NCAA Men's Basketball Is Down To 'Sweet 16'
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
It's down to sixteen - the Sweet Sixteen. The next round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament starts tonight. And here with a look at the brackets is NPR's Mike Pesca.
Mike, good morning.
MIKE PESCA: Hello.
WERTHEIMER: Let's start with tonight's action. There are four games tonight: Connecticut versus San Diego State, BYU versus Florida, Arizona faces Duke and Butler takes on Wisconsin. Which team has the toughest road going forward?
PESCA: Well, that would have to be Arizona. Not only are they playing the only number one seed left playing tonight in Duke, but Arizona barely eked out a win against Texas. It was a great win, to give credit to them. It came down to the wire. But of all those games, the one that would really be an upset were if the Wildcats to win.
In their favor is the fact that they have Derrick Williams, who's a little bit underrated. He doesn't get the attention of Jimmer Fredette or Kemba Walker, two other guys in play tonight. But he might be one of the best eventually at the pros. He actually might be the best player. And he's really fantastic.
Now, to talk about the other two guys I just mentioned. Kemba Walker plays for Connecticut, and he's been powering this team to the Big East championship, to the first two games that they won in D.C.
But if you look at the geography, Connecticut was in New York, Madison Square Garden, for the Big East. Then they went to Washington, D.C. They went home to Storrs, Connecticut in between. But they're traveling across the country to Anaheim. That travel might be a big detriment as they play San Diego State.
I think the nation will be watching Jimmer Fredette, who's fabulous and exciting on BYU. And then Butler and Wisconsin, Butler always plays close games. So they should be great games tonight.
WERTHEIMER: OK. The eight remaining teams are tomorrow night. Kansas and Ohio State are among them. They will take on Richmond and Kentucky, respectively. Kansas and Ohio State have both looked great this season. Are they really just better than the rest?
PESCA: Yes, they do - it does seem that the top two or three teams in basketball - and I would put Duke in that group - seem to have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, but maybe that's just looking at the first couple games. Ohio State is a very complete team. They have players who play traditional positions well and have a lot of scoring options. Kansas also has tons of talent.
One theme that's going on in all four of those games - well, actually most of those games - is a youth-versus-experience theme. So Marquette is coached by Buzz Williams, who does exciting dances on the sidelines. He's 38. He's playing a basketball hall of famer, Roy Williams, from North Carolina.
And Richmond is coached by Chris Mooney. He's 38. He's playing Kansas. Bill Self is 48, not that old. And in another game - the last game tomorrow night -Virginia Commonwealth is coached by 33-year-old Shaka Smart. The guy is really a fascinating and intellectual and exciting. And he's playing Leonard Hamilton, who's 62 years old.
Also, Florida State, Leonard Hamilton's team, has a player who's 26 years old -Bernard James, who was in the Air Force. So there's experience versus youth right there.
WERTHEIMER: Now, who else are you keeping an eye on? You're going to tell me Butler, right?
PESCA: Well, I always like Butler. I think Brad Stevens is a fantastic coach. And those guys always play close games. And their last four games have been decided by a total of seven points. That's no way to keep winning in the tournament, but that should be exciting.
WERTHEIMER: What about the referees? We've been hearing a lot of criticism -quickly.
PESCA: Yes. Quickly, I would say that my overall fear - and we hear this in all sports - it seems to coincide with the rise of HDTV. We just see the calls better, and so we think the refs are worse. The refs are actually very good. They've gotten one or two calls wrong in clutch situations. But think how many games have been played. All the coaches will say - not just because they'll get fined if they say it wrong, but the refs have been really good this tournament.
WERTHEIMER: Thanks, Mike.
PESCA: You're welcome.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Mike Pesca, speaking with us from New York.
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