NCAA Tournament: Previewing Thursday's Games
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
OK. The NCAA Tournament has completed the preliminaries, the handful of games deciding the last teams to make it into the round of 64. So today, we begin a massive national overdose of basketball that will continue for weeks. NPR's Mike Pesca joins us from Lexington, Kentucky, where some of today's games will be played. Mike, good morning.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: I'm here to hold your hand as you overdose.
INSKEEP: Oh, that's great. Yeah, yeah. Stay with me. Stay with me, now.
INSKEEP: What can you tell us about the opening round games that have already been played?
PESCA: Well, last night, La Salle beat Boise State. That sets up La Salle to play Kansas State. The day before, St. Mary's, they beat MTSU, Middle Tennessee State. I think that St. Mary's has a very good chance to beat Memphis, even though they played in the preliminary round. St. Mary's has a point guard, Matthew Dellavedova. He is a senior. He does it all. He has won games in the NCAA tournament.
And remember a few years ago when Virginia Commonwealth made it to March and the Final Four, they were in one these what were once thought of as play-in games. So it's not impossible to have a run.
INSKEEP: OK. So St. Mary's is your choice for a Cinderella team, or one of your choices for a Cinderella team. But, of course, there are also the top seeds to contend with, here.
PESCA: Yeah. And so I am in Lexington right now, where I'll see Louisville, who are supposedly the - who is supposedly the number one overall seed. But if you look at what that means, it used to mean that you got perhaps the easiest path to the Final Four.
It clearly doesn't mean that anymore. Down the line, a team like St. Louis could pose problems for Louisville. And then if you look at the bottom half of the bracket, the number two seed in the Louisville region is Duke. They're a really good team. So I think that the number one seeds aren't as ironclad and just kind of greased to the final as maybe they once were.
INSKEEP: Is this just an indication that it's a year of parity in college basketball? There are a lot of really good teams, and no obviously dominant team.
PESCA: That is exactly what it is. So if you're filling out your pool and you see yourself leaning towards Louisville, yes. Like Kentucky last year, they're the favorite. But I have to tell you, they're far from the overwhelming favorite. And a lot of the basketball cognoscenti, the advanced stat-crunchers that I put a lot of stock in, they love Florida. And Florida's a number three seed.
INSKEEP: The president likes Indiana, by the way.
PESCA: The president's pretty smart. He usually goes what they call chalk. He has this cautious method of picking the - his brackets, by the way, which I think a lot of people say is keeping with his personality. But what it guarantees him is that, at least for a week, he doesn't look like a fool.
INSKEEP: Just make the safe choices. Make the safe choices. OK. But let's get you out of the safe zone. You mentioned St. Mary's. That's one team that you seem to think could win an upset or two, or several.
INSKEEP: Any other teams you want to watch out for?
PESCA: Bucknell's a really good team, and they have a scorer who averages almost 20 points a game, Mike Muscala. They play Butler, is the problem with Bucknell. And even though Butler isn't having a great year, they have - we know that they can make the finals, and they have, and they have a great coach in Brad Stevens. So I would say Bucknell is a good team, but they have a tough opponent.
I'd also point to - and here's your last-minute bracket tip - Minnesota, although they're an 11 seed. They're actually favored in Las Vegas, and that tells you something. It's because their opponent, UCLA, lost a key player, Jordan Adams. Most people are still picking UCLA, because they look at that number six next to their name, as opposed to the 11 next to Minnesota. But take my advice (unintelligible).
INSKEEP: Which I always do. I always do.
INSKEEP: I always do. In about 10 or 12 seconds, Mike Pesca, does this year of parity cause a lot of excitement? Do you sense more excitement than normal?
PESCA: You know what? The NCAA Tournament is just a great format, and it's almost a referendum that you can have a semi-anonymous year in regular season, but these weeks are so exciting that people will rally around the cheerleaders, bands and colors no matter what.
INSKEEP: NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks very much.
PESCA: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: He's at WUKY in Lexington. It's NPR News.
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