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Men's Hoops Tournament Trimmed to 'Sweet 16'

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Okay, all four of the top seeds in the NCAA men's basketball tournament advanced to the round of 16 this weekend, although at least one of those teams was nearly upset. We're joined now by commentator John Feinstein. John, good morning once again.

Mr. JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Really appreciated that they put the Florida-Purdue game before my bedtime so I got a chance to see some of that yesterday. Quite a game.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Actually, Purdue played very well, surprisingly well, to get to the second round. I didn't think they even belonged in the tournament. But they did give Florida a game. And of course, Florida, as you mentioned, like the other three number one seeds - North Carolina, Ohio State and Kansas - advanced. But that Ohio State game on Saturday was one of the most controversial finishes that you will ever see in a college basketball game.

INSKEEP: Describe it for those of us who missed it.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, I'll give you the Reader's Digest version. They're playing Xavier with their in-state rival, who Ohio State always refuses to play, as powers often do with in-state rivals. They haven't played for 23 years. Thad Matta, the Ohio State coach, used to coach at Xavier. Sean Miller, the Xavier coach, was his assistant and best friend.

Nine seconds to go, Xavier leading by two, Greg Oden, Ohio State's superstar, commits an intentional foul to stop the clock. But in doing so, he slams Justin Cage of Xavier literally into this backboard, back stanchion. And it looked like a flagrant foul, which would have given Xavier the ball and the free throws. The officials didn't call it. Cage missed the second free throw; Ron Lewis hit a three-point shot for Ohio State with two seconds left, sent it into overtime. Ohio State wins a game that will be talked about certainly in the state of Ohio for years and years to come.

INSKEEP: Definitely you're saying, slightly different official's call and that game ends the opposite way.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: No question. And it was the kind of call - nothing against Ohio State - but when they want to show what a flagrant foul looks like to other referees, that's a play they'll show.

INSKEEP: So some dramatic games over the weekend but not really very many upsets.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: No. You know, sometimes I think that the NCAA hires the U.S. poet laureate to write these scripts. Steve, last year it was all about underdogs and upsets, led of course by George Mason. This year it's all about favorites and (unintelligible). Ten of the top 12 seeded teams have advanced to the round of 16. What that usually means, the good news is you're going to have very competitive games. There weren't any major upsets the first two days. We had extraordinary games all day Saturday and a couple yesterday. I think we'll continue to see that with virtually all the favorites having advanced.

INSKEEP: Well, now Virginia Commonwealth did win one somewhat surprising game over Duke in the first round. They're gone now. Any Cinderellas left?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, you have two so-called mid-majors still playing, Butler and Southern Illinois. Both teams not from major conferences. They're fairly highly seeded. A five and a four. Butler defeated Maryland yesterday and Southern Illinois defeated Virginia Tech. So they're still playing but now they each have to play a number one seed. Butler has to play against the defending champion Florida, and Southern Illinois has to play Kansas. Those will be tough outs for each.

INSKEEP: Would you forecast these top four teams all making the Final Four?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: I will never make that forecast, A, because nobody who loves basketball wants to just see favorites advance, advance, advance, and it's never happened in the history of this tournament since they expanded to 64 in 1985. But these four number ones are all playing very, very well right now. They all came into the tournament hot. And other than Ohio State's escape on Saturday, none of them was in serious danger this first weekend.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, is there a team or a player you're watching closely now?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Yeah. There's a great story. Ben Howland, the coach at UCLA, is going to face Pittsburgh in the next round. He was Pittsburgh's coach. He was Jamie Dixon, the Pittsburgh coach's boss and he built both these programs. And now he coaches one against the other on Thursday night.

INSKEEP: We'll be watching for that. John, thanks very much.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: The comments of John Feinstein. He's a regular guest on this program and he's author of "Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four."

And you're hearing on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.