NCAA Tournament Rolls into March, Again
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News; I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. The NCAA Men's Basketball Committee has unveiled the 65 teams that will compete for this year's National Championship. Duke, Connecticut, Villanova, and Memphis are seeded number one in the four regionals. Commentator John Feinstein has a new book that chronicles the NCAA Tournaments and the Final Four, and he joins us now to talk about the Tournament's present and it's past. Good morning, John.
Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Any surprises among those number one seeds?
FEINSTEIN: No, really not at all because the only other teams that were candidates beyond the four you mentioned, Ohio State and Texas, both lost conference championship games yesterday, which dropped them to number two. There were a couple of surprises as always on teams getting into the field. I don't think anybody expected Air Force to get in, they sneaked in, or Utah State--and a big surprise was that Hofstra got left out in favor of George Mason, they're both from the same league, Renee, and Hofstra beat George Mason twice in the last ten days and a lot of people I think are surprised that George Mason got in instead of Hofstra.
MONTAGNE: And, John, much has been made of the high number of so-called mid-majors in the field and also the fact that three power conferences, the ACC, the Big 12 and the Pacific Ten each received only four bids. What about that?
FEINSTEIN: Yeah, that's going to be a topic of conversation all week. The Missouri Valley conference, a non-power league, got four, just as many as those three conferences you mentioned. And much of the discussion centers on these computer rankings called the RPI and the MVC teams went out and scheduled tough, non-conference games, which upped their computer ranking.
The teams in the power conferences often schedule weaker teams early in the season and Craig Littlepage, the committee chairman--who by the way is an athletic director in the ACC at Virginia--said the committee was trying to send a message to the power conferences to schedule more rigorously, his word, early in the season. And I think that's a very good message. I don't think we need to see all of these one-sided games in November and December that the power conferences schedule.
MONTAGNE: And what about first round upsets that are so much a part of this event?
FEINSTEIN: Well there are several possibilities as usual. The one that I love is Wisconsin-Milwaukee which made the Sweet 16 last year as a number 11 seed playing Oklahoma, a number six seed, and here's a real long shot, a 15th seed Winthrop might beat Tennessee which is a second seed. Those are a couple just to watch on the first couple days, Thursday and Friday.
MONTAGNE: And take us beyond the first round into mid-level seeds that you see really going deep into the tournament.
FEINSTEIN: One of the really hot teams in the country Renee, is Kansas. They're a fourth seed in the Oakland Regional where Memphis is the number one seed--a very young team, but Bill Self has turned them around. They were a first round loser last year, but I think they could go deep. And Boston College, first year in the ACC, also a four seed in the Minneapolis region with Villanova where one of their star players has an injured eye and is a question mark--couple teams to watch.
MONTAGNE: And, John, one of the things you focus on in your new book Last Dance is the remarkable growth of this event. Talk to us about that.
FEINSTEIN: Well Dean Smith, the great North Carolina coach, told me: in 1952 when he was a player at Kansas, his assignment was to scalp the player comp tickets and he couldn't get face value--which was about $7 at the time in Seattle that year. Last year when I was talking to scalpers before the games in St. Louis, they were asking $3,000 a ticket in a 47,000 seat arena.
I think when you go back to 1966 that now famous Texas, Western-Kentucky game-- that put them on network television--that game, for the first time, afterwards. And then they went to the Monday night final. And the day we're talking about, Selection Sunday, began in 1982, the first time the brackets were ever put on television--and that's turned it into a sports national holiday.
MONTAGNE: And given all the final fours you've seen, John, just one last thing, was there any one moment that made you think, hey, book.
FEINSTEIN: Yeah, John Wooden, 1984, before I had written the book. With his wife, wheeling her across the lobby in a wheelchair--she was dying in Seattle. And people stopping and seeing them very late one night, and one after another starting to applaud until they got a standing ovation together--and I thought to myself, this is the kind of thing you see at the Final Four that isn't a part of the glitz, and the glamour and someday I'd like to write about it.
MONTAGNE: John, thanks very much.
FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Renee.
MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein, who does have a book out newly Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four. An excerpt from his book and a guide to navigating the NCAA Tournament are at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.