini to be a contender again in the improved Big Ten. There are five legitimate top 10 teams in the league, and maybe six if Michigan solves all of its problems.

Q: I've been anticipating a lot out of coach Mike Davis at Indiana, and I just can't wait until next season. How will the young team with more freshmen and transfer Marco Killingsworth look without Bracey Wright? — Joe Moffo (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
— Indiana is up there in the Big Ten, along with Michigan State, Illinois, Iowa and Ohio State. Michigan is close behind if Daniel Horton comes back. It should be a big year in the conference. Killingsworth can be a dominant inside player for the Hoosiers, and he will help D.J. White. Indiana knows this is a must-year; athletic director Rick Greenspan pulled no punches, when he announced Mike Davis was coming back, about the win-loss numbers needing to change. I feel that Indiana's preconference schedule is more realistic; I felt Davis got a tough break last year, as the nonleague schedule was so, so tough.

Q: How good do you think Memphis will be now that coach John Calipari has all the pieces. Shawn Williams and Christopher Douglas-Roberts head a strong recruiting class. Do you think the Tigers finally can make some big noise? — Trey (Memphis)
— John Calipari should have a dynamite club because so many returning players are familiar with his system. They played better at the end of this past season, and they could absolutely be one of the Dazzling Dozen teams in America. Darius Washington and Rodney Carney should provide a lot of excitement. There was a lot of early-season turmoil with the Sean Banks suspension, but the team improved. Calipari also brought in an outstanding recruiting class. Look for big things out of the Tigers this coming season. Memphis should dominate in Conference USA.

Q: Do you find it harder to appreciate the college game these days, with so many of the "better quality" players going to the NBA after only one season? — Kevin (college hoops fan)
— Absolutely not. The colleges could lose all the best players to the NBA, but as long as that jersey says North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State, Illinois, Connecticut, Syracuse, Indiana, UCLA, etc., you will always have the excitement. There is nothing like the energy on a college campus. There will be enthusiasm, passion, spirit and unbelievable emotion ... what the game is about is so special and so unique. To me, so many kids make mistakes, giving up college eligibility when they aren't ready. It breaks my heart, because I love kids and I love the game. I hate to see people make bad decisions, and too many early-entry guys listened to the wrong people.

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

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