RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
You don't have a lot of time left to fill out those brackets. I'm doing mine this morning. Today at high noon Eastern Time, the top men's college basketball teams begin their journey to the annual championship. The women begin tomorrow. Lots of people are entranced by one player in particular in the men's tourney - Duke University's 6-foot-7 phenom Zion Williamson. But other exciting stories will play out over the next few weeks, to be sure, including the almost inevitable upset. I asked NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman, who has that underdog potential?
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: There will be someone, some team, coming from nowhere. And far be it for me, Rachel, to predict who that...
MARTIN: I guess that's the point. We don't know who it is.
GOLDMAN: But I will give you a little clue. Watch Murray State, from the highly unheralded Ohio Valley Conference, mainly because of one player. It is a super-guard named Ja Morant. He leads the nation in assists per game. He loves to dunk. He is an absolute whirl on the court. And where he came from is the fun part of this story. So he was way off the radar screen of coaches and scouts. He was a high school kid from a small town in South Carolina. A Murray State assistant goes down to his town to scout some players. So he's in this gym. He gets hungry and asks someone, OK, where's the concession stand? They tell him. He leaves the main gym.
On his way to the concession stand, he hears a basketball bouncing in a side gym. He pokes his head in, and who does he see? Ja Morant playing in a three-on-three game. He is dazzled. He calls the head coach of Murray State and says, this kid's going to be a pro. He's now in the tournament, and he's coming to an NBA city soon.
GOLDMAN: So it's fun. He's getting a lot of publicity, so he's not going to come from nowhere. But it'll be fun to see how Ja Morant and Murray State work their way through the tournament. Hopefully, they will work their way farther than one round.
MARTIN: Right. OK. Let's talk about the women's tournament. There is, apparently, a situation with UConn.
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) A situation, yes. Exactly. You know, the Huskies have been a No. 1 seed in the tournament every year since 2006.
GOLDMAN: This year - No. 2.
MARTIN: (Laughter) That's the situation.
GOLDMAN: Oh, my God. Stop the presses. Yeah. But, you know, they've won 11 national titles. They still could win their 12th coming from a two seed, but that caused a little bit of consternation around the world of women's college basketball. Geno Auriemma, their wise-guy head coach, said, you know, it's not life or death. Like I told the players, we have a game Friday. And we're not going to practice differently because we're a No. 2 instead of a No. 1. So I think UConn will be fine.
MARTIN: And there is this debate that we've been hearing about for years about whether or not these players see any of the profits that they end up bringing in to their universities because of their athleticism. It's even more relevant this year since it's the first tournament since last year's Supreme Court decision effectively legalized sports betting, which means there's more money at stake now. What can you tell us? I mean, what are the chances players are going to get some of the multibillion-dollar pie here?
GOLDMAN: You know, we are probably years away, maybe even decades away, of them actually getting cash payment, you know, part of the pie. There was a recent ruling on a lawsuit that was trying to get at that. But a judge - while it ruled that the NCAA was violating antitrust laws by capping what athletes can get on their athletic scholarships, the remedy was hardly giving away cash. Rachel, this is the tough part of the NCAA tournament for a growing number of people who think athletes should be compensated for the product they're generating - you know, how to love the drama of the tournament, which we've been talking about, but still being concerned that, in many people's minds, it's ripping off a lot of young, gifted athletes.
MARTIN: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF RIVAL CONSOLES' "SONNE")
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