News from NCAA Basketball Tourney: Upsetting
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
March Madness is upon us. In men's college basketball today, more upsets by the little guys in the NCAA tournament. George Mason stunned North Carolina to move into the Round of 16. Also today, Bradley beat favorite Pittsburgh, 72 to 66. Bradley and Wichita State are in the so-called Sweet 16.
It's the first time ever that two teams from the unheralded Missouri Valley Conference have made it to the Sweet 16 the same season. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now to talk about the Davids and Goliaths of men's college basketball. Hi there, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN reporting:
ELLIOTT: Teams from so-called mid-major conferences are playing with perhaps a little chip on their shoulder this week. What's with that?
GOLDMAN: They certainly are. You could probably trace it to one man, Billy Packer. The well-known CBS college basketball analyst said, after the teams were selected for the tournament last week, he said the power conferences, conferences like the Big 10 and Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference, he said they didn't get enough bids in this tournament and the lower profile conferences like the Missouri Valley Conference, which you just mentioned, and they got four, Packer and other defenders of the major conferences think that was too many.
ELLIOTT: I imagine that made for some good bulletin-board fodder for some of those coaches.
GOLDMAN: You are definitely right on that, and you're seeing the result of that, a lot of angry little teams. I mean look at what's happened just in the first four days of the tournament. As you mentioned, George Mason of the Colonial Athletic Association shocked North Carolina, that's the NCAA defending champion North Carolina Tar Heels, and then earlier, George Mason beat Michigan State of the Big 10 in the first round, and Michigan State made it to the Final Four last year.
Also in the first four days of the tournament, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee beat Oklahoma, a Big 12 team. Northwestern State beat Iowa, a Big 10 team, and then as you mentioned, Wichita State of the Missouri Valley Conference beat Seaton Hall in Tennessee, Bradley beat Kansas, and today Pittsburgh of the Big East. I mean it's mayhem.
ELLIOTT: It's March Madness.
GOLDMAN: Very well put. I mean, in a very telling moment, after George Mason beat Michigan State in the first round, the George Mason coach was just crowing about other teams from his conference having beaten teams from the major conferences during the regular season, not just in this tournament.
And a reporter who heard this said, you know, it sounded like he was on a crusade, and it really is that way, I think, with the coaches and the players from these mid-major teams.
ELLIOTT: So why all the upsets? Are the favorites having some tournament jitters, you think?
GOLDMAN: Well, you know, I turned to today's game between Bradley and Pitt. At one point the announcer just said these guys are good and they're growing in confidence, and I think that speaks to a lot of these teams from the mid-majors and the lesser-known conferences.
I wouldn't say it's jitters by the big guys. There's a lot of basketball talent out there that just hasn't been recognized because it's not happening in the conferences that get all the media attention.
ELLIOTT: Can we expect to see a mid-major team going all the way or at least making it into the Final Four, you think?
GOLDMAN: Well, never say never, but, you know, the odds are not that good. The teams in the major conferences are very good, like Duke and Connecticut, UCLA, Villanova. They're perennial powers, they've earned their reputations, and the odds are that they'll be there at the end.
Now that doesn't negate what we've been talking about. The mid-majors can play with these teams, but to go through an entire tournament and beat them over and over, it's, you know, it's a tall order.
ELLIOTT: And the other guys have the experience of having been there before.
GOLDMAN: Absolutely. They definitely do, and as you get farther and farther into the tournament, these little guys are gonna start going, hey, we've never been here before, should we be here, is it time to get nervous? So while they may be able to pull that off in the first couple of rounds, yeah, as it gets later, it gets harder later and later.
That, I should add, is what's exciting about this early round in the tournament. For so many people, you know, Thursday through today, the first week, this is the madness in March Madness. These teams that come out of nowhere, seemingly, and win these big games that become legends on their campuses. Teams like Northwestern State and George Mason and Bradley, they're gonna remember the 2006 tournament for a long time.
ELLIOTT: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Debbie.