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Sports Chatter: Let The 'Madness' Begin
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Sports Chatter: Let The 'Madness' Begin

Sports

Sports Chatter: Let The 'Madness' Begin

Sports Chatter: Let The 'Madness' Begin
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It's time for the NCAA basketball playoffs, and they've earned their name, providing some genuine surprises. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman stops by to tell us what's worth our watch.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Let's go to sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: Get your brackets out, for all will be revealed over the next few minutes. That's right. It's March Madness. Among today's games, Yale plays last year's champion Duke this afternoon. Connecticut takes on Kansas this evening. And here this morning is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman to tell us all about it.

Tom, good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi.

BLOCK: And a great first round for bracket busters.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) I don't think all the poor souls who had their office pool brackets obliterated by the craziness would use the word great, Melissa.

BLOCK: Yeah, I know. Well, it's a figure of speech.

GOLDMAN: But - you know - yeah, glad I don't know any of those souls personally.

BLOCK: Uh-uh, not at all.

GOLDMAN: OK. So how crazy was it? You had teams seeded 13th, 14th and 15th - three of the lowest seeds in the field - all winning on the same day, never happened before. You had two buzzer-beating shots courtesy of the state of Iowa. A game-winner by the University of Iowa in overtime beat Temple. An amazing half-court heave by Northern Iowa's Paul Jesperson beat Texas at the buzzer. Of course, the biggest stunner - Middle Tennessee's 90-81 win over Michigan State, only the eighth time a 15th seed beat a two seed in the first round. The result was shocking, but so was Middle Tennessee's dominance. I mean, the Blue Raiders jumped out to a 15-2 lead, never trailed in the game - made big play after big play at the end to foil one Michigan State come back after the next.

BLOCK: And explain how that happens. How can so many people be wrong, maybe even you Tom - the selection committee all down to everybody else who bet on Michigan State.

GOLDMAN: This is, of course, the beauty of the tournament on any given day. Certainly, Michigan State earned its No. 2 seed. Many said the Spartans actually deserved a one seed going into the tournament. But they picked a horrible time to play a bad game. And never underestimate the potential of a lower-seeded mid-major school with so much to prove. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said afterwards, Middle Tennessee made shots he'd never seen on film. And he acknowledged scouting film doesn't always capture how these so-called lesser teams crank it up three notches in the tournament.

BLOCK: Well, I love me an underdog, so I have nothing bad to say about that. Are you seeing any trends overall, Tom, in the playoffs this year?

GOLDMAN: We were told going into the tournament that it's wide open. With all the upsets of the first two days - 13 lower-seeded teams won - that seems to be playing out. We were told the tournament would celebrate upperclassmen who were supposed to play a more mature brand of basketball and not the so-called one-and-done players, guys who make a one-year pit stop in college before going off to the NBA. You look at some of the heroes of the first two days. The Iowa buzzer-beaters, both players who scored those baskets, are seniors. The high-point man for Middle Tennessee, in that school's monster upset, is a junior Reggie Upshaw. And then senior Thomas Walkup scored a game-high 33 points in Stephen F. Austin's upset of No. 3 seed West Virginia. So the old guys are doing pretty well.

BLOCK: And you figure the madness will continue - more surprises to come?

GOLDMAN: Predictions are very risky at this point. You could see the madness continuing with lower seeds having success. After all, there's no one dominant favorite in the field. But important to note - the four No. 1 seeds won their first-round games by an average of 29 points. Seven of the past nine champions have been No. 1-seeded teams.

BLOCK: And very briefly, Tom, want to ask you about the women's game.

GOLDMAN: You know, this talent pool's still not deep enough to have a truly mad March Madness. I mean, really, there are good teams like South Carolina and Baylor who both won yesterday. And then there's the top, top, top, top, top seed UConn. Really, it's the Huskies versus the world. They came into the tournament 32-0 with an average margin of victory, during the regular season, 39.7 points - hard to beat that.

BLOCK: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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