November 21, 2006
New York, New York ... the NIT preseason tip-off has exciting matchups in the semifinals. The marquee battle features ACC power North Carolina, my pick for numero uno, against Gonzaga. Butler, which shocked Notre Dame and Indiana, faces Tennessee in the other semifinal.
I love the idea that this event had four regional winners to provide an NCAA tournament-type feel.
Mark Few has done a phenomenal job on Gonzaga and it borders on miraculous. He has created so much interest in Spokane, building on what Dan Monson did in setting the table. Few has added to it consistently, increasing the level of competition and their profile. With their new arena, the Kennel, there is so much basketball enthusiasm.
Josh Heytfelt is going to have to put up big numbers because North Carolina has so many weapons. Tyler Hansbrough will be rocking and rolling in the Garden. It is tough to figure out which of the other guys will hurt you, but you know Hansbrough is one of the nation's premier PTPers. They have three super-talented diaper dandies contributing in Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Brandan Wright. Then thrown in newcomers Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson and the depth is evident.
Once the youngsters get an understanding of shot selection, defending, playing every possession hard and the ups and downs, they will get better and better.
The veterans can also hurt you. Guys like Reyshawn Terry, Bobby Frasor, Wes Miller, Marcus Ginyard and Quentin Thomas all get minutes and form a team to be reckoned with.
Just check out Roy Williams' record over the years, first at Kansas and now in Chapel Hill. He blends talent and has a consistent winning track record. He will develop the right rotations, figuring out who should play in different situations. That is a process which will take place and it won't come overnight.
It will be worked on throughout the pre-conference schedule and Carolina will grow as the season progresses.
Todd Lickliter's Bulldogs have a solid backcourt duo in Mike Green and A. J. Graves. They came through in the first two rounds and they must have their "A" game on against downtown shooter Chris Lofton. Tennessee will play an aggressive style, emulating their energetic coach, Bruce Pearl. He has done a marvelous job energizing that program.
It is a doubleheader well worth watching. Get ready for Turkey Day with some hoops action, baby!
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.