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Alcindor is Pac-10's best, Pitt is for real

Q: You named David Thompson as your top ACC player. Who is your top Pac-10 player ever? -- Gary Krippendorf, Redwood City
VITALE: That's easy to me. Lew Alcindor would get the nod (he later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). He changed the complexion of the game, and they tried to change the rules to stop him (taking away the slam dunk). He was incredible, winning three straight NCAA titles. Alcindor was unstoppable inside, dominating the 3-second area both offensively and defensively.

Julius Page
Julius Page and the Panthers are ready to soar in the Big East again this season.
Q: Is Pitt for real? I have buddies in ACC and Big Ten Country who claim the Panthers wouldn't be as successful if they played in either of those conferences. What do you say, Dickie V? -- Ray Stinger Jr., Pittsburgh
VITALE: I totally disagree. After winning 29 games last season, Pittsburgh is totally legit. The Panthers beat a number of quality teams. The Big East will be very competitive this season. With the athleticism of their backcourt (Brandin Knight and Julius Page) plus the addition of Carl Krauser, Pittsburgh will be something special. I don't think there's any doubt about that.

Q: Why do you have Duke ranked No. 7 preseason? They lost Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer. I know the ACC is traditionally a great conference, but c'mon. The Dukie diaper dandies are great, but they haven't proved anything yet. -- Brad Malone, Tucson, Ariz.

VITALE: They said the same about the diaper dandies when three guys arrived named Williams, Dunleavy and Boozer. Believe me, the six kids coming in are legit and they will have a heckuva year. The Dukies will be in the hunt for the ACC title. Remember, the returning talent with Chris Duhon, Dahntay Jones and Daniel Ewing isn't so shabby either.

Q: With four starters returning -- including player of the year candidate David West and All-American candidate Romain Sato -- isn't it time for Xavier to step out of Cincinnati's shadow this year and be recognized on a national level? -- Matt Imholt, Cincinnati
VITALE: Xavier got a tough break early in the season when the Musketeers found out they would have to go out to Stanford for a second-round Preseason NIT game (assuming they get past St. Peter's and Stanford beats Boston University). Playing in Palo Alto is tough.

Heading into the season, I rate David West and Romain Sato as the No. 3 inside-outside combination in America (check out my top-five inside-outside tandems). Sato came on strong last year. West is a man among boys inside, with great moves and strength. That's why he's on my All-Rolls Royce team. Xavier is the clear favorite in the Atlantic 10.

Q: I don't understand why or how you can overlook Indiana for one of your top five teams. Look at what they did last year, and they only lost three players -- who I believe are already replaceable by George Leach, Sean Kline and A.J. Moye. Then, add the fact that coach Mike Davis recruited one of the top five classes in the country. How can they not be better? It just seems that since Bob Knight was fired, coach Davis and IU don't get the respect they deserve. Can you tell me why? -- Dan, Rochester, N.Y.
VITALE: Top five, come on. This is a club that lost Jared Jeffries, who was their strength on the inside. Guys will need to step up on the interior, like Leach and Jeffrey Newton. The perimeter game will be strong, one of the best in college basketball. If the big guys step up, they will be a major factor, but I don't know about top five.

Q: How do you think Kentucky will handle the early games without point guard Cliff Hawkins (ineligible for the first semester)? -- Allen Frazier, Bardtsown
VITALE: The Wildcats will have a guard-by-committee with a more standard guard combination, rather than putting it in the hands of one point guard. They have enough ball-handlers with skills on the perimeter. Hawkins showed signs of stardom with a big game against Duke last season, but he was erratic, taking bad shots down the stretch (although he wasn't afraid to take the big shots).

Kentucky has two newcomers who can be factors handling the rock: Antowain Barbour and Kelenna Azubuike. Plus, the return of Josh Carrier will help. Carrier has improved his jump shot. Coach Tubby Smith likes this team and its chemistry. Last season, too many guys felt they were better than they actually were. There was "me-me-me" instead of "we-we-we."

Q: I've been reading a lot about the ACC picking their top players for their 50th anniversary. I was wondering where you would rank Tim Duncan among all the greats the ACC has had to offer. It seems to me that he dominated the conference during his four years, and you praised him heavily while he was in school. Thanks for your time! -- Aaron Rothrock, Chapel Hill, N.C.
VITALE: I haven't sat down and analyzed a top 10, but Duncan would have to be up there. Just think about what he did at Wake Forest! I would put him up there for sure.

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