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March Madness: A look at this year's Sweet 16 teams

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

March Madness rolls on this week. The Men's and Women's Division One college basketball tournaments have whittled their respective fields down to 16 teams. The men begin playing in the so-called Sweet 16 tomorrow, the women on Friday. And now NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins me to preview the upcoming action. Hey, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: All right. The men play tomorrow, so let's start there. I love a good David versus Goliath story in sports, and I guess basketball fans favorite David right now is the St. Peter's Peacocks. Tom, what can you tell us about them?

GOLDMAN: The Peacocks are the pride of Jersey City, N.J. They pulled off the upset of the tournament so far in the first round as a lowly 15 seed, beat number two seeded Kentucky, one of college basketball's perennially top programs. Then the peacocks beat Murray State and became just the third number 15 seed to make it this far to the Sweet 16. After that win, St Peter's head coach, Shaheen Holloway, was asked about Murray State trying to muscle the Peacocks with physical play. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAHEEN HOLLOWAY: I got guys from New Jersey and New York City. You think we scared of anything? Do you think we read about guy trying to muscle us and tough us out? We do that. Our bodies probably don't look like it, but these guys play very hard and very physical. So that I wasn't worried about at all. When you got tough, hard-nosed kids, they ready to play.

GOLDMAN: And Juana, they're not just tough kids from New Jersey and New York. The worldly Peacocks also have players from Central African Republic, Mali, Puerto Rico, Senegal. And they've been pretty tough, too. Now, St. Peter's Sweet 16 matchup is against No. 3 seeded Purdue, which plays great offense. St. Peter's has been playing great defense. We will see which prevails and whether the Peacocks can keep, sorry about this, strutting.

SUMMERS: (Laughter) Had to sneak that one in. All right. So Gonzaga was the No. 1 overall seed going into the men's tournament. They are also in the Sweet 16. Are they still the favorites?

GOLDMAN: Yes, but - and the but is because in its two wins so far, Gonzaga hasn't exactly dominated. And the Bulldogs have relied heavily on star junior forward Drew Timme. In both games, he's been fantastic. If future opponents, starting with Arkansas tomorrow, figure out how to contain Timme, the Zags may be vulnerable.

SUMMERS: Turning now to the women's tournament, all of the No. 1 seeds, including defending champion Stanford, have made it to the Sweet 16. But I take it there have also been a few surprises.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, there have been, Creighton and South Dakota - the biggest ones. They are still alive. They're No. 10 seeds. They pulled off some big upsets early on. South Dakota beat Baylor by double digits. Creighton did a great job containing Iowa's star player, Caitlin Clark, the top scorer in the nation. Now, these wins seem to change the narrative that the women's tournament isn't as deep as the men's. Those who follow the women's game closely say actually, that narrative has been changing for a while. It's just that this year's upsets amplify it and confirm the March Madness branding the women are getting to use for the first time this year.

SUMMERS: Tom, and lastly, in the few seconds we have left, there has been some news about a former great player in the women's tournament, current WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since last month on drug smuggling allegations. What's the latest there?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, the State Department said a U.S. embassy official in Moscow was given access to Griner this week, for the first time. And the official reported she's in good condition. Obviously, that's good news about a scary situation. It was reported last week Griner's detention is being extended to at least May 19.

SUMMERS: Good news, indeed. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thank you.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Juana.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.