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Sheer Madness With NCAA Upsets


Time now for sports.


SIMON: Madness, sheer madness. Two-seed Georgetown ousted by the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles; that's a school, not an endangered species. And Harvard shows New Mexico that their $30 billion endowment can be used to recruit some good basketball players, too. But maybe no team in sports is more dominant than the Golden Gophers of Minnesota - women's hockey.

NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now, on the road covering NCAA basketball from San Jose, California. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It's always a pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: Georgetown, knocked out by this 15-seeded Florida Gulf Coast Eagles who didn't have their first graduating class until the late 1990s. So, like, what happened, man?


GOLDMAN: Can you make an eagle sound here, screeching? I mean...


GOLDMAN: That's excellent. Let's move on though, Scott.


GOLDMAN: They were just phenomenal. And the way they did it, a wide-open offense pushing the ball in high tempo. Did you see that alley-oop from point guard Brett Comer to Chase Fieler for a one-handed dunk that was the scream-out-loud play of the tourn...

SIMON: Yes, I think people are going to be seeing that a lot today. Yeah.

GOLDMAN: Oh, my god. That was just amazing. You know, most of us never heard of these Eagles - the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. But basketball fans who paid attention earlier this season - the ones who are probably doing really well in their brackets - they know Florida Gulf Coast beat Miami, which is another two-seed in this tournament. So, they've showed us a little bit of what they could do. Last night, they really showed us. And, you know, Scott, if they keep their wits and they keep playing this way, there's no reason they can't win more games.

SIMON: Another team with their first tournament win, Harvard - 14-seed upset New Mexico - I'll say - they upset New Mexico 68-62. Now, look, I'm happy for Cambridge, Massachusetts, don't get me wrong, but this is not exactly Hoosiers we're talking about here with Harvard. I mean, this is a school with not just the biggest collegiate endowment in the world, but bigger endowment that most countries have annual budgets and they spend on athletics.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. You know, there's actually some concern. There's a lot of excitement and Harvard was being portrayed as the Cinderella team before Florida Gulf Coast. But there's some concern that Harvard is kind of buying into big-time sports. You know, they hired an excellent big-time coach in Tommy Amaker, who has the clout to bring in top athletes, and he has - athletes who were recruited elsewhere. Harvard knows it wasn't always like that. And now they can win big games at the big dance. And, you know, that's exciting but I think there are some who are concerned about what the Crimson have now done, that they're kind of buying into big-time sport. Of course, when that happens, there are certain ethical corners, Scott, that get cut when winning in big-time sport becomes important. So...

SIMON: Well, they've already had their first scandal, didn't they?

GOLDMAN: They sure did. A couple of players - their top players - were caught in this academic cheating scandal at Harvard. So, you know, it's cause for celebration by Harvard fans, but this doesn't seem to be a Cinderella team.

SIMON: You're in San Jose in our fully equipped broadcast studios.

GOLDMAN: Yes, sir.

SIMON: What's your impressions of the tournament so far?

GOLDMAN: You know, Scott, it's not a new concept and it's been talked about since the Dream Team in 1984 at the Olympics. But I've been struck by the global participation in just this little piece of the March Madness pie in San Jose. You've got rosters from schools as geographically diverse as Syracuse, New Mexico State, California, featuring athletes from Senegal and France and Canada and South Africa, Croatia, Sudan - I mean, what a list. And then you've got the University of Oregon, who has a real groundbreaker: the first Iranian-born player in Division 1 men's college hoops - 6-7 rebounding machine Arsalan Kazemi. He was third in rebounding in the Pac 12 this year. And his parents are his biggest fans. They've never seen him play a college game in person. His mom watches online, regardless of the hours in Iran. And I asked him if she's becoming consumed by March Madness, has she filled out a bracket in fact. And he laughed and said if she did, she's got the Ducks all the way, of course.

SIMON: Any matchup you're looking forward to today?

GOLDMAN: You know, I'm looking forward to those Oregon Ducks who have the big chip on their shoulder for being given a 12 seed in this tournament - they're much better than that. They're a very hot team now. They're playing St. Louis, which has been a sleeper pick to go far - an excellent team. And they're fueled by the memory of former head coach Rick Majerus, who put this team together. A very colorful and well-known figure in college basketball for years. He died in December at 64 of heart failure. The players say there's not a game, a play that goes by when they're not doing something that Majerus taught them.

SIMON: This weekend is the frozen forest, it's called, for NCAA women's hockey. The Minnesota Golden Gophers are on a 48-game winning streak, making the Miami Heat look tepid.

GOLDMAN: Tepid, yeah.

SIMON: With a win Sunday night, they could have women's hockey first-ever perfect season.

GOLDMAN: Absolutely, and a second-straight NCAA title. This team is a true dream team. No one can touch them. Boston College tried last night. They got close. But we'll see what happens in the final.

SIMON: Tom, time will tell. NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Scott.


SIMON: Go Eagles. You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.