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Matt Doherty faces key year at North Carolina



Q: What's your opinion of Matt Doherty at Carolina? His UNC teams don't seem to improve very much and they do not play good fundamental basketball, in my opinion. If there is another fiasco this year, will he be fired? -- Malaysak Siharath, Concord, N.C.
Coach Matt Doherty hopes to point UNC back in the right direction.
VITALE:
The bottom line is that this is an important year for Doherty. Progress must be made. He has three blue-chip recruits coming in who will be vital factors in contributing to the success of the program: Sean May, Raymond Felton and Rashard McCants. There's a question about whether Felton will stay in school for a long time. Will he be one year and done? The Tar Heels have to get back to the Carolina way of life, which means going to the NCAAs at the least. It could happen, since the ACC is wide open. When you look at the ACC this season, there isn't a dominant heavyweight team there. So there's potential for success for the Tar Heels.

Q: So what are your thoughts on Gonzaga going into the 2002-03 season? Obviously the Zags lost All-American Dan Dickau to the NBA, but they still have Corey Violette (in the preseason top 50 Wooden Award candidates) and super soph Ronny Turiaf coming off a stellar performance overseas with France this summer. The Zags will finally having a tough nonconference schedule this year, with the likes of Kentucky and Indiana in the Maui Invitational, Stanford, Georgia, N.C. State and Tulsa. Do you think this could be another highlight year for them? -- Pat, Spokane, Wash.
VITALE:
Gonzaga is a program that has stepped it up and is willing to play anybody. Coach Mark Few has continued the success that Dan Monson started. This program is one of the really great stories in college basketball. There is nothing to indicate that they won't continue to be a dominant force in the WCC and a solid team on the national scene.

Q: Aloha! What do you think of Hawaii's Carl English, a 6-foot-5 guard from Newfoundland, Canada? He has been named to the Wooden Award Watch List. -- Derek Inouchi, Honolulu
VITALE:
English has great scoring ability and he should have another great year for coach Riley Wallace. The Rainbows were solid in the WAC last season, and they should be up there again this season. English hasn't received enough exposure because people don't see enough of him or read about his performances, because his games are played late on the East Coast.

Q: With the quality of the coaches and strong tradition of programs (KU, MU, OU), is the Big 12 on its way to rivaling the storied SEC and ACC conferences? As they stand today, what would be your breakdown of top conferences in terms of overall strength of the programs? -- Mark, Seattle
VITALE:
The Big 12 has been dynamite over the past two years, and there's no reason to believe that won't continue. When you look at the quality in that conference -- with Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Missouri -- it's going to be special. And it's so tough to win at Iowa State. It will be a big-time year for this league, as it was with Oklahoma and Kansas making the Final Four last season. On paper, I would say the Big 12 has the slight edge as the top conference. The SEC, ACC and Pac-10 would be up there too.

Q: Do you think Luke Walton has a legitimate chance to win the Wooden Award? And who, in your opinion, actually has a chance to challenge Arizona for the Pac-10 title? -- Ryan Dobrin, Roswell, Ga.
VITALE:
I feel UCLA can be in the hunt in the Pac-10. Look at the Bruins' personnel, with Jason Kapono and company. A lot will depend on how Cedric Bozeman develops in his second year. As for the Wooden or Naismith Award, Walton certainly has a legitimate shot. It's wide open, especially with Jay Williams and Mike Dunleavy moving on to the NBA. Walton's teammate, Jason Gardner, will certainly get a lot of consideration as well.

Q: Tom Izzo is building a dynasty in East Lansing. How would you describe the work Tom has done for Michigan State in his first seven years? -- Mike Anderson, Austin, Texas
VITALE:
Awesome, baby with a capital A! Izzo has been one of the blue-chip coaches in the nation, even though he has lost so many key players early. Think about what could have been if Zach Randolph, Jason Richardson and Marcus Taylor stayed in school ... WOW! It would be scary to see how good the Spartans would be if they were still there. Still, they will probably be my choice to win the Big Ten this season.

Q: Who are the 10 best college basketball coaches ever? My friends and I have been debating it for over a year now and I just need some closure! -- Charles, Norman, Okla.
VITALE:
I will give you closure right now regarding the best ever. I don't care what you say about having the talent, the coach who blended that talent and whose accomplishments will never be matched is the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden. After that, you can put in whomever you want. Wooden is numero uno, No. 1.

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