Dick VitaleSPECIAL TO ESPN.COM
December 29, 2006
Every Friday I will give my thoughts on the game I love, college basketball.
History has to wait until 2007, baby! Well, New Year's Day against New Mexico in Lubbock, Bob Knight will take another shot at passing Dean Smith. Texas Tech did not have the intensity and sense of urgency until it was too late in the second half against UNLV Thursday night. Give the Runnin' Rebels all the credit in the world for playing a great game. Lon Kruger's squad was outstanding on the perimeter and did a terrific job stopping Texas Tech's three-pointers. The Mountain West is an underrated league with Air Force impressing people. San Diego State is very tough under Steve Fisher. UNLV and New Mexico, the next opponent for Texas Tech on January 1, are tough teams.
Mark Few is the current John Chaney of coaching when it comes to scheduling philosophy. If you want to play, he's willing to battle anyone, any place, any time. Look at his non-league schedule and there are very few cupcakes. Just look at what his squad has faced this season already – North Carolina, Duke, Butler, Texas, Washington, Washington State and Georgia. He plays on the road, at neutral sites and at home. This weekend the Zags face Nevada and Nick Fazekas. The Wolf Pack big man has been superb all season long and should merit Player of the Year consideration. Few's team is coming off the loss to the Blue Devils at Madison Square Garden. Josh Heytvelt must have a major game against Nevada.
Temple takes on Villanova this weekend and I really miss seeing Owls coach Chaney on the sidelines. It is amazing when I think about all the greats that have left the game over the years. Fans miss the likes of John Thompson, Looie Carnesecca, Dean Smith and the beat goes on. Fran Dunphy has great ties in Philadelphia after doing a super job at Penn. His Temple team takes on a Villanova club that is young and talented. It is great to see Curtis Sumpter is back and appears to be healthy. I wish Chaney health and happiness in his retirement.
When you look at the Pac-10, initially most people felt it was a two-team race between UCLA and Arizona this season. Obviously they are two big-time programs and they have been consistently for years. Look at the likes of Washington and Oregon and you see this conference is strong up top and has better depth than anticipated. It is never easy to beat Lorenzo Romar's club, one that has rebuilt with the help of diaper dandies like Spencer Hawes and Quincy Pondexter. Facing the Ducks is a challenge as Ernie Kent's club has played well. This was supposed to be a pressure-cooker season for Kent after the Ducks were a disappointing 15-18 last season. Oregon is just winning and getting the last laugh. Kent needs a healthy squad, something he lacked in a win last week as three starters were sidelined.
Don't count out a dangerous USC squad as it is capable of making some noise. The return of Gabe Pruitt, who sat out the first semester due to academic reasons, is a big-time plus, even though he got off to a slow start in his first few games back. Tim Floyd is a master at getting the most out of people. If Pruitt starts rolling, watch out. Just ask Wichita State, a team which lost to the Trojans. USC's future is bright with the new Galen Center as a centerpiece for recruiting.
How about a salute to Kim Lewis, Richard Pitino and Daryn Freedman. They are the Duquesne assistant coaches who led their program to an upset over Boston College Thursday night as coach Ron Everhart was sidelined due to illness. The Eagles did play without Jared Dudley, but given what the Duquesne program has gone through this season, that is a monster win.
One team flying under the radar early this season is SMU. Despite a loss Thursday at Oklahoma, the Mustangs opened with nine wins in their first 10 games and it shouldn't be a shock given the presence of competitive coach Matt Doherty. Here's a guy who took some tough knocks at North Carolina. He brought in the class that Roy Williams ultimately got to play as a unit and cut down the nets in St. Louis. Doherty did a solid job at Notre Dame before going to Chapel Hill, and the expectations there were tough for a young guy to deal with. He went to Florida Atlantic and did a good job before going to Dallas to take over SMU. He has instilled a winner's mentality there in his first season. Now they will get into the meat of the Conference USA schedule and it is good to go in believing you can win. He has set the table in non-league play. SMU has beaten Dayton and TCU and close wins can build confidence. I'm not shocked to see Doherty enjoy success. If you are around him, you see his intensity, emotion, work ethic and passion and you understand why he is a winner.
Down in the Colonial Athletic Association, most experts felt Hofstra was the preseason team to beat because of their excellence on the perimeter with Loren Stokes and Antoine Agudio. The Pride got off to a shaky 0-3 start and despite rebounding a bit (including a win over St. Joe's Thursday), you have to be impressed with the play of Drexel. Bruiser Flint's club will be a major factor. The Dragons have beaten Villanova, Syracuse and Temple. I can hear him screaming that he wants to be in the Big East, baby! Bruiser is one of those real fierce competitors. He entered a tough situation at Massachusetts, replacing John Calipari. Flint has found a comfort zone back in the city where he starred at St. Joseph's. The Dragons have some experience with Frank Elegar, Bashir Mason and Dominick Mejia all back. You may remember Drexel giving Duke a scare at Madison Square Garden last year. The Dragons had a nice win Thursday over George Mason.
*The America East has had several super results this season. Thursday night was a great one for Albany as it stunned Utah in Salt Lake City. Boston University took St. John's to the wire before losing by a point in overtime. Recently Binghamton went down to Miami and beat the ACC school. Earlier this season, Vermont shocked Boston College and Stony Brook won at Penn State. Hartford played Georgetown close in the Hoyas' opener. Give this league a little respect, 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.