Can anyone stop UNLV? So far, the answer has been no.
And if you listen to coaches who played for the chance to dethrone UNLV as national champion in this year's tournament, that answer will not change."It was nice of the NCAA to invite 63 other teams to the tournament, " said Ronnie Arrow, whose South Alabama team was one of those 63. "But only one team is going to win the national championship and that's the same team that won it last year.
"I think they are the greatest team in the history of college basketball."
The Runnin' Rebels are the runaway top choice of the coaches polled. But not everyone believes UNLV is invincible.
"Believe it or not, I like Duke," said Coastal Carolina coach Russ Bergman, whose team lost to Indiana in the first round. "Why? I think payback is hell. And the experience of being in the championship game against the exact same team and being humiliated in front of the world, I think, will make Duke play over their heads."
Of course, no matter who makes the picks, everything is just speculation. As Creighton coach Tony Barone said, "If I knew the answers, I'd still be coaching this week instead of sitting here."
Here are the opinions of some of the other coaches:
- Jim Calhoun, Connecticut: "It's impossible to think UNLV is not going to be a great team. That five or six minutes they had against Seton Hall was devastating. It was the same type of devastation I saw them do to Duke last year. If Duke can get the game in a reasonable tempo and find help inside against (Larry) Johnson, they have a chance. But at its best, UNLV can't be defeated. I think North Carolina will beat Kansas, because Carolina has no weaknesses. And Carolina has a chance to beat UNLV, because they have the big men inside to neutralize UNLV. The championship game could be a heck of a game - better than most people think."
- Bergman, Coastal Carolina: "I think Duke will dampen the outside shooting of Vegas. And I like Kansas over Carolina, because Kansas has more experience in this situation than North Carolina. I've got to go with Duke in the final. Duke by five points. It will be a Final Four worth watching. I'm excited about being there."
- Barone, Creighton: "I really think Duke is going to upset Vegas. I see a real intangible purpose in their minds right now. The big issue is (Duke guard Bobby) Hurley. I hate to put pressure on one kid, but you've got to have a guard to control things, and I think he can do it. In the other game, I want to see Kansas win, because Dean (Smith, UNC coach) has been there too much. If it's a Kansas-Duke final, I like Duke."
- Joey Meyer, DePaul: "Whatever I pick, put the opposite down. If I was a gambler, I'd have to give it up, because I'd be broke. I never get these things right. I will go with Kansas to beat North Carolina, saying Duke will beat UNLV. I'd say Kansas will beat Duke. I just want to get one right."
- Alan LeForce, East Tennessee State: "I think UNLV playing Duke is going to be much tougher than last year. UNLV is in a vulnerable position. Duke has the revenge motive, and they're playing real well right now. In the Kansas-North Carolina game, it will look like an instant replay. Both are carbon copies of the other and it comes down to who executes that particular day. I'm going to say it's going to be Duke and North Carolina in the finals. I'm picking North Carolina to win it. They've got a lot of people who can play. They've got a lot of experience."
- Pat Kennedy, Florida State: "We played Vegas, and they're a great team. It's easy to pick that kind of favorite. If they do get beat, it will be in the semifinals. In the other game, I give the advantage to Dean (Smith). So it will be two good semifinal games, but I think the championship could be a blowout."
- Bob Reinhart, Georgia State: "I think the championship game is UNLV vs. Duke. Duke is a lot better than they were a year ago. They've got more offense. But that still doesn't give them the edge. On the other side, I like North Carolina over Kansas. Now here's the thing: If Duke beats UNLV, then I think Carolina has owned Duke and Carolina could win. But if UNLV beats Duke, then UNLV will win it all."
- Jud Heathcote, Michigan State: "Is anybody picking anybody else (except Vegas)? Duke will be more competitive, but I think Vegas will win by 10-15 points. Kansas-North Carolina should go right down to the wire, but I look for Kansas to win by one or two points. In Kansas-UNLV, there is too much quickness and athleticism on UNLV to lose to anybody."
- Dave Bliss, New Mexico: It's tough not to like Vegas. Duke will play much better than last time, but Vegas is better than they were last year. In the other game, I'm picking Kansas because they're on a roll. I'm cheering for Kansas, but I think UNLV will win it all. I just hope it's a close game."
- Neil McCarthy, New Mexico State: "It'll be Vegas. North Carolina-Kansas is a tossup. Regardless, I think Vegas will win it all."
- Les Robinson, North Carolina State: "I'm picking Duke and Carolina, a company man. I believe Duke is very capable of beating Las Vegas. Carolina-Kansas, anything can happen there. We played both of them. When you prepare for one, you prepare for the other. I'm aware Vegas is a great team, but I feel if the game goes to the wire, Duke has a 50-50 chance. In the championship, I'll pick North Carolina in double-overtime."
- Eddie Sutton, Oklahoma State: "For three-fourths of the season, I was in the majority that thought it would be very difficult for anyone to upset (Vegas). But after the way a few teams have played them in the NCAA Tournament, I'm sure the teams remaining feel Vegas could be vulnerable. They'll still be the favorite, of course. It will take a supreme effort to beat them and Vegas will have to have an off-night. I still have to go with Vegas.
- Tom Asbury, Pepperdine: "I pick Kansas and Vegas and then Vegas (in the final). In Mark Randall, Kansas has a player who can compensate for anything Carolina can do. In the other game, I think it will be a better game than last year, because it can't get any worse. Duke will do better, but still can't beat Vegas. If Vegas was going to be beaten, it would be the second or third game of the tournament. Those are the ones that you slip up in. Now, I think Vegas is just too much for everyone."
- Paul Evans, Pittsburgh: "I thought Vegas could be beaten in this tournament, but I figured if they were it would have happened by now. I thought maybe Arizona or Seton Hall could have tripped them up. But now that they're in the Final Four, it's going to be awfully tough for somebody to beat them. But my pick is still North Carolina. They have an awfully strong bench and a lot of experience. They haven't really been pushed except for Temple. They didn't have a tough road to get there, but they're still strong."
- Gene Keady, Purdue: "I'd think somebody would have a chance to beat UNLV if I didn't know Larry Johnson and Stacy Augmon as well as I do. But I tell you, those are two really great kids, and they're just not going to let it happen. I know what those kids are made of. They are going to be so focused. I think they are on a mission."
- Jim Baron, St. Francis, Pa.: "I think Vegas is going to win it all. I think it will come down to Vegas against Kansas. I don't think anybody can beat them right now because they're so intense defensively and don't let up. Kansas has good bench and good depth. I just think Vegas is so versatile because of their size and strength."
- Arrow, South Alabama: "Vegas has no weaknesses. You can't sink in on Larry or they'll kill you from outside, and you can't guard them close outside or they'll kill you inside. It would take three guys getting hurt and another fouling out for anyone to have a chance against them. I don't think anybody can beat Vegas, except maybe the Lakers. They're just hitting on all cylinders."
- George Raveling, Southern Cal: "Logic dictates Vegas should win the thing. If I were a betting guy, and if the game were Kansas-Vegas, I'd bet Kansas. They have the style of play that could possibly give Vegas trouble. And I think Kansas is on a roll right now. It will be a lot more interesting than people think."
- M.K. Turk, Southern Mississippi: "It's going to be a great tournament, but the clear fact is UNLV is a cut above the field. Now don't get me wrong. They've got to play well. They can't just show up and win. But if they play anywhere close to their capabilities, I don't see anybody giving them a serious challenge."
- John Chaney, Temple: "I like Kansas very much. I see Kansas meeting UNLV or Duke. A lot of people underrate Duke. Duke has experience. They've got as many All-Americas on the bench as Carolina. The only thing that might beat Duke is Las Vegas guards smothering their guards. I see Kansas-UNLV in the final. I sort of feel if Kansas gets there, they'll prove to a lot of people they have a great, great ballclub."
- Jim Harrick, UCLA - "I like Las Vegas. The reason is their age factor. They start three fifth-year seniors and two four-year kids, and their average age is over 22. They've got three guys older than some guys playing in the NBA. No one else has a player like Larry Johnson."
- Rick Majerus, Utah: "I probably expect UNLV, but I think they have a tough row. Duke has the capability. I think UNLV is a great team. But Carolina has the personnel, size and style of play to beat them. I think it will be a great Final Four. If Vegas gets in a three- or four-point game with under three minutes to go, they haven't been in that situation in so long, you don't know how they'll react."
- Eddie Fogler, Vanderbilt: "I think it's a great one (Final Four), the most interesting one I've gone to watch. The North Carolina-Kansas game is special for me. One coach is like a substitute father and the other is like a brother. In the other semifinal, it's a repeat of last year's game. Duke has four days to prepare and Mike Krzyzewski is in his fourth Final Four in four years. And Tarkanian is going for two in a row. I think Duke has better chance than people think, but I'll pick Vegas. I'm not picking or rooting in the other game. I haven't been very good on my picks. I hope it's a tie."
- Jeff Jones, Virginia: "I think, in general, it's hard to go against Vegas. I think if it were a series, like the NBA, I don't see anyway anyone could beat them. But in a one-shot deal, anything is possible. Obviously, I'm pulling for the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference). But Kansas is very impressive. They flat-out wore Arkansas down."
- Pete Gillen, Xavier: "Anything can happen in one game. If it was two out of three, three out of five or four out of seven, UNLV would win hands down. I still think Vegas will win. I like Vegas over Duke, North Carolina over Kansas and Vegas over North Carolina. Vegas is a pro team playing college teams. They're old, big, physical and strong. I would be surprised if Vegas got beat, but it would not shock me."