Dick Vitale has not yet shown his face in Allen Fieldhouse this season. ESPN has instead chosen to saddle fans with the substandard color commentary of Bobby Knight during the nationally televised games. Knight appeared drunk in the first game that ESPN aired, seemingly seeing double, while adding both Marquise and Maurice Morris to the Jayhawks backcourt during the USC game. Albeit, Knight was slightly better when KU played Baylor, at least he could tell Brady Morningstar and Tyrell Reed apart, but I suspect that was either because he was afraid of the consequences of drinking in Waco, or he just couldn’t find a bar.
So, how will fans react to Vitale’s presence this year? In the past, he has been overwhelming supported and welcomed, despite the fact that when he talks about how great of a basketball venue Allen Fieldhouse is, he always manages to mention Cameron Arena and Duke within a sentence or two. Prior to this year, that has always been excused to a certain extent, because Vitale was universally recognized as the preeminent expert in college basketball. With his increasing trend towards senility, and the growing inaccuracies of his predictions, that is no longer the case.
Vitale did try to shore up his Jayhawk support last week when he named Bill Self his mid-season Coach of the Year, but many will say that is just to cover up his gross underestimation of this year’s Kansas team. Regardless, it no doubt comes off as a too little, too late for the aging commentator.
Before the season even started, the regard in which Kansas was held by Vitale and ESPN was alarmingly diminished from a season before. The Jayhawks were picked to finish fifth in the Big 12, despite dominating the conference for the better part of this century, as well as the last. The departures of Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry in one year was just too much for the Jayhawks to overcome. This would be a rebuilding year, and that was that.
Conversely, Kansas State had become the darlings of the Big 12. Vitale expected the Wildcats to top Texas, Baylor and Mizzou for the conference championship, and make a serious run at the NCAA title. The Wildcats were coming off the best season in school history with an Elite Eight finish, and would surely build on that success. According to Vitale, Jacob Pullen would be a “dominator” this season, not having to share the ball with Dennis Clemente.
Fast forward through half a season, and it appears that Vitale couldn’t have been more wrong about the state of basketball in the State of Kansas. Kansas State is currently on the bubble for the NIT, and Pullen has already unambiguously stated that he won’t play in it, even if the Wildcats manage to sneak in. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, have lost only once all season. While they refuse to make excuses for the Texas game, it was obvious that the team just ran out of gas in the second half of that game, after many of the players had stayed up all night consoling Thomas Robinson.
While it will no doubt be a relief for television viewers, tired of Knight’s endless commentary about how a player should have used a shot-fake, it will be interesting to see how the on-hand crowd receives Vitale this season. It’s anybody’s guess at this point, but I suspect that there will be more than a few less than complimentary Dickie V signs.
Dickie V responds directly:
- Don’t Ever Cry For Dick Vitale (sbnation.com)
- “Awesome, Baby: Dick Vitale Extends ESPN Contract” and related posts (deadline.com)