In what may turn out to be the best action of the NCAA Tournament's first round, Dick Vitale soundly defeated Jay Bilas in an on-air argument that got pretty heated.
The two ESPN college basketball analysts disagreed over St. Mary's College being left out of the tournament. Vitale felt it was a mistake. Bilas thought it was the right decision.
On Sunday evening's show, the camera went to Vitale who claimed that the "little guys" got left out in favor of the schools from the big conferences. Vitale, who was not in the studio, but at a remote location, claimed "Christmas came early for Arizona" and that's when the flair-up started.
Bilas went right at him and said "Dick, do you really think St. Mary's is better than Arizona, head to head?" The question sounded condescending.
Bilas claimed that St. Mary's didin't play enough big schools and were, in part, responsible for the overlook, by the NCAA selection committee.
Vitale said, "Small schools can't get the bigger schools to play them." He added, "I can tell you for a fact because I went that route (Vitatel coached the University of Detroit in the '70's), you can't get everyone to play you. It is as simple as that!"
Things really heated up when Bilas fired back "Dick, you went that route 30 years ago," and stated firmly that "you can get the majors to play the mid-majors."
Vitale defended his position when he explained, "You'd have to play them twice at their place".
"I like to be fair, maybe I'm for the little guy and you are for the elite guy?"
Vitale took it up another notch and went somewhere, he might not have wanted to go, when he startled the audience and said, "I know you went to Duke and I didn't go to Duke."
He added "Jay, I'm not as smart as you."
The other analysts seemed about as surprised as anybody. In fact, they seemed a bit stunned while letting the two of them have it out.
Fans watching on Sunday night must have wondered if there wasn't something already brewing between Vitale and Bilas.
After what seemed like a rather long time, the host jumped in and moved the show to another subject.
Truth of the matter, St. Mary's probably belongs in the field of 65. Arizona might or might not.
Arizona finished 19-13 and went 9-9 in a somewhat below-average Pac 10.
They had good non Conference wins over Gonzaga and Kansas. They had bad losses against UAB, Texas AM, and UNLV. In the conference, they split with UCLA and Washington, the Pac 10's two best teams.
Vitale made it clear that Arizona finished the season by losing five of their last six.
St Mary's finished 26-6 and 10-4 in the West Coast Conference.
Out of conference, they beat Providence and Oregon. They lost to UTEP.
What hurt St. Mary's probably more than anything were the three conference losses to Gonzaga.
Two of losses were by a total of nine points and the last time they played, Gonzaga won big but St Mary's All-Conference guard, Patrick Mills, didn't play.
St. Mary's is a quality team. Patrick Mills is outstanding and 6'11" Omar Samhan is a legitimate center. At 6'7", Diamon Simpson is a great all-around player who averages 14 points and 11 rebounds a game.
Vitale, "Dicky V", won this argument for two reasons, the first being that St. Mary's had the resume.
It was the second reason, where he explained... one of the things that makes the tournament great, was letting in the "little guys".
Vitale, a man who overflows with emotion all the time, used this emotion to appeal to the underdog in everyone watching.
He went on to make the case that, rather than letting in a questionalbe team from a major conference... give the St. Marys' a chance.
He pointed out that the tournament would be deprived of a classic "Cinderella" and the possibility of some great upsets...the kind we talk about for years.