Any Cinderellas at the NCAA Ball?

Susan Stamberg talks with Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the magazine about another rite of spring: the NCAA Tournament.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Susan Stamberg.

Coming up: hearing some jazz standards in a whole new way. But first, time for sports.

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STAMBERG: It's March and as promised, a bit of madness in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament this week. It seems to be a rite of spring: a few blowouts, a few games that turn out much closer than they should be, and of course, some upsets.

To see if you need an Alka-Seltzer with your office pool bracket this morning, we're joined by our own Howard Bryant. Good morning to you, sir.

Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (Senior writer, ESPN.com and ESPN magazine): And how are you?

STAMBERG: I'm good.

Mr. BRYANT: You can tell, I'm wiped out from watching all the games last night. They didn't get over until midnight.

STAMBERG: Oh, my gosh. Well, there were four big upsets in the Midwest regionals - Vanderbilt, Clemson, USC, Gonzaga, the fourth through the seventh seeds, they're all out.

Mr. BRYANT: Say good night.

STAMBERG: Yeah. So can the teams that beat them - that's Siena, Villanova, Kansas State, Davidson - can they get very deep into this competition?

Mr. BRYANT: I think now, anything's possible. I mean,certainly one of the great things about college basketball, especially over the last few years when you have more and more really good blue chip players going straight from high school to the pros, is that you have a lot more parity in college because a lot of those great players aren't at the big schools. And so now that makes some of those seeds come March Madness time quite vulnerable. Last night in Tampa was a phenomenal night of basketball, and I think that especially a team like Villanova, certainly they could go further in the tournament, Western Kentucky, the way they shot the ball. I think Davidson is about to meet their maker with Georgetown because they play such good defense. But I really do think that it's what the tournament is really all about.

STAMBERG: Connecticut, which was the fourth seed in the West regionals, they were also knocked out early. So…

Mr. BRYANT: Yeah, San Diego got to them.

STAMBERG: Yeah, yeah, so these top-seeded teams, is it that they're playing badly or are the other teams just playing better basketball?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, this is where it all falls apart. If you've never seen a basketball game, you can put a blindfold on and you can pick your teams and you can beat the experts, because the one thing you try to do when you're looking at these teams is you say, okay, which teams are playing great coming into the tournament? And UConn was not playing very well. And I thought that team was ripe for an upset.

But one team that I really thought was going to go a long way in the tournament was Clemson. They beat Duke in the ACC tournament and you're thinking, okay, here's a team that's entering the tournament hot. And then they go out and they get beat. It really is one of those moments where you say, let's just take all the records and throw them out and let's just watch the games.

STAMBERG: That's thrilling. The second-round games are today and tomorrow. What do you think the best ones are to watch?

Mr. BRYANT: I'm really looking forward to seeing what Xavier does, and I think that when the tournament started, I thought that here's a team that was way, way overrated, and I thought they were going to lose. But now they're at three seed and then they had their scare. I'm looking forward to seeing what Duke does because they pretty much almost got beat by a point the other night. And so I think those are the two teams who I'm really looking forward to seeing what they do.

STAMBERG: Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the magazine. Thanks a lot.

Mr. BRYANT: Thank you.

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