Chatting with Dickie V

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is now in session, and I've got some expert testimony to share with you this week. At the recent Duke-Maryland game, I corralled (stalked, actually) ESPN analyst <B>Dick Vitale, </b>who was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

CM: Is the ACC the best league in the nation this year?

DV: I think from top to bottom it's the best. The heavyweight teams are outstanding. When you look at teams and what they would do on a neutral floor, I think this league is really loaded. When you look at it now North Carolina's back, Georgia Tech's been phenomenal, beating Connecticut and Texas Tech, who are outstanding. I definitely feel the ACC is number one.

CM: A lot of ACC fans like to call you "Dookie V." How do you feel about that?

DV: I don't get that as often as people think (he obviously does not spend much time on these message boards). I've laughed about it. I said it about myself before someone else said it. The bottom line is fans know I just love basketball. With Duke, one can never apologize for praising that program. I would have a problem if I was praising a program that wasn't successful. The only thing that somebody might think; you know it's like the Yankees, Duke, Notre Dame in football; there's an element that doesn't like you.

CM: Will ACC expansion have a negative affect on the basketball portion of the league?

DV: I know one thing; it's certainly going to unbelievably improve the football end of it. That was done basically with BCS in mind. I have a problem with Boston College in the league because to me, geographically, they don't belong (Thank you!). I have no problem with Miami, I have no problem with Virginia Tech. To me, Boston College belongs in the northeast. Everything is based on BCS. As far as basketball, it's still going to be dynamite in this conference. I don't think there's any doubt about it. I think the message will be very loud and clear for Miami, Virginia Tech, and BC to really elevate their basketball programs.

CM: How difficult will it be for the new teams or a school like Clemson to move into the upper echelon of the conference?

DV: Very tough, but it can happen because in basketball you're only dealing with five players. You can get lucky in the world of recruiting and change the complexion easily.

CM: Is their any possibility Maryland or Duke could suffer the drop off North Carolina recently experienced when Gary Williams or Coach K step down?

DV: You know, it's certainly possible, no question. The bottom line is I think both these programs are so big, so super, that they'll be able to survive that.

CM: Who are some ACC players you like who might be flying below the national radar?M

DV: If you look at Duke for example, someone like a Daniel Ewing, outstanding, nobody gives the kid much credit; Shelden Williams, certainly an outstanding player. You look at Maryland, a John Gilchrist, getting better and better at the point guard slot. Go down to Wake Forest, you look at the improvement of a kid like Eric Williams on the interior. I think that every team (in the ACC) can find players that really don't get the recognition they deserve.

CM: ACC Rookie of the Year right now; Luol Deng (Duke) or Chris Paul (Wake Forest)?

DV: Wow, that's a tough call. Both guys are certainly having great years and both guys are certainly valuable to their club. Right now, you look at Deng, so versatile, but Paul is SO valuable to that team, you might have to give him an edge because in the case of Deng, he has a lot more support with a veteran like Duhon there with him.

CM: Compare the atmosphere at Comcast Center with that at Cole Field House.

DV: It's phenomenal here. Cole was great, but this place here, the big Red Army, they absolutely go bananas, these students get after it bigtime.

Then he merged with the Maryland student section, and my time was up. Dickie V, after all, belongs to the masses.

Fans generally have strong feelings about Vitale, both positive and negative, but two things struck me about him after seeing him twice at the Comcast Center in the past two weeks.

First, Vitale truly loves the game of college basketball, so he has something in common with most readers of this column. I saw him in the media room at halftime of the Maryland-North Carolina game watching the score updates and offering animated (what else?) commentary on games that surprised him.

During halftime of the Maryland-Duke game, I saw Vitale talking hoops on his cell phone while in the men's room, shall I say, multitasking. Fans and media often refer to his "act" when they describe his on-air persona, but from what I saw of him off camera, it is no act. Love him or hate him, what you see is what you get.

Second, the man truly loves what he does. Whenever I watch a performer, if they seem to be enjoying themselves, I am more likely to enjoy watching them. There are times I need to turn the volume down, but it is hard for me to turn away from someone having so much fun.

CourtMaster Briefs

After the Duke-Maryland game, I wrote that the Terps were having a "roller coaster" season. If Maryland is on a roller coaster, what kind of monster ride is North Carolina trying to navigate? Wow, to go from knocking off the #1 team in the nation (Connecticut) to blowing a 24-point lead at unranked Florida State is one hell of a swing!

The questions I raised in October about the Tar Heels' lack of depth, their need to learn how to win, and, more recently, the emotional state of the team are proving to be valid. A six-day stretch coming up in early February with games against Duke, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech will go a long way toward answering those questions.

Virginia fans are turning up the heat on Cavalier Coach Pete Gillen. After falling to 2-4 in the conference, Virginia is on a path to yet another trip to the NIT. Gillen's habit of calling early timeouts is a running joke around the ACC and clearly came back to bite him Saturday when North Carolina took control of the game midway through the second half and Gillen had only one timeout in his pocket. I still think a coaching change at Virginia is unlikely, but the fan base is in a very, very grumpy mood and needs an infusion some positive energy.

When I saw that NC State had defeated Georgia Tech while making only 12 of 41 three-point shots, I pulled a page out of Dick Vitale's book and said "are you kidding me?!" Then when I saw Wolfpack star Julius Hodge shot 0-6 and scored only two points, I was even more incredulous. The rebounding of Ilian Evtimov and Marcus Melvin was critical in State holding off a Yellow Jacket comeback from a 16-point deficit. Amazingly, Hodge has made only 7 of 42 shots in six career games against Tech.

If you believe what I write (and why wouldn't you), NC State's sole possession of second place in the ACC is quite surprising. I'm not buying their stock yet, but I am considering a purchase.

Florida State's season came back from the brink of disaster with important home wins over Carolina and Wake Forest. This was the first time in school history the Seminoles have earned consecutive wins over Top 10 teams.

Wake has now lost their last four, including three conference games. The loser of Thursday's game between Maryland and Wake at Winston-Salem will go 2-4 in the conference and have a tough road ahead of them to get back in contention.

Am I the only one who, when watching scores at the bottom of a screen during a game, gasp at what appears to be a shocking score only to find out it is a women's game? Could networks make it a bit more obvious which ones are men's games and which ones are women's. How about changing the background for the women's scores to pink? OK, if that's sexist, change the background for men's scores to blue.

That's what I think. Let me know what you think on the message boards or by e-mail at thecourtmaster@aol.com.

Until next week, court is adjourned.


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