Armed with his catchy catch phrases ( … with the kiss and Onions! A double order!), Bill Raftery is calling yet another NCAA Tournament for CBS. On Tuesday, while sitting on a boarding plane in Newark, N.J., headed for Boston, where he will call the East Region this weekend, Raftery, 65, spent a few minutes talking about the tournament with Times staff writer Tom Jones.
We haven't seen many upsets so far. How come?
I think the selection committee probably selected pretty well, and when you look back there were a few games where we were a basket or a possession away from a potential upset. Siena had a chance for a while against Louisville. Villanova and American University came down to the end and then Villanova tattooed UCLA, but if American had beaten Villanova, that could've created some more surprises. Western Kentucky and Gonzaga went down to the last shot. So we had some close calls, but the favored teams managed to hold on.
What team was most impressive over the weekend?
I thought Louisville, at times, looked great. They're really maturing. Kansas is another team. Duke's win over Texas was impressive. That was a tough game for them because of the physicality of it. Xavier looked good. I like how Syracuse is playing.
Speaking of Syracuse, you called that six-overtime game in the Big East tournament. How much did beating UConn in that game give the Orange a spark?
Over the years, they've always played well in New York and I think that game gave them lots of confidence. (Louisville coach) Rick Pitino said in January that (Syracuse) was playing as well as anyone, but then they got bounced around a bit, which that conference can do to you. But they certainly look good now.
What team really needs to pick up its play this weekend?
Pitt has to play better. But they play a lot of close to the vest games. Villanova struggled against American and they need to play better, too, although they came on strong against UCLA.
Any team that needs to be on upset alert?
Gonzaga has the pieces to upset North Carolina. Gonzaga is a really good team. Purdue guards well and can give UConn trouble. But, you know, all these games are so evenly matched that it seems like every team is good enough to win and you really wouldn't call any game a major upset.
Is there anybody in the Sweet 16 that if you look back at earlier in the season you would've been surprised to learn they were in the Sweet 16?
Missouri had some good wins but some bad losses, too. Purdue didn't play well for a stretch. But Arizona, obviously, is the one that jumps out. They're a 12 seed, the highest seed left. So not many had them in the Sweet 16.
Give me an X-factor player, a player who can win this tournament by himself.
(Sherron) Collins can do damage for Kansas. He's that kind of player. So is Duke's Jon Scheyer if he plays the way he did against Florida State in the ACC championship. DeJuan Blair from Pitt is a big-time player. Jonny Flynn from Syracuse. And, of course, Blake Griffin from Oklahoma. He is physically imposing and can dominate a game at both ends.
So, who is the team to beat?
I still think Carolina is the team to beat. I'm not saying they're going to win it all and they're playing a Gonzaga team that is very confident right now. But Carolina has the subs to pitch in and then, of course, you have Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson. But watch for Louisville with their press and UConn with their dominating inside game. Ha … any of these teams can win it. There's so much variety. That is what is making this a great tournament.
Tom Jones' Two Cents