V-MAIL | Dec. 9, 2004 | Send a V-Mail question
Q: Where would you rank the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats when it comes to the best teams of all time? I've been a big college basketball fan for as long as I can remember (I'm 28), and I believe they're the best team I've ever seen by far. -- Terry (Bardstown, Kentucky)
VITALE -- Coach Rick Pitino had a special team in 1995-96. Jeff Sheppard had a great NCAA Tournament as Kentucky won the national championship. But I don't know if I can put that team up there with the all-time greats, like Lew Alcindor's or Bill Walton's UCLA teams ... or the 1976 Indiana team that went undefeated ... or Georgetown and Patrick Ewing in 1984 ... or North Carolina in 1982 with Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins. Those championship teams were more dominant.
Q: What do you think of Stanford's chances this year? How about Florida? -- Henry (Redwood City, Calif.)
VITALE -- I was surprised that the Cardinal lost to Tennessee in Maui. Stanford will miss Josh Childress -- and the loss is major. Any time you bring in a new coach, even though Trent Johnson is a former Stanford assistant, it always takes time to adjust, and there's a feeling-out process. He will do a solid job and the team will have a good year, but I think it will be tough to duplicate the success of the past few years. Remember, last season's Stanford team almost went undefeated in the regular season.
Florida has to tighten up on the defensive end. The Gators can put points on the board with the Big Three of Anthony Roberson, David Lee and Matt Walsh. The key will be how much Billy Donovan's team has improved on the defensive side.
Q: I'm not surprised that you left Oklahoma State senior forward Joey Graham off your All-Rolls-Royce Teams. But please keep your eye on him! No other collegiate player in America has a chance to jump from relative obscurity to NBA lottery pick like Graham. He made the Wooden Preseason list and seems to be the dark-horse choice for Big 12 player of the year by most Big 12 coaches. -- Nick (Kansas City)
VITALE -- I really like Graham a lot. He's a versatile, multitalented athlete who will be in the spotlight more this season with Tony Allen now in the NBA.
It's more valuable to be a postseason than preseason All-American, and Graham has shown flashes of brilliance in the past. We haven't seen the consistency, but I think we'll see it this season. With John Lucas as the catalyst in the point-guard slot, expect another big year at Stillwater. That was one of my favorite places to visit last season. The new arena is the answer to Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium ... it is something special.
Q: Does Alabama have a shot at a national championship? -- Blake (Luverne, Ala.)
VITALE -- Alabama can be a contender. The Tide return a solid nucleus, and they reached the Elite Eight last March, beating Stanford and Syracuse along the way before losing to eventual champ Connecticut. Kennedy Winston should have a big year. Earnest Shelton can score. The point-guard slot will be a key, and Ronald Steele is off to a pretty good start. A diaper dandy, Steele has to come through in SEC play.
Q: What do you think about the UAB Blazers? How do you predict them to turn out in C-USA? And NCAA Tournament or NIT? -- Ben (Birmingham, Ala.)
VITALE -- Conference USA should be tough once again. UAB made a great run last season, knocking off Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. When you look at the likes of Memphis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Charlotte, DePaul, Marquette, there's a lot of competition. UAB will be in the mix battling for an NCAA berth. It should be competitive. Give Coach Mike Anderson credit for building up the program once he got the opportunity to become a head coach after so many solid seasons as a second lieutenant to Nolan Richardson at Arkansas.
Q: I think this is Northwestern's best recruiting class in recent memory and its deepest team in ages. What do you think are their chances for a stunning season this year or next -- and possibly even the first NCAA Tournament berth in school history? -- Steve Schucker (Chicago)
VITALE -- Coach Bill Carmody's team has to strive to get in the first division of the Big Ten, and you have to be realistic about their goals. If you're the Wildcats, you have to be concerned about the improvement of Iowa (which beat Louisville in Maui) and Michigan. I don't think Northwestern will catch Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. Even Indiana and Purdue can create problems. It won't be easy for Northwestern, which struggled in Alaska.
Q: I'm excited about Nebraska basketball this season, and I'm wondering how far you think they'll go this season? Last year they lost to Hawaii in the quarterfinals of the NIT. -- Brent Menke Beatrice (Nebraska)
VITALE -- Barry Collier is an underrated coach, but it is oh-so-tough in the Big 12 when you go up against the likes of Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas, Oklahoma and so on. Nebraska plays hard under Collier, but I see the 'Huskers as an NIT team.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit before providing color commentary for ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he's been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.