Around here, we've been overdosing on football. The Gators won the national championship. The Bucs fired their coach. And now the Super Bowl is coming to town. But in case you hadn't noticed, there's a heck of a college basketball season going on. So while we have a one-weekend break, we thought we would go to the man in the know: ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale. His latest book, Fabulous 50 Players and Moments in College Basketball: From the Best Seat in the House During My 30 Years at ESPN, just went into its third printing. Dickie V spoke to us from his home in Sarasota before heading out for tonight's UConn-Notre Dame game in South Bend, Ind.
On how many teams have a shot at the Final Four:
It's unbelievable. It's a situation where, legitimately, about 16 teams could win six in a row (in the tournament). There are a lot of teams that could win two in a row. That's what separates the pretenders from the contenders. But six in a row? Yeah, probably about 16 teams. Unbelievable!
On why parity has taken over college basketball:
It's a lot of things. The biggest thing is the "one and done" rule (when freshmen play one season then can leave for the NBA). It's one of the biggest frauds in college basketball. It absolutely destroys the term "student-athlete." A kid is basically hired to play basketball for a year. It affects the domination factor for the big-time programs. They can't sustain their high level of play. Other things affect it, too. The 3-point shot and especially the guard play. There are more good guards in the country than great post players.
On why guards dominate college basketball:
There are an abundance of guards right now. Guards are late bloomers, so you end up seeing a lot of juniors and seniors. And it's those guards that really help the mid-major conference teams. Those teams are usually guard-dominated, and it shows in their leadership and poise. If you're a great post player, you play one season and then move on to the NBA. So you're seeing more guards.''
On his four Final Four teams right now:
I would go with North Carolina, Duke, Connecticut and Pittsburgh. But Louisville is a dangerous team because of coach Rick Pitino. In a one-game scenario, he's a guy you do not want to face and that team is getting better and better as the season goes on.
On breaking down each of his Final Four teams. First, North Carolina:
North Carolina has to find a way to get more production out of their bench. But they have the best starting five in the nation.
A stifling defense and a great 3-point shooting team. Kyle Singler is a star.
They have that Steelers' mentality. A ferocious defense and very physical, very tough. But they have to keep DeJuan Blair out of foul trouble.''
They have experience in size with 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet, who is a defensive force.
On college basketball ratings being down this season:
I read a story that ratings are down. I looked last Saturday in the St. Petersburg Times and looked at the TV listings: there were 28 games on that day. There is such diversity now. But I'm telling you when you are in that arena watching the game, the electricity is incredible. Right now is for the basketball aficionado. But once March Madness gets here, everyone gets involved and everyone becomes a basketball lover. They break out their sweatshirts of their college and on the day the (NCAA Tournament) brackets come out, I can't walk 5 feet without someone saying, "Hey, Dickie V, who's going to be in the Final Four?" I swear it happens a hundred times a day. The interest level is through the roof.
On why this year's March Madness could be the best ever:
Because you have so many teams who can win it all. There could be a night when one team gets hot from 3-point range and it's Upset City! Look at it, the other night, who would've thought that Northwestern would go into Michigan State and beat that Spartans team? You had a Virginia Tech team that had been struggling and underachieving and they go beat a team like Wake Forest, which hadn't lost a game. Then you have Boston College upsetting North Carolina and then turning around and getting beat by Harvard. Harvard! Are you kidding me?
On why college basketball is better than college football:
College basketball is light-years ahead of college football. It's an absolute farce that a team like Utah in college football can blow out an Alabama team that was ranked No. 1 for much of the season and not get a crack at the national title. You won't see that in college basketball. When it's time to tip it off in March, everybody — everybody — is 0-0 and has a legitimate shot at winning the national title. That's what it's all about, baby!