A Fateful Day For The Final Four
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Time now for sports.
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SIMON: April Madness doesnt have the alliterative allure of March Madness. But Final Four sure does. Semifinals in the mens NCAA tournament tip off in Indianapolis today. The womens teams play on Easter Sunday, and Tiger Woods is set to address a little madness of his own on Monday.
Joining us now, our own madman, NPR's Tom Goldman.
TOM GOLDMAN: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: Crazy mad weekend, isn't it?
GOLDMAN: You know, its great. You can make a strong case for any of those four mens teams winning, the ones left Butler, Michigan State, Duke, West Virginia and it is the culmination of a crazy tournament in which the top seeds have been ushered out early. The so-called little guys have made their mark, and its whats great about the tournament and why they shouldnt expand the 96 teams, which they probably will.
SIMON: Well said.
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SIMON: Theyd be idiots to do it, but who said theyre not? Listen, let me ask weve heard so much about the players and deservedly so. But let me ask you to concentrate on the coaches for a bit. And this is an interesting quartet of coaches. I would say there is one clear eminence that you look at above the others though.
GOLDMAN: Well, there is. You know, certainly, as you say, youve got some good ones gathered in Indianapolis. Tom Izzo, Michigan State. Bob Huggins, West Virginia.
But yes, if you want a standard-bearer, its Mike Krzyzewski of Duke. This is his eleventh Final Four, his 75th he has 75 NCAA tournament wins, most of all time. And to get back to the Final Four so many times when its getting harder and harder to maintain dominance in the college game, because the best players pass through on the way to the NBA so it is quite impressive. And Scott, also, hes a very likable and dignified guy, and youd think that would temper all the Duke hatred out there. Thats a tradition, of course, in mens college basketball. Just this week, in fact, the Indianapolis Star newspaper put out some additions, with a picture of Coach K with horns and a target drawn on his forehead...
GOLDMAN: ...under the headline: Despising Duke. Now, the paper apologized. Krzyzewski was a bit peeved, and he defended the program. He said: We have great kids who go to school, who graduate. If were despised because we go to school and we want to win, thats your problem.
SIMON: Yeah. Well, thats well said. And let me ask you about Brad Stevens, who is the newcomer, the coach in Butler. Hes well, he looks like hes 12 years old.
GOLDMAN: Yes, but actually 33. He decided to leave a good job at the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly in 2000 to try coaching. He'd been a player, just didnt have basketball out of his system yet, and you know what, its worked pretty well. In the three years hes led Butler, theyve been to the tournament each year. This time theyve taken down a number one seed, a number two seed. Cinderella obviously has some game. And theyve got as good a chance to win this as anyone. And if that happens, Scott, Brad Stevens will become the youngest coach to lead his team to a national title since 31-year-old Branch McCracken led Indiana to the 1940 NCAA title.
SIMON: Branch McCracken, a great name for all of us.
SIMON: And speaking of Cinderella kicking butt and taking names, womens Final Four is tomorrow in San Antonio, Stanford vs. Oklahoma, Baylor against UConn. Now, UConn, we must say, has a track record of winning by 100 points against almost everybody, but Baylor has a dominant force in Brittney Griner.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, absolutely. You know, the womens game doesnt have too many 68 players who block shots like shes flicking flies and who scores and rebounds and does it all with agility...
SIMON: The mens game doesnt have too many 68 players who do that.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, but wait a minute, Scott. The womens game doesnt have anyone like Brittney Griner. She is amazing. Shes only a freshman too. And shes why people are going to tune in tomorrows UConn vs. Baylor semi in droves. Shes why theres suddenly a hint, just a hit, of hesitation in all the talk of might UConns coronation. You know, UConns won 77 going for 77 straight against Baylor tomorrow, which is crazy. Griner could make that very interesting.
SIMON: And if Brittney Griner thinks somebodys leaning on her, shell go Bill Laimbeer on them, wont she.
GOLDMAN: Yes. She not only dunked twice in one game, she punch out an opponent. She got suspended for that. We shouldnt make light of it. But yeah, shes tough and shes good.
SIMON: Finally, Tiger Wood meets the media on Monday. We only have about 20 seconds to talk about this. Maybe not coincidentally, its the same as the NCAA mens basketball championship. But 20 seconds is about all he wants to talk to the media, isnt it?
GOLDMAN: Exactly right. That may be the sum total of the answers he gives. There will be a lot of questions. This is the moment reporters have been waiting for since this sordid scandal broke. Theyll get their chance to answer questions. Will he answer somewhat? But mainly hell look forward to the Masters first round Thursday, his first golf since last November.
SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: Youre welcome.
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