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Arizona vs. NBA's Miami Heat? College comp enough for 'Cats

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM


Luke Walton
Walton
Q: Arizona vs. the NBA's Miami Heat? I believe the Arizona Wildcats would beat the Heat. What do you think? I'm a huge Western Kentucky fan, and I watched Arizona beat the Hilltoppers by 38 ... Arizona is that good! -- Patrick R. Horn, Bowling Green, Ky.
VITALE:
I don't know about Arizona beating the Miami Heat. The bottom line is you're still talking about professional players. Arizona needs a healthy Luke Walton. Everybody is going to take their best shot at coach Lute Olson's Wildcats.

The 'Cats struggled some against San Diego State and had a war against a very good Texas team. Playing without Walton, that's a good win. He brings so much in terms of winning experience.

Arizona has to be concerned with its college schedule right now. The 'Cats have to play at LSU on Saturday. Then there's the Jan. 2 date with Oregon at the Pit (McArthur Court in Eugene). Olson's team remembers what happened there last season (an embarrassing 105-75 loss on Dec. 22, 2001). Oregon also beat Arizona 90-80 in Tuscon on Jan. 4. So the 'Cats will need to concentrate on the college schedule, baby!

Q: Coach, I really enjoy your work. I'm a big Florida Gators fan, and I'm a little concerned about their size inside. We have some big teams in our conference like 'Bama and Mississippi State. Do you think the Gators can be a true national contender with such a limited inside game (basically David Lee and Matt Bonner)? -- Doug Dean, Sterling, Va.
VITALE:
That's a great point. When I called one of the Gators' games earlier this season, I commented on how they relied on their perimeter game so much. They rely on trifectas and on their pressure defense to score points off turnovers. Besides Lee and Bonner, they don't have a post threat on the interior. I believe coach Billy Donovan's team will get better when Christian Drejer comes back from an ankle injury. Right now, they do rely on the 3-point shot.

Q: I would like to know, where's the "greatest" freshman class in the country that the Duke Blue Devils were supposed to have? J.J. Redick and Sean Dockery are the only Duke freshmen who have made a positive contribution every game. Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph lack offensive post skills and play weak defense off the ball. Was this class overrated? -- Justin, Bassett
VITALE:
Absolutely not. Duke is No. 2 in the nation right now, and while that may be a little high, those kids have come in as a group and been a key factor in Duke's success.

Q: Do the Oregon Ducks stack up as a Final Four team? And will the Lukes be around next year to defend our national championship? -- MJ, Portland, Ore.
VITALE:
First of all, I don't think we saw the real Oregon team at the Jimmy V Classic, where the Ducks got blown out 77-52 by Cincinnati. I think coach Ernie Kent's kids will bounce back strong. They have to improve on the defensive end. You can't win consistently in tournament play if you rely solely on the offensive end. If you have a bad night, like the Ducks did in the Meadowlands, it can be lights out. But the duo of Luke Jackson and Luke Ridnour is still the best tandem in America. Will they be around next year? Both are juniors, so I hope so.

Gene Keady
Keady
Q: The Purdue Boilermakers have run off some blowout victories early in the season and played down to the last second against the Indiana Hoosiers. Are the blowout victories just at the expense of weak opponents, or does coach Gene Keady have the depth it takes to get the Boilermakers back to dancing mode in March? -- Sam King, Frankfort, Ind.
VITALE:
Purdue has to try to climb the ladder in the Big Ten, which isn't easy when you look at the likes of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota (for starters). Then the NCAA Tournament could come. The Boilermakers rely a great deal on Willie Deane and Kenneth Lowe, and they played Indiana tough. They need quality wins to get the RPI up.

Q: With all the talk about freshmen in college basketball, isn't freshman Carmelo Anthony of the Syracuse Orangemen the best so far? -- Shawn Smith, Richmond, Va.
VITALE:
It's so early to determine who's the best, but freshmen are certainly making a significant impact this season. There are so many talented diaper dandies. I know that AAU coaches get a lot of criticism, but these kids wouldn't be walking away with the gold trophies as tourney MVPs (like Rashad McCants at the Preseason NIT or Bracey Wright at the Maui Invitational) if they didn't come in ready to play. They are ready because of all the competition they get from AAU summer ball.

Q: Did Saturday's performance by the MWC go unnoticed? All six games were won by MWC teams. The list of victims included Texas Tech, Hawaii, Utah State and Washington State. Can the MWC send three teams to the Big Dance again this year? -- Nathan, Salt Lake City, Utah
VITALE:
Wyoming's victory over Texas Tech was impressive. The Mountain West is a better conference than people realize; it's very tough to win away from home in that league. With Wyoming, BYU, UNLV, Utah, San Diego State and Colorado State, there are plenty of quality clubs in the Mountain West -- and they will beat each other up in league play. It's hard to say at this point whether the conference will get three into the Dance, but the league is certainly very competitive.

Q: The nation's biggest secret: St. John's Red Storm guard Marcus Hatten! How come this kid isn't getting any respect? Top 10 player, in my eyes. Dicky V, what's your take? -- Bobby Chrenc, Waltham, Mass.
VITALE
: I don't know if Hatten is a secret -- he was one of the top players in the Big East last season. The success and notoriety will happen when St. John's gets in the winner's circle in the Big East. Early on, they haven't played big-time opponents, though they travel to Wake Forest this weekend. Positive PR will come his way when he continues his success vs. tougher competition.

Q: Where's the love for the East Carolina Pirates? Sitting at 7-0, with wins over Ole Miss and Virginia Tech, they are poised to be 10-0 heading into a critical Dec. 30 home conference opener against Marquette. Add to that the fact that Bill Herrion is one of the most tireless workers in America, and you have the potential for fireworks in Greenville! -- Jimmy Lewis, Greenville, N.C.
VITALE:
Both Herrion brothers (Bill and Tom, Charleston's head coach) got some love from me on my Fast Break segment on SportsCenter. That was a good win over Rod Barnes' Ole Miss Rebels. East Carolina is in the rugged American division in Conference USA -- with Cincinnati, Marquette and Louisville -- so that will be a challenge. Give coach Bill Herrion credit for doing a nice job with the Pirates.

Q: Love your passion for the game. I was wondering if you've had a chance to look at this year's Missouri Tigers squad? I really love the way the Tigers are playing right now. Do you think they're better than last year, even without Kareem Rush and Clarence Gilbert? I think they can surprise the big boys in the Big 12 this year. Kansas is good but short off the bench, and Texas and Oklahoma look beatable (still awesome, though). -- Chris Vander Pluym, St. Louis
VITALE:
Missouri is a lot better than I thought, because the Tigers have replaced the backcourt of Rush and Gilbert. Ricky Clemons and Jimmy McKinney have stepped in to offset the losses of Rush, Gilbert and Wesley Stokes. The Tigers also have an outstanding frontcourt with Rickey Paulding, Travon Bryant and Arthur Johnson. Clemons has been a factor.

Rick Pitino
Pitino
Q: On a scale of 1-10, where do you rate Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals? In your opinion, is Reece Gaines an All-American? -- Billy Wolz, Louisville, Ky.
VITALE:
Gaines can be an All-American in the postseason, when it counts. He'll get a lot of help with the return of Marvin Stone. Pitino has always been one of my favorites. He can motivate, teach, he understands all facets of the game and he's a workaholic.

Q: When is the rest of the country going to show some love to Dana Altman, Kyle Korver and the Creighton Bluejays? We want some great teams to play us. But most of all, we want you to do a TV game. We've got some great places to eat too! -- David Walker, Omaha
VITALE:
Dana Altman deserves some love. Creighton is unbeaten with a big win over Notre Dame. Korver is a trifecta machine. The Bluejays should be dangerous come tournament time. They have postseason experience, they control tempo and defend well, and they have guys who can make 3-pointers, led by Korver.

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