Bracket Madness Marches Into April With Basketball's Final 4
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
College basketball's biggest weekend is almost here. The men's Final Four gets underway tomorrow in Indianapolis. Michigan State, Duke, Wisconsin and Kentucky are still in the mix for the national championship. The women's Final Four starts on Sunday in Tampa. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is covering both events. Good morning.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hello, Renee.
MONTAGNE: All right. So I guess we need to start by talking about the most dominant team in action this weekend. Of course, that would be the University of Connecticut women.
GOLDMAN: Uh-huh. We thought you were going to say that 38-and-0 Kentucky Wildcats in the men's tournament trying to become the first to go undefeated through an entire season since 1976. But as good as they are, in fact you are correct. When it comes to dominating the field, UConn is the one. Although, Renee, the Huskies are slipping. They beat their opponents during the regular season by an average of 43.4 points a game. During the tournament, it's been a paltry 41 point average margin of victory. UConn has lost one game over this season and last. It really is like the NBA Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan played. Everyone else is playing for second.
MONTAGNE: Well, there are three other number one seats in the women's Final Four - Maryland, which plays UConn in one semifinal, Notre Dame in South Carolina in another. Don't these really good teams have a chance?
GOLDMAN: Well, let's look at each one. Notre Dame has been the closest thing to a rival for UConn. The Irish have been in three of the past four championship games. They have experience. They have really good players. They also lost by 18 to UConn during the regular season. South Carolina is very big. The Gamecocks lost to UConn by 25 during the regular season. And Maryland can score a lot of points, which is what you have to do to stay close to UConn. So they all probably have a chance - just really, really slim.
MONTAGNE: OK, Tom, switching to that second most dominant team, the Wildcats showed some vulnerability in their last game. It was a narrow win over Notre Dame. What do you think that close game does to Kentucky's confidence and the confidence of the Wildcats' opponent tomorrow, which would be Wisconsin?
GOLDMAN: Well, you know, I think it actually helps both. The word on Kentucky was you might be able to beat the Wildcats if you stay close. They won't be able to play through the pressure of keeping that win streak alive. But they did against Notre Dame, made good, smart plays down the stretch. So that was a confidence builder. For Wisconsin, it shows the Wildcats can be pushed to the brink. Wisconsin has more weapons than Notre Dame and can score inside and out. If Wisconsin can spread out its players on offense, there's a chance - so a confidence builder for the Badgers as well.
MONTAGNE: The NCAA and college basketball officials gathered in Indianapolis certainly have not been immune to the controversy raging in Indiana. What has been the reaction to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by Indiana's governor last week and then amended yesterday?
GOLDMAN: The NCAA is one of several sports organizations to speak out forcefully against the bill. Yesterday, NCAA president Mark Emmert applauded the move to change the bill's language to ensure it doesn't promote discrimination based on sexual orientation. The NCAA of course has been widely - and many say deservedly - criticized in recent years for the way it governs college sports. But even past critics have praised the organization for getting out front on the issue, saying it would consider moving its headquarters out of Indianapolis and still talking about perhaps not holding future big events like the Final Four in Indiana.
MONTAGNE: And the men's Final Four gets underway tomorrow in Indianapolis. The women's Final Four starts on Sunday. Tom, thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: My pleasure.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.