March 22, 2004
NCAA Tournament schedule | ESPN.com's tourney coverage
Now that No. 1 seeds Kentucky and Stanford have been sent packing, I feel that Connecticut has the easiest road to the Final Four in San Antonio.
|UConn guard Ben Gordon is projected by most observers as a lottery pick.|
Coach Jim Calhoun's Huskies have been impressive in victories over Vermont and DePaul in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. They've been outstanding defensively, holding each opponent below 60 points.
It was clear that UConn was building momentum when it won the Big East tournament by edging Pittsburgh in the final moments in the championship game.
Connecticut played the first two games of the Big East tourney without center Emeka Okafor, who was sidelined with back spasms. That allowed Calhoun to play other players and give them more confidence.
So far Okafor's back has held up in the NCAA Tournament -- and that's key. If he's healthy, he's the most dominant big man in the game, on both ends of the floor, which makes the Huskies a tough team to beat.
Connecticut is so deep that opposing defenses can't just key on Okafor or guard Ben Gordon.
Forward Rashad Anderson can flat-out shoot from long distance. Guard Denham Brown and forwards Charlie Villanueva and Hilton Armstrong are all capable of giving quality minutes and contributing points.
Point guard Taliek Brown has picked up his offensive game and also does a nice job distributing the rock.
The Huskies will not have to face a team seeded in the top four on their road to San Antonio. Their next opponent is sixth-seeded Vanderbilt (Thursday at 7: 10 p.m. ET). Coach Kevin Stallings' Commodores cannot be taken lightly. Connecticut has beaten Vanderbilt each of the past two years (76-70 at Vanderbilt last year).
The Huskies will not have to face a team seeded in the top four on their road to San Antonio.
If the Huskies defeat Vanderbilt, they would then meet the winner of No. 5 seed Syracuse versus No. 8 Alabama. I really feel it will be coach Jim Boeheim's Orangemen surviving and advancing after that game. Alabama doesn't have great perimeter shooters, so I see Syracuse's 2-3 zone creating problems for coach Mark Gottfried's Crimson Tide. Can you imagine a Calhoun-Boeheim matchup for a spot in San Antonio? The Orangemen and Huskies split their two meetings this season.
So Connecticut fans, get ready to pack your bags for San Antonio, baby!
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting 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.