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NCAA MEN'S TOURNAMENT

This Bracket Has Some Vitality

March 18, 2004|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

Oh, bay-bee, it's awesome, bay-bee! Dickie V. is on the phone and he's helping a reporter fill out his NCAA tournament bracket as fast as he can, as if he had a speed other than full ahead.

"The Atlanta regional is really the toughest by far," ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said Tuesday. "You've got a situation where you've got North Carolina as the No. 6 seed and you've got Louisville [at No. 10] and they were 16-1 at one time, but then you've got to look at [No. 9] Arizona and they're going to be very dangerous and [No. 1] Duke has got to be very nervous about playing Arizona in the second round.

"Then you've got to look at East Tennessee State. You have to give the edge to Cincinnati there, but I wouldn't be shocked if there was an upset. East Tennessee State has a guard by the name of Tim Smith, who's very outstanding. I believe they could be very dangerous."

Moving to the Phoenix regional, without coming up for air, Vitale said to be wary of No. 9 Southern Illinois in its matchup against No. 8 Alabama.

"It's a toss-up," said Vitale, who was making the rounds with reporters while promoting a contest for a pizza company and talking about his new book, "Living a Dream: Reflections on 25 Years Sitting in the Best Seat in the House."

"The Salukis have a legitimate shot," he continued, "but Alabama gets the edge because playing in the Southeastern Conference really prepares you for the tournament. Then you have to look at North Carolina State against Louisiana Lafayette in the No. 3-No. 14 matchup. I truly believe that could be a very dangerous matchup for North Carolina State."

Next, it's the East Rutherford (N.J.) regional, which has Saint Joseph's as the top-seeded team, a decision that prompted critical comments from CBS' Billy Packer, who went on to slam Hawk Coach Phil Martelli, who blasted back.

"I have no problem with St. Joe's as the No. 1 here," Vitale said. "The Texas Tech-Charlotte winner could give St. Joe's trouble in the second round. Charlotte is very capable of an upset. But where St. Joe's could really be in trouble is if they get to the Sweet 16 and have to face a team like Wake Forest."

Finally, there's the St. Louis regional, where Vitale fixated on another No. 4-No. 13 opening-round matchup, this one between Kansas and underdog Illinois Chicago.

"Jimmy Collins' kids are tough kids," Vitale said, referring to the coach of the Flames. "You've got [Martell] Bailey and Cedrick [Banks], who are a really dynamic backcourt, but I really think Kansas has too much for them with [Jeff] Graves and [Wayne] Simien. They have Final Four experience [having lost in the final last season to Syracuse]. They have too much experience."

Time is running short. Vitale has another call to take, more bracketology to discuss and he's ready to skip ahead to his Final Four picks.

"Kentucky [top-seeded in the St. Louis regional], Pittsburgh [No. 3 in the East Rutherford regional], Connecticut [No. 2 in the Phoenix regional] if Emeka Okafor is healthy and Duke [No. 1 in the Atlanta regional]," Vitale said, clearly sticking with the highest-seeded teams in each bracket.

"Then, when it's all said and done, it'll be Kentucky over Duke for the national championship."

And there you have it.

*

(Begin Text of Infobox)

Four-Squared

Coaches who have taken four schools to the NCAA tournament:

*--* Lefty Driesell Davidson (1966, 1968-69); Maryland (1973, 1975, 1980-81, 1983-86); James Madison (1994); Georgia State (2001) Jim Harrick Pepperdine (1982-83, 1985-86); UCLA (1989-96); Rhode Island (1998-99); Georgia (2001) Rick Pitino Boston University (1983); Providence (1987); Kentucky (1992-97); Louisville (2003-04) Eddie Sutton Creighton (1974); Arkansas (1977-85); Kentucky (1986-88); Oklahoma State (1991-95, '98-00, '04)

*--*

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