The Week That Was
Conference Tourneys, NCAA memories and an assist from a legend.
With Selection Sunday just four short days away, the start of the greatest three weeks in sports is so close it can be tasted. Over the past week, teams have proven their worth (Texas A&M) while others (Kentucky) are just hoping for a miracle week to somehow plant themselves into the field of 65. Although the format should be similar, this week’s post should be a bit different as we focus solely on the tournament and stray a bit away from the scouting and individual player stuff. In addition, one of my heroes in the game of basketball was gracious enough to give of his time (surprise) and add his thoughts on not only this season’s NCAA Tournament, but on those of year’s past, as well.
HEADLINE: It’s Awesome Baby!
Yes, it is true. Dick Vitale sat down with me for a few minutes last Friday, and despite the buckets of sweat flowing from my palms down into my recorder, our time was as great as I could have expected. While many basketball fans can be wore down by Dickie V’s sheer volume and prejudice toward the college game, his passion and dedication to not only the game I love, but to the human race, as well, makes me one of his biggest fans. Coach Vitale has teamed up with EA Sports for their downloaded version of NCAA Basketball ’09 March Madness Edition and some chances to win a free copy will be littered through out this post. (Look for the three asterisks — ***) I have nine to give away, but you can each only win one copy so don’t ruin things by answering all the questions. We know who you are!
TEAMS (of the week) HEADING INTO THE TOURNAMENT: Take it Away Mr. Vitale!
Cub Scouts: There seem to be several teams with realistic national title aspirations, but which teams do you like heading into this week of conference tournaments?
Dick Vitale: There are many teams that can win two games and make it into the Sweet 16, but there are maybe a dozen teams that can win six in a row. Those I like are what everyone else seems to like, the Carolinas, the Connecticuts, the Pittsburghs, the Louisvilles. Right behind them, you think about Memphis, you think about Duke, Wake Forest. Teams in the middle of the pack, in the Big East and the ACC, can also go on and win six in a row, because they have had to face heavyweight competition; faced all of the Goliaths on a regular basis. The Villanovas, the Clemsons and the Wake Forests, those teams are very dangerous.
CS: Are there any others outside of these mentioned that you feel could surprise some people and make a Final Four?
DV: I also think about Gonzaga, keep on eye on them. They are very capable of getting on a roll and winning four in a row to make a Final Four.
*** Dickie V then went on to mention a player and team of very recent history that used the three-point shot (which he feels has revolutionized the game) to come out of nowhere to make a run to Elite Eight before missing a final shot against the eventual national champion. Name this All-American and his team. (1)***
GREATEST NCAA MOMENTS: Guess Who?
CS: Looking back in history, what were some of the teams that were able to take home a national title that you enjoyed watching, as a fan?
DV: Jimmy V cutting down the nets in ’83, when a lot of people didn’t even think they were going to get into the tournament. They had to win the ACC (tourney) just to qualify for the Tournament. When they got into the Tournament, they got on a roll, survive and advance and were able to beat a major goliath in that final game. That was certainly special.
***Name the two All-Americans and their teams that the Wolf Pack beat in that ACC Tournament. (2,3) Name the two future NBA All-Stars and their team that NC State beat in that final. (4) Name the supporting cast sharp-shooter on that NC State team that is now a golf and college basketball analyst for ESPN/ABC. (5) ***
Of course, there are more.
DV: Rollie Massimino pitching that perfect game, the “Don Larsen” special, against Georgetown and Patrick Ewing back in ’85. How unique was that? What about Arizona? The year they were fifth in their conference, getting hot at the right time, and if my memory is correct, beat three #1-seeds and then went on to win a national title beating Kentucky.
***Name the former Sun/Sixer/King/Buck/Raptor/Heat/Celtic that was the leading scorer on that ’85 Villanova squad. (6)***
DV: What about Danny Manning (Kansas) back in ’88. Danny and the Miracles, at one time, were 12-9 and it looks like they are probably going to be playing in the NIT. Then all of the sudden, Manning does an incredible job carrying his team on his back in a six-game run and they win the national title. Those are all special moments.
***Name the Jayhawks’ opponent in that ’88 final and their All-American forward. (7)***
PLAYER (CAUSE) ALERT: Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up.
Cub Scouts has made no bones about our admiration for those that give and the causes adopted by the players and coaches that inhabit college basketball. Maybe its greatest champion, however, hasn’t played a game or worked the sidelines and officials for decades, but has picked up the mantel of Jimmy Valvano’s V Foundation for cancer research. In addition to donating 100 percent (yeah, all of it) of the proceeds from his recent book to the foundation, Dick Vitale is on the Board of Directors and hosts a charity event that is beyond “star-studded.” (This year scheduled: Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan, Bob Huggins, Jamie Dixon, Tom Izzo, Tom Crean, Rick Barnes, Mike Brey, Tubby Smith—should I go on?)
CS: How important is it for you to be so integrally involved with what Coach Valvano started with the V Foundation?
DV: You know, Jimmy and I weren’t very close friends prior to him coming to ESPN. But then we spent a lot of time together, in the hotels, and I spent hour after hour with him while he was battling cancer, listening to many of his very intimate stories about family and watched in amazement as he was battling and battling, working to the last second, basically, the last moment. Jimmy’s legacy will be, not the cutting the nets down, but the $80-plus million that’s been already raised. My gala has raised at least $1 million every year and over 50 coaches come out. Why do they come out? They come out because of the legacy of Jimmy V, how much they were touched by his battle and by how we all realize that cancer affects all of us. I don’t care who you are! Rich or poor; black, white; Christian, Jewish. It brings you to your knees, man. The only way we will ever get our people a chance is to give dollars. Especially with the economy today, though, cancer doesn’t care about the economy. It doesn’t give a damn, one bit. We just can’t lay back and accept this disease. I refuse to sit back and let cancer win the battle and a lot of my buddies feel the same way, so we are going to fight and fight and fight all we can. It’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime, but I’m hoping and praying that my little grandkids, maybe in their lifetime, there will be a headline, CANCER: A CURE HAS BEEN FOUND. What a headline? That is a headline that all of us will rejoice. People worry about winning games, losing games?!?! That’s so trivial to what people have to face.
FYI: Dickvitaleonline.com is a great place to start, as his site is littered with chances to give/purchase his book/ or even to attend his gala on May 15 in Sarasota, FL.
GAMES: The Week That Will Be
Conference tournaments are coming fast and heavy! My one main beef with the tournaments is the respective locales. Some conferences are large enough (with robust/travelling fan bases) to find a relatively neutral site which can still attract enough fans to fill the foreign arena. Others refuse to do so and eventually play the games at one of the team’s home courts. This is extremely unfair, in my opinion, and although I understand the financial significance of this line of thinking, it just doesn’t sit right with me.
PERFECT EXAMPLE: UNLV travelled to San Diego State on Saturday and suffered a (seemingly) crushing defeat to the Aztecs. With both teams on the bubble (and the 4/5 seeds in the Mountain West) they are now set to meet again in the first-round, but this time, the Runnin’ Rebels, for some reason, get to host this game in LV, site of the 2009 Mountain West Tournament. The conference moved it two years ago from its former site of Denver (a great geographically central site to many of the teams) which I know didn’t draw much local attention or come close to filling the Pepsi Center. I am sorry, Mountain West, I apologize for not attending. I wish you would come back to Denver and stop giving UNLV the unfair advantage (which this year, might just be enough to get them an at-large bid) they historically don’t need.
The West Coast Conference, however, is working that in reverse, by finally removing their tournament from the home gyms and using Las Vegas as a neutral site. Last year, San Diego got hot late in the year, hosted the tourney, won it, drew UConn, beat them; making history for the school. I bet the minute that the Vegas site was announced, thousands of kids from those schools starting booking their trip. Nicely played, West Coast Conference.
But I digress.
ESPN has the Horizon League Championship Game which will invariably feature Butler eking out a close one against their closest in-league rival. This time, it is Cleveland State, who not only beat Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on a last-second, half-court shot, but also lost twice to Butler by a combined total of four points This game should also give you a good chance to see if Butler is a team you want to “roll with” in your tournament bracket. However, the Bulldogs have the luxury of playing this one at historic Hinkle Field House in Indianapolis, which IS NOT FAIR and doesn’t give the best picture of how they will play away from home. Remember, Gordon Hayward.
The Duece has the Summit League Final from Sioux Falls SD starting at 8 p.m. North Dakota State is an exciting fast-paced team to watch and should provide a great test for any NCAA first-round opponent.
***Name the Mascot of North Dakota State. (8)***
Early-round action in the Big East permeates the ESPN daytime and primetime lineup.
ESPN2 has the NEC Tournament Final at 8 p.m. Followed by the Big Sky from Ogden, Utah. Yep, you guessed it! Home to the league-leading Weber State Wildcats! That’s fair.
Vegas is the site, The Moutain is your home for the 2009 Mountain West Conference Tournament! Rumors abound about the tourney finally being broadcast in HD, please! The All-Colorado Play-in (8/9) game between Colorado State and Air Force–for the right to face BYU in the quarterfinals–starts at 5 p.m.
ESPN has more from the Big East Tournament, which has, by this time, narrowed their own field down to 32 teams, I believe.
The ACC and the Big Ten finally get cracking and ESPN2 will be carrying some early-round action of both conferences all day.
The Mountain and CBS College Sports (there’s that HD) will both be simulcasting a quad-header of the entire MWC quarterfinals. If you haven’t heeded my year-long demands to pay attention to this conference, do now, before you look clueless in your bracket! Starts at 3 p.m.
ACC, Big Ten, and the Big 12 all resolve their automatic bid over the weekend, so check your local listings.
Again, I would like to thank Dick Vitale for taking the time to shed a little of his light not only on the tournament, but the lives around him. Next week, we are obviously breaking down brackets.
FIVE DAYS LEFT!!!
***Last Chance! What city will the NCAA committee be gathering in on Sunday to make the selections? (9)***
Check Cub Buenning’s scouting website for weekly player reports.