Brackets Revealed For Men's NCAA Tournament
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
The field for the NCAA men's basketball tournament is set. Four powerhouse programs have the number one seeds - Duke, Ohio State, Kansas and Pittsburgh. The tournament has expanded to 68 teams this year. The bracket waiting in your inbox will look a little different. NPR's Mike Pesca is here with us to talk about it.
Mike, you're going to be living this tournament for the next three weeks. Tell us how the expanded structure will work.
MIKE PESCA: Well, there is often - or in a few years past there has been a play-in game. And how this usually worked is the worst teams vie for the spot to get obliterated by a number one seed. But they've expanded this play-in format to not only include teams that are trying to be the 16 seed, but teams that could be maybe the 12th or 11th seed.
So with 68 teams, more teams who were supposedly on the bubble are now being invited to play in the tournament. And this was supposed to take care of a lot of the controversy about teams that have been left off.
Guess what? It didn't really do it. There's still the controversy. But there'll be a few more games leading up to Thursday.
WERTHEIMER: So, we mentioned the top seeds - Duke, Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh. Is there a clear favorite?
PESCA: Right now it looks like people are favoring either Duke or Ohio State. Compared to past years, there's not one clear favorite. Last year, Kansas was the odds-on favorite, but they didn't go very far in the tournament. So I don't know how much stock to put in that.
I would say of the number one seeds they're a bit less powerful this year than they have been in some years past. Three or four weeks ago, the top four ranked teams in the country all lost. So there was this situation where the fifth team, which was Duke at the time, sort of inherited the number one spot.
So there hasn't been any team or any one or two teams vying for supremacy all year. And we see that reflected in the brackets.
WERTHEIMER: So how does the rest of the field look this year?
PESCA: Well, like I said, the bubble - Virginia Tech has a pretty good argument that they were left out. They beat the number one seed, Duke. But no matter how many teams you let in the tournament there's always going to be the last team that was left out. And sometimes they're going to have a legitimate complaint and sometimes they're not.
I think the biggest complaint is not necessarily of a team that was left out, but the seeding.
There's a team - Utah State - that in the last ranking in the AP poll was something like 17th. This is a very good team, but they don't get to play quality opponents. They had only three losses on the season. And they got a 12th seed, which tells you that the people who make up the seedings think they're about the 40th best team in the country, whereas no college basketball expert ranks them anywhere near that low.
But the good thing about Utah State is all they have to do is win a game. It's against the fifth seeded Kansas State team. But once they do they sort of become the fifth seed. Maybe their second round game will get a little bit easier if they could survive that first round contest.
WERTHEIMER: Well, what about some little outfit like Butler University in Indiana, which very nearly won last year? Any upset possibilities in view?
PESCA: Well, sure. and to look at the Butler game, they're playing a very good team - Old Dominion - who a lot of people, I think me among them, think that they could beat Butler and then even beat Pittsburgh, which is the number one seed in their region.
There're other teams that have their profiles. A team like Belmont, which only played three good teams this year, but they came very close to winning all of them. And they're a 13th ranked seed.
And then a two seed, San Diego State. So they're telling you that's a good team, but San Diego State's off a lot of people's radars. They could make a run and do a lot of damage in the tournament.
WERTHEIMER: OK, Mike. Stay in touch.
PESCA: Yes, of course.
WERTHEIMER: Mike Pesca, NPR's Mike Pesca talking about the NCAA.
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