Much like the NCAA Basketball Tournament, Dick Vitale’s “March Mayhem Challenge” against astronaut Buzz Aldrin started off with some monumental upsets, but since some early surprises, the tournament has settled into more of a traditional pattern with three high seeds (North Carolina, Villanova, Oklahoma) and one upstart (Syracuse) vying for the national title. With only three games left in the challenge, Vitale trails Aldrin by one game, heading into college basketball’s final weekend of games.
“From what I am told, if Oklahoma were to win their game against Villanova on Saturday, we would end up in a dead tie,” Vitale said in an exclusive interview on March 29, 2016 promoting the Allstate March Mayhem Challenge. That means Vitale’s bracket has been able to weather a few March storms along the way, but has remained competitive even after an early shocker rocked the tournament and Dickie V’s bracket.
“Many people, including yours truly, felt that Michigan State would win the national championship. So when the Spartans were beaten early in the tournament by Middle Tennessee State, it set me back big time,” Vitale said. “I would say that Middle Tennessee beating Michigan State was the biggest upset ever in the NCAA tournament, but that’s what March Mayhem is all about.”
After two weeks of grueling competition on the hardwood, Vitale has nothing but praise for the teams who made it to Houston this weekend. The affable basketball analyst expressed “shock” that the Syracuse Orange have run the four-game gauntlet of high pressure contests unscathed, and he believes coach Jim Boeheim might still have a few tricks up his sleeve in his quest to secure a national championship. “I think Sunday’s comeback against Virginia will rank as the top comeback in the Boeheim-era with Syracuse.” As for players to watch on the Orange, Vitale pointed out another Jersey-guy, Trenton’s own, Malachi Richardson. “Richardson has been outstanding for the Orange. He’s a fierce competitor, and he is also extremely athletic.”
Vitale also had high praise for Villanova, as they prepare to take on the Oklahoma Sooners in the opening match-up of the Final Four with tipoff at 6:09 p.m. (EDT) at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. He called the Wildcats a “very dangerous team,” that can close out games by making free throws down the stretch. Jay Wright’s squad takes on Lonn Kruger and his University of Oklahoma Sooners, who are lead by senior guard Buddy Hield, the two-time Big 12 player-of-the-year. “Hield is just a terrific personality. He loves to play and has a great attitude. Clearly Oklahoma feeds off of him, and Hield keeps the team fired up,” Vitale commented.
As for which team will be cutting down the nets in Houston on Monday, Vitale left little to the imagination as to who the front runner remains. “Carolina is the most talented team left in the tournament. They play up tempo, and they get up and down the floor like no one else. Marcus Paige is making shots right now, and Brice Johnson is a monster inside. There’s no doubt in my mind that they are the team to beat.”
Regardless of who wins the challenge, Allstate has pledged a contribution to Vitale’s favorite cause, the V Foundation, in order to fund research that seeks to eradicate children’s cancer. The V Foundation is named after Vitale’s close friend and NCAA championship coach, Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993 at just 47 years old.