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March Madness: The Rise Of The Elite 8

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR news. I am Scott Simon. Time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Four games, two upsets, single point finishes in the NCAA Sweet 16. Kentucky beat number one seeded Ohio State, 62 to 60; a last-minute jumper from Brandon Knight. Virginia Commonwealth defeated Florida State in overtime, 72 to 71; Rob Brandenberg blocked a shot at the buzzer.

Going to turned to NPR's Tom Goldman now. Tom, this is why they call it the March Mashugana.

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TOM GOLDMAN: You know, I was going to say to you...

SIMON: In some families.

GOLDMAN: Well, yeah. I was going to say to you I think we need another name for March Madness and I think you've done it. You've done it.

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SIMON: We're always trying to improve ourselves here.

GOLDMAN: Oh, man.

SIMON: Look, Duke lost to Arizona. Pitt lost a Butler. Kansas is the only top seed that's going to make it to the Elite Eight. What's going on?

GOLDMAN: First time since 2000, I will have you know, since only one number one seed has made it to the Elite Eight. The first time since 2006 that we've had as seed as low as number 11, that would be VCU getting to the Elite Eight. It is madness, mashuguna, whatever you want to call it. It is parody. It is so hard to predict and that's what makes this single elimination format the only thing going when it comes to big-time sports.

SIMON: Have we overlooked how good Carolina looked in making Marquette look like they were a pickup team from the YMCA?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, they really look like they wanted to make a statement - the number two seed, Tar Heels. Yeah, I think we have. We've been talking a lot about how Ohio State and Kansas were the, you know, overwhelming number one seeds who looked really good while everyone else was scrapping below them. Well, now we know that Ohio State isn't going any further. And yes, North Carolina looks very good; and any Roy Williams' team, you just can't count out this time of year.

SIMON: Yeah. And does the NCAA look brilliant for expanding the tournament?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: They are turning cartwheels, if they do that in Indianapolis. They're kind of straight-laced there. But over what VCU has done. You know, Scott, you've heard about a bulletin board material, when a team gets dissed and they use that as incentive.

You could have papered an entire locker room at VCU with the amount of insults they got. And ESPN, they were calling the selection of VCU indefensible, laughable.

SIMON: Yeah. In the women's tournament, Baylor's Brittany Griner is really extraordinary; six-foot-eight and very, very fast. Anyone going to stop her?

GOLDMAN: I don't know if anyone's going to stop her. But stopping the team, that's a tall order as well. Last team to beat them was Texas Tech back in February and I think the upcoming opponents for Baylor will be looking at the films of that.

Texas Tech played with a tough zone defense and stopped Baylor that way, beating them by 11. But the rest of the teams have fallen in the wake of Baylor.

But, Scott, I would like to end by talking about another Sweet 16 game tonight between number seven-ranked Louisville and number 11 seeded Gonzaga. You know, it's always unfair and wrong to reduce a game to one match up, but I'm going to do it anyway.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: I'm going to talk about the two star guards. Courtney Vandersloot for Gonzaga, the first player, man or woman, with 2,000 and 1,000 assists in her career.

Going against super freshman guard Shoni Schimmel from Louisville, interesting young woman. She grew up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon. She carries her heritage proudly. She has said, I'm going to do my best to prove to Native Americans they can do it. They can leave home and be okay. And on the basketball court, she's been more than okay.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.