Simply put ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale is legend. The iconic and affable voice of college hoops remains a national, if not international, public figure as he reaches his mid-70’s, but that has not slowed him down one bit. As Vitale sat down with American astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, to announce Allstate’s “March Mayhem Challenge” on March 15, 2016, his passion for the college game still burns strongly.
The self-described “gym rat from Jersey” still keeps close tabs on his old stomping grounds, and with the NCAA tournament in full swing, he was saddened by the omission of the Monmouth Hawks from this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. “I was very upset and frustrated when I saw the draw, and it didn’t include Monmouth.” Vitale said in an exclusive interview. ” Why Tulsa? Tulsa, to me, was a real problem being selected over teams like Monmouth and St. Mary’s.”
The New York Post in a column posted on March 13, 2016 called Monmouth’s snub “a black eye for the NCAA selection committee,” and Dickie V concurred. “Monmouth got a raw deal. They beat Georgetown, they beat UCLA, they beat Southern Cal and they beat Notre Dame. And how they got denied from the selection committee was reprehensible.” Despite the snub, the Hawks will compete for a National Invitation Tournament (N.I.T.) championship, starting on Mar. 16th in West Long Branch against Bucknell.
In addition to being saddened by the plight of Monmouth University, Vitale was also saddened and perplexed at the basketball situation at Rutgers University, a place where he served as an assistant in the early 1970’s. “I thought Eddie Jordan was going to be the right guy,” Vitale replied when asked about Jordan being let go as head basketball coach last week. “I’m really surprised it did not turn out better.”
While the football program has made strides since 2000 in becoming a big time competitive program, the men’s basketball team has not made the NCAA Tournament since 1991. This season under Jordan, the team won one Big Ten game (1-17) and finished the season with a 7-25 record. “I always felt that recruiting at Rutgers was not as tough as people wanted to make it. There is no reason that the right person can’t recruit two good players a year at the school,” Vitale lamented.
As far as the one bright spot in New Jersey college basketball, Vitale was very bullish on the chances of Seton Hall (25-8) in March Madness. The Pirates, fresh off the Big East championship win over Villanova, face off against Gonzaga (26-7) in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Mar. 17th. “The Pirates have been playing great. The kid, Isaiah Whitehead, has been sensational.”
Whitehead led all scorers with 26 points in the Big East championship game, 14 of which came in the second half, and he was named the recipient of the Dave Gavitt Trophy as the Tournament Most Valuable Player following the victory. Whitehead is the third Pirate ever to earn the honor; joining Oliver Taylor (1991) and Terry Dehere (1993) who captured the honor during Seton Hall’s previous two conference tournament title runs.
But the Hall will be put to the test early against a Gonzaga squad that made the Elite Eight last season under battle tested coach Mark Few (17 NCAA Tournaments). By contrast, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard will be entering his first-ever tournament in the rarefied air of Denver, Col. as the number six seed in the Midwest region.
“One of the most intriguing match-ups I see in the first round is the the Seton Hall versus Gonzaga game,” Vitale concluded.
As part of its March Mayhem Challenge, Allstate will make a donation to the Space Center Houston and the V Foundation for cancer research on behalf of each competitor, so everyone will be a winner, regardless of what happens on the court.