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Diaper dandies a Final Four factor


March 31, 2005 | NCAA Tournament coverage on ESPN.com

You'd better believe freshmen will have an impact at the Final Four. Diaper dandies have been vital in the NCAA Tournament in the past.

Just two years ago, Carmelo Anthony helped Syracuse win a national championship for coach Jim Boeheim, his first title. (Of course, there aren't many players like Mr. Anthony.) And don't forget about Gerry McNamara, another important diaper dandy on that Orange team.

Juan Palacios
Can Louisville and diaper dandy Juan Palacios, left, deny Illinois a trip to the title game?

Look back to 1997 and Arizona's great run to the championship. Mike Bibby ran the attack for the Wildcats as a freshman.

So don't buy into the notion that a team can't win it all with a freshman making a major contribution.

Let me tell you, freshmen must help several teams if they are to cut down the nets in St. Louis.

First, let's look at the youngsters in the North Carolina-Michigan State national semifinal.

North Carolina isn't going to win without a contribution from Marvin Williams up front. A 6-foot-9 forward, Williams has had a super season, averaging 11.7 points and 6.6 rebounds in 22.1 minutes per game.

In the tourney's first two rounds, Williams scored 20 points in each game (on 16-of-23 shooting) and added 23 rebounds. He's an inside-outside performer with great versatility and elevation, and he will be a factor in the Final Four.

Michigan State became a different team when freshman point guard Drew Neitzel was inserted into the starting lineup. He has handled the ball effectively, dishing out 3.5 assists per game in the tourney.

Now, let's look at the Louisville-Illinois matchup. Louisville has some help on the glass in the form of freshman Juan Diego Palacios.

A 6-8 forward from Colombia, Palacios is averaging 11.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the tourney. He will team up with Ellis Myles to give Illinois trouble on the boards.

Illinois is the only Final Four team that doesn't rely much, if at all, on diaper dandies. The Illini are experienced, with only two freshmen on their roster (and only one, forward Shaun Pruitt, has played in the NCAA tourney – for one minute).

Remember, at this time of the season, with all the basketball these kids have played, they're hardly freshmen. They are seasoned college basketball players who will be essential to the success of their respective teams as they vie for a national championship in St. Louis.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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