March Madness or Blandness at the NCAA Tourney?

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A near drought of upsets in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship has some people asking, where's the excitement? About the only surprises so far have been Duke's loss to Virginia Commonwealth University and Notre Dame's loss to and Winthrop.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, singing your way to Carnegie Hall. But first, in arenas across the country this week, 64 basketball teams began began the three-week battle to be declared national champion. The NCAA tournament is best known by its hype, March Madness.

Speaking of madness, joining us from Oregon to talk about the opening rounds is NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks for being with us.

GOLDMAN: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Is it very mad this year?

GOLDMAN: Oh, Scott, where are the buzzer-beating shots, where are the Davids beating Goliath. I mean, except for Virginia Commonwealth, not much madness, indeed. You've got four -

SIMON: Virginia Commonwealth beat Duke.

GOLDMAN: Yes, thank you very much. We'll talk about that in a sec. Four number-one seeded teams won their games by an average of 31 points; four number two seeds won by an average of 20 points. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writer, Grant Wahl put it best. He said, these first two days were like waiting months for your birthday as a kid and getting a pair of moon boots as your present.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Let me ask about a couple of games that attracted my attention.

GOLDMAN: Yes.

SIMON: Illinois against Virginia Tech - Illinois was like ahead by where, about 10 to 13 points -

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: - and they couldn't buy a basket in the last four and a half minutes, could they?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, and I think they tried. I saw the coach's wallet out there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: You have to score points in the last four minutes to win a game, and they didn't. And Virginia did that.

SIMON: Oh, you sound like a coach. Like, you know, winning is scoring points. Yes, go ahead.

GOLDMAN: Get your wallet out there. You know, you've got to get your wallet out there and buy baskets, you know. But Illinois just could not do it.

SIMON: I find my closest to a Cinderella team, I've noticed so far, is Winthrop.

GOLDMAN: Yes.

SIMON: South Carolina Winthrop, which defeated Notre Dame, that, you know, that, you know their rallying cry, their motto?

GOLDMAN: Need dat(ph)?

SIMON: Exactly. I'm not sure what dat means, but...

GOLDMAN: It's open to interpretation. Winthrop, yes, from Rock Hill, South Carolina, looked very strong. This was not a buzzer-beating victory over Notre Dame. They looked really strong, led by their big man, a New Zealander, Craig Bradshaw. He had 24 points -

SIMON: Yes.

GOLDMAN: It was Winthrop's first NCAA tourney win in seven tries.

SIMON: And of course, Craig Bradshaw is from the southern Hemisphere. So when he slam dunks, does the ball rotate in the opposite direction than it does usually in the Northern Hemisphere? I was wondering about that.

GOLDMAN: I will, I will watch that closely on the...

SIMON: Let me give you a moment to talk about Oregon.

GOLDMAN: Oh, yeah.

SIMON: In a close win over Miami.

GOLDMAN: Yes, and pay no attention to the fact that I'm covered in yellow and green - Oregon duck body paint, Scott. My objective analysis is that Oreg...

SIMON: Ooh, I'll try not to. Ooh.

GOLDMAN: My objective analysis of the game…

SIMON: Don't come to my Web site to see picture of this under any circumstances. Yes, please.

GOLDMAN: My objective analysis is that Oregon is going to win the tournament. No, they played a very good game. They only won by two, but that was because Miami Ohio hit a half-court desperation shot at the buzzer.

SIMON: And of course, the women's tournament starts today. But a lot of the same favorite teams seem to repeat themselves, don't they.

GOLDMAN: Duke. North Carolina, Tennessee, UConn - the four top seeds, great, great, programs. But you know, it would be really nice to get some unknowns in there, to get some real madness in the women's game. I love the athleticism and the below-the-rim basketball that the women play, but it would be great to get some big upsets.

SIMON: Okay. NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks very much, take care.

GOLDMAN: Quack, quack, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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NCAA Tourney Draw: Let's Hear It for Longshots

The heels of four basketball players are shown as they chase a loose ball. i

Yep, it's time to dive right into March Madness. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
The heels of four basketball players are shown as they chase a loose ball.

Yep, it's time to dive right into March Madness.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

At this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament the biggest surprise has been a lack of really big surprises.

After all, upsets are what make the spectacle so much fun — and office pools such sweet agony.

But as the Sweet 16 took shape this weekend, some underdogs began to bark a bit.

Sunday saw a No. 2 seed fall as No. 7 seed UNLV pounced on Wisconsin, 74-68. The Badgers were briefly the top-ranked team in some of the regular-season polls before injuries and two late losses to Ohio State showed their vulnerability. They are now the highest-rated team bounced from the tournament.

Saturday — as several games went into overtime — it took two extra sessions for No. 6 seed Vanderbilt to polish off No. 3 seed Washington State, setting up a future date with Georgetown in the Meadowlands.

And let's not forget Butler and Tennessee. The No. 5 seeds handled No. 4 seeds Maryland and Virginia, respectively, to earn the chance for much bigger targets: No. 1 seeds Florida and Ohio State.

Meanwhile, the Winthrop Eagles — who many felt might fly high in this tournament — were grounded by a no-less majestic bunch of birds Sunday. Winthrop, a No. 11 seed, lost 75-61 to the Fighting Ducks of Oregon, a No. 3 seed.

Three other Saturday games featured near-misses:

No. 9 seed Xavier coulda, shoulda and woulda beaten No. 1 seed Ohio State. But the Muskateers left a tiny little window open for the Buckeyes after holding an 11-point lead late in the second half. After sending the game into overtime with a 3-point shot, OSU overpowered its deflated Ohio rival in the extra period to win 79-71.

In other near-upsets, No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth roared back from 19 points down to take No. 3 seed Pitt into overtime before the favored Panthers advanced. And No. 6 seed Louisville came within a basket of knocking out No. 3 seed Texas A&M.

Even so, this tournament is as short on stunners and shockers as any in recent memory. Only five of the 32 first-round games defied the bracket-makers' expectations.

So on to Sunday, where the game carrying the most potential for bracket-busting features No. 11 seed Winthrop testing its mettle against No. 3 seed Oregon.

Now, take a last look at the Davids — and the Davidsons — who showed up, slingshots in hand, hoping to knock a Goliath or two upside the head:

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