Looking At Men's, Women's NCAA Final Four

Melissa Block talks with NPR's Mike Pesca about the upcoming NCAA basketball championships. Two teams from mid-major conferences are battling for a spot in the men's final game. The women's Final Four features a quartet of powerhouse teams.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And we're going to turn now to college basketball with the men's and women's Final Four just a few days away. I'm joined by NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca for a preview. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hello.

BLOCK: And let's start with the men. Two of the final four teams are from so-called mid-major conferences: Butler and Virginia Commonwealth University, or VCU. And Butler also got this far last year, went on to the championship game. Do you think that means it has lost its Cinderella status?

PESCA: Well, I think Butler should still be considered a Cinderella. I think they get a little fuel out of that. The point is, that they're playing another underdog, a bigger underdog, a darker horse candidate, if you will. But that doesn't mean that what Butler has accomplished isn't really surprising and really impressive.

The difference between the two teams and maybe why some people are saying that Butler is a slight favorite, is that Butler plays consistently good defense and tends to win games by two points, sometimes by one point. And that's a coin flip, and so they've gotten very lucky as far as being oin the good side of the one or two-point outcomes.

Whereas VCU's luck has been a string of incredibly great three-point performances. They've shot something like 43 percent from the three point line in the tournament. And people look at it and they say, well, how long can that continue? And the answer is, if it continues one more game, they're going to win again. If it continues two, they'll win the championship. So, you know, we got a team on an incredible hot streak and a team that's very solid defensively, who's been eking out victories.

BLOCK: Now, the other semifinal on the men's side has Connecticut up against Kentucky. What do you think? How do they match up?

PESCA: These are very impressive programs. Connecticut, as of late, under Jim Calhoun, who's in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Kentucky, forever, as long as they've been playing college basketball, basically.

The two teams, their incarnations in 2011, Connecticut is a good team with a great player, Kemba Walker. And Jim Calhoun was incensed that Kemba Walker wasn't named Big East player of the year. And he could win the national player of the year. He's just scored every big point they've needed. And the other players have contributed well, whereas Kentucky has gotten contributions across the board.

So, probably the best player on the court is Kemba Walker of Connecticut, the other the four next best players might belong to Kentucky. And both of these two teams play really great basketball and that also should be a good game.

BLOCK: Let's talk about the women's Final Four, Mike. Not a bracket-buster in sight. Four teams left, two number one seeds, two number two seeds. Who are they, how do they look?

PESCA: Well, Connecticut is going to be playing Notre Dame. And they're both Big East rivals, and Connecticut has had a long win streak against Notre Dame. But you know what, so did Tennessee. Tennessee had won 20 games against Notre Dame and Notre Dame beat the number one seed to, you know, in some people's minds, rob women's basketball of a great match-up between Coach Geno Auriemma of Connecticut and Coach Pat Summit of Tennessee. So, Connecticut will probably be favored in that game, although I would not put it past the Fighting Irish to fight their way into the finals.

In the other bracket, we have a real contrast in styles. Stanford turns the ball over less than any team in the country and Texas A&M causes more turnovers than any team in the country. So, people are saying, well, against Stanford, Texas A&M is not going to be able to play that kind of swarming defense.

But I kind of think that Stanford could have their hands full. And then it'll be very it'll be a question of momentum and emotion because they aren't usually used to a swarming defense like that. How do they handle it? And like most Stanford games, it will probably come down to the Ogwumike sisters, who have paced the cardinal thus far.

If it is a Stanford versus Connecticut final, remember, Connecticut has one loss on the season and it was to Stanford, which snapped their record winning streak.

BLOCK: Okay, NPR's sports correspondent Mike Pesca. Mike, enjoy the games.

PESCA: I will.

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