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Is March Losing Its Madness?

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Is March Losing Its Madness?

Sports

Is March Losing Its Madness?

Is March Losing Its Madness?

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The Elite Eight of the NCAA men's basketball tournament is set, and this year's games have been as exciting as usual. But ESPN's Howard Bryant tells NPR's Scott Simon the meaning of the tournament may be changing.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You know what I missed when I was away for a few weeks? The chance to say time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Actually, I said it a lot, but people on the subway just looked away. Listen, we're deep into March Madness - and not just the presidential campaign. Last night in the men's NCAA tournament, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia and Syracuse advanced. Tonight, the round of eight begins. We're joined now by Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Howard, so good to hear your voice, my friend.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. It's been a while.

SIMON: Four big games last night, with Virginia and North Carolina winning. They join Kansas and Oregon in the Elite Eight. That means all four No. 1 seeds are still alive. We don't see that a lot, do we?

BRYANT: Well, I think what we don't see is a lot of the top, top seeds making it. We don't see the 2s and the 3s getting there as well the way you had a 1 and a 2 play. And, like, the way you're going to have a 1 and a 2 in Villanova and Kansas play today. But the top seeds seem to get there a little more often, which tells you about the gap between the very, very good teams and the - and the rest of the field.

But those - those 2 and 15 and 3 and 14 upsets seem to be coming more and more and more common. However, I am very much looking forward to when you see North Carolina last night beating Indiana by 15.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: They scored 100 points. And I think that Villanova and North Carolina are the best teams. But the top team in the country, Kansas, is playing Villanova today...

SIMON: Yes.

BRYANT: ...A game that I'm really looking forward to.

SIMON: And of course, Oregon versus Oklahoma - what do you see there?

BRYANT: In Oregon-Oklahoma - Oregon is a great team, and they're fun to watch. And they took out Duke, which is one of the great blue-chip - Oregon, you know, one of the great blue-chip programs. But a West Coast team taking on one of the big dogs like that is also something new. Let's see if they can keep it going too. A lot of people like that team a lot. I didn't think that they were national championship material. But they - they shoot the ball well enough, and they played a lot of good defense, and they're big. And so it'll be fun to see what they do as well.

SIMON: You mentioned Duke having one of the blue-chip programs. And I want to get you - I want to draw you out something. I'll confess, you and I were chatting yesterday afternoon. There have been big moments and buzzer beaters in this tournament, but has the tournament lost a lot of its character?

BRYANT: Well, I've been thinking about this a lot lately and especially when I think about Ben Simmons, the purported No. 1 - the projected No. 1 coming out of LSU. He's supposed to be the best player in the country. His team didn't even make the tournament. It's the first time in a quarter century that the projected number one player didn't even play in the NCAA tournament. And it made me think more and more about the changing nature of this tournament. It's that we remember - I remember, obviously, as do you, when the tournament wasn't just about buzzer beaters. It was also about looking at the great, great players and how they were going to translate into the NBA - when you had Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon playing for championships and the Fab Five Michigan teams and the Duke teams - that's all gone now. Because now, the best players in the game - they're gone after one year.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: You see that in Kentucky John Calipari encouraged his entire team to go pro. Every player that was eligible to go to the NBA - he said that they should go pro, so that changes everything. You're not going to get those great two - three-year rivalries like you did with UNLV and Duke. It's all different now. And so the tournament is sort of sensation. Is that enough for most fans? I think people filling out their brackets, it's plenty. But for me, as someone who likes to watch the game as well as project some of these great players, it's not the same as it used to be because these - these top, top players - you're only going to see them one year. It's not like you're going to see Ralph Sampson and James Worthy play each other two or three years, that - those days are over.

SIMON: Well, that - and that's why we can - we can take another 15 seconds. Great programs are a harder thing to achieve now because the personnel is gone within a year.

BRYANT: That's right. And no - and then when you see that, you don't have upsets anymore because the great teams aren't as great as they used to be.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine - Howard, thanks. By the way, you know who writes our theme music?

BRYANT: (Laughter) Yes, we do.

SIMON: OK, go ahead. Say the name.

BRYANT: It's BJ, isn't it?

SIMON: BJ Leiderman.

BRYANT: That's right.

SIMON: All right. You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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