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NCAA PREVIEW / TELEVISION | Mike Penner SOUND AND VISION

Packer Shows Martelli That He's No Saint

March 15, 2004|Mike Penner

Most interesting early matchup of this year's NCAA basketball tournament: Billy Packer vs. Phil Martelli.

Offering himself up as this week's Man Most Likely to Be Hung in Effigy in Philadelphia, Packer said Sunday on CBS' NCAA tournament selection show that Martelli's 27-1 Saint Joseph's team did not deserve its No. 1 seeding in the East Rutherford Regional.

"I don't agree with Saint Joe's being a No. 1 team," Packer said, "and I'll tell you why. If you put together a tournament, just as we have, you're going to take Pitt and Connecticut, you're going to take Oklahoma State, you're going to take Texas, and you're going to take Duke and you're going to take Maryland and you're going to take Kentucky and you're going to take Florida. Where does Saint Joe's fit in that tournament? Or in a league made up of those kind of teams?

"I think you have to have a gut-check of basketball as opposed to worrying about whether somebody was undefeated in the regular season against what I would consider inferior competition to what I just mentioned.

"I think that without question Oklahoma State deserved to be in that No. 1 seed position."

Saint Joseph's began the week ranked No. 1 in the country, but Packer has doubted the team's credentials for a while and considers the Hawks' loss to Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament more fuel for his argument.

"I think that there comes a time when you can't worry about statistics," Packer said. "You have to go ahead and, as a basketball person, say, 'Who would win this game?'

"And believe me, I don't believe Saint Joe's can go and beat Oklahoma State. I don't think that they can go and beat a club like Texas and a club like Pitt and a club like Connecticut -- particularly having to play them night after night after night. It takes a lot out of you.

"I admire what they've accomplished, but I think that those other teams were superior."

Packer just helped write Martelli's pregame speeches for the rest of the tournament, but the Saint Joseph's coach didn't sound grateful when CBS' studio crew cut away for a remote interview.

"I just want to check -- is Billy Packer playing for a team?" Martelli quipped. "We would like to play against him. He's got a lot to say. We'd like to play against him....

"If all the doubters would line up and play, I guarantee we'd be in San Antonio [for the Final Four] now. None of those guys can play."

It was a flippant line, a silly line, but even sillier, it got Packer's goat.

Didn't Martelli remember Packer was an All-ACC guard for Wake Forest in the early 1960s?

Didn't Martelli know Packer's team defeated Saint Joseph's, 92-82, in overtime en route to the 1962 Final Four?

"I may lend a little history lesson to Phil Martelli," Packer said. "The last time I played against Saint Joe's, it was in the NCAA tournament. Saint Joe's lost. I won't talk about how well I played. But he needs to learn a little history about the school where he coaches."

Ancient history, anyway. Martelli was talking about 2004, not 1962, and in 2004, Packer is 64 years old and a little slow on his crossover dribble.

Still, Packer wouldn't let it go, exhuming March '62 again during a post-show conference call with reporters.

"This guy must not know the history of his own school," Packer said. "We buried them and put them away."

What's wrong with Martelli? How could he not remember a second-round regional game played 42 years ago?

Oh, Packer could. He rambled on about a college friend bringing a chicken to that '62 classic, a chicken that was supposed to represent a hawk. "He had it in his shirt and the plan was, when we beat them, to throw the chicken out on the floor," Packer said. "The problem was we were behind with 20 seconds to go, and he was trying to figure out how he was going to get that chicken out of his shirt.

"We made those shots and won the game in overtime, and then he threw the chicken out on the floor."

Why did the chicken cross the road? Now we know. It was tired of the conversation.

Getting back to the business at hand -- Saint Joseph's seeding in the 2004 tournament -- Packer said, "If I were a tournament committee member, they would have had to drag me out of that hall before I put Saint Joe's ahead of the likes of a Pittsburgh, a Connecticut, an Oklahoma State, a Texas.

"What you have to take into consideration, forget all the statistics, you've got to make a gut check and say, what would Saint Joe's do playing in the Big 12 tournament this weekend, what would they do in the ACC tournament, the SEC tournament?

"In my estimation, Saint Joe's would have finished in the middle of the pack."

Saint Joseph's will find its level soon enough. Easing off the throttle, Packer conceded, "Maybe I'd be wrong. Nothing I'd like to see more than them march through and be in the Final Four.... "

On that, Martelli and Packer finally found common ground.

About an hour later, Martelli was on ESPN addressing an ESPN.com poll that showed Packer with great support among the masses.

Asked to assess the Hawks' tournament chances, 88% of respondents said Saint Joseph's would not advance to the Final Four.

"Aw, all we can do then in Philadelphia is worry about Jim Thome's injury," Martelli countered. "You know what? You know what the problem is?

"Most of the people in Philadelphia don't know how to use a computer, so they couldn't vote."

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