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Saturday Sports: Women's and men's NCAA; World Baseball Classic's cinematic end

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: March is mad indeed, as top seeds fall, and a Hollywood ending to the World Baseball Classic. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: What a night. San Diego State defeated No. 1-ranked Alabama, 71-64. Miami defeated Houston, 89 to 75. So No. 1 seeds are out. We haven't seen every top seed in the tournament out this early in - what? - 40 years.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Crazy night. Overall No. 1 seed Alabama, you know, never really looked as good as that seeding but they were outmuscled, outdefended and ultimately outplayed by a fifth seed, San Diego State. Miami and Houston were fairly close through the first half and the start of the second, but the last 12, 13 minutes of the game, Miami pulled away to a comfortable win. And yes, with these two losses on top of earlier losses by No. 1 seeds Purdue and Kansas, first time since the current seeding system began in 1979 that the Elite Eight won't have a single No. 1 seed.

SIMON: Is the seeding system wrong?

GOLDMAN: I don't think so. You know, it's always been an inexact science. There's tremendous parity right now. I mean, the transfer portal system has spread the talent around by allowing athletes to switch teams and start playing immediately. And also, the NCAA's decision to offer athletes an extra year of eligibility because of COVID cancellations means some teams have older, more experienced players. You know, we saw this parity throughout the regular season when no truly dominant men's team emerged. And now here we are. It's wide open. You really can make a case for any of the eight men's teams left to win the championship. And Scott, that is March Madness.

SIMON: Yeah. Women's NCAA basketball tournament - Iowa defeated Colorado last night, 87-77. LSU beat Utah in a real thriller - just three points. What do you expect today with Sweet 16 round wrapping up?

GOLDMAN: Well, I want to mention one other Sweet 16 game from yesterday and give a nod to Miami. The Hurricanes qualified for their first-ever Elite Eight. They are the masters of the close game. Yesterday, they beat Villanova by a whopping five points, their biggest margin of victory so far. They've won by one, two and five. Those eight total points are the lowest combined margin of victory through three games in the history of the women's tournament. So today should be a lot of great action. Two remaining No. 1 seeds, South Carolina and Virginia Tech - always a dangerous UConn in there too. Scott, in all my yakking about March Madness, I haven't taken time to talk about the Hokies of Virginia Tech. They deserve some attention, OK? So...

SIMON: Tom, I'm sorry.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: We just ran out of time.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: All right. Go ahead. Talk about the Hokies.

GOLDMAN: (Imitating trombone) Wah-wah. The Hokies - a really good deep team led by players like point guard Georgia Amoore, 6'6" star center Elizabeth Kitley, a two-time player of the year in her conference, the ACC. She's an important part of a very good Virginia Tech defense with her shot blocking. She's blocked more shots than anyone in Virginia Tech women's history. Now, as great as they are, they got a tough matchup today against Tennessee as they battle for a Final Four spot.

SIMON: And what a great ending to the World Baseball Classic, wasn't it?

GOLDMAN: Oh, my God.

SIMON: Japan over the United States - Ohtani pitching to Mike Trout. Wow.

GOLDMAN: Dream ending - a final showdown between two megastars. LA Angels teammates going at it. Ohtani won the showdown, struck out Trout. Japan won its third World Baseball Classic. And all that excitement, Scott, happened during major league baseball spring training.

SIMON: Right, and the season - regular season's open - opens on Thursday. And Tom, I have a prediction for you I'm going to make right here. OK?

GOLDMAN: Hit me.

SIMON: The Chicago Cubs...

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Are going to play a lot of games.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Good one, Scott.

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

GOLDMAN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.

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