Jan. 8, 2004
Editor's Note -- As part of ESPN.com's college basketball coverage, Dick Vitale is addressing Fact or Fiction statements on the major conferences, starting with the four below (other ESPN analysts and writers addressed the same statements for our Conference Fact or Fiction feature). Here is Dickie V's contribution...
BIG EAST: Fact or Fiction
The Big East will send more than four teams to the NCAAs (four bids last year).
FACT -- Connecticut, Syracuse and Pittsburgh should be automatics. Providence has beaten Illinois and Alabama (and lost a controversial nail-biter to Texas), so coach Tim Welsh's squad should make it too. Then there are teams like Seton Hall and Villanova that have played well and could challenge for bids. Don't count Notre Dame out despite three early losses. With teams like Georgetown, Boston College and Rutgers, the records are impressive but they came against Cupcake City and bargain-basement specials. The Big East will have more than four in the Big Dance this year.
Providence, Seton Hall and/or Villanova will beat UConn, Syracuse or Pittsburgh this season (each "sleeper" plays each "contender" once).
FACT -- The Friars already showed something with their win over Illinois at the Jimmy V Classic. The Pirates have an experienced leader, senior point guard Andre Barrett, and can be a sleeper in the Big East, capable of scoring an upset special. Coach Jay Wright's Villanova team, when at full strength, is also capable of a surprise.
BIG TEN: Fact or Fiction
Nonconference exposed the Big Ten's overall lack of NCAA-worthy teams.
FACT -- I think the Big Ten was disappointing in nonleague tests, which showed that the league isn't as strong as originally expected. I think several teams are capable of bouncing back and making a run at the NCAA Tournament. But the conference is looking at four bids right now -- and that's fewer than it's usually accustomed to receiving in March.
Michigan State is in peril of missing the NCAA Tournament.
FACT -- Michigan State is in some peril. But I will say this ... I think the Spartans will get on a roll in Big Ten play and will make the NCAA Tournament. The selection committee will reward coach Tom Izzo for playing such a rough schedule, though I think the Spartans will take care of business in conference play.
PAC-10: Fact or Fiction
The Pac-10 will receive just two NCAA bids barring an upset in the postseason tourney.
FICTION -- Stanford and Arizona are clearly the creme de la creme in the conference. But other teams like Oregon, California, UCLA and Arizona State are capable of stepping up. California and USC have suffered some disappointing losses in nonleague play. Still, this league will get at least three teams in, maybe four.
Stanford, not Arizona, should be considered the favorite to win the regular-season title.
FICTION -- Wow, what a tough call! But I think Arizona is still the team to beat. Stanford has certainly been impressive, and the return of junior Josh Childress will help. Arizona got a boost with the addition of Serbian freshman Ivan Radenovic. It'll be fun out on the West Coast, baby!
SEC: Fact or Fiction
Kentucky or Florida will return to No. 1 at some point in 2004.
FICTION -- The Wildcats could move back up to No. 1, but it won't be easy. Then again, there have been so many surprises with top-ranked teams going down this season, you never know. Right now I would say neither Kentucky nor Florida will get back to No. 1.
The SEC West is still weaker than the SEC East.
FACT -- You still have to go through Kentucky and Florida in the East, while Vanderbilt is a surprise team that really handled Indiana and Michigan. I think the book is still out on Mississippi State, while LSU recently lost to Houston. Auburn and Alabama aren't up there with the Wildcats or Gators.
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