ESPN analyst Dick Vitale calls Louisville and Kentucky dangerous for the NCAA Tournament, but a cut below the top contenders.
LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. (WDRB) – Dick Vitale has a list of teams that he puts on the top line as his leading contenders for the 2014 NCAA men's basketball title.
Neither Louisville nor Kentucky made that list. Not this year.
With Vitale, completing his 35th season as a college basketball analyst for ESPN, the top line belongs to unbeaten Syracuse, Florida, improving Duke and Michigan State. Yes, the Spartans have lost three of their last five games. They also have not been healthy, dealing with injuries to Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson.
Vitale puts the Cardinals and Wildcats on line two – teams he considers dangerous, but not the frontrunners to win six NCAA games. Vitale said that Kansas was another team he considered dangerous.
"Louisville is another team on the next tier, (below) where you have the super clubs," Vitale said. "You put them in there with the Kentucky's. Dangerous. With Russ Smith, you're going to be dangerous. And a kid like (Luke) Hancock, (U of L has) winning experience. But they lost so much, too.
"It's not the same team as last year. They don't have that intimidator in there."
Vitale said the Cards do have one edge – coach Rick Pitino, who has taken seven teams to the Final Four (one at Providence, three at UK and three at U of L). Pitino is the only coach to win titles with two different programs.
"He'll do whatever it takes because the guy's a master," Vitale said. "He's like a genius in coaching. But you've got to have the parts, too. If you don't have the parts, you can do all the stuff you want strategically.
"You have to have the parts. If you don't have the parts, you can do all the Xs and Os you want. But when you get down to play the crème de la crème, that's going to really make it tough."
For Kentucky and John Calipari, Vitale said the challenge is different. Kentucky has the parts. What the Wildcats lack are the seniors with post-season college experience, guys like Smith and Hancock.
"I think Kentucky's getting better and better," Vitale said. "The key is the Harrisons (twins Aaron and Andrew).
"They've got talent. They're capable on any given night of beating anybody in the country. But they're also capable of getting that shocking upset from somebody you wouldn't expect to beat them …
"They're not what Kentucky was with John Wall, you know what to expect every night or what they certainly were when the had the combination of (Michael) Kidd-Gilchrist and they had Anthony Davis (in 2012). They spoiled a lot of Kentucky fans because that was as special as can be as a team.
"I think sometimes it gets a little frustrating for John -- for Calipari -- because the bottom line is he's such a perfectionist and he believes so much in the team concept, playing together, sharing the ball, playing with great effort, it's never been a problem for John Calipari, kids playing with a great effort. This team here has had some moments when they haven't played with that supreme effort you would expect wearing that jersey.
"Because that jersey and they have to understand this, that jersey is more than it is about with Harrisons, (freshman center Julius) Randle. That's about a history that goes way back to Adolph Rupp and how much pride the Kentucky fans have about basketball."
The Hoosiers have lost three straight and now face consecutive road games with Northwestern and Wisconsin. With only four Big Ten wins, the Hoosiers will have to win five of their last six Big Ten games and probably two more in the conference tournament.
"They've got to get some wins," Vitale said "The one thing they have going for them is they're in a conference where you have a chance to get quality wins.
"They've been up and down, to be expected. Look what they lost. You can't lose guys like they lost with (Victor) Oladipo and (Cody) Zeller and not be hurt. That's major, major losses."