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Elite 8 Take To The NCAA Courts


This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Know why I am hoarse? Because it's time for sports.


SIMON: All that cheering. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles got eaten by the Gators yesterday, but the Cardinals are still flying high. Louisville, Florida, Michigan and Duke move on to men's college basketball Elite 8; and baseball season opens tomorrow when the Texas Rangers face the Houston Astros.

We're now joined by Howard Bryant, of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. What an image - an eagle eaten by a gator.

SIMON: Yeah, I know.

BRYANT: Carnage.

SIMON: It was a 12-point victory and that's kind of what it looked like, but, you know, the Eagles, the Eagles had a great run.

BRYANT: They flew high, Scott. They flew high.

SIMON: They flew high, yes indeed. And time will tell, my friend. Listen, Michigan, a comeback to win by two points over Kansas. Trey Burke just caught fire in overtime.

BRYANT: Yeah, you're down by five with 35 seconds left against the top team in the region and you think it's over but it's not, and that's the beauty of the game and I think that's one of the great things about just the pure competition of it, is that we like to spend a lot of time with analytics and statistical analysis and qualitative analysis and all of these things, but at the end of the day, when you're playing it's about pressure and it's about human beings and what people do under extreme circumstances is amazing. That's the beauty of the game and that's why people go nuts when crazy things happen in the last minute of a game.

SIMON: Forgive me for dragging this word in then. What about karma? Was it somehow justice in this holiday week after Elijah Johnson of Kansas gave that low blow to Mitch McGary of Michigan?


BRYANT: Well, yeah, there's karma involved in that too. I mean, if you stay in a basketball court long enough, things are going to come - the wheel is going to come around on you. I don't know if it's karma, but certainly there was not a lot of good sportsmanship there and I think that that was a kind of play where other teams do try harder. I don't think it's karma as much as it's concentration and competition. When a guy does something like that, the other team will try harder to take them out.

SIMON: Women's games are played today. Let me ask about the men's tournament as it lines up for now because, you know, we've got some familiar names between Duke and Louisville and Michigan, but no dominant team. Is basketball missing something because there's no dominant team?

BRYANT: Sure. It's missing dominant. It's missing the great Georgetown teams of the '80s and it's missing those Duke teams or the Florida teams of a few years ago. I think that what you've got is finally - we've talked about this for several weeks. I think that you've got parity, but parity and mediocrity are very close to each other. The sensation, however, is still in the numbers.

It's the fact that the 5-seed lost to the 12-seed so that makes it an upset. But I think the thing that the NCAA has going for it, that the phenomenon that is March Madness, what makes it what it is, is the competition on the court. It doesn't make a difference if, you know, Patrick Ewing is not there anymore, or Christian Layton is not there anymore.

But when those kids get on the court and when they play, they play so hard and they make up for the lack of the marquee names that go straight to the NBA these days?

SIMON: As we mentioned, baseball opens tomorrow with the Rangers and the Astros. And this game counts. It's not an exhibition. It's not interleague squad game. You know, this is a big change.

BRYANT: Really happy for baseball season. Favorite time of the year. It is the national sport. I love it and I think that it's going to be interesting this year. You've got a bunch of teams that you're wondering if the Washington Nationals are going to be there, if Toronto's going to be there. You might actually believe it or not, for the first time in 30 years, have the Red Sox and the Yankees both missed the playoffs because neither one is really that good this year.

And you've got the Dodgers and the Angels, and never count out the champions, San Francisco Giants who seem to be doing it with mirrors, but they're always there at the end.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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