Watch To Watch For As March Madness Begins

Mar 20, 2014
Originally published on March 21, 2014 6:20 pm
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Now on to college basketball. Today is the first full day of play in the NCAA Men's Division I basketball tournament. There are 16 games on the schedule coast to coast, from sites in Orlando to Spokane, Washington, where NPR's Tom Goldman has set up camp.

Hey there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Audie. How are you doing?

CORNISH: So let's talk about upsets. Over the years, lots of upsets between number five and number 12 seeds. And today was no different. Talk about this Harvard- Cincinnati game.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, it happened again. Harvard strikes again. They won 61-to-57 today, beating Cincinnati. You know, they've pulled off an upset last year as the 14-seed beating a three. Today they did it on the 12 over a five. You know, it didn't really look like an upset though.

Harvard was in control the entire game. They answered every run by Cincinnati. Cincy has a great D but not a great offense. Cincinnati made it close made close, but got, yeah, really kind of got tight when they needed to relax and score a bucket at the end.

Tournament pressure can be like a vice, Audie. And, on the other hand, Harvard executed down the stretch. Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers, a sophomore, was great, very coolly sank several free throws at the end to ice the win.

CORNISH: All right, I also want to talk about Michigan State. Many have picked them to actually win the title, even though they are only, kind of, air quotes here, only a number four seed. They're playing in Spokane. What more can you tell us about them?

GOLDMAN: Well, quite a year for them. Up down and then up again at the end of the season. They were hit hard by injuries as several key players, including guard Keith Appling and guard/forward Branden Dawson. It really kind of affected team chemistry with so many guys sitting out, and head coach John Izzo having to shuffle the lineup.

Izzo says the team lost it's identity during a difficult stretch. Starting in late January, the Spartans lost seven of 12 games. But the injured players are back now. They're healthy. The Spartans are kind of rediscovering who they are. They had a really strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament, which they won. And they are now considered a legitimate threat to win the championship, by presidential decree even with Barack Obama picking them.

CORNISH: All right, Tom, enough about Spokane. What are you looking for in this tournament?

GOLDMAN: Well, what we all love: upsets, of course. I mentioned the Harvard upset. We already had another one today: Dayton beat Ohio State by a point.

This thing is wide open. It's wider than it's been in years. So many really good players leave school early; one of the reasons it's hard to create dynasties. I'm also interested to see how the super freshmen do, so highly touted at the beginning of the year: Jabari Parker at Duke, Andrew Wiggins at Kansas, Julius Randle at Kentucky.

Also, will Kansas, a number two seed, survive the early rounds without their talented big man Joel Embiid? He's out with a back injury. Will a number 16 seed beat a number 1? It's never happened. And, Audie, most importantly: Will any of my brackets survive the first weekend? I think it's doubtful.

CORNISH: Tom, one more thing, Wichita State - just a few seconds left - they're going in undefeated.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, I'm excited to see how far they can take their undefeated 34-and-0 record. They have a play-angry motto fueled by what they perceive as a lack of respect, because many devalue the perfect record because the Shockers didn't play very many good teams. They're playing really good teams here. They're in a ridiculously tough region with Kentucky, Louisville, Duke and Michigan.

CORNISH: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. He spoke to us from the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.