The countdown begins

Temple coach Fran Dunphy (left) and Villanova coach Jay Wright (right) were the centers of attention at the Palestra this morning. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Staff Photographer)

The morning after Selection Sunday is always one of my favorite times of the college basketball season.

Even though it usually follows a night with far too little sleep, the reward for getting up before sunrise is a trip to the Palestra for the Coaches vs. Cancer March Madness Tip-Off Breakfast.

We talk all the time about the sense of community that exists among the City Six schools, but this day more than any other is when it is made clear to the region and the nation.

The breakfast brings together coaches, administrators and hundreds of fans, and as you walk down the ramp to the arena floor it seems like everyone in the building knows each other by first name.

In addition to a range of fundraising activites for Coaches vs. Cancer, the highlight of the morning is hearing Final Four picks from all six of the region's coaches and a panel of local media members.

This year's media panel included Howard Eskin, Joe Juliano, Dick Jerardi, Mike Kern, Dei Lynam and Harry Donahue.

As happens every year, I tried to record it, and as happens in more years than I would like, my audio recorder bombed during the recording. So I give you some transcribed highlights from what I could recover.

Eskin started by complimenting Fran Dunphy's mother for cheering La salle when the Explorers beat Temple, then picked Alabama State to win the play-in game and Memphis to make the Final Four "because I'm always a John Calipari guy because all the coaches here can't stand him except Bruiser."

"The one thing that I can go against here," Eskin continued, "because Phil [Martelli] thinks North Carolina's going to win the national championship, they're out. Phil never wins these things. Never."

"Why don't you save it 'til this afternoon," Martelli retorted. "Go on this afternoon - you don't know what you're talking about. Do that for four hours. Don't waste these people's times."

Eskin got the last word in, noting that the St. Joe's coach "did it this morning with Angelo, so I'm just following your lead."

The feud between Martelli and Eskin is well known. Yet Eskin said that Martelli's endorsement of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was enough to pick the Orange to make the Final Four.

Villanova coach Jay Wright was asked to weigh in on the matter.

"I like when he and Phil go at it - I think that's what everybody comes for," Wright said. What did [Eskin] say about Boeheim? I don't listen to him."

Penn coach Glen Miller admitted that he fell asleep during the six-overtime Syracuse-Connecticut game, but added that he'll be paying plenty of attention to the Huskies for the rest of the month.

"Bruiser's rooting for Memphis for his ticket upgrades, and I'm rooting for Connecticut," said the former assistant to Jim Calhoun, who said he has UConn facing North Carolina in the national championship game.

"No bias there?" emcee Neil Hartman of Comcast SportsNet asked Miller.

"Excuse me?" Miller replied. After a dramatic pause, he admitted to "a little bias."

Donahue, who calls Temple basketball games on the radio, told a story about one difference between working with John Chaney and Fran Dunphy. Apparently Chaney let Donahue and color man John Baum travel on the plane, but after landing they were responsible for their own transportation.

Dunphy allows the radio guys on the team bus, but Donahue said the price of admission is being regularly told "how little I know about the game."

La Salle coach John Giannini picked quite a few upsets: North Dakota State over Kansas, Cornell over Missouri "if they can beat the press" (good luck with that), and Western Kentucky over Illinois.

He also said that American will "go right at Jay's guys" against Villanova, and "make it more difficult on them than some people may realize."

Giannini would know at least something of what he speaks, as the Explorers played the Eagles last season before AU threw a scare into Tennessee in March.

Inquirer college basketball writer Joe Juliano joined the chorus picking a Villanova-Pittsburgh East Regional final, but went for the Panthers over the Wildcats on the theory that DeJuan Blair will have learned his lesson after losing at the Spectrum.

His upset pick was Missouri out of the West region, taking down Memphis and Connecticut on the way.

Then came Bruiser Flint's turn. As Hartman said, the stage was his to explain why Memphis will win the national championship.

"Why should I?" Flint retorted. "I did it last year - I sat behind the bench and watched the game. The guy's won 30 games four years in a row, he's got two guys that aer the all-time winningest seniors in the history of college basketball, they're good. They're good."

He continued, and even without the audio I'm sure you'll be able to hear this part in your minds.

I know Cal gets on you guys' nerves, he thinks all this stuff up, he runs it by me before he gets it... everybody gets upset. But the guy wins basketball games. But the greatest thing - and Glen knows about this - if they play UConn in the final eight, that will be one of the all-time handshakes before a game that you will ever see in history.

Please, people, tell me you're going to show it on camera. Calhoun and Calipari hate each other. No, no, no, I don't think you all understand. These two guys HATE each other. First thing Cal said to me last night: "Ooh, I can't wait until the final eight." I was like, "You're crazy - why don't you get there first?"

Pay attention to it if they make it. That's going to be the greatest handshake of all time when those two guys stand next to each other.

As for his Final Four picks, Flint couldn't quite send Villanova all the way.

"I'm not going to say they're going to go to the Final Four, because you know, those Villanova guys get a little crazy," he said, picking them to lose the regional final to Pittsburgh. "I'm a St. Joe guy - if Villanova goes to the Final Four again, Phil, we might have to go up there and break some windows."

Mike Kern had some of the best - and most honest - quotes of the morning.

"All I do, I root for the local teams to go as far as they can because to me, that's what it's all about," he said. "I root for Dunph to win, Jay to win, Drexel's women, whoever's playing basketball games."

In particular, he'd like to see Villanova play Duke in the Sweet 16.

"I just think it will be one of the great matchups in the tournament," Kern said.

Kern closed his remarks with a paragraph or so about the region's coaches that I thought was especialy profound, and summed up really well why our local college basketball scene is such a special thing.

"We get to deal with these guys all year, and you just have to understand how lucky you are in Philadephia to have a group of guys who not only can coach - because they can do that - but they get it," he said. "We bump heads with them every now again, and sometimes they're even right. But don't take these guys for granted, because I think too often we do, both for what they do with their teams and what they do away from their teams. They may not always be here. So don't take this for granted."

I'll second that.

After the panel session I got interviews with all six of the coaches. Unfortunately, my interview with Fran Dunphy got totally screwed up by my audio recorder, but the other five made it okay.

Technology screwing over a web guy. Who knew?

There's a little bit of news tonight: the NCAA Women's Tournament field has been released, and La Salle guard Darryl Partin is transferring. Philly Hoops Insider has that news, though there's no word on where Partin is headed.

I'll be back tomorrow, and in my next post I'll give you my picks for the Midwest region. Remember to join's Hoops Hysteria contest, and in particular to join me and your fellow blog readers in our pool group.