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NCAA Tournament Selections Favor Big Teams

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

John, Good morning.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Okay. Top seeds. The teams with the best position here: North Carolina, Ohio State, Florida and Kansas. Any surprises there?

FEINSTEIN: No. None at all, Steve. Because all four of them won their conference tournaments over the weekend and the committee looked at how strong you finished. The only other two candidates for number one seeds were Wisconsin and UCLA. UCLA lost in the first round of its tournament and Wisconsin lost to Ohio State yesterday. So that pretty much for these four to be the number one seeds, no arguments there.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about Florida, which gets the top overall seed, trying to repeat as the NCAA champion. They begin against - well, they begin against Jackson State. That's, I guess, the benefit of being the top seed, is you get to play someone like Jackson State.

FEINSTEIN: Right. Exactly. You play a 16th seed if you're a number one seed in your region. And they probably have a better chance to repeat as national champions than anyone since Duke did it in 1992 - the only team in the last 30 years to do it - because they returned all five of their starters, which as you know, Steve, is very unusual in college basketball these days when you have success. And they're playing, as I said, their best basketball of the season, going into the tournament much like last year when they caught fire in March.

INSKEEP: They're lucky that none of those starters went off to the pros, I suppose.

FEINSTEIN: Well, that's exactly right. If you look at North Carolina the year before, which had four underclassmen on their championship team, they all left for the NBA.

INSKEEP: Now which teams are not in the field that you're going to miss, John?

FEINSTEIN: Drexel is a team that has the biggest complaint. Steve, they won 14 road games during the season. The Big Ten, the entire conference, other than Ohio State and Wisconsin, won 16 road games combined. And Drexel got left out of the field. That's a basketball crime that was committed there, taking Illinois and Purdue out of a weak Big Ten and leaving Drexel out. The committee should be ashamed of itself for that.

INSKEEP: How Drexel do at home?

FEINSTEIN: They did okay at home. I mean, their overall record was 24 and 8. But because they're from a mid-major conference, they're forced to play extra road games. And they won at Syracuse, they won at St. John's, at Villanova, and the committee overlooked that, took two teams from the CAA, that's George Mason's conference from a year ago, but didn't take Drexel. That's just disgusting.

INSKEEP: And you don't think that overall they did very well by smaller schools?

FEINSTEIN: No, they didn't. They only took six mid-majors this year, as opposed to eight last year and nine the year before. They went back to their old habits of feeding the rich, the Big Ten, the Big East, the ACC. It's clear the committee had a bias toward the big conferences this year.

INSKEEP: Well, no matter how much the rich get fed, there nearly always seems to be an upset or two or three or four in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. What are you looking for this year?

FEINSTEIN: I've got several possibilities. Long Beach State. Nobody knows anything about them. They haven't been good for 35 years. A 12 seed I think could beat Tennessee. I think Winthrop, which has never won a tournament game, could beat Norte Dame. Wouldn't that be great - Winthrop beating Norte Dame? That's why this tournament is beautiful. And look out for Holy Cross at 13th seed against Southern Illinois.

INSKEEP: John, good to talk with you.

FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: And we'll be watching to see what happens. The comments of John Feinstein, whose book "Last Dance: Inside the Final Four" is out in paperback. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Feinstein
Every week since 1988, Morning Edition listeners have tuned in to hear reports and commentaries on events such as the NBA Finals, Wimbledon, the NFL playoffs, the MLB All-Star game and the U.S. Open golf championship from award-winning author John Feinstein. He has also contributed to The Washington Post and Sporting News Radio since 1992, America Online since 2000 and Golf Digest and Gold World since 2003.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.