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'Jeopardy' Teen Champ's College Cliffhanger

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'Jeopardy' Teen Champ's College Cliffhanger

Pop Culture

'Jeopardy' Teen Champ's College Cliffhanger

'Jeopardy' Teen Champ's College Cliffhanger

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/134706204/134622503" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In higher education, there are two kinds of March Madness: the NCAA basketball tournaments, and the anxiety that infects high school seniors as they wait for acceptance letters from their chosen colleges and universities. Host Liane Hansen speaks with Raynell Cooper, the current Jeopardy! teen champion, about how he has to continue waiting on pins and needles to see if he is going to get into his college of choice.

LIANE HANSEN, Host:

The women's teams are playing too. It's their 30th NCAA tournament, and it's shaping up to be a historic one - unless you're in Iowa. Yesterday, number 11 Gonzaga defeated number six Iowa, and the Red Foxes of number 10 Marist College out of Poughkeepsie, New York beat Iowa State.

USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan is in the studio with more on the tournament. Nice to see you again.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Great to see you, Liane.

HANSEN: You've lamented in print that this is the other tournament. In fairness, it's tough for any team - men or women's - to beat the Butler finish. But apart from that, why can't the women's tournament gain any traction?

BRENNAN: Well, that's a great question and, of course, you're saying the word men's, that pesky adjective, men's. Most media people, especially mainstream sports media, male-dominated, you know, don't even bother with that. It's just the tournament, as if there's only one. And the newsflash: there are two.

And I think part of it is the men started in 1939; the women just started in 1982. The men are also, it's part of our culture. There are grandmothers in Dubuque and Topeka who are doing brackets who've never seen a men's basketball game. The women's is more sports and I think it's just that the men case such a shadow and, you know, really block out the sun. So the women don't have the opportunity to really shine.

HANSEN: Well, President Obama, who's filled out his brackets, he's picking top- seed UConn, which faces Hartford this afternoon, to go all the way. Are you with him?

BRENNAN: Oh, absolutely, yes. He picked all four of the top seeds and I would agree. And two of them played yesterday, as you probably know, and Stanford easily won, beating UC Davis; and Tennessee, actually, was all over Stetson 99-34. So, the two of the top seeds, the two top teams that we think might go to the Women's Final Four, Tennessee and Stanford, are already starting their way, their journey. And the other two, Connecticut and Baylor, play today.

HANSEN: So, it's these regional top seeds - UConn, Tennessee, Stanford and Baylor - make it to the Final Four, it could be the greatest Final Four ever, you say? How? How so?

BRENNAN: Yeah, I think it will be. Partially because they're big names. And the thing we were talking about a moment ago. You know, the people don't know. Well, UConn, of course, Connecticut, just set the record for the greatest winning streak in NCAA basketball men's or women's in December and so people know them and, you know, Geno Auriemma.

So, in our cult of personality world in sports, Liane, you've got Geno, you've got Pat Summitt. They would play Tennessee against Connecticut, if they got that far. And then six-foot-eight Brittney Griner for Baylor, shot-blocking superstar, six-eight. And Stanford, of course, beat UConn earlier this year and stopped the winning streak. So, you've got four marquee schools and names there.

HANSEN: But these four marquee schools are perennial powerhouses. Doesn't that bring about a danger that they're so good that other women's teams won't be able to compete or are other teams actually seeing some dramatic improvement?

BRENNAN: Well, you mentioned it earlier with those two big upsets yesterday. That's the key for the women's games, to not be so predictable. That's why the men are fascinating because of those upsets. And I think what we need to see more depth in women's basketball and all women's sports, so that you see those upsets - the Marists, the Gonzagas - upsetting teams, then I think more people would be interested to see those upsets.

HANSEN: Will you be watching Hartford and UConn, any other games?

BRENNAN: Yeah. I think - oh, Maryland plays today, Georgetown, and as I said, Baylor starts its road as well. So, some very interesting games today.

HANSEN: All right. USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan. Thanks so much for coming in today.

BRENNAN: Liane, thank you. My pleasure.

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