Teams Edge Closer To Finals In NCAA Tournament

The NCAA basketball tournament continues to weed out teams on the way to the final four for the men, and elite eight for the women. Robert Siegel gets the scoop from sportswriter Stefan Fatsis.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments are casting off teams on the way to their respective final fours. A total of 16 games will be played today, tomorrow and Sunday. The men will be down to a final four, the women to an elite eight.

Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays. Hi, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: Louisville, Ohio State, Syracuse and Florida advanced last night to the elite eight of the men's event. What stood out for you?

FATSIS: Oh, Louisville, really. Coach Rick Pitino - they knocked off number one seed Michigan State in a defensive-oriented, poor shooting, turnover-heavy game. And I think that the reason for Michigan State's poor play may have been the retina damage thanks to these bright orange uniforms that Louisville wore.

Syracuse, meanwhile, played Wisconsin and it was stylistically the opposite. It was extremely well played, fantastic shooting, went down to the last shot and I love what one of the Syracuse players said afterward - time ran out and we won. It was really one of those games.

SIEGEL: Syracuse has now won 34 of 36 games in this season, a season that has included a fair share of controversy.

FATSIS: And I think that reflects this perennial conflict between your appreciation for these games and your skepticism, or worse, about the entire college sports venture. A Syracuse assistant was accused of sexually abusing a former team manager. He was later dismissed. Investigations in that case continue.

Earlier this month, Yahoo Sports reported that as many as 10 Syracuse basketball players in the last decade had failed drug tests but continued playing. That's being looking into. And just before the tournament began, Syracuse declared its seven-foot center, a Brazilian center named Fab Melo, ineligible for academic reasons.

The media are going to call this Syracuse run perseverance, really, just good basketball.

SIEGEL: The women's tournament resumes tomorrow. What's going on there?

FATSIS: Well, I'll tell you what's not going on, Robert, is a potential match-up between the two best players in women's basketball. Six foot eight, 88-inch wingspan center Brittney Griner of Baylor. She dunked in Baylor's win over Florida the other day.

Elena Delle Donne, a 6'5" center who plays basically every position for Delaware. She was recruited by Powerhouse, Connecticut four years ago, left campus after just two days because she missed her family. She transferred to her home state Delaware, sat out a season and, this year, she led the nation in scoring and she got to show off her sublime skills to a national audience for the first time. But Delaware, which was seeded third, was upset by 11th seeded Kansas this week.

SIEGEL: Talking about seeds, all of the number one seeds - all four of them on the women's side - are still playing and this, I gather, is typical. Fewer surprises on the women's side?

FATSIS: Yeah, fewer surprises. So, Baylor, Yukon, Notre Dame, Stanford, plus all of the number two seeds still playing. There's been some closing of the gap between the elite teams and the rest of the teams in women's college basketball, but not so much that we're going to see a school other than a top seed or a second seed likely to make the final four and the final game.

SIEGEL: And for those schools that didn't quality for the NCAAs, there are other post-season tournaments they can take part in?

FATSIS: Yeah. So college basketball has become like college football. Schools are willing to lose money to keep playing in the post-season. Adding it up, more than 40 percent of the NCAA's 345 division one schools got to play some post-season basketball and some schools do reject playing in these pay-to-play tournaments, but I got to admit, I did follow along as my alma mater, Penn, beat Quinnipiac before losing to Butler in the CBI tournament, which is run by a sports marketing agency.

SIEGEL: Thanks, Stefan.

FATSIS: All right, Robert. Thank you.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. You can hear more of him on Slate.com's sports podcast, "Hang Up and Listen."

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