NCAA Men's Tournament Roundup
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In the NCAA basketball tournament, one of the mighty has fallen. Last night, Michigan State became the first of the number-one seeds to go down. Syracuse prevailed. Two of the other heavyweights, Kentucky and North Carolina, will be in action tonight. And NPR's Mike Pesca joins us now to recap the action he's been watching.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.
GREENE: Michigan State, top seed, they fall to Louisville. And, you know, the Spartans looked kind of lost, at times, on offense. What happened?
PESCA: Well, Louisville defense happened. And what they did is, they harassed the Spartan guards, who aren't great. The Spartans have size and they play well, and they're usually cohesive. But Louisville has speed and they're coached by Rick Pitino - who knows how to, as they say, get after you. So the guards harassed the Spartan guards.
And then on - the big man, the Louisville big man, was fantastic; seven blocks. And the Spartans just couldn't get anything going, you know. This was a game that was stuck at the score 3 to 5 for almost 10 minutes. It was kind of crazy. You were wondering, is this some sort of - you know, weird hockey game that has broken out, out there on the basketball court.
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PESCA: So it was a large defensive effort. But you also have to say that Michigan State is always well-coached by Tom Izzo. They probably overachieved this year. They were somewhat exposed as being limited, offensively.
GREENE: I remember taking a look at Louisville when I was doing my bracket. They come from the Big East. I mean, they won the Big East championship - a conference with a lot of defense, and a lot of big men. So, I mean, could they go all the way? They're taking on Florida now in the West as their next step.
PESCA: Yeah, they definitely could. And that's an interesting dynamic, because the coaches of that - Rick Pitino for Louisville; Billy Donovan for Florida - Billy Donovan was Rick Pitino's player. Billy Donavan was a three-point shooter who took Providence to the Final Four. Now, Florida's a big, three-point shooting team. And Louisville sort of has Pitino's demeanor, which is to say they can harass you.
GREENE: Well, in the East region, Syracuse is going to face Ohio State. Why did the one and two seeds there hold serve, so to speak?
PESCA: So, you know, there are upsets all around, so why is a one playing a two? How could this possibly happen in the NCAA tournament? And it is somewhat of an upset, when you think about it.
Not even a week before the tournament, Syracuse lost their big man, Fab Melo; he was academically ineligible. And it was a huge blow because he was the Big East defensive player of the year. And so much of the Syracuse defense just depends on guards sort of steering the opponent to the big man. And he would block shots, or be the eraser on defense.
They have, in fact, turned into a little bit of an underdog, and they have really performed well. They had a one-point victory against Wisconsin. It was their best win of the tournament so far. And Ohio State probably became the favorite in that region. So that's a well-anticipated game of behemoths.
GREENE: Well, in play today, Kentucky and North Carolina. I mean, two names - have you ever heard of them in college basketball? I don't think...
PESCA: Yeah, I think they wear blue. Yeah.
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GREENE: So these heavyweights are one seeds, and both playing today. What can we expect?
PESCA: Kentucky's looking to avenge - of course, advance, but avenge a loss against Indiana. And that was their only regular season loss all year. They lost to Vanderbilt in their conference finals. And they weren't that healthy. Anthony Davis wasn't that healthy for the first game. He should be at full strength.
Whereas, speaking of health, North Carolina lost Kendall Marshall. He had 350 assists - we always look at points - 350 assists this year. It's the second most in NCAA history. They are going to be very hard-pressed without him. He would just throw darts and direct the offense; a wonderful point guard. So even if they survive Ohio, if Kansas wins its game - Kansas Jayhawks loom - and I think it's going to be tough, tough, tough for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
GREENE: How's your bracket doing?
PESCA: It's doing all right because I never pick the favorite to win. So, you know, if Kansas wins the championship I think I might win some. Not money, but pride.
GREENE: That's NPR's Mike Pesca in Atlanta. Thanks, Mike.
PESCA: You got it.
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