Morehead St. Opens NCAA Tourney With Win

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Morehead State has earned its first NCAA men's basketball victory in a quarter-century. The team beat Alabama State last night 58-43. Morehead earned the right to take on top seed Louisville in the first round Friday.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Last night's so-called play-in game of the NCAA Men's College Basketball Tournament featured a match-up of storied franchises, as they say in sports writing. At each college, however, the stories are not necessarily about sports. Morehead State University in the hills of eastern Kentucky has given education to the children of coal miners. Alabama State University was founded in 1867 by a group of former slaves. Neither school has been a constant part of March Madness, but they had a shot last night. The winner got the last spot in the 64-team tournament, and NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman was watching. So how'd it turn out, Tom?

TOM GOLDMAN: Well, Morehead State beat Alabama State…

INSKEEP: Yes.

GOLDMAN: …58 to 43. I know you're excited about that.

INSKEEP: Well, it's my alma mater, Morehead State. So I have to…

GOLDMAN: Your alma mater. And you would have been proud. They dominated every part of the game, especially rebounding. Morehead State had a 50 to 27 advantage.

And center Kenneth Faried, who's one of the rebounders in the country, had 21 of those 50 rebounds. And more importantly, he thoroughly out-played his counterpart for Alabama State, a seven-foot center of Navajo descent, the phenomenally named Grlenntys Chief Kickingstallionsims, Jr., so the longest name in the tournament is out, Steve, your school is in.

INSKEEP: Okay. Well, you know, I'm not going to brag about this, because that would not be Morehead's style. We're very modest people. But how far do you think we'll go in the tournament?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: If you're filling out your bracket, put down your pencil and back away slowly, Steve. By winning last night, the Eagles earned the right to get pummeled by Louisville Friday in the first round. Louisville is number one ranked in the entire field. The Cardinals beat Morehead State by 38 points in November.

INSKEEP: But, you know, it's March Madness. Anything can happen, Tom.

GOLDMAN: But not that.

INSKEEP: Oh. Well, if you don't think that Morehead State is going to be the team, because most years there's a team that surprises - that has some huge surprise early on. If you don't think it's going to be Morehead State, who could it be.

GOLDMAN: Well, I'm not sure if this will be a surprise team, but they're a great story, and we love stories. These are the North Dakota State Bison. Now this is the first year North Dakota State is fully eligible as a Division One school. It made the transition from Division Two.

And knowing this might be the only time they could play together in the NCAA tournament, several of the current senior players redshirted earlier in their careers. That means they didn't compete for an entire academic career in order to save up their eligibility for later, for this very moment, and it worked out. The Bison won their conference title on a last second shot. They qualified for the tournament. What do they get for that? They get to play the defending champion, Kansas Jayhawks.

INSKEEP: And again, anything could happen, Tom. Anything could happen. But seriously, if you look at these brackets, and for those who don't know - I mean, people will obsessively fill out the 64 teams now and go through and give their picks about who might win. Any tips?

GOLDMAN: Oh, you bet. It's very easy. You want to take into account about 40 to 50 factors, like won-loss record, momentum, player injuries, RPI, which stands for Rating Percentage Index, strength of schedule, who's coaching the team, past tournament performances, do they have good point guards, good big men, nice uniforms, cool nick names - or you can follow the president's lead.

At noon Eastern Time today, ESPN will reveal President Obama's complete tournament bracket. And it's already slipped out, Steve, that he's selected North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Louisville and Memphis in his final four. We understand none of the schools he's chosen have undisclosed tax problems, so his selections will stand.

INSKEEP: NPR Sports Correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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