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Dick Vitale wants March Madness change; says Zion Williamson sitting 'absurd'

By Alex Butler
Dick Vitale wants March Madness change; says Zion Williamson sitting 'absurd'
ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale (L) wants to see more mid-major schools rewarded with bids in the NCAA tournament. Vitale, pictued with fellow broadcaster Karl Ravech, has covered college basketball for 40 years. File Photo by BIll Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

March 18 (UPI) -- Dick Vitale told UPI that March Madness needs a format change. He also said it's "absurd" to think Duke star Zion Williamson should sit out the tournament.

The iconic ESPN commentator says his idea for a change to the annual tournament field would allow for more of what the fans like to see: Cinderella teams knocking off perennial powers.

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This year, the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee turned to the NCAA Evaluation Tool to help determine its 68-team field. The tournament includes 32 teams getting in with automatic bids after winning conference tournament championships. The other 36 bids are considered "at-large," meaning those teams must be invited to the tournament by the committee.

Often, teams from smaller mid-major schools are left out of that pool, leading teams from major conferences to secure the extra bids. But Vitale said he wants the committee to reward excellence over mediocrity. He said the committee should give 28 of the at-large bids to schools from power conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC). The other eight bids should go to mid-major schools who have outstanding seasons but don't win their tournaments.

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"I love seeing the little guys," Vitale said.

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Vitale said Gonzaga coach Mark Few is a fan of his plan, as is fellow announcer Brent Musburger. If it were enforced, fans could get the chance to see more teams like Loyola, which made a magical run to the 2018 Final Four. The Ramblers were a No. 11 seed last March and advanced out of the South region, before falling to Michigan in a national semifinal.

"Teams that lose 14 to 15 games, I know they are in power conferences and play power teams," Vitale said. "But the bottom line is if you went .500 in your conference and you lose 14 to 15 games do you really belong in the tournament over the Belmonts, who went 28-5, Lipscomb (25-7), Hofstra (28-7), Cal-Irvine?

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"You take those eight teams and put them in the tournament," Vitale said. "Fans love to see the Davids and Goliaths. It brings excitement, plus you are rewarding greatness."

Vitale -- a spokesman for Bounty, the Quicker Picker Upper -- said he is "fed up" with the selection process and seeing teams get left out of the field every year.

Zion Williamson's decision

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When Duke star Zion Williamson went down because of a regular-season knee injury, many analysts questioned if he should sit out for the rest of his collegiate career. Williamson, 18, is considered a lock to be one of the first players selected in the 2019 NBA Draft, and an injury could be the only thing that derails his future at the next level.

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Williamson rested until he was medically cleared to return to the court. He did so in grand fashion, going off for 29 points and 14 rebounds, while shooting 13-of-13 from the floor, in the Blue Devils' ACC tournament win Thursday against Syracuse.

"I really think all the naysayers that said the kid shouldn't play ... it's absurd. The bottom line is why shouldn't he do something he loved? Do you think he is going to lock himself in the closet? Injuries are unfortunately part of the game. We wish the kid nothing but the best. You don't want him to play unless the medical staff and coaches give him the clearance to play, and obviously they've given it to him."

Williamson told reporters Thursday there was "no question about it" when asked if he would return to college basketball.

"Everybody has their right to their own opinion, but I knew I was coming back the whole time," Williamson said.

Vitale has spent time with Williamson and said the star freshman "loves being a college kid."

"He's a beautiful kid who loves to play," Vitale said. "I think it's great for college basketball, for Duke and for himself. He can't wait to get back on the floor. He's the most unique player I've ever seen. I've never seen a kid of that size have the kind of quickness, mobility and agility he possesses. He means so much to their team. He brings energy. He brings life to every other player when he's on the floor."

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Williamson and the Blue Devils battle No. 16 NC Central or North Dakota State in the first round of the tournament Friday in Columbia, S.C. The Blue Devils are heavy favorites to win the tournament.

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