I have not yet written about college basketball this year, and I’ve only had the opportunity to watch a few games here and there. With March Madness on the immediate horizon, and with every sports fan in the nation cramming to learn about as many teams as possible heading into their office pool, I would not want to come across as an expert in the field, or even, OF the field. However, please let it be known that before I got married, I would consistently stay up to watch the midnight games on ESPN, and there was nothing you could tell me about the WAC Conference, or any other conference for that matter, that I didn’t already know. Now, most of the college ball I get to see is during commercial breaks of random reality television shows where people I’ve never heard of are dancing, or ice skating, or trying to lose two pounds in the span of seven weeks.
That said, I’ve brought in an expert to consult us all on this year’s NCAA Tournament – the one and only Dick Vitale! Dick is extremely busy during this time of the year, but I was able to convince him to join us by prank calling him in a whiney voice, and pretending I was Mike Krzyzewski, at which point he arrived at my house in approximately 17 minutes (from his vacation home in the Cayman Islands). Since coming to, and discovering the truth (while in handcuffs), he has calmed down considerably.
Me: Dicky V., welcome to “Big Time Sports!” It’s truly an honor to have you here.
Vitale: HEY! NO PROBLEM, MIKEEEY. IT’S SUCH A PLEASURE TO BE IN THE GREAT STATE OF NEW JERSEY, JUST FULL OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL TRADITION, AND TALENT! AS YOU KNOW, I HAVE TIES WITH RUTGERS UNIVERSITY, AND LET ME TELL YOU – GARY WATERS HAD THAT PROGRAM MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION, NO MATTER WH…
Me: Dick, Dick – whoa. Whoa. Hold on for a sec. Can you do me and the readers a favor, and try not to speak in caps lock? It gets a little annoying after a while, and it takes up a lot of space.
Vitale: Ha ha! Sure thing, Mikeeeey, baby! You know me – the subject of college basketball gets me so excited, I can barely contain myself! And speaking of “contain,” how good is that UConn defense at containing the perimeter? Jim Calhoun really has his troops clamping down on opponents lately, and with the inside presence of Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong, combined with the great scoring talents of NBA-ready Rudy Gay, as well as Rashad Anderson, the Huskies are going to be tough to beat come tournament time, baby!
Me: Okay, well…guess that covers my question about Connecticut. But let’s get down to business here. Dick, you’ve been accused in the past of being somewhat of a cheerleader for Du…
Vitale: The BLUE DEVILS, baby! Hey, ya’ know, Mikey – people have certainly accused me of rooting for Coach K and Duke, but how can you NOT? They’re the most consistently excellent program in the nation, and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t give them the respect and love that they deserve. They’re the NEW YORK YANKEES of college basketball! Just look at them this year – they’ve got the BEST PLAYER IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL in J.J. Redick, baby! They’ve got Shelden Williams on the inside blocking shots and grabbing boards! They’ve got diaper dandies Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus making plays down the stretch! And most importantly, Mikey – they’ve got Coach K on the sidelines. They’ve got the tradition. They’ve got the No. 1 seed! They’ve got it ALL, baby!!!
Me: Wow. You’re spraying spit everywhere. I should have worn a protective visor.
Vitale: And hey – you know I give love to EVERYBODY! I mean, how about Texas? What a balanced attack they have, with four guys averaging double-figures in points! And Villanova…WOW, baby! They beat UConn! What great guard play they have, with Randy Foye, Mike Nardi, and of course, Allan Ray. Ya’ know, if you switch his name around, you get the name of another great Big East guard – Ray Allen, baby! What a coincidence! It’s like the stars are aligned! That’s why you gotta love college basketball!
Me: And also, for Pittsnogle.
Vitale: Oh, boy Mikey – how about Kevin Pittsnogle?! Don’t think I’d ever forget about Pittsnogle and that fabulous West Virginia team! They proved last year that they can go far in this tourney, and Mike Gansey is just deadly from the perimeter. And make no mistake – Kevin Pittsnogle is a household name. They’ve turned it into a VERB, baby! I think I just Pittsnogled all over myself!
Me: Yeah, we’ll get you a towel. Dick, which is the best conference in college basketball right now?
Vitale: Ya’ know, when you talk about the best conference, you HAVE to start with the powerhouse Big East. You’re talking about a conference that may get NINE teams in the tournament! They have FOUR teams ranked in the top-15 in the nation! But you can’t forget about the ACC either. Not with Duke in the mix, baby! THE DUKIES! Then there’s Roy Williams and the defending champion Tarheels. They’re diaper dandies, but they can all handle the rock, baby! Even teams like N.C. State and Boston College have proven they can play with the big boys! And ya’ gotta throw the Big 12 in there, with a great Texas team leading the way. Don’t forget - Bill Self’s Kansas team got off to a terrible start, but they’re back to playing fabulous basketball! Watch out for the Jayhawks come tourney time! And we can’t forget about the Big Ten – with Iowa, and Ohio State, and the experienced Illinois team led by Dee Brown. And John Calipari and Memphis catch a bad rap for beating up on Conference USA, but I’m telling you – that league is not as bad as people think. If a team like UAB can work their way into the tournament, watch out!
Me: Ya’ wanna throw the Patriot League in there while you’re at it?
Vitale: Ha ha! Holy Cross, BABY!
Me: Dick, what team is going win the NCAA Tournament?
Vitale: Wow, Mikey! I mean, there are so many great teams this year, it’s just amazing. What a talent pool! That’s why college basketball is the greatest game on earth, baby! You gotta talk about the powerhouses like Duke, and UConn. Those two teams have so much firepower, it’s gonna take an “A-plus” game from someone else to knock them off. But it can happen, especially when you talk about Villanova, and Pittsburgh, and even a solid Georgetown team, led by John Thompson THE THIRD, baby! They BEAT Duke already, so they’ll have all the confidence in the world heading into the tournament. And people talk about a team like Memphis playing cupcakes in Conference USA, but check their out-of-conference schedule – they beat UCLA AND Gonzaga, and only lost to Duke by THREE points! And speaking of the ‘Zags, it’s impossible to bet against them and their great star, Adam Morrison. What a player! What a mustache! And don’t count out George Washington, who have just beat up on the Atlantic 10 the entire season. Of course, there’s a team down in the great state of Texas that would have a problem if I didn’t mention them here, and they’re name is…TEXAS, baby! And don’t forget about Iowa, or even George Mason…
Me: So, Dick, what you’re basically saying is that every team in the NCAA tournament is going to win the NCAA tournament? I’m pretty sure they only have one trophy.
Vitale: I know, and what a shame it is! ONE trophy, Mikey?! If it were up to me, we’d have SIXTY-FIVE trophies, and I’d be honored to hand the first one to Coach K – Mike Krzyzewski. What a class act! What a wonderful human being. He’s the reason why college basketball is the greatest game on earth, baby!
Me: Well, I’m not exactly sure if you’ve shed any light on the upcoming NCAA Tournament for our readers, but I appreciate your time anyway. It’s difficult to get adequate information from the eternal college basketball optimist, but you’re certainly one of a kind, Mr. Vitale. Any final thoughts before I put the masking tape back over your mouth?
Vitale: Oh, Mikey baby! It’s been a pleasure to talk college basketball with you here today! I know we had our problems at the beginning, but you’re really a great guy! And what a KIDNAPPER you are! You’re the J.J. Redick of kidnappers, I’m telling you! And speaking of Redick, let me t…mmmmfffhhh! Mmmfffhhhh! MMMMFFFFHHHH!!
Me: (Note to self: NEXT year, abduct Jay Bilas.)