Who To Watch During March Madness
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris, and it's March.
Unidentified Man #1: You know, we're getting ready for March Madness.
Unidentified Man #2: The March Madness.
Unidentified Man #3: March Madness is picking up steam.
Unidentified Man #4: March madness.
NORRIS: Oh, the madness. Yes, just one more week before the big NCAA college basketball tournament. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays. And Stefan it's the end of the regular season. There are conference tournaments across the country to determine who gets to go to the big dance. Who do you plan to pick this year?
STEFAN FATSIS: You know, it's been a funny year. There have been three teams ranked number one in the AP poll: the defending champion, Duke; the current number one, Ohio State; and Kansas. And they're as good a bet as anyone because they've got some pro-quality depth, two or three likely first-round NBA draft picks on Duke and Kansas. Ohio State has a standout freshman, Jared Sullinger, possible national player of year.
But there's definitely more parity, fewer big-name consensus stars than in years past.
NORRIS: So you didn't tell me, though, who are you going to pick to go all the way?
FATSIS: I never make predictions.
NORRIS: Oh, come on.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NORRIS: Why is it that we're seeing this case where there's more parity, less star appeal? What's going on?
FATSIS: It's the one and done, players leaving after their freshmen years to go to the NBA. And there are going to be years when the pool isn't replenished.
I was looking at one of these mock NBA drafts. Of the first seven players listed, six are freshmen, one is a sophomore. And of the freshman, two have played barely or not at all. The point guard Kyrie Irving of Duke, he was injured in the eighth game of the season. The center, Enes Kanter of Kentucky, was ruled ineligible by the NCAA because he had played professionally in Turkey.
So when that happens, you know, two of the best players aren't playing, it's a thin pool already, what you're left with is more balance and the name of the school on the jersey, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
NORRIS: Well, there's one big name that we have to talk about, Jimmer Fredette of Brigham Young University. His team climbed to number three in the country this week before a turn of events that will no doubt affect the team's chances. Remind us what happened.
FATSIS: Yeah, BYU kicked its second-best player, sophomore center Brandon Davies, off of the team for violating the Mormon school's honor code because he'd had premarital sex with his girlfriend. And almost universally, the media has praised BYU as courageous for sticking to its principles in a world of college sports cheats, especially at time when it was doing so well, the argument being that BYU students know what they're signing up for: no caffeine, no alcohol, no cursing, no beards. Living a chaste and virtuous life is the way the honor code puts it.
Columnists and commentators love to defend righteous acts. But I think there's more to this conversation.
NORRIS: More like what?
FATSIS: Well, these rules, for one thing. We haven't heard much about whether these rules are applied uniformly across the student body. And it's also worth noting that Brandon Davies is African-American, and the last two athletes who left their BYU teams for the same reason are of Pacific Island descent. And this is a campus that is overwhelmingly white.
Then you've got the stickier subject of whether these rules should maybe be questioned by people outside of the Mormon Church. And finally, I think it bears asking, you know, does BYU's willingness to shame a 19-year-old in such a public way, is that the best approach, honor code or not?
NORRIS: Now, BYU was trounced in its first game without Davies, just its third loss this season. Quickly, where does that leave the team, and who else should we keep an eye on this week going ahead?
FATSIS: Well, you know, I think BYU should still going to get a high seed in the NCAA tournament. The big game this weekend, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, tomorrow, North Carolina-Duke, that great rivalry. They're tied for first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Watch the Ivy League this weekend. Harvard is trying to reach NCAAs for first time ever. And let's check in on last year's Cinderella story, the Butler Bulldogs. They lost in the championship game to Duke. They're not ranked right now, but they should still make the tournament field.
NORRIS: It'll be fun watching. Thanks so much, Stefan.
FATSIS: Thank you, Michele.
NORRIS: That's Stefan Fatsis. He joins us Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.
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