Vitale: Thursday's Sweet 16 recaps

Vitale: UConn's easy path

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Four teams, two Final Four berths


(2) Oklahoma State vs. (1) St. Joseph's
The critics screamed and yelled that St. Joe's didn't deserve a No. 1 seed because the Atlantic 10 is not considered a power conference. But it now looks like the A-10 deserves more respect with St. Joe's and Xavier having super performances in the NCAA Tournament.

Everyone on Hawk Hill should be proud of a groups of kids who have scratched and clawed their way into the Elite Eight after an undefeated regular season. The Hawks are the first team since UNLV in 1991 to go unbeaten in the regular season, and every team since 1976 that has had an undefeated regular season has made the Final Four.

The question for St. Joe's is whether it can get enough inside play to offset the strength of Oklahoma State, which leads the nation in shooting at 51 percent. The Cowboys shot an amazing 64 percent in the second half of their win over a tenacious Pittsburgh team. They have a star in Tony Allen, an outstanding point guard in John Lucas and a matchup nightmare in Joey Graham.

The Hawks were a sensational 12-of-24 from long range in their Sweet 16 win over Wake Forest and will need more of the same against Eddie Sutton's Cowboys. This will be an incredible game, baby! 40 minutes to decide a Final Four berth.


(8) Alabama vs. (2) Connecticut
Alabama had never advanced to the Elite Eight before this year and the Crimson Tide has a tough task ahead of it against Connecticut. But the Tide has rolled so far in the NCAA Tournament, knocking off No. 1 seed Stanford and also finding a way to send Syracuse and its 2-3 zone home.

One of the biggest reasons Alabama has come this far is the superb play of its big three of Earnest Shelton, Kennedy Winston and Chuck Davis. They also get stability on the perimeter from Antoine Pettway and Mike Gottfried's club has responded big-time to tournament pressure.

But the Tide now faces one of the most talented teams in America in UConn. Emeka Okafor's back is healthy and the Huskies are playing their best basketball of the year right now. They have not slowed down since winning the Big East tournament, and this is no longer the Okafor-Ben Gordon show with guys like Rashad Anderson, Denham Brown and Taliek Brown stepping up.

But make no mistake that Okafor is the key. He is so valuable as the anchor of Connecticut's defense, backing up his teammates and becoming a human eraser when the Huskies have defensive breakdowns. Something tells me the Huskies will be tough to beat, and don't forget that the last time they played a regional in Phoenix was 1999, when Jim Calhoun went on to win his first national title.

Alabama has made a gallant effort to get this far, but the Tide is going to have its work cut out against one of the hottest teams in the nation.

Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he's been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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